Eko International Film festival may not be the biggest in the country but the man behind it, Hope Opara is proud of what he has done. He spoke with Snr Reporter, Ifeoma Meze, about this and more.
How did the Eko International Film Festival start?
I started from publishing a magazine called, Supple and my interest was in films and film festival. I was actually advised to look into that area of writing. We started by writing about local and international stars that we interview from time to time; we also cover events globally. The publication is online. We decided to do the publication online because when you are online the world is seeing you but when you are in print, the circulation might be within an environment. As we moved on with writing about films and film festivals, I also started getting invitations to different film festivals in many countries. That was where I started having the passion in international film festival. Film festival is an industry on its own.
When did you finally launch the film festival?
I will say we started planning in 2009, because no matter how small a film festival is, it takes an average of 12 months to prepare for it. You cannot just stand up and have a town hall meeting and then start calling people that you are having an international film festival. It involves a lot of things. You have a credible contact globally to advertise the film festival because film festival is like a body. Others will have to know that something like that is going on and you have to choose a date that does not directly conflict with major film festivals. These are part of the preparations. When you get this done and get it registered globally, then the acceptability will be there. That is when you announce for film submissions. You get film submissions from filmmakers around the world. The people that submit their films, you would give them their return ticket to come to your festival because they are bringing their work for you to screen and you have to be very careful with their projects. This year’s festival is going to start from July 9 to 14. July 9 is the opening ceremony, then July 10 to 13 is the screening period while July 14 is the award night.
How was the first edition of the festival received?
The first outing was big in terms of publicity but it was not big based on the fact that we did not have the required resources to invite people who actually submitted their films because we got film submissions from 26 countries of the world. It involves some financial commitment to do that. That was our challenge at that time and we were able to do the much we can. If the government and corporate organisations will look into the level of branding this festival can give them, I think they will be knocking on our doors to sponsor the course. Multinational companies around the world do not joke with film festivals. We all know that after listening to news on TV, the next thing people look forward to is a film, which can be a documentary, investigative, feature, soap, cartoon and all the rest of them. If there are no varieties on television, you get bored and leave the house. Getting sponsorship for film festival is probably getting into the psyche of Nigerian corporate organisation that it is a very good window to brand a product.
What are we to expect at this year’s edition of the festival?
I think this year is going to be better than that of last year because it is about film submission. It’s about screening of people’s works. It’s about creating the awareness for the people in the society, it is also about having workshops for up coming film producers who decide to take film as a career. We are going to have a very good workshop for that. We are also building a good distribution channel for people who want to exhibit their films. A film festival is all about film business, how to get it right for film producers because all these exhibitions from different countries with different creativity are going to open and broaden people’s mind on how things are being done. Festivals are not about wearing the best clothes and smiling at the camera on red carpet. They are all about film business and we intend to do a good job in the festival that is coming up in July.
Have you always had passion for film?
If I have to go back to my school days like when I was in secondary school, the kind of films I watched then were marshal art movies. I loved those movies and I have a black belt in Kung fu. So, those were the kind of films we were watching in those days – Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan, Chuck Norris, but now we are seeing so many varieties and we are tapping into them.
Was there a gap you wanted to bridge by establishing Eko International Film Festival, knowing that there are many other film festivals in Nigeria?
I started Eko Film Festival because I wanted to create a difference and add value to what others had been doing.
Did you study anything close to theatre arts?
No, I read finance at Nekede Polytechnic, Owerri while my MBA was also in finance at Abubaka Tafawa Balewa University in Bauchi State.
Wearing suit and sitting in an air-conditioned office and analysing financial report was not your calling?
I will tell you a short story. There was a time in Owerri I came across product, a body cream called ‘Hope’ which happens to be my name. I told myself immediate I saw that one day I would own a company. From that day on, I started thinking of being a businessman. I told myself that whatever I am going to do, I would definitely be a businessman. After my youth service, I came to Lagos and started hustling. I got into printing and from printing I went into publishing before going into writing films.
You never worked for anybody?
I did a little freelancing for a friend of mine who owns Top Media Communications, Reginald Aguchie. I did freelancing for him before I started my own outfit. I did not work for someone up to one year before establishing my own outfit. I picked up an idea and started building it. I prefer publishing online because it gives you less stress but it takes time for people to begin to know you.
How easy was it for you when you started? Did you get support from anywhere?
I got support from my immediate elder brother but I must say that nothing comes easy. I started my business from the scratch.
Were there many challenges that you almost gave up?
Sometimes you wake up in the morning and you don’t know where you are going. That is the challenge; unlike someone that is working for a company and at the end of the month he or she earns a salary. I don’t know how many people who have become multibillionaires in the world worked for somebody, unless you are going to steal it. So, if you want to be a billionaire, you better start thinking of what you can do by yourself. Create something that can add value to the society through something you have passion for. If you want to work for somebody, you can be comfortable, drive a good car, and live in a good home. You can have some good digits at the end of the month, but I don’t know how many people Dangotte must have worked for to become the richest man in Africa.
So did you start by thinking of becoming a billionaire?
Don’t get me wrong; don’t start by thinking of how to become the richest man in the world. Start thinking of how to create something that people will appreciate and come to you. Create something that a lot of people are going to benefit from. If at the end of the day you become a millionaire, good.
Are you from a very rich family?
I don’t know what people mean by a rich family. I came from an average family. At least everybody is educated in the family. Growing up was like a normal childhood. Boys will always be boys. You beat somebody up and someone else beats you up the following day. You go to school, come back and go to the farm, fetch water and do other chores you do while living in the village.
So you grew up in the village?
Yes, I grew up in the village. I am a complete village man. I like local delicacies too.
When was the last time you visited your village?
It should be last year. I don’t go there regularly because all my people are outside the country including my mom.
Is this why you are establishing the film festival in Lagos instead of Abia State where you come from?
I am based in Lagos and I have to do it where I am usually at. Since there is Lagos Film Festival already, I decided to call mine Eko International Film Festival.
What position will you get to and you will say you have reached the peak of your career?
I don’t think there will be a highest height because life is a continuous process until the day God says it is your time to leave the earth.
Is your family okay with your busy schedules and constant travels?
Nobody is complaining.