It was an exhilarating climax and memorable experience for attendees as the curtains drew, Sunday September 4, 2022, on the four-day maiden Edo State International Film Festival, ESIFF, hosted by Governor Godwin Obaseki, and the managing director, Edo State Skills Development Agency, EdoJobs, Ukinebo Dare. The night of glitz, glamour, pomp and splendour, which featured some of the best in Nigeria’s money-spinning Nollywood, filmmakers, film directors, distributors, as well as investors from different parts of the world, was capped with a grand award ceremony to honour deserving winners and thespians in the creative industry. Guests had their time’s worth with entertainments by local stand-up comedians, dance performances, and cultural displays.
Ninety-four countries participated in the event, with over 1,551 entries on parade. This is besides 200 movie screenings, elevating master classes, and training for Edo residents who may want to explore their skills and talents in the bourgeoning creative industry. The film fiesta, with the theme, “Edo To The World”, was co-sponsored by the Swiss Agency for Development Corporation and the German Government, BMZ, through the Deutsche Gesellschaft fur Internaationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) Skye Programme.
Though the ceremony, co-anchored by the two brand ambassadors, Rex Nosa Okunzuwa, and Linda Osifo, which was billed to start at 5 pm, did not officially kick-off until exactly 8 pm, the dramatic appearance on the big screen, and teaser by Ukinebo Dare, convener and co-chairman of the festival, put guests in the mood for a relaxing and exciting night. Stretching into the wee-hours of Monday morning, the event did not disappoint in terms of good food and choice drinks, great music, fantastic dance, and other forms of artistic performances.
Exquisitely dressed in a red, flowing evening gown, Dare took the microphone, to appreciate the patient but enthusiastic audience and partners for what she described as a “fantastic event; including the veterans and filmmakers who shared their talent and creativity with us”. Soliciting patronage of the Victor Uwaifo Creative Hub, venue of the grand finale, which she said would thereafter be available all year round for use by filmmakers and producers, Dare announced that “We have world-class equipment that you need here to help you produce the best quality films”.
The stage was therefore set for the kick-off of the big event of the night – the reward for excellence – with Osakue Stevenson Omoera, professor of Mass Media, Theatre and Communication Studies, Department of English and Communication Studies, Federal University, Otuoke, Bayelsa State, taking charge. Omoera, who headed the 10-man festival jury, profusely appreciated the governor, the management of EdoJobs, as well as the collaborators in the Edo State International Film Festival2022, stating that “It has been a wonderful experience having to screen close to 2,000 films from 94 countries”. He said the jury had spent sleepless nights in order to sort out the best of the multiple submissions in the maiden edition of the Edo International Film Festival.
He however expressed some regrets by the jury thus: “We have said that we did not get many submissions from Edo State in a festival that is arguably one of the best in terms of entries. The number and quality of entries from Edo State were rather unimpressive in spite of all the efforts of the governor and government in creating an enabling environment for film production. Therefore, our recommendations; we wish to encourage practitioners and creatives to up their game technically, and story-telling wise. There is also the need to raise the ante in technical competences in the areas of production, design, screen play, sound design, and all others.
“New strategies should be devised to encourage practitioners to avail themselves of the existing training programmes by the government, and apply what is being taught so that more quality films will begin to emerge from Edo State. Again, we recommend that there should be a film for any edition of the festival”.
Conclusively, the veteran film director who is credited to have pioneered scholarly inquiry into the Benin video-film segment of Nollywood studies, noted that “a success without a successor is no success. Hence, sustainability is key; and we enjoin all creatives here seated, state actors here seated, that made Edo State International Film Festival happen, to put on their thinking caps to make the next edition a resounding success”.
Also making an observation, another member of the jury, Patience Oghre Imobhio, actress, film and television director, expressed concern about low participation of female filmmakers and producers at the festival. Imobhio, who is famous for directing such films as “Three Wise Men”, “Busted”, “Knockout”, “Dominos” and “Spider and Household”, among others, as well as TV series such as “Dear Mother”, and “Everyday People”, said “I am a woman and a film maker; I am proud to be married to an Edo man. I have enjoyed so much of Benin; beautiful city of Edo. I have shot a lot of movies here in Benin City.
“I am also here today to encourage a lot of women that the business of filmmaking is no longer a gender thing; it’s not about the men. It’s about who can produce; who can actually tell the story. So, we also notice that most of these entries, we do not have female filmmakers. I want to see female film-makers emerge from Edo State so that we can also tell the world that there is absolute participation from women in Edo State. So, I am just pleading that more women should file in entries in the years coming”.
From the deluge of entries received, winners emerged from 15 categories with the governor sponsoring the $10,000, $5,000 and $5,000 awards for the “Best Feature Film (overall)”, “Best Film Shot in Edo”, and “Best Indigenous Film” respectively. Winners of three other categories – “Best Use of Technology Film”; “Best Cell phone Film”; and “Best Student Film” – sponsored by Phoenix, received $2,000 cash prizes each.
Nollywood celebrities from Edo State who have been worthy ambassadors and role models, were similarly recognised and honoured with a special award segment titled “Heart Beat of Our Time”. Among those so honoured were sultry Mercy Aigbe, Etionsa Idemudia, Charles Inojie, (of The Johnsons Family series) MC Edo Pikin, and Angela Eguavoen. The presence of Desmond Elliot, Yvonne Jegede, Lasisi Elenu, Lilian Agbefa, among others, also gave some good vibes to the occasion.
Presenting the award of $10,000 for the Best Feature Film (overall) – Onaiwu – an over the moon Governor Obaseki, enthused: “Edo people are perhaps the most creative people on the black continent”. “Onaiwu” was directed by Edo-born Joseph Okhomina, who also won the award for the best director at the event.
Expressing satisfaction with the success of the festival, the governor boasted that “Our history is there to show that we have created masterpieces in terms of arts throughout the centuries. Our people are the most creative Africans that have existed. The talents that we are celebrating here today come from a long line and strong heritage of creativity and heritage. Tonight, we are celebrating our best at the maiden Edo State International Film Festival.
“After today, the dates for next year’s festival will be announced. We are here to give out the award to the best overall film. I am sure the work and time that went into producing this film is worth more than what we are giving as a prize. This prize is just a token of our appreciation for the work put into telling our stories by utilising our God-given talent”.
According to the governor, Edo people had thrived through their creativity in music and films, and the capacity to preach the word of God to the rest of the world, adding that “We are successful in these two areas because of limited government intervention and involvement in your affairs, enabling you to express yourselves and sell your talent to the whole world.
“In our future film festival, you will witness the government pulling back and you’re doing more for yourself. We will continue to support you but will allow the industry to take over as the government does not have the talent to do what you are doing”.
Presenting the award to participants and winners of ‘The Rural Photography Training’ commissioned in the rural areas by GIZ Skills Development for Youth Employment (SKYE) Programme, and EdoJobs, the Head of Programme, Tobias Wolfgarten, said “Our partnership with Edo Jobs and ESIFF has been rewarding. I’m therefore delighted to present these awards to four winners of the photography competition. Beyond this, GIZ Skye will also be offering entrepreneurship training to the winners, whilst also exhibiting their works to help raise funding which will go directly to the winners”.
The “Battle of the West” emerged Best Film in the Use of Technology; “Zara” won Best Cell Phone Film; and “the Funeral” emerged the Best Student Film, with each winner getting $2,000 cash reward. “Omoatama” emerged the “Best Film Shot in Edo State”, with the winner going home with $5,000 prize money.
Winners of the “Rural Photography Award” also went home with N375, 000. Other winners are: Best Actor (female), Victory Idahosa (Onaiwu); Best Actor (male), Ben Olaye (Onaiwu); Best Short Film, “Tare”; Best Documentary, “Palm for Crude”; Best Film Costume, Osayi Blessing (Onaiwu); Best Filmmaker, Ramon Abdulazeez. Though the awards were dominated by Nigeria, Italy and Egypt also made the winners’ list. Italy’s “On These Mountains”, clinched the Governor’s Award for the Best Indigenous Feature Film, as well as the Best Indigenous Language Film. The award for the Best Indigenous Language Film, which came with a $5,000 reward, is aimed at promoting the use of indigenous languages in filmmaking, while Egypt’s “After a While” won the Best Film (Cinematography).
Though it did not win an award, a short film, BODMAS, was of special interest to the jury. Omoera, head of festival jury, said “we observed a particular film, and we decided to call it the Jury Choice which we tagged special jury mention. The name of the film is BODMAS. What is special about this film? We consider it very important in this stage where issues of instruction, issues of managing children at the school level, are very critical.
“Sometimes, parents don’t understand their children; sometimes, teachers don’t understand their pupils, but we need to pay close attention to our children. And the jury collectively agreed that in spite of the fact that it did not win any award, we should mention it, and also encourage the management of the festival, and even the Edo State government, to call attention to such developmental movies that could be used for moral instruction and teaching in our schools”.
Declaring the event open a few days earlier, Governor Obaseki had highlighted the set goal, which he said was for Edo “to be the home of culture and tourism in West Africa”, asserting that “The Victor Uwaifo Sound Stage is our first experiment to build the required infrastructure to support the creative industry, particularly film and movies in the state”. He said “with the success of this sound stage, we will now move to the Film Village which initial design has commenced.”
Welcoming his guests, he asked them to join the state “in celebrating our homegrown talent”, adding that “This first experiment is to lay the foundation … It will avail us the opportunity to tell the world what we are doing in the state leading to the success of our first film festival with over 2,000 films being screened in readiness to show the world to Edo and ‘Edo To The World’.”
“As an industry, we are grateful to the Edo State Government for funding the Edo movie projects. We are grateful because it has employed well over 1,000 youths, taking them away from the streets, and equally contributing to the economic development of the State.
On his part, the chairman of the festival planning committee and veteran filmmaker, Lancelot Oduwa Imasuen, said, “Our State is taking advantage of the film festival to sell Edo to the world. We have recorded over 1,500 viewers watching our films in just the first day of the four days of the film festival.
“Entertainers across the state have thanked the governor and his administration for this initiative as this is the first time ever a state government is fully involved in a film festival. His Excellency is fully involved as he is sponsoring three film categories with over $20,000”.
A major highlight of the film festival was the watching of the first selected film by Edo State first lady, Betsy Obaseki, at the Kada Cinemas, to declare the event open. The film, “We Will Not Be Silent”, which is a campaign against gender-based violence in the society, was an initiative of the Edo State Gender-Based Violence Committee.
With the organisers allowing a critique of the film, the visibly emotional first lady was impressed by its acceptability of the message by the audience. She said “I thank you so much; I didn’t expect this at all. I thought I was just coming to watch a short movie, but this has become something else. I’m almost in tears while watching people come down, and make very valuable comments and observations, and we’ve learnt a lot from the comments you’ve made. It just shows…I mean, I’m just so happy.
“And to see the men; you know when you talk about rape, we women, we label every man a rapist (laughter). And the way they are just coming out, talking so passionately, it’s just so encouraging. Thank you all so very much. This is a huge validation and a big encourager for us working on this menace in our society”.
Reacting to some of the comments and observations made, the governor’s wife suggested how some of the flaws identified could be corrected in future productions, such that Lancelot interjected that “Your Excellency, na you go direct the other part”. She suggested that “the film should be elongated; add more content, and perfect it more, so we can now distribute it across the country and commercialise it. So, we are in partnership to do that”.
Appreciating the organisers for the award, one of the recipients, Ben Olaye, Best Actor, (male) in the film “Onaiwu”, said “I thank “every director, my father, my boss, my friend, director, Lancelot Oduwa-Imasuen; GOtv, thank you, CEO Njoku, African Magic. Thank you for the talent we have in Edo State. Thank you; this award is dedicated to all of you for your hard work and for your consistency”.
Giving his assessment of the four-day film fiesta, the state commissioner for arts, culture, tourism, and Diaspora affairs, Prince Bamidele Obaitan, described it as “a fantastic event, and the first of its kind”, stressing that “This should be a culmination of what is coming to Edo State”. According to Obaitan, “We are talking about ‘Edo to the World’, and this film industry, the creative content; we know Edo is rich in culture, heritage and our history. And so, what we are doing now is the vision of investment which the governor of Edo State, Mr. Godwin Obaseki, has to propel everything for us; put structures in place. And as you can see, this is the first ever Edo International Film Festival, and so we should have a pat on the back. I think it’s a well done event”. On expected dividends, the commissioner said the state would be expecting to see a lot of world-class movies coming out of Edo State, showcasing Edo talents”.
If Obaitan was wowed by the success of the festival, Aubrey Silinyana, a South African, and Festival Director of the King Moshoeshoe Film Festival, Lesotho, South Africa, was simply in awe. Endorsing the event, Silinyana, who was part of the jury, said “It’s been a wonderful experience being in the jury. I am also a film festival director in South Africa, in Lesotho. There are a lot of things in my observation, that have been done right, and a lot of things also that have to be improved, moving forward.
“But I have to say that from the submissions that we’ve seen, as a jury, as well as from the start up to the end, this is a great event. Who could believe that this is the first year! Clap your hands for this amazing event. We feel very much pleased as a jury to have had the opportunity to watch these films. You can imagine if it were an older event there have been submissions from 94 countries; so this is wonderful. There is a future here”.