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I always knew I would do this, it is law that I did not know I would study.

Once I watched Living in Bondage 10 years ago, I was even more

convinced that I was going back to the Arts.



Mildred Okwo: Girl Uninterrupted

Interviewed by Uche Nworah

Author of The Long Harmattan Season


Mildred Okwo is a lawyer, artist, writer, movie director and producer. You may just get away with it if you call her the new kid on the Nollywood block. Her debut movie 30Days took Nollywood by storm in 2006 and opened to rave reviews and critical acclaim. Not bad for this girl next door who grew up in the coal city – Enugu. Mildred says there are still more cinematic tricks up her creative sleeves, judging from her first effort, we are wont to believe her. In the midst of traveling around the globe premiering the movie, she settled down for a chat with Uche Nworah to talk about her life, Nollywood and the next project from her Native Lingua Films stable.

On growing Up

My parents are from Nigeria. My father is from Nsukka, Enugu State and my mum is from Mbaise, Imo State.  As far as I can remember, I spent a lot of time debating politics, policies and issues with my father. I grew up in the Coal City (Enugu). My family is diverse and more liberal than most families. I have cousins, nieces, nephews, and in-laws who are Hausa, Yoruba, Ashanti Caribbean and American both black and white.

Her Day job

Any form of entertainment related matter short of the chicken ranch variety (lol). My dream is to create a viable world class entertainment company so I have quit every other pretender job I had.

What’s a lawyer like you doing in the movie industry?

You say that like it is an aberration. I would be happier if the question was “what is a creative person like you doing in the legal profession?” Anyway, for me it was only a natural progression. I studied theatre in college and everything artistic comes naturally.  The practice of Law was just an intellectual exercise for me. I have a BA in Creative Arts from the University of Benin (Uniben).

When did you decide to make the switch from law to making films?

I always knew I would do this, it is law that I did not know I would study. Once I watched Living in Bondage 10 years ago, I was even more convinced that I was going back to the Arts.  After watching that home video, I knew I did not have to mess with trying to make it in Hollywood.  Too many Africans spend so many years trying to make it in Hollywood when we have such an opportunity back home.

What influenced your decision?

The need to tell the African Story in my own way.  As you can see Africa is getting popular again with Hollywood.  In the past 2 years, so many films have been based around Africa. Those stories are not really our stories because they are always centered on the Americans or the British with Africans as “waka passes” in their own continent.  I would like to change that by giving our actors lead roles in stories that are uniquely ours.  Before you know it, there will be a Hollywood film called “Impeachment Fever” starring Leonardo Di Caprio as Governor of some Nigerian state.  

Which Nollywood actors have impressed you the most?

I am impressed by folks who nobody even recognizes.  For example, I watched Kingsley Ogoro’s movie Widow recently, and I was impressed by an actor who only appeared in one scene.  That is how I cast Ekwi Onwuemene in my film.  I saw her in a small role in Promise me for ever.  Gbenga Richards impressed me a lot in 30 Days.  People did not think he could pull of the role as Mr. President because of his physical frame.  He proved them wrong by creating an unforgettable character that is so different from his real life persona.  I cast him in 30 Days because I saw him in a small role in Darkest Night.          

What’s the movie 30 Days about?

30 Days is actually a lot of things, action, romance, politics and what have you. I suppose that ten people would describe it in ten different ways.  Basically, a group called FRACA decides to rid the country of corrupt politicians.  Instead of doing it like EFCC, they decide to kill them off.  This obviously pits the group against agents of the government. Caught in the middle of all this is an economic refugee from New York Kene Alumona who travels to Nigeria for a 30 Day vacation and falls in love with a Nigerian lady involved with the group. Joke Silva, Segun Arinze are agents of the government.     

What was the experience like working with Genevieve Nnaji?

Good.  She plays the character that Kene Alumona falls in love with.  We had a set full of talented actors so she was in good company. Genevieve was on blacklist at the time of the production. We were the only producers who worked with her during the ban and I am so proud of Ego Boyo for not even flinching when I told her I wanted to use Genevieve for the lead role.    

The ban actually worked in our favour because it was easier to have Genevieve focus on one project.  I don’t know if she would have had that level of focus otherwise.  As you know, prior to the blacklist, the demand for her services was pretty high.  In Nollywood, they tend to shoot at least 2, to 3 films in one month and in my humble opinion no actor alive can sustain that level of work and still be very creative. 30 Days shows that Genevieve is not a one dimensional actor. She pulls the role off as an action heroine. 

How about the other actors in the movie, how was their performance?

Like I said, we had a star studded cast. We had veterans like Joke Silva who never stops acting until you say cut, Segun Arinze, Nobert Young, Ebele Okaro, Gbenga Richards, and Kunle Coker.  That is no joke man.  They represented Nollywood very well I must say.  We also have up and coming actors like Najite Dede, Iyabo Amoke and Nkiru Alinta who did very well.  CBA though new to Nollywood, has NY stage productions on his resume.        

Are there any other actors you like to work with in the future?

Oh yes.  I would love to work with Chiwetel Ejiofor, Richard Mofe Damijo (RMD), Angelina Jolie, Chika Okpala (AKA Zebrudaya), Meryl Streep, Rita Dominic, Femi Branch, Bimbo Akintola, Olu Jacobs, and Raz Adoti.  I just saw this guy David Oyewole in Shoot the Messenger, and I was completely blown away. Nigerians are doing big things.         

What other movie projects are you currently working on?

I have a film project which I don’t think will start till summer 2007.  I told my business partner that my dream cast for that film would be RMD, Angelina Jolie, Olu Jacobs, Rita Dominic and Raz Adoti.  He laughed really hard. Before the film, we have a television project that I am hoping will do well.  I am still signing up talent for that project. Africans are very colorful people and I cannot wait to tell our stories on an international platform.

What’s your experience been like so far considering that you are a new person in Nollywood?

You know every industry has its own ways and I am learning to adjust to the Nigerian way but with an American twist.  I have lived half of my life in the US so that is bound to happen.  Nollywood is a tough arena for producers.  Nigerians want their money and they want it now.  There is nothing like backend deals so as a producer you have to have real cash to get your movie done. Marketing and distribution side has been challenging.  It is almost like we are writing a new script.  There is no reliable distribution structure in Nigeria after 15 years.  There are many films that have sold well but nobody can produce a legitimate paper trail. Why would any bank invest in you when you can’t even tell them how many units you sold in Kaduna or in Lagos?  So we are working to create a paper trail in our own distribution process.   

What’s the average cost of producing a Nollywood movie?

I really don’t know the true answer to this question because the Nigerian film industry tends to be so close mouthed about their business dealings. I have heard that it ranges between one million and 10 million naira. But then again, a film like Jeta Amata’s Amazing Grace cost so much more than that. So your guess is as good as mine.

You seem to have gone overboard in terms of quality in 30 Days, are you confident that you would recover the costs?

By Nollywood standards, I guess you can say we went overboard.  But not even close by international standards.  On post production alone, if you witness what Hollywood does to get these movies out, your head will spin.  Maybe one day, we will be disciplined enough to release films of such quality. We still shot on DV like other Nollywood films.  

It is the audience that will decide whether we recover our costs. Film making is not a quickie way of making money and I am lucky I have Toyin Dawodu and Ego Boyo who believe in quality first.  They have invested a lot in 30 Days without drama.  They understand how long it takes to make a good movie and even then they know that internationally, we are still considered a small budget movie.

Native Lingua Films is in this business for the long run.  Do you know that people still want to buy films like Violated and Living in Bondage made years ago?  Nollywood is still growing so there will be new fans years from now who will want to buy CBA’s first Nollywood film or Genevieve’s old movies.  We will be there ready to oblige them hence the 30daysthemovie website.

What’s your advice for those aspiring to come into the industry?

At the very least, you must have a passion for it.  It is sad to say that there are many “fly by night” folks in our industry who have no passion for the art form.  We like to boast of our capabilities when in fact we have a long way to go.  So my advice is this – remember whatever you do in film is for posterity and it will have your name on it even after you are dead and gone.  As in everything, always strive to be the very best. 

What would you want to see the government do to encourage Nigeria’s movie industry?

Exactly what they should do for all spheres of life in Nigeria – provide basic infrastructure for goodness sake instead of parading around at hip hop concerts.  We have been unable to provide basic infrastructure in 46 years.  We have a scene in the movie where the Governor is in an SUV Mercedes but has to maneuver through bad roads. 

Contrary to popular belief, the American government does not invest money in Hollywood. What they have done is provide infrastructure so that you don’t have to experience 15 blackouts in one hour while shooting a movie. You don’t have to stop recording night scenes because you are worried about the safety of your cast and crew.  US governments over the years have enacted laws which enable the movie industry to thrive but that is also because the various relevant organizations lobbied for it.  No government will hand you anything, you have to come up with creative solutions for your problems and then sell it to the government.

Frankly, Obasanjo has been quite progressive about Nollywood.  He has appointed smart folks to leadership positions in the regulatory agencies and it is left for them to perform.  I hope that we elect a President in 2007 that understands how much more valuable Nollywood can be to our economy. During production, 30 Days alone hired close to 1,000 people and we put in millions of naira in the economy.   

What are your plans for the future?

I have so many things going through my head right now but I have to see 30 Days through.  I hope to continue making movies and working on innovative projects.  A lot of folks may not understand what I am doing but it will be clearer 10 years from now.  The future is bright for Nollywood if we can do the right thing.  When you think of it, just 2-3 years ago, most of our major stars had never stepped foot outside Nigeria.  Now they are celebrated by Africans all over the world.  Nollywood has made this possible and it can be so much more. 

Are you in touch with other Nollywood directors and producers?

(LOL) Knowing you, that question is deeper than it sounds.  We have to be careful about that Nollywood label because there are some directors and producers who don’t consider themselves Nollywood. I know a few and I am sure I will get to know more when I finally move back in a few weeks.  For now, I am in touch with Kingsley Ogoro, Amaka Igwe, Don Pedro Obaseki (Uniben alumni) Emem Isong Kola Munis and Jeta Amata.  I have met Peace Fibresema who runs the respected AMMA awards, Reemy Jes, Aquilla Njamah, Steve Gukas who directed Keeping Faith and Ekenna Igwe.  I am in touch almost on a daily basis with my Co-producer Ego Boyo.

How are you hoping to combat piracy in the Diaspora?

It’s sad to say, but most Nigerian movies sold abroad are pirated.  Yes, some of the neighbourhood African stores engage in piracy and so do some of the over 40 internet based sellers. There are illegal internet sites streaming films for free and earning hundreds of thousands of dollars yearly from advertising.

One of the major differences between us and other companies is that we are based in US Nigeria and Europe. We intend to actively protect our copyrights with the help of our lawyers, distributors, retailers, customers and the FBI.  We are providing adequate marketing and a decent profit margin to our retailers so there should be no reason for them to risk their freedom and/or reputation for a few dollars.    

Another big difference is that our customers can buy our movie online.  There are many customers who want to support Nollywood but our marketers have not devised meaningful ways to market to them.  For example, it will cost them only a couple of thousand dollars to develop a website and offer their products online instead of letting these folks steal from them.  We have a comprehensive list of websites and retailers in Europe and US.  I must thank our subscribers who have emailed the names and addresses of their local retailers around the world.      

What would you say is the major difference between your film and other Nollywood flicks?

Well one always wants to believe that ones creativity is different from others regardless of whether it is Hollywood, Bollywood or Nollywood.  Apart from the storyline, I believe the first thing fans will notice is the relative quiet in terms of the audio quality compared to others. When I was in pre-production, Joke Silva encouraged me to pay special attention to sound and I am glad I did.  The greatest compliment someone paid us was when he said he never felt like there was a camera, or like the actors were acting.  In other words, it felt so real to him and that is because we spent time getting enough shot coverage to achieve that goal. 

30 Days is out now on general release. January 2007.

posted 23 January 2007

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Blacks in Hispanic Literature: Critical Essays

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Ancient African Nations

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The Death of Emmett Till by Bob Dylan  The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll  Only a Pawn in Their Game

Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson Thanks America for Slavery / George Jackson  / Hurricane Carter

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