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“This MOPICON Bill” – Uduak Isong Writes

BY UDUAK ISONG

Let me tell you a short story about how I came to be a filmmaker. This may sound a little vain but modesty has its days and today isn’t one of them.

Some years ago, I watched  ‘Uyai’, an Ibibio film produced by Emem Isong. Ime Bishop played a security man. He was the funniest character I had seen in a while. I knew immediately that the industry would embrace him.

One or two years later, my brother and I are reminiscing about ‘Lagos Nawa’, I tell him I have a story about Lagos and I’d love to star Ime Bishop. He casually asks how much it’d cost to make it and to my surprise, the money is in in my account, the next week.

We made OkonLagos with less than 2million naira, shot it in five days. In less than a year, we’d sold 200 thousand copies. Following its success, we made Okon Goes To School and sold out the first 20,000 copies we printed on the first day of release.

But this is not why the story of OkonLagos pleases me. Ime Bishop came to be called OkonLagos.  I had created something lasting, it was what I’d hoped to do.

You’re probably wondering what this has got to do with the proposed MOPICON bill. If there was such a bill in place, chances are I would not have made that film because I may not have been registered under any body, the existence of such a bill might not even have allowed me to have the dream.

The MOPICON ( Motion Picture Council Of Nigeria bill seeks  to a) determine who are motion picture practitioners.

  1. B) To determine what standard of knowledge and skills are to be attained by persons seeking to become registered as Motion Picture Practitioners and reviewing those standards from time to time.
  2. C) To secure in accordance with the provisions of this Act, the establishment and maintenance of register of persons entitled to practise as professionals in the motion picture Industry, and the publication, from time to time, of lists of those persons.

And many more.

One question has stayed on my mind, why does anyone want this bill? How does it move not just Nollywood as an industry to the next level, but the practitioners as well? It looks to me like gagging, and why would anyone seek to gag Nollywood.

Anyone, anyone at all, should be able to pick up a phone, a camera, to express their Art without fear or prejudice. We already have the censors board for ratings and other checks, why do we need this bill?

I have recently finished post production on a commissioned film. I worked with a first time director, Bunmi Ajakaiye , she was brilliant. I’m happy with my film and hopefully my sponsors and the audience will be happy too. This should be all that counts.  If this bill were in place, I would not have been able to employ Ms Ajakaiye. I’d be forced to work with one of the MOPICON directors irrespective of our ideologies.  ELTV, IROKO TV, AFRICA MAGIC have in the past few years  created several jobs by funding films, often working with young directors. This has birthed a new crop of directors, writers and producers in Nollywood, something I thought we’d all be happy about. With a bill like MOPICON, their hands will be tied as the bill further seeks to prohibit non members from producing and making projects for both the cinema and Home Video Market plus Television Stations and Networks for gains as

  1. a) Producer, Deputy producer, and unit producers
  2. b) Director, unit director, Associate Director and Assistant Director, and

c)Unit Director of Photography, Associate Director of photography, Assistant director of photography and Deputy director of photography.

Let me categorically state that the Nigerian Government has NEVER contributed financially towards my film career.  I attended a short course at Raindance, UK. I paid for it. I attended the Berlinale talent campus years back. THE German Government paid for it. I attended a creative industry workshop in the UK. The British Government paid for it.

All my films have been funded by self, family and friends.  I would expect that the Government or proponents of this bill would seek ways to grow the industry . This bill will destroy it. At a time where everyone is cutting jobs, Nollywood seems to be the only industry not affected. I am currently on a production set that will last 6 weeks.  We’re lodging some cast and crew in 13 rooms of a hotel.  For six weeks. That’s money for the hotel which means the staff get to keep their jobs. We have averagely 30 members of cast and crew. Two other producer friends of mine are also filming at the moment.  Everywhere you turn, someone is filming because the demand for our content has increased even internationally. This means JOBS!

We have major challenges, there’s piracy, there’s poor distribution, and there’s Telemundo.  You’d think we’d be talking about tax rebates, waiver fees from LASAA so we can have increased marketing, more support for filmmakers to ensure they thrive in this tough environment that is Nigeria but no, we want a bill that looks like it wants to clip wings, to ensure that only a certain people get jobs.

The argument for the bill is to create sanity in the industry. What does this mean? To ensure quality, some say but who defines quality, particularly of story? I personally prefer ‘Asaba films’.  There’s more emphasis on story and character which are the things that interest me most than in the ‘Lagos films’. That’s why it is Art, taste will ultimately differ.

Formal training is one of the prerequisites for membership of MOPICON.  Ironic isn’t it? Because Nollywood was built from nothing except an opportunity and a dream. Someone without any formal training or experience in film gave rise to this industry, to this platform on which the ‘educated’ now choose to stand and regulate them.

But here’s what is likely to happen if this bill passes, the industry will slowly die. Do you know why? I’ll tell you why. If you stop many people from making films and get only a select people to make the films, what happens if the cinemas don’t like them? You can’t force them to show your films, they are in business to make money, they’ll simply stick to Hollywood films. The cable stations will do same. Who loses?

Someone asked me why I’m so concerned, that it won’t affect me.  This is the problem. It should not be about me but about all of us.  I was able to make my first film without any duress. Every Nigerian should be able to do same. The same way any Nigerian can stage a play, write a novel or sing a song, Film is an expression of Art and should not be regulated.

Let’s seek to build and not destroy.

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