The 2015 Africa International Film Festival is currently ongoing, and as usual it has been a display of a wide array of talents in the African cinema scene. In a statement released on AFRIFF website prior to the commencement of the 2015 festival, the organization’s Artistic Director (Keith Shiri) noted a number of films scheduled for screening. Interestingly, most of these films have been submitted from across Africa and beyond thereby attesting to how far African cinema has evolved, and specifically how good film-making in Nigeria has become. After all there was a time when the phenomenon of “two weeks production” reached immense crescendo and almost made Nollywood synonymous with mediocrity; thank goodness for the new Nollywood agenda pioneered by a crop of actors and filmmakers who got fed up with the norm.
This year’s entries are indeed an impressive lineup. From C.J. ‘Fiery’ Obasi’s “O-Town” to Christopher R. Miles’ “Sleeper”, the selected entries exemplify both the diversity of the festival, its global scope as well as the quality of filmmaking. Meanwhile, a notable thing is the fact that indigenous African films and specifically those produced by Nigeria’s Nollywood dominate the list. Indeed, it is a testament to how far Nollywood has come over the years; for who could have envisaged that a festival celebrating African [Nigerian] cinema would someday generate so much global interest!
Three of the selected Nigerian feature films have been getting special reviews due to how simply special they are. Ishaya Bako’s “Road to Yesterday” stars Geneviève Nnaji who is undoubtedly one of Nigeria’s best actors of all times. But [perhaps] what makes the film incredible is in the storyline instead of the cast list. Available trailers and press reviews reveal that the tale centers primarily on the lives of the two main characters Izu and Victoria (played by Oris Erhuerho and Ms. Nnaji as they struggle to salvage their troubled marriage. Unfortunately, a proposed road trip to their relative’s funeral as a means to enable them sort out their differences only complicates their problems as deep secrets from their past are unraveled and now threatens more than their matrimony… This film highlights new Nollywood both in the strength of the story telling and the quality of production. Little wonder it made the AFRIFF final selection and has even been earmarked to screen at the final event marking this year’s festival. Similarly, “While You Slept”, a film by Desmond Elliot demonstrates Nollywood at its best. It highlights the plight of a young widow following her husband’s demise and the discovery of his infidelity. The story touches on a number of topical issues including women’s right in Nigeria, especially to their dead husbands’ properties as well as other issues like betrayal and the agony of mental illness. The film was released a long time ago to Nigerian cinemas but has managed to easily make the AFRIFF selection owing largely to its excellent storyline and production.
Meanwhile, C.J. Fiery Obasi’s “O-Town” has long been generating interest among film lovers across Nigeria ever since its existence was made known. And following its premier on November 9th during the opening ceremonies of the festival in Lagos, this interest has reached new heights. The film is the second feature written and directed by Obasi who won AFRIFF “Best Nigerian Film” the year before. From what can be seen, this film is just as good as his first “Ojuju” for which he won the AFRIFF award. The venue of the screening at the Palms Lekki was packed to capacity, prompting the writer/director “filmpreneur” to later take to his Instagram account thanking his fans for the support. Once again, the success of this film once again demonstrates the importance of quality filmmaking which is one thing AFRIFF set out to celebrate. Anyway, O-Town is a gangster thriller and it stars the likes of Paul Utomi, Kalu Ikeagwu and Ifu Ennada.
As the festival continues to unfold, I will ensure to keep an update in order to see which of the entries wins the coveted best film. For the meantime however, several activities are taking place as put together by the organizers of AFRIFF, including the Bank of Industry sponsored interaction and networking day which held on November 10th and attended by top Nollywood personalities such as Rita Dominic who posted a picture of the event on social media. Topic discussed was “Nolly Fund”, focusing on ways to source funds for sponsoring many of Nollywood’s productions.
Story by Emmanuel Benson