By Eki Grace
Every March, in the last two years, hundreds of Americans converge on the historic Egyptian Theater in the heart of Hollywood, California to celebrate Nigerian films and culture. There, they join hundreds of Nigerians in the Diaspora for a weekend of Nollywood films, food and music.
The idea to bring Nollywood and Hollywood together is the brainchild of award-winning Nigerian-American journalist turned-Hollywood filmmaker, Ose Oyamendan. “Four years ago, I had this idea of bridging the cinematic gap between Nollywood and Hollywood. Every industry needs help. The French, Canadians, Japanese, Chinese, Koreans, British, Italians and all the big countries have a week they bring their films to Hollywood. It’s for talent exposure, opportunity to talk co-productions and location for future projects. I felt Nigeria and Nollywood need that,” Oyamendan discloses.
Several efforts Oyamendan made in the past to bridge Nollywood and Hollywood had failed. So, he reached out to the School of Cinematic Arts at University of Southern California (USC), the world’s premier film institute. When USC said ‘yes’ to the initiative, they made a pitch to the most prestigious theater in Hollywood to be a part of the initiative. The Egyptian Theater, operated by the American Cinematheque, agreed to join the partnership. And so, Nollywood In Hollywood was born.
Oyamendan continues: “I was clear about our objectives. First, we wanted people to see the films because we want exposure for the talent and our culture. That was like our three-year plan. If that succeeded, we will try to fill gaps in training, in co-production, distribution and location.”
However, the COVID-19 pandemic threatened to end the dream of building a solid bridge between Nollywood and Hollywood. But the organizers decided to fight it and expand the base of the event. They took it online and saw the number of participants triple.
“Someone sent Ose a screenshot from Pakistan!” Maceo Willis, the event’s African-American Operations Director, exclaims. “He read about the event online, decided to check it out and ended up watching all three days. He told his friends too. Just to prove he’s watching from Pakistan, he took a screenshot of a question and answer segment and sent us an image on Instagram”.
The 2020 edition had three of the most successful and critically acclaimed films of 2019 on display. Living In Bondage: Breaking Freekicked off the event on Friday night, moderated by Hilliard Guess, chairman, Black Writers Caucus of Writers Guild of America (WGA). The film’s director and star actor, Ramsey Nouah joined the audience for a question and answer segment, after the screening that went for over an hour.
“We want to talk about our culture. We want to talk about our stories. Nollywood In Hollywood was a great opportunity to take our film to a wider audience in Hollywood and beyond. I had a great time,” Nouah says.
The next day, filmmaker, Akin Omotoso led the cast of The GhostandHouse Of Truthto another screening, and question and answer segment that attracted severalindustry insiders including Ayuko Babu, founder of the premiere black film festival in theworld, Pan African Film Festival. On Omotoso’s team were actress Kate Henshaw, actorFabian Lojede and producer Ego Boyo.
The event ended on Sunday with the screening of Merry Men2. Actor and comedian Ayo Makun stormed the question and answer segment with actress Ufuoma McDermott, producer Darlington Abuda and director Moses Inwang. In a town of thousands of stars, the team of Merry Men2 added extra wattage to the lively question and answer series that followed the screening.
“This was very important for me. I liked the idea of this initiative and the opportunity to reach more fans. I am really thankfully to Ose, Alex and the organizers of Nollywood In Hollywood for what they’re doing for the Nollywood industry. I’m looking forward to returning with more films,” Makun affirms.
Also speaking, Alex Ago, director of programming at USC, states, “This edition brought together another brilliant collection of films and filmmakers who exemplify the magic of Nollywood. The directors, actors and producers who joined us virtually are global icons, and the enthusiasm from the audience was fantastic, as seen in the three very lively panel discussions that took place throughout the weekend. We are excited at the promise of the Nollywood industry and the opportunity to continue sharing films with our student and alumni community, and the Hollywood industry as a whole.
“In just three editions, we’ve seen a wide range of films – Nollywood In Hollywood has become a filmic travelogue to Nigeria. We look forward to bringing our 2021 edition back into the American Cinematheque’s Egyptian Theater and USC’s Norris Cinema, accompanied of course, by Nigerian food and music.”