4:32 pm Apr. 16, 20121
LAGOS—In his small corner of the film world, Ishaq Sidi Ishaq is a giant.
His 2000 movie Wasila, released on videotape and distributed in the Hausa-language market of northern Nigeria, was a local blockbuster, selling hundreds of thousands of copies. It established a new cinematic style, drawing on Bollywood-inspired dance routines, and was one of the most influential Hausa films ever. Braving the disapproval of a devout Muslim culture, and working around sharia laws, Ishaq has gone on to produce an incredible number of movies. He can’t easily come up with an exact count, but he estimates around 120.
For all of his accomplishments, though, until recently Ishaq felt there was a gap in his experience. That was why, when I met him a few months ago, he was taking classes inside a Lagos school building decked with giant banners bearing the image of a gold Oscar statue, and slogans like "So You 2 Can Make a Great Movie."
“This has always been my dream,” Ishaq told me. “To be trained by the New York Film Academy.”
You might wonder what a veteran director in Nigeria—home to the world’s fastest-growing movie industry—would have to learn from the New York Film Academy, a trade school best known to late-night cable viewers for its goofy commercials featuring celebrity endorser Brett Ratner. Yet last year, Ishaq was among roughly 250 students who took part in an unusual cultural exchange, as the Union Square-based film school dispatched a delegation of instructors on an entrepreneurial mission to Africa.
The month-long moviemaking course, publicized on the front pages of Nigerian newspapers, was just one component of the for-profit trade school’s drive to turn itself into a global education brand.
The academy enrolls around 5,000 students annually, 1,000 of them in full-time degree programs, and a heavy proportion of them come from abroad. In addition to its locations in New York and Los Angeles, the academy opened satellite campuses in Abu Dhabi and Australia over the last few years, and frequently stages short-term programs in emerging movie markets like India, Brazil and China.
Wherever it travels, the New York Film Academy follows a philosophy of “open enrollment,” admitting nearly anyone who is able to pay its tuition and fees, which range from $1,500 for some one-week courses up to $20,000 a semester for its two-year M.F.A. tracks. Recently, the school has been the target of online complaints, accusations that its owners reap millions while offering degrees with little benefit. But overseas, the fine print of issues like accreditation command less attention than academy’s august-sounding name, and the Hollywood stars to which it claims a connection.
The Lagos academy was born out of a mix of developing-world ambition, profit motives and idealism about the universal language of film. All the classrooms were named for movie icons. One morning inside the darkened, overcrowded and stiflingly hot Orson Welles room, Abraham Heisler, whose directing credits include several commercials and short films, was using Citizen Kane to illustrate the proper use of the wide angle lens. It was the first week of classes, and students were still trickling in after journeys from the countryside. Down the hall, Grant Housley’s class was starting off from the beginning, by watching the opening credit sequence from Rear Window.
“That’s Alfred Hitchcock,” the teacher said. “He’s a very big director.”
The lessons may have been rudimentary, but Nigerians are hungry for basic knowledge. “Nollywood,” as the country’s film industry is known, is young and vibrant, but it is also notoriously short on professional skills. The students I met were brimming with excitement about the technical disciplines they would be learning from their American teachers—directing, cinematography, editing, screenwriting—as well as the advanced digital equipment the academy had sent with them. “The camera we are using now,” Ishaq said, “I have never heard of.” (It was a high-definition Panasonic.)
At an evening opening ceremony, the academy’s 26 instructors and staff were introduced to a chorus of raucous hollers from the student body. One of the program’s organizers, Stephanie Okereke, took the stage wearing a hot pink blazer. A statuesque Nollywood movie star, she herself is the graduate of a New York Film Academy course.
“Most of us went all the way to America to do this opportunity,” Okereke said. “And now it is here, live in Nigeria, so you don’t have to go through the horrors of getting a visa.”
Then the actress played the schoolmarm.
“Please, please, please pay attention you guys,” she told the students. “Because you have a lot to learn, in so little time.”
The crash course was extremely expensive, especially by African standards: $5,000 per student, including living expenses, meaning that the overall cost to the Nigerians was around $1.2 million. The overwhelming majority of students were attending on scholarships sponsored by corporations and Nigerian government institutions. The largest funder was the Niger Delta Development Commission, an agency charged with creating job opportunities in a formerly war-torn region of the country. But technically speaking, the program was open to anyone, regardless of previous education, grades or experience, in keeping with what the academy’s president, a former movie producer named Jerry Sherlock, described as its founding democratic principle.
“Most of the film schools in Europe and around the world, they really restrict themselves to a very finite number of students,” Sherlock told me. “They make it extremely difficult, and our philosophy was, if you have the passion and you are ready to commit to the hard work, this is the place for you to discover whether you have the talent to really become a filmmaker. You don’t have to know somebody who knows somebody to get in.”
SHERLOCK, 76, IS FROM CONEY ISLAND AND SPEAKS with a Dodgers-era Brooklyn accent. We talked on the phone some time back, after I had returned from Nigeria, where I had run across the Lagos program in the course of researching a magazine feature on Nollywood. Knowing little about the New York Film Academy beyond its Zizmor-esque advertisements, I was surprised to encounter it so far from home, and I became more intrigued once I discovered that many of Nollywood’s most esteemed directors proudly held degrees from there.
“It is the most popular film school in Nigeria,” said Chineze Anyaene, a graduate whose first film, Ijé, was a recent hit in Nigerian theaters.
In February, hoping to learn more about the school’s international expansion strategy, I made an appointment to meet with Sherlock at the school’s home office, a columned building on 17th Street that once served as the headquarters of Tammany Hall. A vintage motorcycle and sidecar, the kind from World War II films, stands by the academy’s entrance—Sherlock is a longtime collector of art and antiques—and movie posters cover the walls. I walked upstairs, where desks were crammed into nearly every inch of open space, and students were working elbow-to-elbow, hunched over computers.
There was no sign of Jerry Sherlock.
Michael Young, the provost, waved me over to a desk, where I waited as he dealt with a delicate-sounding personnel matter on the phone, and then he informed me that his boss wasn’t coming in. We talked for a while about the academy, which he has been with from the beginning, and I set up time to return in two days. Sherlock canceled again.
“Frankly,” Young explained, “if it was for the cover of Vogue he might have more time for you.”
If Sherlock wasn’t interested in recounting his career, though, his experience shines through in the oft-expressed ethos of his school, which contends that “learning by doing” is “more valuable than years of theoretical study.”
Sherlock himself dropped out of school at 14, and never returned.
“He is an extraordinary person,” said Robert Hartman, a friend and former business partner. “Brilliant in many ways. Not, true, in education, but he just has a feeling and an understanding of things that not many people have.”
In the past, Sherlock has claimed he quit school to work as carnival barker, and spent his adolescence traveling as truck-show roustabout. He lived in Paris for a time, where, he has said, he developed his taste for art, and did business in the Far East in the 1960s. When he returned to New York, with his Japanese wife Kumiko and a baby son, Sherlock went to work for Hartman, who had a firm that dealt in surplus goods. Hartman recalled that the younger man impressed him by securing a shipment of Asian furniture and sundries.
“He had this truck come in, full of Chinese stuff, doubled-parked on Fifth Avenue, at rush hour, and we unloaded all the stuff,” Hartman said. “The next thing I know, I asked him, ‘Why don’t you come to work with me?’”
Sherlock remained with Hartman’s company for more than a decade, and made a lot of money buying and selling fabric. He lived in an apartment in the San Remo on Central Park West. He owned a Picasso print, and his living room was decorated with erotic Egon Schiele drawings. (By then, he was divorced.) But Sherlock grew bored with the garment trade. In the mid-1970s, he decided to get into show business.
Sherlock’s upstairs neighbor was Zero Mostel. Sherlock met the famous actor—Max Bialystock from The Producers, and of course Tevye from Fiddler on the Roof—in the elevator, and they became friendly. By 1977, Sherlock was in business with Alvin Cooperman, a legendarily colorful Broadway executive, who had, among other things, first booked Fiddler. Sherlock invested $200,000 in a partnership to produce television and stage projects. In turn, he later alleged, Cooperman promised to introduce him “to influential members of the entertainment business community.”
Together, the partners made a special for NBC, a production of Gian Carlo Menotti’s Christmas opera Amahl and the Night Visitors, but they soon quarreled over money. Sherlock sued Cooperman, claiming that he had been “suckered into a disastrous business relationship.” According to a handwritten internal document, Sherlock was left with the rights to three projects, entitled Shark Lady, Father Divine and Lolita.
Only one of them, Lolita, made it to the stage. Sherlock and Cooperman had obtained the rights to the novel from Vladimir Nabokov’s estate for $59,000, and playwright Edward Albee signed on to do an adaptation. But Sherlock’s effort to produce the play on his own turned into a farce: “a story as comic and troubling as the one onstage,” said a 1981 feature in New York magazine. The article portrayed the production as plagued by inexperience, dissention and financial troubles. Sherlock took out an ad in the Times seeking additional investors, star Donald Sutherland criticized Albee’s script on the “Today” show, and Albee was furious about mysterious leaks to gossip columns that played up the show’s salacious content.
“You’re dealing with what takes place in the play: cunnilingus, fellatio and masturbation,” Sherlock told New York, before conceding, “Well, if there’s a hook, there’s a hook.” In the end, though, all the tabloid attention did not turn “Lolita” into a sensation.
“This show,” Times critic Frank Rich wrote when it finally opened, “is the kind of embarrassment that audiences do not quickly forget or forgive.”
Amid the protracted struggles of “Lolita,” Sherlock was also trying to make his first movie, Charlie Chan and the Curse of the Dragon Queen. An old photograph in the New York Film Academy’s catalogue shows Sherlock grinning on the set, beneath an umbrella held by director Clive Donner, wearing a beard, a panama hat, short white shorts, and a striped shirt unbuttoned to his breastbone. Sherlock co-wrote the script, trying to update the stereotypical Chinese detective’s character, giving him a klutzy part-Jewish grandson who ate lox with chopsticks. He tried to cast an Asian actor in the role, but the studio insisted on British actor Peter Ustinov, infuriating Asian-American activists, who threatened to picket the production when it shot in San Francisco.
Sherlock snapped back, saying the protests just gave him “a whole lot of free publicity,” a defended himself against charges of racism, pointing out that his ex-wife was Japanese and his son half-Asian. “You have people who are so hypersensitive,” he told the Washington Post. “There are a lot of Jewish people who are sensitive to the word ‘Jew.’”
Though Vincent Canby pronounced the movie a “haphazard delight,” it bombed. Several other ideas—a Tarzan spoof entitled “Me Irving, You Gladys,” remakes of the Alec Guinness classics Kind Hearts and Coronets and The Ladykillers—never amounted to anything. Finally, Sherlock got his hands on a Cold War submarine thriller written by a Maryland insurance agent, and published in 1984 by the obscure U.S. Naval Institute Press.
“We didn’t have any reputation,” Hartman said. “He just saw the possibilities of Tom Clancy before anyone else saw them.”
Sherlock optioned The Hunt for Red October, and after Ronald Reagan publicly praised the book, sales exploded. It was made into a blockbuster starring Sean Connery and Alec Baldwin, with Sherlock was attached as executive producer, a title that can mean a great deal or very little in Hollywood.
Mace Neufeld, the movie’s producer, declined to comment on the specific nature of Sherlock’s involvement.
I asked Hartman, also an investor in the New York Film Academy—its library is named for him—whether the success of The Hunt for Red October helped to finance the school. He paused for a moment, and then said, “No, but I won’t tell you why. You’ll have to ask Jerry that one. … If he wants to talk about it, he’ll tell you about it.”
“Are you aware of the studio accounting system?” Sherlock wrote me in an email, in response to a list of questions that I submitted after he ignored several weeks of messages left by phone, emailed and relayed via Young. “Officially [The Hunt for Red October] is still in the red, and not one penny of profit has been paid to any of the profit participants. If you know of anything different, please tell me!”
THE NEW YORK FILM ACADEMY PRIDES ITSELF on its “intensive, hands-on, total immersion approach to learning,” which it contends is universally accessible. When the academy’s instructors arrived in Lagos, however, it didn’t take long for them to discover some holes in the curriculum. The program’s open enrollment policy and financing arrangements had created a vast gulf among the students. Some, like Ishaq Sidi Ishaq, were experienced professionals, but many scholarship students were from the underprivileged Niger Delta.
“I’ve had two students who haven’t even used computers before,” Derek Griesbach, a teaching assistant in the editing course told me. “The scroll button is freaking them out.”
The culture shock went both ways. Ryan Gibson, a screenwriting teacher from Bed-Stuy, kept an online journal recording his reactions to the strange food, snarled traffic and everyday chaos of Lagos. A year before, Gibson had taught at the academy’s first Nigeria program, held in the sleepy capital of Abuja, but sub-Saharan Africa’s largest city was daunting. The school building was guarded by many mountainous bodyguards wearing tight t-shirts that said “Become the Dream,” who insisted on accompanying any teacher who set foot off the grounds. Leaving his hotel in the morning, Gibson wrote, reminded him of the movie scene where the gates open to Jurassic Park.
“This is the heart of Lagos,” Gibson wrote. “These are the streets where the smell of weed glides through the air as easily as bread. Where a hibachi and some steak makes you a restaurateur. Where the yellow van taxis fly by, doors open, with men hanging off the side. This is the place where there are more holes in the road than road in the road.”
The first day of classes, Gibson told his students they would each be expected to produce a feature screenplay by the end of the month. “Not too many have experience with screenwriting, but many have written scripts,” he wrote. “If that statement feels odd to you, you should read their scripts … we got work to do.” One student, “a strange kid,” came in with an idea that excited the class, about a woman who fakes her death to escape an abusive relationship. Gibson recognized the pitch as “Sleeping with the Enemy.” He scolded the student, lecturing him about plagiarism, but a few days later, he came in with “Where is the Poison,” retelling the Wallace Shawn scene from The Princess Bride.
Other scripts were less blatantly derivative, but they still had what Gibson described as “that Nigerian stink.” The Nollywood style, such as it is, is heavy on exposition and complicated plot twists. “They really like drama!” Gibson wrote. “One of our biggest challenges is to teach them less is more.” He screened Jaws and the Denzel Washington movie Déjà Vu, to show how they advanced the plot without dialogue.
“There is a way of doing things in Nigeria. We’re here to bring a change to that,” Brad Ben-Hain, the film academy employee in charge of coordinating the Lagos program, told me when we met inside the school’s well-secured equipment room.
Nigerian movies are already enormously popular with African audiences, but Ben-Hain said they could still benefit from American expertise.
“The basic skills of filmmaking apply across the board,” he said.
The course hewed closely to the model set by Jerry Sherlock two decades ago. When it first opened, the academy offered only short-term workshops. “Orson Welles once said you can learn everything there is to know about film in two and a half days,” Sherlock told Crain’s New York Business in 1992. “Because we’re not Orson Welles, we stretched it to eight weeks.”
The academy started out offering classes at the Tribeca Film Center—or, as the school often notes in its promotional materials, “Robert De Niro’s Tribeca Film Center.” (The space was leased; De Niro was never associated with the school.)
As the student body grew, the school moved on to buildings in Union Square and Soho, and also opened a facility on the Universal Studios lot in Los Angeles.
Because its classes were taught by practitioners, not professors, the Sherlocks were able to draw on a large labor pool of moonlighters from the entertainment industry. And the short-term workshop model traveled well, allowing the school to avoid expensive overhead by renting space in prestigious locales. It staged summer programs at Cambridge University and the Sorbonne, and at Cinecittà, the famous film studio in Rome. The academy’s current catalogue touts programs at Disney Studios in Florida and Harvard University (“perhaps the most famous learning institution in the world,” according to the film academy’s promotional materials, which also include small disclaimers that it is not affiliated with Universal Studios, Disney, or Harvard).
Today, the academy is accredited by the National Association of Schools of Art and Design, and its permanent campuses offer full-time programs, which charge tuition comparable to that of the best-known graduate schools. But it remains a private family business. In a 2007 deposition connected to a lawsuit with Christies, over a disputed $1.1 million purchase of a Maillol statue from billionaire John Kluge’s collection, Sherlock testified that the primary owner of film academy was his son Jean. A former Salomon Brothers investment banker, Jean Sherlock now runs the California campus.
Jerry Sherlock would not comment on the academy’s finances. Based on the enrollment numbers Young disclosed and its stated tuition charges, however, it appears its annual revenues could easily exceed $50 million. Sherlock disputed that estimate, without providing another one.
“The figure is confidential,” he said via email.
The academy recently began offering federal student aid, and a foundation linked to the school has disbursed a modest number of scholarships, amounting to around $70,000 annually between 2008 and 2010, according to tax returns. But the school acknowledges that only a small proportion of the student body receives such assistance. Over the last few years, an anonymously operated website called nyfasucks.com has published a stream of posts from allegedly disappointed students and underpaid teachers, claiming that the school overstates the value of its costly training. “If you want spend so much money on a film education,” one advised, “go to a REAL film school.”
The person behind nyfasucks.com did not reply to messages sent to the site’s email address, and New York Film Academy officials would not respond to its accusations. When I spoke to a couple of experienced film producers, they told me they could not recall ever working with someone who had graduated from the academy.
“They tend to be from the big four,” one said. “Columbia, N.Y.U., U.C.L.A., or U.S.C.”
Sherlock said that while the “vast majority” of his students and faculty are satisfied, he has never made a pretense of promising that a film degree is a route to fame and fortune. The school does have a number of success stories. For instance, 2008 graduate Paul Dorling took his film Predisposed, which began as a student short, to Sundance this year. “The school is always quick to point out that that is mostly a testament to those students,” Michael Young said. “The film academy doesn’t make people talented, or make them driven, or give them stories that they want to tell.”
Instead of focusing on its lucky few alumni, the school’s catalogue and its website stress a different selling point. It claims to be the “film school of choice” for many luminaries “who have sent a SON or DAUGHTER to study with us,” listing among many others Steven Spielberg, Al Pacino, Jodie Foster, and Hall of Fame quarterback Dan Marino.
The family connections are often picked up in the foreign press, and if you google any of those famous names and “film school,” a link to the academy’s site appears higher than that of any other institution. This appears to be by design. In an interview posted on nyfasucks.com, a fired marketing employee named Lon Cohen claimed that Sherlock was “fixated” on staying atop of Google’s results via search engine optimization, and said the school spends “a boatload of money on marketing both online and off.”
“Please define ‘boatload,’” Sherlock replied, adding, "Google is an algorithm and you have to work on it."
(When I contacted him, Cohen declined to comment further.)
The academy’s greatest marketing coup, though, is its association with the big-budget action director Brett Ratner.
“Brett has been a friend of mine for over 25 years,” Sherlock said.
The first of his endorsement ads was premised on the notion that Ratner—who was ousted as producer of this year’s Oscars due to his serial offenses to women, gays and good taste—was only doing the commercial because he lost a poker hand to Sherlock. A recurring joke is that the director keeps flubbing his lines and uttering bleeped curses. One spot is a mock public service announcement.
“If you, or someone you know, is aspiring to be a filmmaker, please go to the New York Film Academy,” Ratner intones. “Teachers are standing by to help you perfect your craft.”
Ratner went to film school at N.Y.U.
OVERSEAS, THOUGH, THE DISTINCTIONS BETWEEN THE DEGREES offered by New York University and the New York Film Academy tend to appear less relevant. From the beginning, the academy has proved to be very attractive to international students. In contrast with university film schools, Sherlock’s attitude toward qualifications—“Who am I to say who has talent and who doesn’t?” he told the Times—offered easy admission, and with it the document necessary to secure a student visa to the United States.
“They are just after the money,” said Chineze Anyaene, the Nigerian director. And she was appreciative, because the film academy’s openness had helped to launch her career.
“I wanted to go to film school to learn the basics,” she told me. But with help from her prosperous family, by the end of her two years of study in Los Angeles, Anyaene was able to turn her student project into a feature film about a Nigerian woman accused of a Hollywood murder, starring two famous Nollywood actresses but shot with an American crew.
“I wanted to do everything the Hollywood way,” Anyaene said.
When Ijé was released in 2010, African audiences marveled at its slick production, and it went on to become of the most successful theater releases in Nigeria’s history. There are similar stories about other academy graduates, like Khyentse Norbu, a Buddhist monk from Bhutan who made a soccer-themed comedy, The Cup, which I happened to run across on the Independent Film Channel one weekend afternoon. Digital cameras have made it possible to shoot cheap, high-quality films almost anywhere.
In our phone conversation, Sherlock told me that in the last five years the film academy has seen a sharp increase in its applications from the developing world, a market it is trying to cultivate. In March, for instance, the school held an open house for interested students in Rio de Janeiro, and it has staged a recent four-week program in Mumbai. In 2008, the film academy opened its first permanent overseas branch in Abu Dhabi, in cooperation with the wealthy emirate’s government, which has made a serious effort to attract western cultural and educational institutions. Its first classes included students from as far away as Bangladesh and Kazakhstan.
"What we're proud of is we deliver the goods," Sherlock said. "We're in Beijing, China right now, working with CCTV, the government broadcasting channel. They could have done a deal with anyone."
The school’s Nigerian venture, however, is by far its most daring. It came about at the urging of Stephanie Okereke. A famous actress and former beauty queen, she attended the academy before making her directorial debut with a movie called Through the Glass. She saw an opportunity in Nigeria, where a $500 million movie industry has exploded over the last two decades, in the absence of almost any formal training.
“We said, yeah, we get that all the time—why don’t you bring the school to Kuala Lumpur or wherever,” Sherlock told me. “We say, great, if you can make it happen, we’ll do it.”
Okereke and her longtime boyfriend, Linus Idahosa, were partners in a communications consulting firm called Del York International. Idahosa became the film academy’s local sponsor, bringing the program to the capital of Abuja in 2010, and then Lagos last year.
“Linus is an interesting man,” Ryan Gibson wrote in his journal. “[He] has the look and carriage of a businessman wrapped in the intensity of a gangster. In America, he would be a celebrity in his own right. Here there is a mix of fear, respect and concern, as the media scrutinize the what’s and why’s of what he is doing.”
One afternoon, Idahosa made his entrance into the school building in Lagos, gliding with smooth assurance behind a pair of large aviator sunglasses. We sat down on a pair of plastic chairs, and he explained his ambitions for the month-long program, as a Del York documentary crew, shadowing their boss, began to film our conversation.
“We hear of a lot of philanthropic efforts from the States, for example, coming to Africa,” he said. “People helping out with hunger and disease and all of that. But what we feel it that the best way you can invest in the lives of people is by investing in their talents. So if you can identify someone who can be a Steven Spielberg tomorrow, an Angelina Jolie tomorrow, you know, you identify them and train them so that they can begin to fend for themselves. That is how the growth can be achieved.”
The challenge, Idahosa explained, was money. I was told that the instructors, many of whom were taking breaks from jobs in the entertainment business, were being paid between $3,000 and $6,000 for the month, in addition to living expenses. A Nigerian airline had donated the cost of their plane tickets. But somehow, the total budget of the program had still added up to well over a million dollars, which meant very expensive tuition. “Few people in Nigeria can afford it, and we saw that coming,” Idahosa said. “We decided to open our treasure chest of contacts.”
Okereke was known to be friendly with Nigerian president Goodluck Jonathan, and when he ran for reelection, Del York cut a slick commercial for him, featuring many Nollywood stars. The firm’s connections came in handy when it was looking for scholarship donors: Along with corporate sponsors, like Pepsi, Del York secured financing from government entities including the Niger Delta Development Commission, or NDDC.
The commission, financed by the Nigerian government and oil companies like Shell, oversees more than a billion dollars in funding meant to alleviate poverty in the petroleum-rich coastal region, which suffers from spills, environmental destruction and periodic warfare. Under a 2009 peace agreement, Niger Delta rebel groups agreed to end a campaign of kidnapping and violence against oil facilities in return for amnesty, education and retraining, and investment via agencies like the NDDC. The film academy scholarship program was launched as part of this peacemaking initiative.
The commission did not appear to have allotted its scholarships to demobilized rebels or displaced fishermen, however. One of its beneficiaries, Blessing Uduefe, was a gregarious theater actor who told me that he had already directed two movies back home in the city of Warri. “I want to do works in the Hollywood style,” he said, as he waited for a filmmaking panel discussion. “I want to know what they do, and how they do it.”
There was some grousing among the more experienced students from Lagos about the Niger Delta contingent, who were thought to be unserious beneficiaries of government nepotism. But Uduefe’s instructors in the editing program raved about his work ethic.
“Blessing is an incredibly ambitious student,” said Derek Griesbach. When I asked Uduefe how he had ended up in the program, he volunteered that his uncle was on the NDDC board. “Most of these militants for whom the amnesty was meant are not that educated,” he said. “Bringing them here, it would be like giving corn to a goat.”
Uduefe told me he was hoping to learn enough about digital editing so he could cut his own movies. “Those editors in Warri,” he said, “they are always bragging about what they know.” They worked on PCs, but the film academy instructors had introduced him to Apple and its software program Final Cut. “If they can make this Macintosh equipment available to us permanently,” Uduefe said, “it will be very, very profitable.”
Idahosa told me that his intention, over the long-term, is to open a full-time film school in Nigeria. He was hoping for increased aid from sources like the World Bank and the Nigerian government. To secure Nollywood’s campaign support, President Jonathan has set up a $200 million fund to develop the industry. “We are looking for partners, people who understand what we are doing,” Idahosa said. In September, though, a few days after the program ended, Idahosa’s most important partner, the NDDC, was dealt a blow when its entire leadership was fired en masse by Jonathan, after a government investigation revealed what one newspaper termed “mind-boggling” corruption.
For their final project, Uduefe’s editing class was given a surprise: a chance to cut a music video for General Pype, a Nigerian dancehall star. Griesbach and some other teachers shot the footage, having slipped away from their bodyguards to film it in a Lagos junkyard. Uduefe told me he had learned a great deal, but continued to worry about what would happen once it was time for the instructors to leave. “It will be easy to fall back to using substandard equipment,” he told me.
“The only disservice we did to them, I wish we had more time,” Gibson told me after he returned home. “If you can get one talented director and give them a shot of being Quentin Tarantino, there are so many stories that these guys are waiting to tell.”
In a month, most of his students never made it through the first act of their screenplays. But the serial plagiarizer did come up with a semi-original idea, called Gangland. With some advice from Derek Griesbach, Uduefe Blessing did manage to buy a new Macintosh computer, shipped from America. A red-carpet awards ceremony drew many Nollywood stars, and each student was awarded a diploma.
Sherlock’s company also profited from the experience, presumably: A few weeks ago it was announced that the New York Film Academy would be returning to Nigeria in June.
Inline photos: Jerry Sherlock (in shorts) with director Clive Donner at Paramount Studios, from NYFA course catalogue; students in class, from the DelYork flickr stream
Andrew Rice is a contributing writer to the New York Times Magazine and the author of The Teeth May Smile but the Heart Does Not Forget: Murder and Memory in Uganda.
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