Creative duo director Abba Makama and screenwriter Africa Ukoh strike again. For the second time a film collaboration between the two will premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival. (Update 5 September 2019: The film has also been selected to screen at the BFI London Film Festival in October 3 and 5. You can see information about where to see it on the BFI site here. Mike Omonua’s debut film The Man Who Cut Tattoos, which Makama produced, will premiere at BFI this year.)
The Lost Okoroshi, Makama’s second feature film, (though he also has a stable of hilarious short films and a really great documentary on Nollywood, which I teach) imagines a bored security guard whose life takes a turn when his dreams of masquerades invade the world of the living. Courtney Small writing for Cinema Axis calls it a “vibrant and wildly surreal ride.”
IndieWire describes Makama as
one of the leading voices for Nigerian cinema today. He previously directed “Green White Green,” another TIFF selection that is now streaming on Netflix, as well as “Nollywood,” the Al Jazeera documentary about Nigeria’s film industry. He should be a presence at major festivals for years to come.
More recently, Native Magazine has interviewed him about some of the thinking behind his work.
Watch the trailer here
Green White Green, Makama’s first feature, which he also co-wrote with Africa Ukoh, has been one of my favourites since I first saw it on an Air France flight back in 2017 and have since watched it over and over again on Netflix. Film critic Noah Tsika calls it “a hopeful, downright energizing love letter to Nigeria’s enterprising youth — to a new generation plainly capable of greatness.” As I’ve written in another blog post,
The film is a youthful takedown of the prejudices that tear Nigeria apart. It mocks Nollywood, with the good-natured ribbing of a son who follows in his father’s footsteps but laughs at his outdated affectations. It is a satire, but it is also filled with a restless joy and a tenderness that draws me in to watch it over and over again on homesick nights.
The Lost Okoroshi promises to be stylistically similar (the energetic jump-cuts, actors posed and staring into the camera as if for a family portrait) while pushing the conceit imagined by the young filmmakers in Green White Green a little further. In Green White Green, the young secondary school graduates shoot a metaphoric film about Nigeria, taking great delight in masquerades, as both protective spirits and (in a fire breathing incarnation) as the “Beast of Corruption,” riffing on Fela’s “beasts of no nation.” In The Lost Okoroshi, the masquerade/s unfold into full-fledged characters, which seems to represent (as much as one can interpret a trailer) a reclamation of the ancestral masquerade not as an “evil beast” as often represented in Nollywood movies but as a way of bringing tradition into the future. And, as with Green White Green, there continues to be a sly Nollywood self-referentiality: “Forget all this Pete Edochie proverbs,” the subtitled Igbo reads, “This is not a Nollywood home video.” Thus while building on an older tradition (incorporating, for example, the Nollywood comedian Chiwetalu Agu), Makama and Ukoh push their narratives out to the cutting edge of Nigerian cinema. This is not a Nollywood home video, no. But, it draws affectionately on Nollywood to create something exciting and new.
In its imagination of the masquerade in a 21st century city context, the film reminds me of contemporary Nigerian writers Nnedi Okorafor and Chikodili Emelumadu and the inadequacy of the sort of literary labels placed on these texts. Is this Afrofuturism? Nnedi Okorafor resists that label, preferring africanfuturism. Is this magical realism? Or what Ben Okri’s critics have called “spiritual realism“? Abba Makama recently quoted Newton Aduaka (the Nigerian filmmaker who won the FESPACO film festival’s highest prize, the Golden Stallion of Yennenga for his 2007 film Ezra):
Labels are useful but ultimately they reduce the subject. Yet, I like the idea of the hyper-real, a realism that captures not only the surface but the spirit behind it–this idea captures Nigerian life well, and the way filmmakers capture that life.
This is an exciting moment not only for Abba Makama, but also for his collaborator Africa Ukoh, whom I have featured on this blog before and interviewed for Brittle Paper. Today (I published this post a little bit too late!) Ukoh’s play 54 Silhouettes, which I reviewed back in 2013 and was published in 2018, was featured as a part of the Global Black Voices event at the Roundhouse in London. Ukoh also revised 54 Silhouettes into a remarkable one-man play, which Charles Etubiebi has been performing from Rio de Janeiro to Lagos to (forthcoming) New York. Etubiebi’s next scheduled performance of the play is at the November United Solo theatre festival in New York. You can see an interview with Etubiebi below:
If you’re in Toronto or Lagos or London or New York, go see the film, go see the play. And for those in Nigeria who are not in Lagos, I hope that they will both also come to a theatre near you.
P.S. One more note on Nigerian cinema. I just realized yesterday that Steve Gukas’s moving film 93 Days, also at the 2016 TIFF, which tells the story of the courageous doctors and public health officials who contained the ebola virus in Lagos, is out on Amazon Prime. Although ebola is a topic often sensationalized in Western media, Gukas handles the story sensitively, telling it from the perspective of Dr. Ada Igonoh, who survived the disease. It is a great example of Nigerians telling their own stories without making “poverty porn.” And in a direct link to the rest of the content of this post, actor Charles Etubiebi plays a significant role in the film as Bankole Cardoso.