Nelson C. Akachukwu
The more Africans making movies, the better the world will understand the continent - Nelson C. Akachukwu.

"This city's biggest strength is its diversity. It is the whole continent in one place. There is this vibrancy that makes it the best place to work."

Producer, director, writer and actor Nelson C. Akachukwu has been out all day scouting locations and fitting in meetings. Rockey Street, melodic and pulsating, buzzes below him as he chats, lounging on a sofa above the famous Yeoville street.

Akachukwu has been making movies in Johannesburg for five years, and is keen to share his knowledge and experience with emerging filmmakers.

"South African filmmakers make the mistake of trying to compete with international filmmakers. We need to stop emulating what's been done before; that is no way to develop a truly homegrown industry."

He believes that growing a local industry leads to continental interest and through this to gaining the attention of an international audience. "Africans should be telling their own stories. Stories from the root feel real to an audience, and that's what people want, stories where they can see themselves on the screen."

Sollwood: forging a distinct, African movie identity

Akachukwu wears many hats. The one that he is most vocal about is his involvement with Sollywood, a platform for African filmmakers working in Gauteng to co-operate and learn from each other. The idea, Akachukwu explains, is to create a South African centre for motion picture development that is influenced by the diversity of the region's population.

He believes that this network of African filmmakers, especially his Nigerian countrymen, can learn from one another. The goal of Sollywood (South Africa's Hollywood) is to celebrate African film and develop a sustainable homegrown film industry.

Nelson Akachukwu with some the other cast members of Black Heart
Nelson C. Akachukwu with some the other cast members of Black Heart.

"Why do Bollywood and Nollywood thrive? Because they have their own distinct identity. They are not trying to emulate anyone. With Sollywood we want to create something similar, to bring the stories of this vibrant, always changing African city to the world."

There are plans for a film festival that will double as a market for international investors. They will also run workshops for filmmakers on marketing, a skill many smaller independent filmmakers lack. Sollywood "is a platform to develop African film, to improve the image of the African industry has that has scared off investors."

One of the biggest issues facing African filmmakers, and by extension investors, is piracy. Akachukwu has a simple solution: instead of seeing bootleggers as the enemy, why not co-opt them? "Within days of a film's release you can buy a bootleg copy in remote parts of the country. That is a distribution system that should be used rather than shut down."

Joburg teaches 'just how similar we are as Africans'

There has been no holding Akachukwu back since he first decided that what he wanted to do with his life was make movies. He wrote, acted in and produced his first film, The Single Father, before deciding that writing original scripts and then bringing his vision to the screen as director was his passion.

"That film had a production schedule of three months. It was hectic non-stop, because I was responsible for so many aspects, but I knew then it's what I wanted to do."

Behind the scenes during the making of Black Heart
Behind the scenes during the making of Black Heart.

His latest movie, Black Heart, is inspired by Johannesburg. More than this, says Akachukwu, the city should be considered a character in the movie: all of Africa finds a place here, parts of the city are more like the United States of Africa than South Africa.

"As an artist, if you let yourself be influenced by this city, you pick up just how similar we are as Africans. All its different dialogues are the same language, if you listen carefully."

As a filmmaker Akachukwu wants to celebrate Africa, and he wants to bring other filmmakers along on his journey. The more Africans making movies, he believes, the better the world will understand the continent.

"I don't see myself as just a filmmaker. Film is the platform I have to speak to the wider public, especially audiences outside. It starts with us telling ourselves our own stories. Then we invite the world in - on our terms."

Source: staff reporter

Contact the Gauteng Film Commission