Mildred Okwo: I’m home to lead a revolution in Nollywood

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A Theatre Arts graduate from the University of Benin, Mildred Okwo has lived in America for close to 20 years, practicing law before she returned to her fatherland about five years ago. The mission has been “to join the growing Nollywood industry and be one of the people that will help transform it from being a cottage industry to a massive one that is respected around the world.” And her efforts, so far, are yielding results with the establishment of The Audrey-Silva Company (TASC), and the shooting of The Meeting, a feature film, which is going to be released soon, as she noted recently in an interview session with journalists in Lagos. Excerpts:

WHAT has been your pre-occupation since your return five years ago?

When I got back in 2006-2007, I realised that really, we did not have an industry. When I said we did not have an industry, I mean, people just did their own thing, there was no record. Anywhere that you have this kind of industry, there are always records; you can wake up and know how many films sold in a day and things related to that. Things like these are needed to build a proper industry that contributes economically to the way things happen in Nigeria.

So, for the past four to five years, what I have been doing is to bridge that gap, create a company that will be run properly, an entertainment company that can invest in films, make money and invest in more films. It is a sort of business that you can put side by side with any other business around the world.

I think right now, a lot of people in the business look at us as if we are playing around, whereas, this is a lively industry. Nollywood contributes a lot to the business environment in Nigeria, but nobody, really, is acknowledging this. I feel that most people are interested in the glamour part of it, which is why I told my people that I love to talk to the business people because that is what we need now. Serious minded investors, to see that there is a future in the business of film.

Like I told you, I lived in Los Angeles for years, we did not go into any recession just because we had Hollywood. Because whenever there was recession all over, it was always making money for the State of California. So, I feel that we have proper companies, companies that are only created to do what they are supposed to do. And it is something that can rank second to oil as a source of income for the country.

And for this reason, we formed The Audrey-Silva Company (TASC) about two and a half years ago. We got that name from two female movie icons, the British-born Audrey Hepburn and Nigeria’s Joke Silva.

Audrey was an accomplished British actress and humanitarian. She was also widely recognised as film and fashion icon and one of few people who have won the Academy, Emmy, Grammy and Tony Awards. Not surprisingly therefore, Audrey has been described by many as “the golden girl of Hollywood’s Golden Age.” She was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in recognition of her work as a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador in 1992, shortly before her passage the following year.

Joke Silva, whose maiden surname completes the two-prong nomenclature of TASC on the other hand, is a Nigerian actress, director and movie school owner. Silva has received several awards and nomination for her work, including the awards for Best Actress in a leading role at the African Movie Academy Awards 2006.

We just decided that it went well together and these are the people we look up to in the industry. If you look at Joke Silva, she is somebody you may want to model your career after. That is how we got that name, The Audrey-Silva Company. It is an entertainment company. What we do is to produce visual content, inspired by African for African and anybody else that are interested in what Africa has to say. And the motto is to ‘provide African entertainment at millennium pace’, which means that we do not want to have any excuses, as much as Nigeria is tough, we want to be able to provide content that anybody else in the world can watch without saying there is no good sound, the stories are not good.

The directors are Mildred Okwo and Rita Dominic, an accomplished Nollywood star. We got together to say that we can create this company. She bought into it and that is what I have been doing really in the past two years, trying to properly create it. You are here now because the company has finally created the first feature film, The Meeting, that we would be launching this month.

It is just a simple story of a corporate Nigerian, 47, that goes to get something signed in the Ministry in Abuja, he made his appointment and it was supposed to be at 9:30am. He thinks he can just go in there, sign it and pump on the next flight and come back to Lagos. But he gets to find out that for him to get that authorisation, he has to go through a whole lots. It is an everyday story, a romantic comedy, because it has some romance and comedy involved but it is a romantic comedy with sense, because there is a lot of little issues about Nigeria we infused in there and we just want to be able to laugh at ourselves. I think for us to change the country, we need to laugh at some of the things we take so serious, some of the differences. When you laugh at it, it does not become so serious anymore and then tackle whatever the issues are. So this story specifically is about a guy who goes to work and then having problem getting this authorization from the government. He meets a woman from there and falls in love; so many things happen between that time and when he got in love. Simple story, but very interesting!

From where did you pick the inspiration?

Actually, the story was written by Tunde Babalola. He is an intelligent writer. I think, he is one of the best scriptwriters we have in Nigeria. You will not see his work around too much because he will not give it out to people who will not use it properly. He presented it to us two years ago and I immediately fell in love with it because I felt it is a story that can be interpreted anywhere in the world. Everybody in the world has government bureaucracy and this one is specially Nigeria. When I spoke to him, we immediately agreed it is a good story. But obviously, we re-wrote and infused a few things here and there to make it more genuine.

Mildred Okwo: I?m home to lead a revolution in Nollywood
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