Page 21

Chioma Onyenwe


| Film

– no-holds-barred storytelling “I wanted to tell a story of what truly defines success and happiness,” says Nigerian filmmaker and CEO of Raconteur Productions, Chioma Onyenwe, whose first cinematic release 8 Bars and a Clef attempts to unite two of Nigeria’s biggest entertainment exports: music and movies. DEFINING SUCCESS: Chioma Onyenwe checking the take with her crew


nyenwe first made a foray into Nollywood as an economics undergraduate at the University of Lagos when she wrote her thesis ‘The Economic Impact of the Nigerian Film Industry’. “This exposed me to the scale of Nollywood on a macroeconomic level. While I worked in consulting during my master’s degree, I started to learn part time through short film courses and making my own web series and other short form content ways to tell stories through film.” She would continue to work in corporate Nigeria while also studying at the London Film Academy and the MET Film School in London. Her first project was the controversial web series Goddammit It’s Monday. The six-episode series featured narrator Womilee, an unusual anti-hero with jaded views on life in Lagos. For the first time, a Nigerian video story took a no-holdsbarred angle on storytelling; the video series was ridden with expletives and the unconventional views of its lead. The online audience sat up and paid attention, torn between their love for the honesty of the actor and dislike of his cynical views. In 2013, she joined Nigeria’s progressive Africa International Film Festival (AFRIFF) first as a volunteer, eventually becoming a Programme Coordinator, a position that took her into the inner workings of Nollywood and inspired her decision to take up a full time career in the industry. “The growth of international festivals for Africans by

Africans like AFRIFF help in capacity building for the industry and connect like-minded filmmakers around the world so that discussions are held around co-productions, distribution and financing, which helps to further position Nollywood as a global giant,” she says. Onyenwe also points out three areas where the industry has developed incrementally over the years. She attributes the improvement in technical quality to the growth of the cinema culture across Nigeria. “Nollywood is growing at an accelerated pace and a lot has happened over the past few years. The growth of the cinemas and local content within cinemas have hugely contributed to the growth of technical quality of the films.” According to Onyenwe, filmmakers have also begun to gain financially from their trade. “The multiple streams of income also presented by online streaming and international cable and television stations have further grown the audience for Nollywood internationally.” Increased government funding has also developed the industry. “Funding opportunities presented through government programs like Project Act Nollywood, Bank of Industry and Corporate Nigeria have been instrumental to not just creating content but solidifying investment and building stars. The introduction of Nollywood to the GDP, showing that the industry contributes N5 billion annually, made the whole world really sit up and listen.”

She delved into filmmaking full time in 2013. Soon after, she started shooting 8 Bars and a Clef, which took her two years to finish. The movie premiered at AFRIFF in November 2015 and is in cinemas in June. 8 Bars and a Clef is a story about a young man who has to overcome a learning defect (dyslexia) a dysfunctional family and an overbearing record label executive in order to achieve his dream of becoming a music superstar. Onyenwe’s 8 Bars and a Clef opens in cinemas at a pivotal time for Nigeria’s music industry by telling the story of one of thousands of Nigerian acts who achieve relative success. Nigerian music has become a multimillion-dollar industry churning out music stars on a yearly basis. Of Nigeria’s estimated 178 million inhabitants, the young and upcoming crop of music artists are believed to number in the hundreds of thousands, with scores of weekly new music releases across Nigeria’s very popular music websites like and, among others, plus engineering daily Twitter hashtag trends to raise awareness around their releases. Some of them will gain fame following a hit single before gradually slipping back into obscurity. The movie boasts a cast of known Nollywood faces including Bimbo Akintola, Wale Ojo, Kehinde Bankole, Ade Bantu, Kunle Bello, Blink, Jude Idada and starlet Linda Ejiofor. However, for the leading role of rapper Victor, Onyenwe took another route casting a little known

alternative musician best known as IBK SpaceshipBoi. Funds for the movie were personally sourced. Despite the challenges, Onyenwe admits that she is one of few film makers to have accessed grants from the ‘Project ACT Nollywood’ (Project ACT-Nollywood is managed by Nigeria’s Federal Ministry of Finance and the Ministry of Culture and Tourism with around 3 billion Naira/9-million-dollar grant funds for Nollywood film makers). She explains that her background in finance gave her the opportunity to gain access to the funding. “It is important that new filmmakers develop business skills or hire someone who can bring that to the table. It is important to always have your paperwork in order, simple things like incorporation and tax clearance. Operate with a company bank account, not a personal one, and treat filmmaking like a business. Write a business plan for each project, investors will initially come from within your circle. However, depending on the subject matter, there is access to funding and with consistent good quality work, the circle expands,” she adds. Raconteur Productions is already involved in other projects. “Raconteur means ‘storyteller’ and that’s exactly who we are. Over the next few years Raconteur Productions will continue to tell stories across different media. Right now, we’re working on other people’s projects, exploring television and stage productions.” – Oma Areh May 2016 | SCREENAFRICA | 19

Screen Africa May 2016