Cold war prepares to ensue amongst filmmakers, film distributors, cinema owners

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As the Nigerian film industry continues to boom, increasingly foreign investments, a cold war is fast brewing among stakeholders.

The war, according to industry watchers, is brewing among independent filmmakers/production companies, film distributors, and cinema owners/operators.

In other major film markets – Hollywood and Bollywood – the production company is responsible for dealing with the film distributors for the marketing and distribution of the film to cinema owners and operators.

However, in Nigeria, several independent filmmakers – due to many reasons – deal directly with the film distributors for the marketing and distribution of films to cinema owners and operators.

With only a handful of independent filmmakers masquerading as production companies and a small number of full-fledged production companies around, just five film distributors and over 10 cinema owners and operators, animosity continues to fizz among the stakeholders.

Aside from Blue Pictures and Metro Classic film distribution companies, the three other certified film distributors in Nigeria – Filmone, Silverbird, and Genesis distribution outfits – also operate in the cycle chain as cinema owners and operators.

Noteworthy is Filmhouse’s operation as a production company, making it the most powerful of all the stakeholders and taking up roles in the three-stage cycle of the film exhibition from inception to the cinema. As the leading player in the cycle, Filmhouse changed the face of the industry in eight years of operations despite arriving much later.

However, production companies and independent filmmakers have continued to silently groan over perceived opacity and unfair dealings.

In 2020, The Temple Company released its first feature film, ‘The Kujus,’ directed by Biodun Stephens, and had Bisola Aiyeola as a co-producer. The family-Christmas themed film was distributed by Silverbird Distribution. A few weeks after release, the management of The Temple Company expressed dissatisfaction at how Genesis Deluxe cinemas had yanked off the film from primetime without prior notice. According to an inside source, the film was allotted time slots that couldn’t afford families to watch together as expected by the producers.

This caused disagreement between the production company and the cinema operator, with the production company threatening to pull its film. The production company, which was making its debut, withdrew its threat and allegedly swallowed the bitter pill.

While many independent filmmakers and production companies have continued to mutter their grievances under breath, filmmaker and co-founder of The Audrey Silver Company, Mildred Okwo, has expressed dissatisfaction over what she termed as lack of transparency and unfair dealings.

Following the release of her Neo-noir film, La Femme Anjola on Friday, Marcy 19, Okwo took to her official Twitter handle to announce that her film was withdrawn from Filmhouse cinemas except for only four locations.

“Filmhouse has removed us from all cinemas except these ones – Surulere, Landmark in Lagos, Dugbe in Ibadan, and Port Harcourt – I guess it’s to make way for their new film. It is their cinema and they will do with what they please,” she tweeted.

In an interview with TheCable, Okwo said: “I don’t think the government should let a company that makes film also distribute and exhibit. You can do both if the government allows it but there must be a way of ensuring there is fair play for all. It must be regulated.”

The filmmaker, whose film is being distributed by the Silverbird distribution company, went further to say: “If Filmhouse has a movie coming, they must give others a chance. Our government and other distributors are the ones letting them get away with it. I couldn’t have reached out to them myself. That’s the job of my distributor.

“I don’t blame Filmhouse for anything. It is their business and politics. They are pushing their own as it should be. In my opinion. It is the other distributors and cinema operators that seemingly allow Filmhouse to muscle them around.”

However, Okwo was not to go away with her outburst as a Twitter user, Jude Martins, who claims to have been on the exhibition side of the ecosystem for close to seven years, said: “Aunty, this your publicity stunt is made in Aba. Cinemas are not charity organisations, they are businesses that have bills and salaries to pay. If your film is making money, it stays long in the cinema. Just checked the CEAN (Cinema Exhibitors Association of Nigeria) website and can see it only made N13m in two weeks, what Omo Ghetto made in one day, haba, fear God na.”

Martins returned to react to Okwo’s outburst saying: “Hello Madam, about my reaction to you yesterday, I apologize for my tone, and would state clearly that my statements were a personal reaction and not the position of either Filmhouse Cinemas or FilmOne Entertainment. Perhaps, because I’ve been on the exhibition side of the ecosystem for close to seven years, I clearly understand the intricacies of the business and the repercussion of poor sales on the welfare of cinema workers. You are a great filmmaker and I look forward to seeing your next project in the cinemas, hoping it does well.”

Okwo further alleged that the treatment meted to her was not the first, as her last film, ‘Surulere,’ suffered the same fate in 2015.

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“I am used to this though. In 2015, Filmhouse pulled my film Surulere in the second week even though it was number 1 Nollywood film and number 2 overall.”

Efforts to reach Filmhouse co-founder, Moses Babatope, were futile as calls to his phone went unanswered while an SMS sent to the same phone number – and which delivered – was yet to be responded to as at the time of going to press.

A source noted that the regulatory body should look into the occurrence for the overall development of the industry.

“I don’t think there’s any law that currently forbids people from operating at different levels of the value chain, as in being involved or monopolising the services in all these levels of operation. However, I really do not think it is proper and I think it is what the regulators of the industry should look into especially given the fact that people really don’t have the mindset of fairness. The regulatory body should be interested such that everyone is carried along which leads to total development rather than individual development. I don’t think operators who trade as production companies, film distributors, and cinema operators play fairly. It’s not likely that you’d have someone who is fair-minded and would not want to muscle others to their advantage. I think people should be fair and there should be a sort of regulation. I think the regulatory bodies should be interested in the overall development of the industry,” the source said.

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