The first time I heard of a Nollywood networking event I was intrigued. I had received an invitation email from an acquaintance of mine. It was to be held at Lola Isol, a restaurant type lounge in Lower Manhattan. Even though I am not a big Nollywood fan, I felt compelled to meet potential writers, actors and people from all works of life. Maybe I may even run into an actor or actress!, I thought. Well, I did not meet any popular face that night, but I enjoyed delicious Nigerian food (jollof rice, moi moi, palmwine) with body swaying music and a friendly atmosphere. This was back in October 2008.
So when I got another invitation for another event this year, I decided to make it again. This time around it was at the Boucarou lounge in the?trendy Lower East Side. You walk in and there’s a bar that leads up to a bigger space. The padded horizontal seats lean against the wall at opposite angles, creating a relaxed atmosphere where you can subtly scan everyone and everyone can scan you. Soft candle flames, dim lights and a spice of culture in the form of afrobeat and Nigerian food brings you home. I found myself exchanging business cards with other creative minds. In a setting like this, all shyness flies out the window because you know that everyone in that room is there for the same reason...to network. It wasn’t until after I left that I realized I wanted to talk to any of the men behind this new but exciting phenomenon. I was able to arrange a telephone interview a few days later with Oji Idakwoji, one of the men responsible for Nollywood NYC.
By the way I had a good time, the food was great, the atmosphere was great. How did NollywoodNYC come about?
Oji: A friend of mine did a Nollywood movie that was a $50,000 to $70,000 investment. He needed to recover the investment. He showed it to me privately.Liked it. Movie was different from the typical Nollywood fare. Story line, production values, etc. Thought of showing it to a larger audience. Gave him insight into the various film distribution channels and people in the Nollywood space here in New York. Furthermore, a light lit on. There might be other producers with the same needs! The idea was in place! Got my partners Ora and Akin together, and then decided to widen the exposure of Nollywood to non- traditional spaces, locations and audiences.
Are you a fan of Nollywood?
Oji: I just got into Nollywood recently. Got into this whole thing on a different level when I noticed crowds when Akin and Paw-Paw came around. People waited in the cold for up 2 hours. It was unique and eye opening.
What is NollywoodNYC networking?
Oji: t’s for industry and regular folks. Typically, most networking events are targeted for specific audiences. We believe we have found a unique proposition that combines both.The Nollywood-based theme is the anchor. We have an eclectic international crowd, an African diaspora crowd, an after-work crowd, an industry crowd, all coming together. It’s not a traditional setting, it’s more an avante garde, cultural feel. Pepper soup and palm wine, guaranteed!
How often do you plan to host events like this?
Oji: Monthly. There’s a whole pool of talent. Producers are already lined up for future projects.
Any plans for future projects you’d like to share?
Oji: We have more upcoming events with Nollywood stars.As a reminder, we are in the business of shooting movies here in New York.We have upcoming collaborations with US resident movie producers/directors. We have upcoming initiatives with current Hollywood stars.One has to be on the mailing list to be aware (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Why NollywoodNYC instead of let’s say, Nigerian music or cultural events?
Oji: Nollywood is popular. Widely popular.The 3rd largest film industry after Hollyood and Bollywood. It reflects on our common heritage, help bridge cultures and create understanding. Events amplify cultural connections through African movies, food, music etc. At least once a month, you get to participate in what some appreciative fans have called “ogogoro village”.Laughs.
I noticed Fela was playing in last year’s event and in this year’s event as well, was that intentional?
Oji: Fela’s music was a conscious decision. It is a popular medium to spread his message and to share cultural elements. You definitely will not hear rap. Event is upscale, unstructured, eclectic, and relaxing,
Does NollywoodNYC only cater to movie networkers?
Oji: No. Creative people are given a platform to show their skills through movies and to give them the confidence, platform, and connections to move ahead. The star of the off-broadway show, Fela! Sahr was at the Feb 26th event. He came in after you left. We do have a after-work segment that is interested in just unwinding.
Yes, I heard he was there! I missed him. I would have loved to meet him because I did enjoy the broadway show.
Oji: Yes, he was there. We encourage all kinds of people to come with open minds. That’s why the events are free-so that next time you will be asking about the next event [laughs].
Where do you see Nollywood going in the next five years? Do you see improvements?
Oji: There are are Nollywood stars being involved in additional training and refining their skills.With increased professionalism, and improved production values, it is just a matter of time when Nollywood will be a dominant force.As for us, we will fill a vacuum. Also a lot of people from the Caribbean, and Latin America are coming to the events, asking how they can get into the industry.
In the Nigerian movie industry?
Oji: Yes. There’s this Jamaican lady who has acted in three Nollywood movies already.
What’s her name?
Oji: Keturah Hamilton-recent production, Preacher Man. Nollywood NYC is also about making movies.
Will these movies be set in New York?
Oji: New York or wherever, depending on the project.My partner, Ora is in charge of this.
Well, thank you for taking the time to do this. I look forward to future projects.