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From Toronto, with Love

I’ve spent the past few days wandering around Toronto watching films and marveling at the friendliness of this town. Everyone is so nice! They are actually genuinely smiling and unassuming and provide me good service wherever I enter. I want to live here. Maybe someday, but I’ll be back soon.

I’m here for the Toronto International Film Festival, to which I came on a whim. I didn’t have a clue how big this thing is, but I felt a strong urge to be present. Boy am I glad I bought that last minute ticket and booked that ratchet Airbnb downtown. The bed bugs were worth it. Not only have I seen amazing films and spent time with incredible creatives, I’ve been part of a historic moment in one of my favorite film industries, Nollywood. I get to see so many of my esteemed filmmakers celebrated and heard on an international platform for their diligence and commitment to telling our stories against all odds.

Genevieve Nnaji and Kunle Afolayan partook in a talk, In Conversation, in which Genevieve explained that we only need international investment so that we can access more screens for our films to earn more and pay more. I loved that she wasn’t about begging oyinbo for approval, but about upholding her right to make films by Africans for Africans and the world. Kunle spoke about his efforts to distribute his films across Africa so that we wouldn’t have to kick down doors in Hollywood for our films to make a profit. I never knew how hard it was to sell a film until now.

Toronto is gorgeous. You can eat off the sidewalk. Between Lagos style parties and group dinners, our colorful compatriots could be seen livening up the streets of downtown Toronto and giving press conferences about the future of Nollywood. What struck me about this bunch, especially Omoni Oboli, was that they are not just artists, they are strategic and visionary about their contributions to Black film and their advancement of the fastest growing film industry in the world. They’re also gorgeous. From Desmond Elliot to Ramsey Noah to Rita Dominic, Genevieve, Kunle Afolayan and Ifeanyi Dike Jr. the eye candy aboundeth.

You’re wondering about the films, I get it. I’ll talk about them once I mention how much cleaner and nicer Toronto is than New York–and how an Armenian woman asked to take a photo with me because she had never seen a Black woman before.

I wanted badly to see The Wedding Party, but alas it was not meant to be. I’ll write a post once I’ve seen it. What I did get to see was ‘76 (loved it), Okafor’s Law (not too shabby), The Arbitration and The CEO. All decent films. Some better than others…by light years.

I’m leaving this place with a sense of pregnancy. The air is pregnant with the potential of Nollywood. Anything is possible. For me the goal isn’t Hollywood distribution, at least not immediately. Though the films were collectively the best of Nollywood thus far, there were only a few that would merit that “international standard” label that I obsess over. We’re not there yet, but it doesn’t matter. The key is that we have the numbers to make Nollywood even more profitable than Hollywood or Bollywood. It’s really a matter of us coming together to celebrate and empower our films and filmmakers. We need more screenings, organized independently if that’s the only way right now, so that our films are seen by more of our people worldwide. Those people need to pay to watch those films–maybe pay more based on the quality / rating, but we do need to pay so that our filmmakers don’t have to water down our stories to appeal to Hollywood’s palette, but they can get better at telling our stories our way.

 

See a few photos from TIFF below.

 

Panelists: Prof. Awam Amkpa

Awam

Awam Amkpa is a Nigerian actor, playwright, and professor of dramatic arts. He received his B.A. in B.A. 1982 in theater from Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, Nigeria where he studied under the tutelage of Wole Soyinka, his M.A. in 1987 from Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, Nigeria, and his Ph.D. in 1993 from University of Bristol, Bristol, England.

Dr. Amkpa is currently a professor of drama at New York University as well as the Director of Africana Studies at NYU. [1]. He has also taught at Mount Holyoke College [2]

Special Guests: Gbenga Akinnagbe

Gbenga-Akinnagbe-asiko-113_copy_grande

Gbenga Akinnagbe (born December 12, 1978) is an American actor, best known for his role as Chris Partlow on the HBO original series The Wire.[2]

Career

He played “Ben Ellis” in the episode Contenders on the TV series Numb3rs. In the summer of 2006, Akinnagbe performed the role of “Zim” in the NYC Fringe Festival’s “Outstanding Play” award-winning production of Modern Missionary.[4] In 2003, Akinnagbe auditioned for the role of Chris Partlow on the HBO series The Wire and starting in 2004 began a frequent recurring role. In 2008 during the show’s fifth and final season, he was promoted to a series regular. In 2007, Akinnagbe appeared in the film The Savages with Philip Seymour Hoffman, Laura Linney, and Philip Bosco. He appeared in the remake of The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3, which was released by Sony in June 2009. Akinnagbe made a guest appearance on a Season 10 Law and Order: SVU episode entitled “Hell” as Elijah Okello, a former Ugandan child soldier living in New York, facing deportation. Akinnagbe’s former The Wire cast mate Robert Wisdom also appeared in that episode as Father Theo Burdett. In 2010 in Seattle, Washington Akinnagbe starred in world premiere play The Thin Place at The Intiman Theatre.[5] He was also in the movie Lottery Ticket and is currently in The Good Wife as Pastor Isiah Easton.[1] His former co-star from the The Wire, Frankie Faison, portrayed his father on the show in several episodes. He is currently starring as Kelly Slater, a new nurse in the 3rd season of the Showtime series Nurse Jackie.[6] He will be seen in the lead role of Jack in the upcoming Independent film “Home”, directed by Jono Oliver. He is currently playing a drug lord in the USA series Graceland and stars as CIA agent Erik Ritter in 24: Live Another Day.

Writing career

As of 2009, Gbenga has begun a writing career, having had two articles published in The New York Times, one detailing a trip to Nepal to climb the Himalayas, and the other outlining the medical procedures he underwent to correct his severely flat feet.[7]

The Legacy of June 12: There Once Was a Country

Once upon a time, there was a country. Growing up in the West, the most dominant narrative of Nigeria had to do with poverty, sickness, corruption, greed and more poverty. Going home was like playing Russian roulette with your life because chances were, you would get malaria or typhoid or get robbed, or be harassed by police men or get in a deadly car crash or see dead bodies littering the streets, or be kidnapped…

There was another Nigeria, though, before we millennials were born. A place where university students received stipends from their local, state and federal governments, so that a good college education was absolutely free. A place with currency stronger than the US dollar. A place from which travel was easy because people actually wanted to live at home. What happened to this Nigeria? How did we go from a country with solid free primary education to a place where children are kidnapped from their schools with no resolution, no justice?

When MKO Abiola was arrested in 1993, Nigeria had already become the kind of country where injustice prevailed, where the government behaved like the mob, killing innocent people in broad daylight, and with impunity. Nollywood Diaspora Film Series is pleased to include Supreme Price in the line up of this year’s forum, a powerful film which tells the story of Nigeria’s first president elect and the legacy he left through his–now grown, activist–children. Join us for a screening and a Q&A with the filmmaker.

See the trailer here:

Tickets