Mildred Okwo made some interesting revelations concerning the controversy that Filmhouse caused when it prematurely removed “La Femme Anjola” from many of its outlets.
The film, starring Nigerian veteran actress Rita Dominic and Nonso Bassey, was highly anticipated. Thus, when fans went to Filmhouse cinemas and found that the film was not screening any longer, they took to social media to complain. Okwo confirmed that the cinema had removed it from all its outlet except in Surulere and Lekki in Lagos State and another in Port Harcourt, Rivers State.
Speaking in an interview with The Cable newspapers, “La Femme Anjola” director Mildred Okwo blamed the action on monopoly. “… it’s their cinema. They do with it whatever they wish… the government let them do that,” she said.
If the ball was entirely in her court, Okwo says that she would not have said much about the incident. She understood that her film may not be mainstream and that cinemas may prefer it to other films.
However, “people had started reacting, asking why they would remove a film that was that new,” the director said. The inquiries deserved some form of response, and initially, she only used the popular refrain of them having the power to do whatever they liked with their cinema.
“Once I responded, it was obvious that people had been waiting. In my opinion, Filmhouse has some reputational issues. They’ve probably been doing this for a while,” Okwo explained.
On the other side of the disagreement are some internet users defending the company’s action. According to them, cinemas would always favour films that make more money over others that make less. A Twitter user, Jude Martins, replied to her statement with:
Aunti, ds ur publicity stunt is mde n Aba. Cinemas are nt charity orgnizatns, dy're biznes dt hv bills nd slries 2pay. If ur film's making money it'l stay long in cinemas. Just chckd CEAN website n cn see it made only 13M in 2wks, wht Omo Ghetto made in 1 day. Haba! fear God na!
— Jude Martins (@MartinsJude) April 2, 2021
In her interview, Mildred Okwo did not even dispute this fact. “All films are different. Mine is for a certain kind of people. I always knew before going to the cinema that many of those who would like my film aren’t coming out due to the pandemic. I knew I’d have to tap into online platforms,” she said.
Besides the ‘reputational issues’ she alluded to, this was not the first time that she was in this same boiling pot with Filmhouse cinemas.
Once bitten …
In 2015, Filmhouse cinemas removed Mildred Okwo’s film “Surulere” when it was the most popular Nollywood new release. From the onset, it had been a struggle to get the company to even screen it in its outlets across the country.
Speaking about the cold war, the director said, “I tried to get them to distribute it but they didn’t respond. I went to Silverbird but they told Silverbird they weren’t taking it”. When they did take the film, they refused to allow it to screen in their outlet in Surulere – the town in Lagos State that the film is named after.
“It was obvious what they were trying to do, considering the title. Two days before release, they decided to take it. You know what that does to a film,” Okwo said. Feeling hurt and hard done, the director went to the MD at the time, Kene Mkparu.
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Mkparu claimed that Okwo had badmouthed the cinema on Twitter and was likely why her film was getting such treatment. Regardless of the opposition, when “Surulere” became available, Okwo said it went to number 1.
“We were still number 1 in Nollywood, being that it just came out. But they yanked it off. It was obvious that this was beyond any business consideration. I left it. It had been a bitter case I ignored,” she said.
Rehashing the incident became important after this recent ill-treatment that she found herself on the end of again.
Why Filmhouse removed “La Femme Anjola” early
During the interview, Okwo hints at the production-distribution monopoly of cinema companies. She mentions a cinemagoer claiming that the film “Prophetess” got about seven screening slots in one cinema while Filmhouse removed “La Femme Anjola” prematurely.
For context, the Filmhouse production studio arm owns “Prophetess”. “I don’t think the government should let a company that makes film also distribute and exhibit. You can do both if the government allows it but there must be a way of ensuring there is fair play for all. It must be regulated,” Okwo complains.
She adds that she understands Filmhouse is conducting its business in a way that will profit it and she has no issues with that.
However, she hopes that the Nigerian government will stop letting them get away with the unfair practices.
“One of the viewers was complaining, asking why they would give the film seven slots without leaving them a chance to see other films. Your consumers are also complaining. Not all of us want comedy. It’s not an issue if you want to remove LFA but don’t tell me it’s because my film is not doing well. For a fair competition, you need to make sure there are other films,” Okwo concluded.
What next for “La Femme Anjola”?
It is not an entirely bleak picture for the film “La Femme Anjola” as it is still showing in three Filmhouse outlets and several other cinemas across the country.
As the director also hinted, she’ll start looking for other means to get to her target audiences via online platforms. She even mentioned that the film’s star actress Rita Dominic had offered her that advice from the beginning.
Some pre-production work is still left to be done for “La Femme Anjola” to be ready for online viewing as Mildred Okwo said; “Getting set to go online and my guy says he has to grade for that, the [colour] grade he has now is for cinemas in Nigeria. Which kain Wahala be dis. He is not charging me o but the Nigerian in me is rearing head.”
Additionally, confidentiality clauses will not allow the director to reveal acquisition details prematurely but likely, there have been deals reached for “La Femme Anjola” to stream online. When the news is made public, we will give updates.