TIFF 2016: 10 Days, 8 Films, 1 Lagos, By Ayo Shonaiya

Curiously, I heard for the first time in Toronto, from some Nigerian filmmakers no less, a new name, ‘New Nigerian Cinema’, to describe our film industry. We’ve heard “Nollywood”, “New Nollywood”, “Nollywood 2.0”, and now ‘New Nigerian Cinema’? Is the industry evolving? Are the players in the industry changing?

There was only one reason why I decided to attend the Toronto International Film Festival this year. To feel like a filmmaker again. Well, also because this year, the Festival had chosen Lagos as the city in focus for their annual “City to City” feature and spotlight on the bubbling film industry.

To feel like a filmmaker again was very important to me though, as I haven’t made a film in eleven years, and my most notable work, King of my Country, was made nineteen years ago! Back then I was on the film festival band wagon, from London to New York, Fespaco in Ouagadougou to Pan African in Los Angeles. I would submit my film to any festival, and even for festivals that my film was not selected to screen, I’d still go, mix with the other filmmakers, watch a bunch of films and feel like a filmmaker.

When I first heard about the “City to City” by TIFF 2016, and the decision to take and screen eight Nigerian films at this year’s festival, I was concerned about how they were going to choose the films. I was at the Press Conference at the Lagos State Secretariat when TIFF’s Artistic Director, Cameron Bailey, made the announcement. Someone asked if by choosing Lagos as the city in focus, would they only choose films made in Lagos, or by Lagosians, or if the focus would be on Nollywood as an industry. These were the first signs of the grumblings that was to be become louder at the just concluded 10-day event.

When the eight films were announced, the most obvious omission was the highly anticipated CEO by my friend Kunle Afolayan. So I guess there are eight films (or filmmakers) out there better than Kunle’s, it seemed. Not until I saw the films at the festival itself did I understand what I think was the angle the selectors at TIFF were coming from. The eight films chosen were Green White Green, Okafor’s Law, 93 Days, 76, Just Not Married, Arbitration, Taxi Driver and Wedding Party. Kunle’s film CEO had a special industry screening, and he was invited to the Festival, along with actress Genevieve Nnaji for the “In Conversation With” forum, as part of the many other non-screening segments.

I arrived in Toronto prepared to see ALL the Nigerian films and then some others. The buzz about Lagos (and Nollywood) coming to town was at fever pitch. The Opening Night was epic, with the line outside the 1,400 capacity Elgin and Winter Garden Theatre waiting to see the first of the Nigerian films, Wedding Party as long as two blocks down the famous Yonge Street. The film had its premiere to a full house, with British/Nigerian Hollywood actor David Oyelowo, and the Lagos State Commissioner for Information & Strategy, Steve Ayorinde, giving rousing opening speeches. We were definitely on ground as we say in Nigeria.

In all, the industry, and Lagos, was well represented. All eight films had a Lagos connection (not to even talk about the many shots of the Lekki/Ikoyi Bridge), and let’s face it, Lagos is, and has always been the home of contemporary cinema in Nigeria.

Then the proper festival started for me. I saw some short films and documentaries, and of course the other films from the “City to City” spotlight. Two films stood out for me. 93 Days and 76. 93 Days is a gripping story about the Ebola outbreak in Lagos two years ago, and the swift containment and eradication of the disease before it became widespread. A well made film by director Steve Gukas, starring Bimbo Akintola as Dr. Adadevoh. 76 is a fantastic period piece by director Izu Ojukwu, based on the assassination and coup attempt on Nigeria’s Head of State in 1976, and the back-story about who and who were part of the coup plotters. These two films were also the most talked about among the Nigerian films by critics at the festival, and this made me very happy (and jealous); it really made me feel like a filmmaker again. And as a scriptwriter, I was also majorly impressed by the film Arbitration. This is why I travelled to Toronto.

The other thing that happened at TIFF 2016 was the welcomed recognition of our film industry, and the potential for greater development, especially on the world stage. Curiously, I heard for the first time in Toronto, from some Nigerian filmmakers no less, a new name, ‘New Nigerian Cinema’, to describe our film industry. We’ve heard “Nollywood”, “New Nollywood”, “Nollywood 2.0”, and now ‘New Nigerian Cinema’? Is the industry evolving? Are the players in the industry changing? From all our films showcased, I can see a mix of the old and new actors in the pictures. As we see RMD in a couple of the films, we see rising star Somkele Iyanma-Idhalama in three! O.C. Ukeje and Beverly Naya, etc. There was even a very funny cameo in 93 Days by the Yoruba comedian Aderupoko!

At TIFF 2016, we saw four of the eight films directed or produced by women: Wedding Party by Kemi Adetiba and Okafor’s Law by Omoni Oboli, with Just Not Married and 93 Days produced mainly by women. Times are definitely changing. And for those grumbling about the selection of the eight films, I guess it was based on many factors and (as someone said) “abilities”. Those eight films were chosen to represent the many facets of filmmaking in Nigeria today. There’s the big budget colourful film, the topical film, the period piece, the best written film, the “we struggled to make this film” film, the indigenous language mix film, the patriotic ‘represent all three major tribes’ film and the kinda adult themed film.

In all, the industry, and Lagos, was well represented. All eight films had a Lagos connection (not to even talk about the many shots of the Lekki/Ikoyi Bridge), and let’s face it, Lagos is, and has always been the home of contemporary cinema in Nigeria. As a young boy watching as Eddie Ugbomah shot scenes for the film, The Boy is Good on the streets of Lagos in the seventies, which gave me inspiration to make King of my Country, I am definitely feeling like a filmmaker again, and Lagos is giving me a lot of inspiration right now.

Ayo Shonaiya is a Lawyer (and a Filmmaker).

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