Ukraine meets Nollywood on the pages of 2013 Disbook Africa

by Nikolai Bazanov

A version of this article was published in the Fall 2013 edition of Disbook Magazine

One could think of a long-term co-production strategy but, really, the idea of the Ukrainian-Nigerian film Feathered Dreams (trailer) is ‘the right people getting together at the right time’ rather than anything else. Or maybe this is what they call the zeitgeist.

The idea of making such an unconventional film came to two people from two completely different fields of work, independently of one another. During a business trip to Abuja, Igor Maron, an Ukrainian construction company owner, was amazed at the nostalgic stories of his Nigerian clients who reminisced about their life as students in Ukraine. Andrew Rozhen, an Ukrainian film- and music video maker, has been interested in African culture since his childhood. Once, he heard a story of his Nigerian friend living in Ukraine that inspired him to make a film based on real-life events.

Disbook Magazine, October-November 2013 edition by Basic Lead (Photo by Andy Kozlov)
Disbook Magazine, October-November 2013 edition by Basic Lead (Photo by Andy Kozlov)

In fall 2011, Igor Maron and Andrew Rozhen  met each other and discovered that they have some exciting ideas in common. The Ukrainian-Nigerian film started growing feathers.

Attempts to analyse the African film market

Rich experience in African construction projects gave Igor Maron an understanding that any market can be won either by improving the quality of your product or by reaching more efficiency in production. As far as Feathered Dreams was concerned, the plan was to do both. But before that one had to study the Nigerian film market.

To experts, it is no secret that IMDB.com and BoxOfficeMojo.com don’t provide sufficient information for understanding the distribution dynamics of Nollywood productions. The sites give you the name of the rights holder and indicate the domestic BO performance of a film. But the sources of the information are not there to be checked. In the meantime, the monitoring of the specialized media reports provided a bunch of controversial data.

 The story line and protagonists

Feathered Dreams is based on a true story of Sade, a young medical student from Nigeria who dreams of a career as singer. Challenged by many circumstances of life as a foreign student in Kyiv, Sade perseveres with confidence and supported by.. her Ukrainian boyfriend Denis.

Nigerial actress Omoni Oboli of the The Figurine and Anchor Baby fame plays Sade. Denis is played by Andrew Rozhen, the film’s director.

Out of Disbook Africa: “Ukrainian and Nigerian filmmakers prove multicultural co-productions between Eastern Europe and Africa are feasible.”

African-Ukrainian co-production experience

Despite the fact that the  film is being positioned as a co-production between Ukraine and Nigeria, the African stake in it is more artistic than financial. The film budget was fully covered by Ukraine-sourced investment through Highlight Pictures, a film company.

There are a number of reasons for this. Firstly, African private investors considered the film idea too unconventional. However they have expressed their interest in becoming part of future projects once Feathered Dreams has proved financially viable co-production. Secondly, no co-production treaties exist between Ukraine and any African nation. Which deprives African-Ukrainian projects of state funds.

The indispensable Nigerian contribution to the pilot project has been two-fold: analytical input at the development stage and management support during the production period in Ukraine.

2013 Discop Africa in Johannesburg’s Sandton Convention Centre. One day before the launch (Photo by Andy Kozlov)

On the Feathered Dreams set

Feathered Dreams was filmed completely in Ukraine. The flashback scenes about the female protagonist’s childhood in Nigeria were filmed on the Black Sea coast in the Crimea.

Setting up the 2013 Discop Africa pavillion of Côte Ouest, Africa’s major content distributor (Photo by Andy Kozlov)

In Ukraine – as in many other emerging markets of Europe – the issues of tolerance and building a multicultural society are a territory that needs a more profound exploration. This topic, one of the key ones in the film, assured support of Feathered Dreams production on the part of various state institutions and local media. Two Ukrainian national universities provided the crew with their premises for filming. While six leading TV channels in Ukraine prepared a number of news reports from the film’s set.

Film premier at 2013 Cannes film market

Attention to detail. The China pavillion at the International Convention Centre in Sandton, Johannesburg, one day before the launch of 2013 Discop Africa (Photo by Andy Kozlov)

The market premier of Feathered Dreams took place at the Marché du Film during the 66th Cannes festival this year. The premier screening was attended by buyers from the UK, Italy, Canada, South Africa and the US.

Andy Kozlov speaks at Show Me the Money panel discussion during the 2013 DISCOPRO Africa conference in Johannesburg, South Africa. (Photo Eric Megret)

People managing the Nigerian national pavilion were most forthcoming. One day before the premier, they allocated a time slot for the presentation of the  Feathered Dreams trailer at the pavilion despite their extremely busy schedule and the fact that this event was not part of their initial activities list. As the result, Halima Oyelade, head of film festival unit of the Nigerian Film Corporation, kindly presented Feathered Dreams producers with a list of African film festivals that might be of interested to our team. Hope Yongo, technical adviser to CEO of Nexim Bank Nigeria that sponsored the Nigerian national pavilion at Cannes, conducted an on-the-spot assessment of the commercial potential of the film on the Nigerian market.

Distribution strategy

Zimbabwe's Stephen Chigorimbo of Afriwood, African content distribution company, is introduced to Ukrainian TV series by Film UA. (Photo by Andy Kozlov)
Zimbabwe’s Stephen Chigorimbo of Afriwood, African content distribution company, is introduced to Ukrainian TV series by Film UA. (Photo by Andy Kozlov)

The producers of Feathered Dreams aim at the international distribution market. The target audience is Nigerian viewers both inside the West African country and in the diaspora. The priority distribution areas are countries with the developed movie theater network, as well as the DVD market inside Nigeria.

Already during the  production stage, Highlight Pictures received distribution offers from cable TV operators and video-on-demand platforms, steps that are an important part of our distribution strategy and will be implemented only after the theatrical release of the film.

The Ukrainian component prevalence notwithstanding, Feathered Dreams is set to be presented in Ukraine some time later according to the current timeline. The schedule of film premiers has been finalized with a view of several months ahead, and — compared to the exigencies of the foreign colleagues — distributors in Ukraine do not insist on the right of first screening in Ukraine. Up till now, the marketing strategy has been focused on the Ukrainian audience. Meanwhile, the promotion campaign in other territories should be a responsibility of future local distributors.

Next step

Ukrainian-Nigerian drama Feathered Dreams is no doubt a precedent for both nations. This one project however does not guarantee the sustainability of such co-productions in the future.

To foster a fruitful win-win co-production environment between African nations and Ukraine, a number of formal procedures need to happen. Government-level co-production agreements need to be sealed, producers from both territories need to meet on a regular basis to identify the co-production priorities. And then there is a constant need for public outreach campaigns aimed at both audiences to get them interested in appreciating the multicultural, unconventional efforts of the creatives from the joint African-Ukrainian teams.

See related:

Inspired by stats from Basic Lead. But still wondering what the future holds for African films in Russian-language markets

We used to be glued to telenovellas: Ukrainian coproducer of a Nollywood flick thinks there is no way African films will be popular with the Post-Soviet viewer

On the winding roads of African film distribution

UN Volunteer helps Ukrainian Highlight Pictures to finetune work with film partners in Africa and beyond

The first Nigerian film production in Europe. It turns Ukrainian phones red and challenges (Half of A Yellow Sun) in authenticity

What you should know about Kiev Media Week (part 1) and (part 2)

Afriwood to participate in 2012 Ukrainian Content Market

Photograghy traits of Xinhua in Africa

Copyright wars II: What “pirates” of Hollywood (read “American film-making pioneers”) share with Nollywood marketers

First Imax in Central Africa? Yes, call in Eastern Europeans to launch it well

Africa story wars: Two black female cultural leaders discuss the importance of narrating Africa-sourced stories

Steppes In Figures #5: Ukraine and the world

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How do you increase South-South cooperation within creative industries? Using Information Technology?

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