Berlin: Nigeria’s FilmOne Makes Global Push With China-South Africa Pact (EXCLUSIVE)

Christopher Vourlias

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FilmOne Entertainment, the Nigerian distributor and production company, has gone into production on the first movie to cash in on the $1 million film fund it launched with China’s Huahua Media and South Africa’s Empire Entertainment in December.

“Kambili,” by director Kayode Kasum, is the first of what FilmOne co-founder Moses Babatope expects to be a slate of eight-10 films that the fund will co-finance. The tripartite pact lays the groundwork for stronger ties between the creative industries of Africa’s two biggest economies and the world’s second-largest film market, at a time when the Chinese government has aggressively moved to boost its soft power across the continent.

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FilmOne announced in November that it would be partnering with Nigeria’s Corporate World Entertainment and Huahua on the first co-production between the two countries, “30 Days in China,” the latest installment of the hit comedy franchise starring Nigerian actor-comedian Ayo Makun, popularly known by his stage name A.Y.

Production in China, which was set to begin this spring, has been delayed due to the coronavirus outbreak, but Babatope expects the film to be ready for a 2021 release.

The company is banking on the global prospects of a string of domestic commercial hits. FilmOne’s EFM slate includes the adventure-comedy “Merry Men 2,” the dramas “The Set-Up,” “Love Is War” and “Living in Bondage,” and the blockbuster action-thriller “Sugar Rush,” which recently became the fourth-highest grossing Nigerian film of all time.

The West African nation’s box office has soared to record highs in recent years, with last year’s total B.O. of 6.4 billion naira ($17.6 million) marking an 8% increase from 2018. For a scrappy biz born out of a straight-to-VHS business model three decades ago, that domestic success has stoked an appetite for even greater global ambitions.

After the romantic comedy “The Wedding Party” shattered box-office records in Nigeria in 2016, FilmOne sold its sequel to 22 countries, marking the widest Nigerian release to date. Yet even that success pales in comparison to the tantalizing prospect of a theatrical rollout in China, a milestone the Nigerian industry will reach with the eventual release of “30 Days.”

With the global reach of Netflix and other streamers, global audiences are already growing accustomed to Nigerian content on the small screen. The Los Gatos-based streaming giant currently has roughly 50 Nigerian titles on its platform, according to Babatope. (FilmOne is the streamer’s main supplier of Nigerian content.) Netflix is also developing two unnamed Nigerian original series.

“The global appetite for Nigerian content is growing,” said Babatope. FilmOne is currently developing two high-end projects that he considers its most ambitious yet: “Greenland,” about a young soccer player who follows the treacherous human trafficking route to reach Europe; and “Darling Biliqis,” a romantic drama based on a myth about the Biblical queen of Sheba.

Babatope believes both films will have broad international appeal and could hit the festival circuit in 2021. But his ambitions don’t end there. “We believe that we are going to have an Oscar contender.”

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