More money, more problem? An interrogation of the Federal Government’s Project ACT Nollywood

Posted on July 07 2017 , at 11:33 am
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  • After the FG said it has released additional N420m, we take a look at the intervention so far.

A Nollywood film set

When the Goodluck Jonathan administration announced plans to establish an intervention in the nation’s filmmaking industry, the news was met with reactions that ranged from optimism, criticism and pessimism.

For those who were quite pessimistic about Project ACT Nollywood (that’s what the intervention is called), their feelings were born out of the fact that it was from the government.

Many Nigerians, along with learning the national anthem, have learnt to not trust the Nigerian government. For them, if the government says it is a sunny day they would step out with their umbrellas and raincoats. To them, this was as well an opportunity for some to embezzle money.

Others felt it was a welcome, much overdue development and they believed it would go a long way in battling some of the problems noticed in the country’s growing movie industry.

There were some others who argued that grants or monies were not what the industry needed. Those who belonged to this school of thought believed that the only way government could really intervene was to put in place structures that would assist filmmakers and filmmaking thrive.

Among the objectives of Project ACT Nollywood is encouraging the sustained growth of Nigeria’s movie industry so that it realises its full potential to be a significant creator of employment and considerable contributor to national GDP by addressing some of the challenges currently facing the industry.

Project Act Nollywood banner

Project ACT Nollywood was broken into three – Capacity Building, Film Production and Innovative Distribution. Under the first, there was a plan to help industry practitioners increase their knowledge in their chosen mini-fields as well as assist institutions in becoming better knowledge-dispensing versions of themselves.

Film Production arm of the intervention was aimed at providing eligible filmmakers funds with which to produce a film, TV series or show while Innovative Distribution was to cater for those who aimed to establish alternative distribution chains – one that would beat piracy (arguably the biggest monster tearing away at the industry’s flesh).

READ: Federal Government releases additional N420m grant to Nollywood

With a budget of N3b and through the management of the Federal Ministry of Finance and the Ministry of Culture and Tourism, Project ACT Nollywood looked set to at least address some of the complaints of a huge section of Ndi Feem.

The early phase of the intervention saw several filmmakers, through the capacity building project, embark on training sessions outside the continent to advance their knowledge and add to their pool of understanding of their areas of specialties even better.

Between 2014 and 2015, the likes of Desmond Elliot, Uzodinma OkpechiPrince Chiazor Afam and Tope Oshin were among the 188 confirmed individual beneficiaries of the capacity building fund. Some went to Mumbai in India, others headed to New York, USA while others were directed towards Ontario, Canada.

Del-York International, Lufodo School of Performing ArtsPEFTI and the Royal Arts Academy were institutional beneficiaries of the fund announced by the Federal Ministry of Finance to be in the region of N300m in total. A huge chunk of the first phase went by without much controversy.

Project Act Nollywood

N10m each was earmarked to be handed out to 70 filmmakers under the second phase of the project, Film Production. Co-financing commercially viable film projects which include features, shorts, documentaries, animations and TV series was the plan.

However, the decision of the Ministry to hand out varying sums to applicants was one of the first things to cause dissatisfaction among many industry practitioners.

Several filmmakers were handed upwards of N15 million while some were barely given N5 million. While the Ministry defended this by saying ‘a handful of film projects were considered for higher grants due to the nature of the projects,’ many felt it was simply a case of the bigger filmmakers pulling heavier weights than the ‘new’ ones who the grant was supposed to assist in the first place.

As an industry practitioner remarked to TNS under the condition of anonymity, ‘I heard of some filmmakers who collected N15 million but most people got between N5 million and N7 million.

‘I personally know that close to 50 filmmakers got money so the government’s claim that it gave 70 people grants may not be far-fetched.’

However, unlike the first phase of the project which saw the names of the beneficiaries published in an official capacity on the PAN website, there is nothing like that for this one. All Nigerians have to hang on to are speculations.

TNS findings reveal that some of the beneficiary Nollywood filmmakers did not receive their portion of the film production fund until the later part of 2015, while others received theirs in 2016. Some of the productions the money was supposed to co-fund are yet to be released.

Furthermore, our investigations have revealed that, despite the government’s requirement that a comprehensive report of the commercial and social performance of the said works be provided between three to six months of their release depending on whether they are feature films and other commercially oriented productions or documentaries and other non-commercially oriented productions, many beneficiary filmmakers are yet to comply with the directive.

A second source said, ‘You know our industry, some people just collected the money. They haven’t done anything.’ Another filmmaker said, ‘They [PAN] have asked me to send my report but my TV show is still there. The TV houses I approached are yet to release it. As you know, distribution in our industry can be one kain.’

ALSO: Nollywood-Kannywood: Misplacing priorities, title chasers and under achievers

So, the claim of the FG of having funded 113 film projects which have in turn employed 2,436 people is an inaccurate one if whispers from within the industry are anything to go by.

It should be noted, at this point, that the change in Federal Government from Goodluck Jonathan’s administration to Muhammadu Buhari’s had a big impact on the intervention.

In July 2016, during a meeting between the Ministry of Finance and major stakeholders in Nollywood, Finance Minister, Kemi Adeosun announced that the Buhari administration was suspending the initiative to allow them ‘inaugurate a committee to review the programme, restructure if necessary and come up with implementation plan that would establish measurable and demonstrable deliverables that would ensure maximum value for the industry’s stakeholders and Nigerians generally.’

This particularly affected the Innovative Distribution Fund (IDF) segment of the initiative and the N1.9b earmarked for it. However, the IDF was subsequently restarted.

And on Friday, June 30, the FG announced the release of N420m as part of the third phase of the project. It also claimed to have established 15 community cinemas across Nigeria even though no names or locations were mentioned.

Nigerian actors and producers protesting against piracy in Lagos in 2015

According to estimates, it takes nothing less than N100 million to establish a one-screen cinema and several processes must be followed before it can begin to function. This includes the physical structure as well as the acquisition of distribution rights.

In all, it is expected that it will take nothing less than a year between the conceptualization and actual open of the cinema to the public.

So far, the main cinema outlets in Nigeria are FilmHouseSilverbird Cinemas, Viva Cinemas, Genesis Deluxe Cinemas, Ozone Cinemas and Nu Metro Cinemas.

FilmHouse and Silverbird are arguably the biggest and there is an ongoing feud between the cinema distributors and filmmakers as regards the sharing formula which is tilted massively in favour of the cinemas. Many filmmakers see the big cinema outfits as making themselves into sharp-toothed cabals.

Recently, FilmHouse boss, Kene Mpkaru, clapped back at a remark about the grudge Nollywood filmmakers harbour against cinemas saying that Nigerian filmmakers ‘should go learn business’ so they can gain better understanding.

SEE: ‘Movie producers need to go learn business’ – Kene Mpkaru

Of all the industry practitioners TNS spoke to, none of them alluded to knowing anything about the community cinemas the FG claims it had established across the country.

‘I read the report and it was news to me. If you know of any one, please let me know,’ a female practitioner replied when asked if she knew about the Federal Government’s claim.

The FG needs to give names and locations of these community cinemas so that the filmmakers whose works are supposed to be exhibited there can be aware of their existence because, so far, investigations have thrown up none.

Efforts by TNS to get official comments from the government as regards the location of these community cinemas have been fruitless so far. The PAN website was last updated two years ago.

While the grant that has facilitated the training abroad of almost 200 Nollywood filmmakers from across the country is laudable as it is expected that the knowledge they have acquired will be put in their subsequent project, the other intervention that have involved handing over funds to filmmakers to make film/documentary/TV series leaves the question – what happens next? As alleged by industry insiders, several filmmakers merely pocketed a huge chunk of the fund given to them. This needs to be thoroughly investigated by the authorities.

As is evident, piracy is still on a high. The Wedding Party was pirated to YouTube less than two weeks after its release and CDs of the film were exhibited for sale within a fortnight of it stepping into cinemas.

Many Yoruba Nollywood producers are also beginning to abandon their Oshodi/Idumota marketers as piracy continues to eat deeper into their revenue fabric.

So, is this merely a case of more money, more problem?

This post first appeared on TNS.

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