Like Kevin Costner, Nigeria’s award winning actor and director, Kunle Afolayan may bump into you on your next flight. Kunle Afolayan on Wednesday signed a major deal with one of Europe’s best airline, Air France, as an ambassador. Afolayan, already in the works for his next pan-African cast movie, The CEO, signed the international brand endorsement deal on Wednesday, at the Lagos, Nigeria’s office of Air France, witnessed by top executives of the airline, notable names in Nollywood and the media.
Speaking at the historic event, the General Manager of Air France, Jean-Raoul Tauzin, said the decision to bring Afolayan on board of Air France as an ambassador was borne out of their decision to forge a partnership with the creative industry in Nigeria and connect Nollywood to abundance of opportunities globally.
“If you are familiar with the Air France environment, we have been in Nigeria since 1946, serving the country, serving its citizens, and we are very pleased that we have someone very famous and international to represent our brand. As you may know, Air France has been sponsoring the Cannes International Film Festival since 1980 and we are very proud to be a partner of the Festival de Cannes to develop the industry of entertainment and art in France. Therefore, we are very convinced that with the help of Kunle Afolayan, we will be able also to develop as much as we can, a partnership between Air France and Nollywood in Nigeria, Tauzin said.
The deal, arguably the biggest international endorsement for a celebrity brand in Nigeria in recent time, coincides with Afolayan’s next film project, The CEO, to be shot in exotic locations in Nigeria, Ivory Coast, Kenya, Morocco and South Africa, will be facillitated by Air France in August when the tape starts to roll. The reason for the juicy deal, according to the Commercial Director of Air France, Arthur Dieffenthaler, is consistent with what the frontline airline stands for- Care, Quality and Pleasure- qualities which resonate in the famous actor’s works and persona.
Recalling how their paths crossed at the“Nollywood Paris Film Festival” held in Paris, France in June, 2015, Dieffenthaler, shortly before the MOU was signed, said the laudable achievements of Afolayan were not only admirable, his zeal to shoot films with deep cultural themes with innovative technology prompted his team and the October 1 actor cum director to discuss at length about his movies and the possibilities of a partnership in the future.
“ I could see that there was a connection” Dieffenthaler recalled, “ …as you know in Air France, connecting is what we do: we connect people throughout the world. We have also been connecting Nigeria for almost 70 years with the rest of the world. And that’s who we are.”
“If we look at all the brand values we have as Air France, the first one we have is Caring and that is about caring for our customers and the destinations we fly to, and I think contributing and investing in the country, Nigeria is a good thing and flying and exporting the things and culture of Nigeria to other people is a good thing. The second high brand value we have is High Quality, the quality of partnership we have, I’m very sure would become of higher quality and the third brand of value of ours is Pleasure, these brands relationship has started with a smile and I’m very convinced it would continue with a smile and in the midst of all the serious work we have, we still incorporate fun which is important as well and we have a lot of values that we can use to contribute to Nigeria.
In his reaction, Afolayan, commended the unique steps taken by Air France to get him on board, what it portends for the Nigerian movie industry vis-a-vis the challenges confronting the practitioners.
“I remember in 2009 when we wanted to shoot The Figurine, we approached quite a number of Airlines because there were parts to be shot in Germany and we tried to see how to make that happen but again we had to change the script because we couldn’t make it happen.
Afolayan spotting a bespoke Navy Blue double-breasted suit on a blue and white striped shirt featuring a red pocket square, recalled with nostalgia how the journey started.
“This journey started in Paris some weeks ago and the very moment they engaged me, I just started talking about my passion and because they were part of the festival in Paris where I met with the Vice President of Air France, Africa. I was just talking continuously about films and what we can do together. When I got back to Lagos, someone called and said let’s have a chat and there was a bond.
At the press parley, he shared a unique experience with the airline before talks on the deal began.
”Air France did something quite overwhelming for me. I was meant to go to Los Angeles and those who invited me provided an Economic Class ticket. I tried everything possible to upgrade that ticket, you know how it is with celebrity status but I couldn’t afford to, because it was quite expensive. And as I was making enquiries, I got a call from Air France that they were willing to upgrade me all the way to Los Angeles. That ticket was not a sponsorship ticket; they paid over One Million Naira to get it for me without signing anything. That was before we had reached any agreement on our partnership. And I said to myself, this means that these people (Air France) actually have the interest of, not just me, but the Nigerian entertainment industry at heart.”
At the event witnessed by Kunle Afolayan’s mentor, ace cinematographer, Tunde Kelani, Chairman, Audio Visual Rights Society (AVRS), Mahmood Ali-Balogun, the Founder/Chief Executive Officer, Africa International Film Festival( AFRIFF), Chioma Ude, Mainframe’s Production Manager, Jamiu Soyode, prolific writer and actor, Tunde Babalola, Chain Reactions CEO, Jaiye Opayemi and the Managing Director of FINATRUST Microfinance Bank, Deji Popoola, the Air France Commercial Director, Arthur Dieffenthaler said the airline would have Afolayan’s films known for their fascinating themes, characters and plots that hold international audiences spellbound on her long haul flights to all destinations.
To his waiting French fans and audience, Afolayan assured: “I cant speak a word of French now but I’m going to start learning as an ambassador and I feel it is going to be a great partnership.’’