Could you tell us a bit about yourself?
I grew up in the serenity of Jos Plateau. Beautiful mountains. No ethnic divide. As pupils and students we lived on mangoes, tomatoes, oranges, guava, raw sweet potatoes and carrots. We were never hungry because Jos Plateau people had a philosophy that as long you’re entering a farm to source for what you will eat, it was not trespassing.
Jos is also hugely cosmopolitan as a result of the tin mining that occurred during colonial times so
It seems as if a new audience is about to get introduced to Nollywood. What would you like them to know?
The Nigerian film industry is huge and have been serving audiences with compelling stories since the birth of what we now know as Nollywood. I’d like people to know that the industry is getting bigger and better and apart from the big feel-good films we are serving the world, there are other filmmakers they should research and look out for their films. Filmmakers like Abba Makama (Green White Green, The Lost Okoroshi), Nodash Adekunle (The Delivery Boy), CJ Obasi (Hello, Rain), Ishaya Bako (4th Republic), etc, are making enthralling alternative cinema.
When and how did making movies become an integral part of your life?
I was still in film school when I made the short film Mummy Lagos, which is probably Nigeria’s only entry into the Berlinale Talent Campus. That was 2006. The film was such a hit at the festival that a writing mentor asked me if I wanted to work with the BBC. They were coming into West Africa for a big-budget series. This was Wetin Dey.
He linked me up with the iconic John Akomfrah and David Lawson of Smoking Dogs. I had an interview, they saw my sample and that was that. I got into the industry after working on such an important series.
In 2010, as greenhorn filmmakers without a real producer, we applied for the Hubert Bals Fund film grant from theNetherlands and got a digital production grant to make Confusion Na Wa.
The film went on to win Best Film at the AMAAs in 2013 as well as the Jury Prize at the prestigious Pan African Film Festival in Los Angeles. As I mentioned earlier, it was one of the very first films from Nigeria to be picked up by Netflix and was a reference point for modern African studies in some American universities. Making that film was important to my growth as a filmmaker.
How long have you been directing for?
I started working professionally since 2006 on BBC’s Wetin Dey. I shot my first film in 2010 with funding from Hubert Bals Fund of International Film Festival Rotterdam. The film was not released until 2013 where it went on to win Best Film and Best Nigerian at the 2013 Africa Movie Academy Awards, the biggest accolade for our homegrown cinema. It also won 2014 Jury Prize at the Pan African Film Festival in LA. So directing for me has been for 14 years now but I have only three released films- Confusion Na Wa, The Lost Café and Oloture.
What has been the general reaction to your new film “Oloture” in Nigeria?
Released worldwide on Netflix on the 2nd of October 2020, Oloture became Nigeria’s first major international crossover film, consistently staying in the top 10 of diverse countries like France, Brazil, Iceland, Oman, Israel, Kenya, Luxembourg, United Arab Emirates, Jamaica and over two dozen countries. After a few days of release, it peaked at number 7 worldwide on the planets biggest streaming platform. Such a incredible attention for an African film.
The reaction in Nigeria has equally been massive. Oloture was number 1 for two consecutive weeks! Most people who saw the film recommended it to their friends and also came on social media to talk about sex trafficking and how Nigeria and the international community should take the issue serious. It has been one of Nigeria’s most talked about films, ever.
Is it a true-life story? What propelled you to bring attention to that specific story?
Yes it is loosely based on a true life story inspired by a premium times report and as it is written at the end of the film, other investigative journalists around the world as well.
What would you like viewers to take away from this film?
The international menace of sex trafficking is still huge out there and we need people to channel the anger of how the film ends towards policy makers who have the power to raise awareness and also protect these ladies.
The impact of Netflix on African Filmmaking?
In 2016, Reed Hastings said the most exciting thing about global Netflix is finding local storytellers and giving them a platform. That’s it. We now have a platform to showcase authentic African stories to millions beyond the continent as is the case with Oloture.
What would you say are the biggest triumphs and challenges of the Nigerian film industry?
The Nigerian film industry is a huge global phenomenon and we continue to make giant strides internationally but we have our challenges especially filmmakers who are pushing to tell compelling third cinema stories.
The irony, is sometimes I have to go all the way to Europe to source for money to make a movie because there isn’t a funding body here..
Confusion Na Wa got funding from Netherlands. The Lost Café, produced by Regina Udalor, had support from Norway and France. I have been clamouring for a National Endowment Fund for Arts, an independent federal agency that will fund, promote and strengthen the capacity of artistes by providing opportunities in Artsparticipation.
Investing one naira in the intellectual development of a Nigerian could augment the national revenue more than one naira invested in another field. Many countries provide that opportunity for their filmmakers and I think Nigeria needs to look at that model.
Are there any filmmakers who have particularly influenced your work?
Diverse filmmakers have inspired me but the works of Gaston Kabore, the late Idrissa Ouedraogo, Abderrahmane Sissako, Fernando Meireless and Alfonso Cuaron greatly appeal to me.
What are some of your Favorite African films?
I love Gaston Kabore’s Wend Kuuni and Buud Yam, Djo Munga’s Viva Riva, Fernando Meireles’ City of God, Alfonso Cuaron’s Children of Men and a host of other third cinema films.