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Paul Robinson on NEFTI Initiative and Working With Nigerian Filmmakers [EXCLUSIVE]

The Story⚡

NEFT Vodka and LG ELECTRONICS along with AFRIFF, have forged a collaboration to highlight and promote young African talent. 

Currently in its fourth year, the N.E.F.T.I. (NEFT Emerging Film Talent International) competition – originally developed by NEFTI Founder, Paul Robinson with NEFT VODKA – aims to challenge aspiring filmmakers across NIGERIA to showcase their innovative and creative skills while embracing their uniqueness.

 The filmmakers will be mentored by NEFTI founder, Paul Robinson, who will guide them through the filmmaking process – these interactions will be recorded and edited into the content.

In this exclusive with Shock, Paul Robinson shares his experience working with emerging Nigerian filmmakers.

Tell Me More

Paul Robinson is the Chief Creative Officer for NEFT Global and the founder of NEFTI competition, a short film competition that helps filmmakers in emerging economies and underrepresented regions. Paul helps filmmakers’ voices to be heard outside of their cities, countries, or regions and puts them on a global stage. 

He also tries to give them the confidence to make the film in the first place, seeing that they might not have grown up with the same amount of confidence as their fellow creatives in other regions. 

Paul and the NEFTI Initiative give the support and mentoring needed by these creatives to level up with their counterparts by networking with different filmmakers and platforms.

For the competition, filmmakers apply online with their short films, after which the number of applicants is shortlisted to ten who then pitch their ideas to a panel of judges, comprising three leading professionals in the film industry from the United States and the winner from the last edition of the competition. 

The panelists for the just concluded edition included Acclaimed Actress Vivica A Fox, Academy and Tony Award-winning producer Bruce Cohen, President of Post-Production 21st Century Fox/Disney Ted Gagliano, and Moreetsi Gabang, 2023 NEFTI Africa winner. 

Following the pitch by the filmmakers, the judges choose the best three who will then be given $3000 each to make their film within thirty days. After that, the films then go ahead to compete for the grand prize of $5000 and the audience prize award of $2000 which LG sponsors.

Speaking on the final screening held for this year’s competition, Paul said, “It just works so well for the filmmakers. It was packed last night and people could barely get in. 

There’s nothing better for a filmmaker than seeing your film get premiered on the big screen at a well-known film festival packed with people coming to see your film, screaming, cheering, and laughing.”

In ensuring that the competition is transparent, Paul mentions that he distances himself from the panel of judges, although he picks the top ten, having gone through their synopses. 

“In the beginning, I started as a judge. But along the line, I removed myself from that position because I work with these filmmakers throughout the thirty-day period. I mentor and get to know them. They check in with me weekly. That makes it difficult to be a judge.”

He also mentioned that the competition is not restricted to any kind of theme, inasmuch as it is non-violent and non-political. What we’re looking for is to find humour or growth in everyday life.

“For me, this whole competition is not about the money or making a short film. It’s about education and setting these filmmakers up to make amazing films after the experience and getting them out there, ready to have a career as a filmmaker. When these filmmakers come out of the competition with their films, they are ready to move because they have the attention, from which they can build their confidence. I think that’s the main thing about the competition, being able to progress and come out of the competition a stronger filmmaker than the one that went in,” Paul added.

In his feedback about the winner of the last edition, he said “He’s really a great filmmaker. The same thing with Cheyi. What I love so much about them is that they’re passionate about what they’re doing. They are so expressive, and when you ask them why they did this or that, they have an answer. They have a reason for everything. This shows that they are really good at putting in the work. They’re very attentive, humble, and grateful.”

While commenting on the next edition of the competition, Paul said he looks forward to promoting NEFTI All Stars in at the Berlinale EFM, Cannes Film Festival and Durban FilmMart

NEFTI all-stars is comprised of all the five winners of the NEFTI competitions. So far, Africans have won all the NEFTI competitions from different countries,” he said.

Key Background

NEFT Vodka’s Chief Creative Officer, Paul Robinson, an artist known for his unique approach to creating stunning, imaginative, and provocative imagery through a varied combination of mediums and processes, began his career as a fashion photographer in Paris.  

He has been recognized as one of the most talented celebrity photographers in the industry with his work displayed in well-known magazines such as Details, Elle, Interview, Detour, GQ, George, and Architectural Digest, to name a few. Robinson’s illustrious client roster includes celebrities such as Renee Zellweger, Jennifer Tilly (who modelled for his commissioned Absolut Vodka ad in 1995, among other projects), David Arquette, Ella Fitzgerald, B.B. King, Melissa Ethridge, Catherine Keener, Noah Wyle, The Beastie Boys, and Dermot Mulroney. 

Notably, many of his clients are also collectors of Robinson’s work.

Aside from his career shooting for some of the world’s top magazines, as well as his highly successful series of exhibitions in New York, Los Angeles, London, Hong Kong, and several other cities, Robinson is probably best known for the constant evolution of his artistic processes and drive to explore new mediums. Initially striving for the clear sharpness of a single image, he began employing new methods in his photography including layering multiple images upon one another, incorporating text and other media, and eventually, the introduction of painting to the layers. Exploring increasingly provocative themes, each piece is printed on a transparency, often blending juxtaposing concepts to create ground-breaking and thought-provoking art.

“Throughout his artistic transformations, Paul’s art has always maintained a profound human element, which is a driving force behind his ability to tell a story and create an experience in a single piece,” said Jeffrey Mahony, CEO of NEFT Vodka. “NEFT is unique and experiential itself, and Paul is perfectly suited to capture these attributes through his art, adding a new dimension to the NEFT story.”

In 2020 Robinson founded the NEFTI Competition, a short film competition created to find and inspire talented emerging filmmakers internationally and give them an opportunity to spotlight their visions and creativity, expand the filmmaker’s reach into regions that may otherwise not have been available to them, and showcase the diverse creative process of filmmakers from a variety of backgrounds and environments.

The final films of each NEFTI Competition are screened at a notable film festival and the winner is chosen. 

Top 3 Films 

Cheyi Okoaye has emerged as the winner of the NEFT Emerging Film Talent International Short Film (NEFTI) Nigeria Competition for his short film titled, “Don’t Think Too Much About It,” earning him the grand prize of $5,000

Hassan Tha Kreator and Joanna Okey-Ogunjiofor securing the coveted NEFTi-LG Audience Choice Award for their short film titled, “Dream of the Weave,” winning $2,000.


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