Below is the concluding part of our interview with Kunle Afolayan; here, he talks about African cinema and expands on his relationship with Netflix.
What’s the most important thing to you as a director?
Two things are essential to me as a director: great stories and high production values. The latter is more important because no matter how great the story is if it is not well produced, you cannot do justice to it, and great productions need an excellent camera kit. I shot Citation with the Canon Cinema EOS C500 Mark II, which is an approved Netflix camera. I saw the camera for the first time at the International Broadcasting Convention (IBC 2019), just after its launch, and its capabilities amazed me.
Typically, it’s not a director’s place to tell a cinematographer what kit to use, but I’ve always wanted to shoot with a 4K Full Frame camera, and I knew this one would make it to the Netflix approved list, which was necessary for this production. Thankfully, Jonathan Kovel (DOP, Citation) loved the camera and found it easy to use. It is so adaptable, and we were able to use it in different scenarios.
We also used Canon’s Sumire Prime lenses, which gave the pictures a lovely cinematic feel and made the subject stand out. Also, compared to other professional film cameras, the C500 Mark II and Sumire Prime lenses are affordable, which is vital to independent production companies with low budgets.
Is there a lack of representation of Nigerian and African film in Europe? If so, why?
There’s still a lack of representation of Nigerian-produced, and more broadly African-produced, films in Europe, both in cinema houses and at film festivals like Cannes. We make a lot of incredible independent films, but they’re not getting the recognition they deserve because they haven’t been co-commissioned by big international production companies.
Streaming services like Netflix are so crucial in exposing content from other continents. If they didn’t exist, then it would be a real shame, not only for independent production companies but also for the viewers, who would only see a limited portion of the world.
What’s key to boosting Nigerian and African film in Europe?
In 2014 my film, October 1, was released on Netflix; this changed everything for me. I was contacted directly by Netflix, and I knew instantly that this was a step in the right direction for other Nigerian film companies and me because, at the time, Netflix didn’t have any subscribers in Nigeria. This informed me about Netflix’s appreciation for universal content; platforms like theirs can raise awareness of issues globally and allow independent filmmakers to gain exposure in different markets.
Not only are streaming services excellent for sharing stories around the world, but they are also for sharing content locally. For example, some cities in West Africa don’t have cinemas, so they rely strongly on streaming services as their source of entertainment.
Last year, you got six of your films on Netflix. How did that happen?
Early last year, I got an email from a guy called Brian [Pearson], he’s Netflix’s head of acquisition and co-production. He reached out, saying, “Netflix is trying to expand in Africa and Nigeria, and we are looking to work with so and so people.” (At that time, they had not employed the hands they have now, who are representing Africa – Ben [Amadasun] and Dorothy [Ghettuba]). So they invited me to a conference, and then to their office in Amsterdam.
That established new conversations about existing work and future projects, and then we hadn’t shot Mokalik. When they eventually hired Ben and Dorothy, they introduced me to them as the people who would be handling Africa. But before then, they had declared interest in acquiring all our titles and were waiting for Mokalik to be ready so that it could be included. That’s how the conversation started.
What role has Netflix played in taking the Kunle Afolayan brand global?
They have played a key and exciting role. For instance, did anyone envisage that all of this (pandemic) will happen? If you had said to anyone late last year that their film, which they scheduled to release in April or May, would not go to cinemas, would they have believed?
So Netflix is a rescue right now, and not only to me but the entire world. I was speaking to them a few days ago and I realized that even Hollywood studios with potential blockbusters that were meant to go cinemas are now begging Netflix to acquire their films. This is something we have been praying for; for an average filmmaker, your joy is to have different distribution platforms.
So I’m excited because Netflix is a big rescue for African cinema. After all, before now, a typical African film doesn’t get distribution. It is a bit different in Nigeria because we take risks; people built cinemas. However, this is not the case in other African countries. Another positive thing about Nigeria is our people watch our films until you make a fool of them, which is something I am a bit scared of. These days, there are so many bad films, and Nigerians have started to revolt, saying, “we are not watching.”
So Netflix is a game-changer, and I think they have brought hope to the industry.
With the growing number of films premiering on streaming services before the big screen, do you think that this will increase, thereby wiping out cinemas?
No, cinemas are still important. A healthy film market is one in which streaming services and cinemas can operate simultaneously. They have different purposes and can support each other. Nollywood, for example, is still growing within the cinema industry, but it’s also gaining more recognition on streaming platforms. It’s all about getting the right content to the right people around the world. The demand for great stories is everywhere, whether that’s on the big screen or at home on the couch.
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