When the popular Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF), Canada, resumes for its 41st edition on September 8, the ambitious Nigerian motion picture industry, otherwise called Nollywood, will be making a never-before-experienced impact on the international scene.
Eight films, which represent the aspirations of a new crop of filmmakers in Nigeria, have been selected for showcase during the North American film event, which in the world is second, only to the Cannes International Film Festival, France.
This is cheering news for Nollywood, for which the Ministry of Information, its regulatory agencies and charitable organisation had spent fortunes, rallying filmmakers at the Cannes platform but without significant achievement.
This time round, Nollywood films will not only be exposed to the big studios of Hollywood, which target TIFF as the last field of harvest for the annual Oscar Awards, Nigerian filmmakers and their stars will also shine as they get a special focus from the international media from September 8 to 18 in a prominent segment of the festival tagged City-To-City Focus.
Although the festival has featured some great cities in the world, such as London, Tel Aviv, Istanbul, Buenos Aires, Mumbai, Athens and Seoul, since it made debut with this initiative seven years ago, the choice of Lagos is predicated upon the insight of the artistry of Nollywood by curators of TIFF, led by its Artistic Director, Cameron Bailey.
Bailey once described Lagos as a “The city of Fela Kuti’s music,” which he said has also given birth to one of the world’s most vibrant film industries.
Those who have been curious about the Nollywood phenomenon, will get to know how the 1,000 low-budget features ‘Nollywood’ products generate about $1 billion in box office returns each year and how a new generation of filmmakers is emerging to both advance and challenge Nollywood with bigger budgets and greater artistic ambition.
No wonder Bailey declared, “The new cinema of Lagos is bold, exciting, and ready to take its place on the international stage.”
Celebrating Nigeria’s Lucky 10
Unlike Cannes, TIFF’s aspiration for new discoveries in the world of filmmaking has led to the City-to-City focus. Thus, potentially viable film destinations in the world that could have been lost in the crowd are given special focus by a team of curators that have identified Lagos, the entertainment hub of Nigeria, as the next-in-line.
The eight selected films are touted to have come from Nollywood’s most popular filmmakers together with new voices who are introducing an alternative spirit to Nigerian cinema. They include 76 by Izu Ojukwu; 93 Days by Steve Gukas; Green White Green by Abba Makama; Just Not Married by Uduak-Obong Patrick; Okafor’s Law by Omoni Oboli; Oko Ashewo (Taxi Driver) by Daniel Emeke Oriahi and The Wedding Party by Kemi Adetiba.
In addition, the festival’s icing on the cake for Nollywood is an onstage appearances by sultry actress Genevieve Nnaji and rave-of-the-moment filmmaker Kunle Afolayan.
Tagged “In Conversation With…”, this onstage conversation will explore Ms Nnaji and Afolayan’s inspiring stories, illuminating the complex dynamics behind Nollywood’s rise to prominence at home and abroad.
The programme has also identified two fast-rising actors from Nigeria who are breaking the barriers of international collaborations. They are Lagos-born actor, singer and winner of the 2006 Amstel Malta Box Office reality TV show OC Ukeje and Lagos-based actor, model and fashion executive Somkele Iyamah-Idhalama.
Opening this segment of the festival in a series of Toronto’s World Premiere is The Wedding Party, a Kemi Adetiba film that might have been picked as a sensational way to kick-start the new Nollywood-TIFF bonding.
Everyone knows that there is not a party like a Nigerian wedding party… Especially when you throw in an insecure virgin bride, a reformed playboy groom, two overbearing mothers who cannot stand each other, one philandering husband, a high strung wedding planner, the invasion of unruly village gate-crashers, a thief on the loose, a best man with a flash-drive full of secrets, a sexy ex with vengeance on her mind, two loyal bridesmaids ready to go to war, and a brother seeking his father’s approval. What you get is a hilarious melting pot of potential disaster. This is the synopsis of The Wedding Party which has the CEO of EbonyLife TV, Mo Abudu, as Executive Producer.
76 by Izu Ojukwu is embracing the best lime-light after several years in the cooler without release. This probably explains why this film is the first in the line-up of the selected eight films for the showcase.
In a story inspired by true events, six years after the civil war in Nigeria, a heavily pregnant woman’s life crumbles when the news of her husband’s involvement in a botched military coup hits the headlines. Starring Ramsey Nouah, Rita Dominic, Chidi Mokeme, Ibinabo Fiberesima, Larry Williams, Adonija Owiriwa, Daniel K. Daniel, Memry Savanhu, Pat Nebo, Debo Oguns and Adams Shuaibu, 76 is the most anticipated film by the director whose most recent epic, Amina is in post-production.
The world will never forget the short but dreaded incident of Ebola Virus. Thus, in 93 Days, Gukas takes this riveting real-life thriller about courageous health-care workers in Lagos battling the Ebola outbreak of 2014 to TIFF.
The movie gives a true account of how Nigeria was faced with the first case of the Ebola Virus and the victory the country achieved when the disease was eradicated after 93 days.
The film was co-produced by Steve Gukas, Pemon Rami, Bolanle Austen-Peters and Dotun Olakunri.
It stars TIFF rising star Somkele Iyamah-Idhalama alongside American star Danny Glover, Bimbo Akintola, Tim Reid, Alastair Mackenzie and Keppy Ekpenyong.
In The Arbitration by Niyi Akinmolayan, an arbitration must deal with the messy corporate entanglements of a workplace affair that led to a possible rape in the fast-paced world of the Nigerian technology space. This one also stars TIFF rising stars OC Ukeje and Somkele Iyamah-Idhalama alongside Adesua Etomi, Iretiola Doyle and Sola Fosudo.
In Green White Green, Abba Makama tells a coming-of-age story about three young boys from Nigeria’s major ethnic groups on an adventure to make a short film inspired by the history of Nigeria. They embark on a roller coaster ride that will eventually lead them towards their individual paths to self-discovery.
Just Not Married by Uduak-Obong Patrick, a caper comedy thriller, tells the story of how a bright but broke undergraduate striving to escape the slums gets into trouble when his modest criminal enterprise goes a bit too far as he and his friends resort to stealing cars under the guise of being married.
In Okafor’s Law by Omoni Oboli, Chuks, a firm believer in Okafor’s Law which states that once a man has had a woman, he forever has access to her is challenged by his friends to prove the validity of the law in 21 days. Past girlfriends, Ify, Kemi and Ejiro, are brought back into his life for the game.
Oko Ashewo (Taxi Driver) Daniel Emeke Oriahi is a story about Adigun, a struggling village mechanic who accepts an invitation from Taiwo, his late father’s best friend, to take over his father’s now vacant position as a taxi driver. Adigun, now tackling life in the heart of Lagos, is completely oblivious of the wheels that his arrival has inextricably set in motion.
A milestone for Nigeria, Lagos
Toronto’s special focus on Lagos as a film destination is another opportunity to market the tourism potentials of Lagos and Nigeria to the world. Although these films might not have Lagos as their themes, it is imaginable how their plots take a rich shot at Lagos, given everything that the sandbank city represents.
Indeed, Lagos has more, with potential for even more, when you consider its entertainment centres, historical sites, cultural events, natural landscape, and topography traversed by sea and lagoon waters, enormous beaches and waterfronts, sea foods, and other numerous delicacies that define a truly metropolitan city.
The Lagos State government has congratulated the film directors whose latest films will be screened to global audiences at the world-acclaimed TIFF.
In a statement released on Tuesday by the Lagos State Commissioner for Information and Strategy, Mr. Steve Ayorinde, he said: “The Lagos State government is happy to confirm the selection of eight Lagos-made feature films at the Toronto International Film Festival coming up in September as well as Mr. Kunle Afolayan’s The CEO, which will enjoy a Special Industry Screening on the 12th of September.
“We are happy that as the birthplace of Nollywood and the state that is regarded as one of the world’s most productive film locations in the world, Lagos State will be the centre of attraction in Toronto, Canada this year.”
Ayorinde noted that as the first African city to be so honoured at the festival, the focus on Lagos in Toronto this year confirms “the arrival of Lagos State on the world stage” and how the global creative community acknowledges the potential that is associated with professionals in the motion picture industry of Lagos State.
The Commissioner said the Lagos State government was pleased that two of the selected films enjoyed the support of the state government during production and that the thrust of all the films will highlight different aspects of lives and historical developments in Lagos and in Nigeria in general.
“We are pleased that filmmakers are exploring themes that are strong enough to attract global attention. The focus on Lagos State this year, therefore, signals the beginning of a rewarding global attention to our creative artists and the inherent potentials in the state as destination of choice for international filmmakers, visitors and investors, “he said.
Ayorinde revealed that to properly take advantage of the opportunities that the festival brings, the State Government will have a pavilion at the festival, co-host a befitting reception for the Nigerian filmmakers and offer support to the industry delegation.
He said: “This falls within the Governor Akinwunmi Ambode’s vision to support the arts and creative industry in Lagos State” adding that the time is ripe for the Lagos State brand to engage with the world.”
Film pundit are of the view that with Nigeria playing at this international stage, the opportunity will boost the profile of Nollywood and change whatever negative perception it has had.
In addition to the Nigerian films, only two African films made it into the contemporary world cinema segment of TIFF 2016. They include The wedding Ring by Nigerien filmmaker, Madam Rahmatou Keita and Vaya ni by South-Africa based Nigerian filmmaker Akin Omotosho.
Following in the footsteps of his father, the beloved actor-producer-director Ade Love, Afolayan garnered accolades out of the gate with his directorial debut The Figurine (2009) and continues to innovate as a cinematic storyteller and industry heavyweight. Afolayan has elevated the standard of Nigerian cinema over the past decade; from shooting on 35mm instead of digital cameras, to devising elaborate release strategies for his films, including his most recent venture, The CEO (2016), which took place on an Air France flight from Lagos to Paris.
Celebrated as the leading lady of Nollywood and the face of African cinema, Nnaji began her career as a child on the popular soap opera Ripples and has received multiple awards for her work in films such as Ijé: The Journey (2010), Half of a Yellow Sun (2013) and Road to Yesterday (2015). A producer and media entrepreneur, Nnaji is also a singer and released her first album, One Logologo Line in 2004.
OC Ukeje is a Lagos-born actor, singer and performer. Winner of the 2006 Amstel Malta Box Office reality TV show for actors, he later trained at the New York Film Academy. He has won several Best Actor awards, including the Africa Magic Viewers’ Choice Award, a Nigeria Entertainment Award, an Africa Movie Academy Award, and a Best of Nollywood Award. His films include Teco Benson’s Two Brides and a Baby (2011); Jeta Amata’s Black November (2012); Half of a Yellow Sun (2013), based on Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s bestselling novel; Destiny Ekaragha’s Gone too Far! (2013); Kenneth Gyang’s Confusion Na Wa (2013); Seyi Babatope’s When Love Happens (2014); the television series Gidi Up; Remi Vaughan-Richards’ The Department (2015); Sara Blecher’s Ayanda (2015); and Niyi Akinmolayan’s The Arbitration (2016), which plays at the Festival.
Somkele Iyamah-Idhalama is an actor, model, and fashion executive based in Lagos. A graduate of McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, she made her onscreen debut in the television series The Island. Her first leading role was in the television series Gidi Up. Her recent projects include Steve Gukas’ 93 Days (2016), Niyi Akinmolayan’s The Arbitration (2016), and Kemi Adetiba’s The Wedding Party (2016), which will all screen at the festival.
What TIFF stands for
Toronto International Film Festival is a charitable cultural organisation whose mission is to transform the way people see the world, through film. An international leader in film culture, TIFF projects include the annual Toronto International Film Festival in September; TIFF Bell Lightbox, which features five cinemas, major exhibitions, and learning and entertainment facilities; and innovative national distribution program Film Circuit.
The organisation generates an annual economic impact of $189 million CAD. TIFF Bell Lightbox is generously supported by contributors, including Founding Sponsor Bell, the Province of Ontario, the Government of Canada, the City of Toronto, the Reitman family (Ivan Reitman, Agi Mandel and Susan Michaels), The Daniels Corporation and RBC.
The Toronto International Film Festival is generously supported by Lead Sponsor Bell, Major Sponsors RBC, L’Oréal Paris and Visa, and Major Supporters the Government of Ontario, Telefilm Canada and the City of Toronto.