When Nigeria Meets France In Co-production Like No Other


Yoann Talhouarne has spent most of his life away from northern France, his home. He has been in 15 countries in Africa, including Rwanda and Kenya. Now in Nigeria where he serves as the West Africa Audio Visual Attaché to the French Embassy, he is implementing ways to further cinematic collaborations between France and Nigeria, writes Vanessa Obioha

In the almost two years that Yoann Talhouarne has lived in Nigeria, he has found an interesting way to navigate the contours of a complex city like Lagos. First, he uses his motorbike to meander through the ever-exhilarating traffic, adopted a furry white dog which he named Mr. White (his little companion) in Ajah, picked up a few expressions in pidgin such as “how far?” “no wahala”, familiarise himself with popular afro-pop artistes sounds like Davido and Simi which he played generously at his wedding in May, visits the New Afrika Shrine twice in a year, and understands that dithering is not a strong characteristic of most Nigerian businessmen. All of this didn’t happen in a day. It took him a while to acclimatise to his new environment. The first place he knew very well was Ikoyi. He is still wrapping his head around the Mainland. By the time he discovered the New Afrika Shrine, it became a place where he goes to ‘feel good’. He is in love with the setting and the music. Sometimes he takes French delegates there.

Coming from Burundi where he also spent two years, Talhouarne was somehow used to the ‘African time’ syndrome, but was quite impressed that Nigerians are not tardy to meetings. If anything, he finds them more punctual than Burundians. However, what has captivated him the most is Nollywood and our music.

“Music and Nollywood are the best ambassadors of Nigeria because all over Africa, even in Europe. I was in Portugal recently and people already knew about Davido. People really know about Nigeria culture out there. I think they are the best export of the country, “ he enthused as we sat in his office at the French Consulate in Ikoyi.

Most parts of Talhouarne’s four decades of existence are spent away from his home in northern France. He has been in 15 countries in Africa, including Rwanda and Kenya. The first country where the trained lawyer was glorified with the term ‘expatriate’ was Canada. From there he moved to Romania, then to Burundi before coming to Nigeria where he works as the West Africa Audio Visual Attaché to the French Embassy.

His new position required him to plan cultural events that will boost the cultural exchange between Nigeria and France. One of the significant events he planned was the French President Emmanuel Macron’s visit to the New Afrika Shrine last year. That historic event also in partnership with music channel Trace Naija featured music performances, art exhibitions, the unveiling of some cinematic collaborations and a chat with Macron who reiterated the need for Africa to change their narrative. Macron during his visit also formally opened the new Alliance Francaise Cultural Centre/Mike Adenuga Centre in Ikoyi. The centre according to Talhouarne serves as an all-purpose facility with a cinema, a cafe and learning centre for both French and Nigerian languages. “It is part of the key dynamics that will change the narrative of Africa,”

The centre on July 2 and 3 will be the venue for the French Nigerian Cinema Days, a cultural event put together by the French Embassy and also sponsored by some Nigerian companies. The two-day event seeks to promote and strengthen cinematic co-production efforts between the two countries. It will feature roundtable discussions where issues on distribution and co-production will be at the pith, as well as exhibitions and movie screenings including ‘Anna’, a film by the French film director, producer, and screenwriter Luc Besson. The film was acquired by FilmOne Distribution.

In December last year, the Embassy received 50 film projects from Nigerians which was narrowed to 12. The lucky 12 will have the opportunity to make a pitch to 10 French film producers for possible collaborations. There will also be big French movie companies such as Orange Studio, Canal + present at the event.

Nollywood stakeholders who would be speaking at the event include the Director General of National Film and Video Censors Board (NFVCB), Adedayo Thomas; convener of the Africa International Film Festival (AFRIFF), Chioma Ude; Nollywood filmmaker Kunle Afolayan; Executive Director of Filmone, Moses Babatope among others.

No doubt, the French has overtime evinced unwavering support for the creative industry. They are partners of Africa International Film Festival (AFRIFF) and has sponsored some of Kunle Afolayan’s films. There is also the Nollywood Week in Paris which according to Talhouarne is very significant as well as dedicated Nollywood channels on France TV platforms.

Nollywood, for Talhouarne, is the only film industry in Africa and is one of the best ambassadors of Nigerian culture.

“You can’t talk of Africa film industry without Nollywood. It is the only film industry in the continent and a great narrative to change the long-held African story.”

With this event, Talhouarne is optimistic that not only with the volume of co-production increase but also ease the accessibility of public grants for local filmmakers. This comes as good news for the average local filmmaker who depends either solely on his personal earnings or loans from banks.

“What I found about most Nollywood films is that it is usually based on loans. So whatever you are producing, you have to be sure that the money is coming back. There are funds that can be reached by Nigerians if they have French producers on their work. This can create a good connection and make them eligible to access the World Cinema Fund. Not only are Nigerian movies travelling to all parts of the world, but now you have filmmakers who studied abroad and are making their movies abroad. Take for instance Kenneth Nyang’s ‘The Lost Cafe’ that was shot in Norway. So there is this trend for Nigeria also to go over the borders to push new Nollywood.”

By new Nollywood, Talhouarne is referring to the new generation of filmmakers that have a different approach to cinema and much aware of “French cinema, America cinema, and kind of cinema. They don’t really care about the culture.”

In a way, the cinematic event is like a build-up to the Africa Cultural Season 2020, an initiative announced by Macron during his visit to Nigeria last year. Macron disclosed that the event would be about promoting African culture in Europe, adding that the event was going to be for Africa and by African artistes.

Apart from the co-production effort that is at the centre of the event, Talhouarne disclosed that French mass media company Vivendi will be building two cinemas in Abuja and Badagry. He added that there will be more talks on the distribution of movies between the two countries

“We have been getting more interest by Nigerian film distribution companies to commercially released French movies. ‘Anna’ is an example. We are working with them to see how we can release more French movies in the cinema,” he said.