Femi Odugbemi is one of Nigeria’s most prolific film, television and documentary creatives. In a recent interview with him, he spoke on his love for filmmaking and how crucial it is for the next generation of filmmakers to root their work and creative journey in education as well as in learning about the craft aspect of film. This comes after his recent appointment as a director of the Multichoice Talent Factory for budding African filmmakers, as well as becoming a voting member of The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in the US.
Nigeria’s film and television industry has been a shining beacon of light for decades, entertaining both Nigerians and other Africans on the continent. Nollywood nevertheless still needs more improvement in terms of craft. Where’s the first place Nigerian filmmaker’s need to start?
“We have got to take more seriously the excellence that we need in the technical forms of cinema and television. Those technical forms are critical because they help us tell our stories better, impact more strongly and give more value to our audiences. Our audiences have been good to us, they have kept watching and they are well aware that we have deficiencies and those deficiencies are made more glaring because the world is a global space. They are watching American sitcoms, American series, films from China, Belgium, Europe – they know we can do better.”
You’ve had an illustrious career in Nigerian film and television and are behind some of the most defining shows in Nigeria, such as M-Net’s “Tinsel”, the highly-anticipated “Battleground” on Africa Magic and the multiple award-winning documentary “Bariga Boys”. Was this the journey you had always envisioned for yourself?
“I always wanted to be a filmmaker. I always wanted to be a storyteller and when it was time to go to school I went to film school. In the midst of that, what I think happened is a greater appreciation for storytelling in all forms [which] are personal, which then connects me to why I like film, documentary and why I like going to art exhibitions. I just feel like [film] my happy space. It’s hard for it not to be a passion for me.”
From passion, how did you manage to work on such large film, tv and documentary projects?
“The bigger the project the bigger the team you need to build. Every excellent project is a collaboration of incredibly excellent skills in different areas.”
With that said, there’s no doubt then that Nigeria can make excellent television, film and documentary, especially on a large scale and has done so over the years. Just as this capacity has evolved, so has piracy. It hurts more than just the creative product.
“African culture is very big on sharing and when you take that into this artistic form and into an environment of intellectual property, education becomes critical – for people to understand that piracy is actually theft, [and] denying someone of their just economic reward for something they have invested in. Every single African country has a protocol, a set of laws against piracy – why is piracy still so huge? We should be teaching people from school going age [about piracy].”
As the West Africa Academy Director of the Multichoice Talent Factory, there’s no doubt then that this sort of education among others, will be a top priority in the curriculum. What’s your advice for the candidates of the Multichoice Talent Factory academy?
“The next generation must understand that as filmmakers, they are the historians of the modern age. We’ve got to have great filmmakers who are willing to take on big themes and unearth untold stories and all of that requires us to be deliberate about how we mentor the next generation. [We] have to be very deliberate that the next generation will simply not tell stories uneducated.”