History was made on June 1, 2016 at the premiere of the highly anticipated mystery thriller, “The CEO” onboard Air-France flight AF149 from Lagos to Paris. It was an extraordinary experience. From the red carpet at check-in counter to cocktail party at the boarding gate, to the movie screening and after-party 40,000ft above sea level, the movie screening went on from Lagos to Paris for the Nollywood Week Film Festival. It was a rarity ushering in a new chapter in Nollywood. Omolola Itayemi writes
The traffic that evening was one of the worst as intending travellers were seen abandoning their vehicles and walking up the departure bridge at Murtala Mohammed International Airport (MMIA), Ikeja, Lagos. Approaching the entrance to the departure hall was a sight that gladdened the weariest passenger; a red-carpet was laid, with all its attendant glitz, glamour, lightning and beautiful people. Welcome to the venue of the CEO special premiere, a movie starring Grammy award-winner, Angelique Kidjo, Jimmy Jean Louis and Wale Ojo in lead roles. The movie is full of intrigues and suspense with all five top executives embarking on a week-long business trip. The trip was intended to elect the new CEO for the company but things go out of hand along the line. It was filmed in an outskirt of Lagos, as well as other African locations.
The entire drama started when the executives arrived their destination for the business meeting and suddenly began to die one after the other in mysterious circumstances, leaving only two behind, a situation which led to suspicions.
First of its kind in this part of the world, so it came as no surprise when both passengers and security agents gawked, screamed and took selfies with both local and international actors there. But if they thought that was all, they were in for a shock as the red-carpet train moved into the interior of the departure hall, right at Air France check-in counter where celebrity interviews were conducted as passengers checked in. Not done yet, the red-carpet proceeded to the boarding gate with a cocktail party which had passengers and members of the cast letting their hair down. Before the historical journey, VIP guests and industry colleagues like Steve Ayorinde, Commissioner for Information, Lagos State; Jean-Raoul Tauzin, General Manager Air France; John Ugbe, MD Mulitchoice; Arthur Dieffenthaler, Chioma Eze; Ramsey Nouah, Muyiwa Ademola, Alibaba, OC Ukeje, Odunlade Adekola, Adekunle Gold, Linda Ejiofor, Kemi Lala Akindoju, Adesua Etomi, Lola Maja, among others were hosted on the red carpet. The stellar event continued onboard with the Movie screen and introduction of the cast to passengers onboard the plane at 40,000ft above sea level.
Air France known for promoting French culture synonymous with good cuisine, etiquette, luxury, fashion and music made the passengers trip a momentous one. Other corporate sponsors were Total Oil, Peugeot, French Embassy in Nigeria, Multichoice and others.
After all the razzmattz at MMIA airport and in the aircraft, we arrived in Paris to a cold but not freezing weather. I’ve never seen change of apparels done so fast, dinner gowns morphed into denim and winter jackets. Some seven/eight hours later, we were at L’arlequin Cinema, rue de Rennes where it premiered on big screen at Panorama room for Nollywood Week Film Festival.
The event brought to the fore a good relationship between the award-winning movie maker, Kunle Afolayan and the French airline and in doing so, Air France is one of the few international airlines that has found the nexus between its teeming Nigerian passengers and their love for Nollywood. This also reflects the movie maker’s growing stature as an internationally-recognised personality — a stature that he hopes will influence his filmmaking as well.
For Afolayan, who in recent years had emerged as one of the leading figures of the local film biz, the move from the red carpets of Lagos to the bright lights of Paris reflects a growing sense that the Nigerian industry – popularly known as Nollywood – is beginning to earn the world’s oft-grudging respect. “More doors are opening,” he says. While the wildly prolific industry has been widely lampooned for its low-budget, slapstick fare, Afolayan is among a cohort of producers lensing pics with broader appeal.
After Netflix acquired the rights to his last movie, “October 1,” as well as the romantic thriller “Fifty,” by Nigerian playwright-turned-director Biyi Bandele (“Half of a Yellow Sun”), Afolayan says he has witnessed growing interest from international buyers in the stories that Nigerians are telling.
The C.E.O.” represents a shift for Afolayan, who has been making headlines in Nigeria since his breakthrough sophomore effort, “The Figurine,” was released to wide acclaim in 2009. The son of the late, celebrated filmmaker Ade Love, Afolayan pulled together an international ensemble for “The C.E.O.,” including Haitian thespian, Jimmy Jean-Louis, Moroccan pop star, Ahmed Soultan, and Grammy Award-winning singer Angélique Kidjo, of Benin Republic.
Shot on location in Nigeria, South Africa, Kenya, Morocco and France, the film was his most ambitious effort to date, with a $2 million budget that dwarfs those of most Nigerian movies.
If the diverse crowd waiting outside the Cinema I’Arlequin at the screening of his film wasn’t an eloquent testimony to his love and passion for the movie-making, the resounding applause at the end of the screening put paid to that.