By Lydia Gachuhi
When I got my acceptance letter to attend the 2014 Africa International Film Festival Workshop (AFRIFF), I was over the moon. I knew I had just been given a golden opportunity and at once, I decided to make the most out of it. This was my first visit to Nigeria. Stepping off the plane on arrival in Calabar city, my welcome was a blast of heat and humidity! This took me by surprise, and pleasantly so, because I am a lover of coastal climate.
Right off the bat, all the people I met were so kind, helpful and hospitable. I felt completely at home. The food was delicious, so much so I felt it was divine. I particularly loved the sweet breads and spicy sauces. I made sure to have them during every meal.
The training workshop started on the following day. I was in the screenwriting class. Our mentor was Mr Tunde Babalola, an exceptional screenwriter who I learnt has been in the business for more than 20 years. What I liked about Mr. Babalola’s approach was that he began by teaching the basics of screenwriting. This way, he treated all his students as equals who were starting at the same level.
This was especially helpful to me as there were concepts that I had been struggling with and his method helped me to clear the fog. Fortunately or unfortunately, the take home assignments were in plenty. As a result, it was rather difficult for me to juggle that with the parties that took place every night. Not that some students found it a challenge; in fact, it was fun to many!
Personally, I took a pass on the parties because I was on a mission – to win the scholarship to the United States of America. This scholarship meant the world to me. The most promising top 10 students out of approximately 100 would be selected to attend a prestigious film school in America!
The whole week was one big assessment based on our performance in class and how we did our assignments. As such, at the end of it all, all students were on pins and needles as we waited to hear who had been shortlisted. Each class (there were four – Directing, Cinematography, Acting and Screenwriting) had approximately 25 students and only 5 per classwould be shortlisted. By the grace of God, I made the top 5 in my class. The battle was half won – one more leg to go.
Saturday, November 15th revered actors and actresses, entertainers, guests of honor including the Governor of Cross River State, Liyel Imoke and his wife, Mrs. Obioma Liyel Imoke were at the Cultural Centre for the Festival Awards Gala.
The night was magical. All the women looked stunning, dressed in gorgeous gowns, their faces all made up looking like flawless porcelain dolls. The men were as handsome as ever in their suits and tuxedos. The music reverberated across the amphitheatre and one was consumed by both the excitement and anxiety, the latter referring to those who hoped to walk away with the coveted awards of the night.
The festivities were underway. We saw amazing dance performances, mesmerizing magic tricks and an assortment of speeches from key industry players. Then the awards ceremony began. Filmmakers – screenwriters, directors and actors and actresses were awarded for their outstanding work one each of their films.
Then, finally, came the time to award the 10 students with the scholarships. As they began to call out the names, I bet one could have heard my heart pound against my chest despite all the noise. When the first two names for the screenwriting class were called out, I thought I had lost. I didn’t expect a third name to be called and my heart sunk. And then my name came right after those two. For inestimable seconds after this, I was in utter shock. My knees turned to jelly.
Somehow, my wobbly legs managed to carry me down the many flights of stairs and atop the massive stage. And there I stood, looking out at a multitude of people, all clapping and cheering. My dream had come true, my mission had been accomplished.
AFRIFF 2014 has given me the best memories of my professional life. I will cherish these memories and I will be grateful forever. Now my eyes are fixed on 2015 – to take America by storm and make all those who have faith in me and gave me this opportunity very proud.
To God be the glory, forever.