• Interviews

Mimi Bartels Appointed General Manager of Filmone Studios: “I am committed to creating equal opportunities”

When Nigeria’s Filmhouse Group Holdings completed the repositioning of its FilmOne Studios division, it announced that Mimi Bartels was appointed General Manager.  FilmOne Studios will be a standalone production outfit separate from FilmOne Entertainment. Mimi Bartels, who was formerly Head of Production at FilmOne Entertainment, is ready for the challenge.

She is also fully committed to creating equal opportunities for filmmakers and to “recognize unacknowledged heroes and offer women in every aspect of filmmaking an opportunity to showcase their abilities, receive recognition and be compensated equitably.” We communicated with Mimi Bartels via email messages conveyed between Lagos and Los Angeles.

The official announcement that you will be the General Manager of FilmOne Studios was made on February 7 at an event celebrating key milestone achievements in the past year. What was your reaction when you got the news?

I found out in the last week of December. Honestly, I didn’t fully comprehend the magnitude of what I was about to undertake. Although I knew it was a significant development, I didn’t quite grasp the gravity of it. I kept it to myself for nearly two months. While some individuals were aware, I requested that they kept the information close to their chest a little longer. I knew what would happen when the news became public and I wanted to enjoy a period of silence for as long as I could before facing the public.

You committed to creating equal opportunities for women in the film industry. Is this still at the forefront of your agenda?

I am committed to creating equal opportunities. My aim is to ensure we identify and nurture the most exceptional talents in our industry who have yet to receive the recognition they deserve. My utmost desire is to recognize the unacknowledged heroes and offer women in every aspect of filmmaking an opportunity to showcase their abilities, receive recognition and be compensated equitably.

What are the major things you would like to achieve as the General Manager of FilmOne Studios?

The next legacy of filmmakers. I want to be able to say I ushered in the next generation. That is the only way we can keep Nollywood strong and, even, greater.

Under your leadership, FilmOne Studios will release more than 10 films in 2023. What are these films? How do these films showcase your focus on diversity and representation?

It was an interesting year, 2022. We achieved something truly remarkable. We had the highest-grossing film in West Africa. It even played in cinemas in the UK and in the US (the first for a homegrown Nollywood film). It was a significant achievement for us, given that the intellectual property was created in-house. With over ten movies released, I am thrilled that we were able to provide a movie for most of the calendar year. Our slate for the upcoming year will be announced by March 1st. It comprises a diverse range of intellectual property that has helped to fuel the growth of Nollywood.

In response to your question about diversity, we are committed to showcasing the various tribes in Nigeria, of which there are over 200. While the big three – Yoruba, Hausa, and Igbo – are well-known, we believe it is essential to represent other groups as well. As someone who does not belong to any of the big three, I am passionate about promoting representation in our films. Nigeria is now a sought- after destination. It is time for the world to witness the richness of our culture.

What kind of a leader are you?

My leadership style is a blend of laissez-faire and servitude. I tend to say “How may I be of service?” quite often, almost instinctively. I perceive myself as a servant to the art of filmmaking. It is my responsibility to guide it toward achieving its full potential. My primary focus is to bring the team together to achieve our collective goals.

What are the things that you enjoy the most about being a woman with a lot of power in the Nigerian film industry?

I actually busted out laughing. I don’t think I will ever view myself as separate from the art of filmmaking. As both a filmmaker and a suit, my primary objective is to empower Africans, particularly Nigerians, to become exceptional storytellers both at home and abroad. However, my primary focus is to promote Nigerian stories to audiences in Nigeria and beyond. It is high time for the world to discover the depth and richness of our culture.

How do you define your role in the Nigerian film industry?

In simple terms, my job is to be a content manager. My primary responsibility is to oversee the recruitment of the best talent, including writers, actors, directors, cast and crew. To me, the process of creating a film is akin to raising children – not only because I am a mother but because the level of care required is similar. Just as parents consider the best schools and workplaces for their children, we must identify the ideal environment and team members to nurture our films. In the world of filmmaking, it truly takes a village to raise a film to its full potential. My role is to ensure that all our ‘babies’ receive the care and support they require to thrive.

How much do you look for international success? And how will you achieve it?

Having lived, visited, worked and traveled internationally, every time I say I work in Nollywood people’s faces light up with delight. They enjoy our films. I didn’t fully comprehend the magnitude of Nollywood’s success until then. For me, success is determined by what you value. In my case, catering to an international market is already a form of success. Our content is widely consumed in Africa, South America, North America, Europe, and other parts of the world through streaming platforms. My goal is to foster collaboration and business ties between countries like South Africa and Nigeria, to create content together. The success of co-productions like Big Brother Titans demonstrates that it is feasible. I am committed to visiting these countries frequently to pursue this goal.

What are you the proudest of in terms of your career?

My greatest source of pride is knowing that I started as an assistant in the company. I was given the opportunity to oversee the distribution of what was then the biggest film in Nollywood. Six years later, an intern who persistently pursued me on all platforms to become a content development coordinator, messaged me on WhatsApp, saying “Mimi, I have a story”. That message led to the highest-grossing movie of all time in Nollywood, and to our most successful Nigerian release in the diaspora. It is gratifying to know that, like my bosses (who were blind to gender; I should add that I had no previous experience in distribution), I can now pay it forward to the next generation. They lifted me up so I could lift up others. For that, I am very grateful.

What are you the most proud of privately?

I may not have acknowledged it before but a colleague of mine recently told me to stop “doubting my greatness.” That resonated with me deeply. It helped me to become the best version of myself that you see today. Often, we succumb to imposter syndrome. Fighting it has enabled me to be a more effective colleague, leader, wife, mother, friend, and so on.