OLADIGBOLU: Why Film Prac­ti­tion­ers Try­ing To Break Into Hol­ly­wood Haven’t Had Much Suc­cess

The Guardian (Nigeria) - - ARTFOLK -

RAH­MAN OLADIGBOLU, based in Bos­ton, U.S., is a writer and film­maker best known in the con­ti­nent for win­ning the Africa Movie Acad­emy Awards (AMAA) 2015, for Best Film by An African Liv­ing Abroad with his de­but Inamer­ica. His se­cond fea­ture, The­o­rycon­flict, was nom­i­nated for the 2016 edi­tion of AMAA. He re­cently se­cured the ap­proval to adapt Chi­ma­manda Adichie’s poem ‘A Pri­vate Ex­pe­ri­ence’ into a movie. The script is ready and Oladigbolu will soon hit lo­ca­tion, funds per­mit­ting. He spoke with FLORENCE UTOR about the pro­ject, his ex­pe­ri­ence as an African film­maker liv­ing in the U.S. What have you been up to after your AMAA win?

IWAS still in school when I made In

Amer­ica - the film that won the AMAA award. After the award, we gave the film a lim­ited the­atri­cal re­lease. It en­joyed a rel­a­tively good the­atri­cal re­lease in Nige­ria, Ghana and some other places, and it later went on to African Movie Magic, where it aired across Africa for sev­eral months. I re­mem­ber hang­ing out around a cin­ema in Port Har­court and hear­ing peo­ple talk about how much it opened their eyes about the whole ven­ture of go­ing to Amer­ica for greener pas­ture, etc. Then I waited to com­plete my school be­fore launch­ing into the next pro­ject - which I did. The new film The­o­ry­of­con­flict has just been com­pleted and ready for dis­tri­bu­tion.

What was the ex­pe­ri­ence putting The­o­ryof

Con­flict to­gether as an in­de­pen­dent pro­ducer work­ing in the US?

The ex­pe­ri­ence was awe­some and al­ready I have been in­vited to screen it on col­lege cam­puses across the U.S. I have even re­ceived an in­vi­ta­tion from the At­lanta Jewish Film Fes­ti­val (AJFF), which is the largest Jewish film fes­ti­val in the world, to sub­mit it for con­sid­er­a­tion in their 17th an­nual film fes­ti­val. Given the chal­lenges that we en­coun­tered dur­ing the pro­duc­tion of the film, this has been huge for my team and me. The ex­pe­ri­ence of mak­ing a film as an in­de­pen­dent film­maker in the U.S. isn’t usu­ally easy as peo­ple think. And it’s dou­bly hard when you’re an im­mi­grant – a black im­mi­grant. I used to think that mak­ing Inamer­ica was the most dif­fi­cult film I worked on, per­haps the most masochis­tic thing I have ever done in my life, but The

ory­of­con­flict sneered at that as­sump­tion. Each film has its own life - from the con­cep­tion of the idea to the film’s re­lease.

The­o­ry­of­con­flict hap­pens to have a sub­ject mat­ter that is per­haps more dif­fi­cult than I imag­ined. The mo­ment I first an­nounce my plans to make the film, I was at­tacked on so­cial me­dia, and the de­meanor of peo­ple from both the Is­rael and Pales­tinian sides were some­times bland, cold, or de­lib­er­ately in­scrutable. My fun­ders re­treated, and many wanted me to tell the story only from their own point of view, which is al­ways one-sided and crit­i­cal of the other side. Some of my friends warned that it was such a toxic sub­ject that peo­ple were afraid to touch with their money or their ca­reer. My ed­i­tor and friend backed out, a film­maker I in­vited to work with me warned me in­stead that I should “be care­ful so this doesn’t be­come your last film ever.” I didn’t want to make the film all alone, and I con­tacted groups rep­re­sent­ing the con­cerned par­ties of the sto­ries, but for one rea­son or an­other they were largely dead-ends. Though I must say that I un­der­stood why many of them re­acted that way, but I be­lieved so much in what I was do­ing and I stuck to it. I take on sto­ries that I’m at­tracted to, that I strongly be­lieve in, and that I want the world to see. And this be­comes my drive through the pro­duc­tion, no mat­ter the ob­sta­cles. Adichie’s ‘A Pri­vate Ex­pe­ri­ence’ is the next for you. What do you find fas­ci­nat­ing about it?

Yes, it is and I am re­ally ex­cited about it! I first read the story in 2009 and since then I have wanted to make it into a film. It’s such a pow­er­ful story that you just can’t get it out of your head – and that’s partly be­cause you don’t even want to get it out of your head. The char­ac­ters and the sto­ry­line are very cap­ti­vat­ing, and, most im­por­tantly, the mes­sage of the story is cru­cial for us as Nige­ri­ans. It’s about the one thing that we need the most: un­der­stand­ing our­selves as in­di­vid­ual hu­man be­ings and as a so­ci­ety - as one Nige­ria. It’s an em­pow­er­ing story that I be­lieve ev­ery Nige­rian should read. And I want them to ex­pe­ri­ence it cin­e­mat­i­cally.

Some­time in 2011 or so, I dis­cussed it with some­one who’s been a big brother to me, Mukhtar Bakare; he in­tro­duced me to Chi­ma­manda and she gen­er­ously gave her bless­ings. I’ve held the op­tion right since that time and only wait­ing to com­plete The­o­ry­of­con­flict be­fore launch­ing into it. For a story of this mag­ni­tude, I don’t like rush­ing it; I take my time with the script, let the story fer­ment well enough so the film can be duly in­tox­i­cat­ing. That’s why we haven’t talked about it all th­ese years – I needed it to be ready first. There were chal- lenges writ­ing the script. I have al­ways seen the pro­ject as a fea­ture film, and yet didn’t want to add any­thing ex­tra­ne­ous to the story. So, I have had to read and re-read the story so many times to make sure that any­where we go is where the story it­self leads us. It is such a rich story.

Which ac­tors do you have in mind for the film?

There are ac­tors that have been on my mind since I be­gan work­ing on the script and I have been in touch with them about it: Richard Mofe-damijo and Ali Nuhu, for a start. Nafisat Ab­dul­lah has been our best choice for the lead Hausa fe­male role in the film and she’s also on board al­ready. We’ll be rolling out the other’s names as our dates ap­proach – about two are com­ing from Los An­ge­les to play sup­port­ing roles. We have a com­pleted script; we have agree­ments and com­mit­ments from the ac­tors of my choice. We’re cur­rently ac­tively putting the fund­ing to­gether, and pro­duc­tion is slated for Oc­to­ber 2017, all things be­ing equal.

How re­ward­ing has your in­volve­ment in movie pro­duc­tion been? How are you able to re­main so pas­sion­ate about it even in the face of dif­fi­cul­ties in se­cur­ing fund­ing and dis­tri­bu­tion for the even­tual pro­duc­tion?

My in­volve­ment in film has been greatly re­ward­ing. I think one of the best things that have hap­pened to me was my re­al­iza­tion early in life that this was what I wanted to do. Once I got bit­ten by the bug the feel­ings have been that noth­ing would stop me from mak­ing films as long as I’m alive. This was the spirit I took with me when I moved to Amer­ica. And I thank God that He has been giv­ing me the strength and the op­por­tu­nity to stay the course. There are a few times in my life that I al­ways look back to. The first was when I was ill in Nige­ria. Most peo­ple didn’t know this about me, but I was on the sickbed for about seven years in Nige­ria. It was so bad that peo­ple didn’t think I would sur­vive. Ev­ery morn­ing, my father would come down into my sick­room afraid that I might have died in the night. After many years, how­ever, I sur­vived, and my father would al­ways thank God for giv­ing me the “will to sur­vive and live,” as he of­ten put it.

For me, on the other hand, the only thing on my mind that kept me alive was my de­sire to make films. Be­cause my pains and gen­eral suf­fer­ing were too much, many times I thought of giv­ing up. But through­out all the years, I had a stack of film­mak­ing books and copies of Amer­i­can Cine­matog­ra­pher mag­a­zines next to my bed, and their sight egged me on to hold onto my life. I wanted to be on a film set; I wanted to di­rect a film., I wanted to tell a story, and I al­ways prayed to God to give me at least one op­por­tu­nity to make even just one film be­fore tak­ing my life. So, for me, be­ing able to make films at all has been its own re­wards.

I have heard some peo­ple ar­gue that it is easy for Indians, in­clud­ing black Indians, to make films in the U.S. How true is that? It may be true that there aren’t much reg­u­la­tory or in­dus­try re­stric­tions, but there are psy­cho­log­i­cal and so­cio-eco­nomic re­stric­tions. It’s not easy any­where to make films. Cir­cum­stances are dif­fer­ent, for sure. But it’s not easy as one might think. It’s only those who haven’t been on the ground to see re­al­ity in the U.S. that would as­sume it is easy. I met Aliko Dan­gote some­time ago in Bos­ton and as we were chat­ting he asked what I did for work. When I told him I was a film­maker, his re­sponse was; “Then what are you do­ing here? Come home.” For him, it’s easier for a Nige­rian film­maker to make films in Nige­ria than in Amer­ica. This was be­cause he knew how things were for Indie film­mak­ers in the U.S.; he knew that it’s an up­hill bat­tle, es­pe­cially for black film­mak­ers. And if you’re a black im­mi­grant film­maker, the hill is even steeper.

Are you in touch with Nol­ly­wood in­dus­try apart from your de­ci­sion to en­gage some of the ac­tors in your new film?

Well, I would say that we are all who we are so that we can tell our sto­ries from our per­spec­tives. I be­lieve that this is one of the rea­sons I’m a Nige­rian: to tell Nige­rian sto­ries, to tell sto­ries from Nige­rian per­spec­tives, and to view and con­trib­ute to the world’s sto­ries through per­spec­tives orig­i­nat­ing from who I am and where I’m from. Be­cause of this, I’ve never re­ally left Nige­ria – and Nige­ria wouldn’t even leave me if I tried. I guess I’ve eaten too much of its fufu and eba al­ready. So I’m in Nige­ria very of­ten; I know what’s go­ing on. I know the di­rec­tions and de­vel­op­ments of Nol­ly­wood, and I hang out and work with peo­ple in Nige­ria all the time. Even on The­ory of­con­flict, which is a story based on an Amer­i­can cam­pus, I still shot some of it in

Hol­ly­wood uses you when it needs you, and it uses you only how it wants to use you, defin­ing you only as it pleases its pur­poses. And when it no longer needs you, that is it! I think the bet­ter ap­proach is to try to un­der­stand how Hol­ly­wood works, and try to use the knowl­edge to your own ad­van­tage, to get your own films made and seen, and in the way you want them made and seen. And it’s only this way that we can make tan­gi­ble and rea­son­able col­lab­o­ra­tions with other in­dus­tries, Hol­ly­wood, Bol­ly­wood, or whichever

La­gos and I have Nige­rian ac­tors and crew in it.

I think the in­dus­try is do­ing pretty well. When some­thing starts from noth­ing and has grown to what it has be­come, I think that’s a great achieve­ment and a source of pride. The only thing I didn’t feel com­fort­able with is the name ‘ Nol­ly­wood.’ I wish we had named it some­thing else, and not a name that im­plies that we’re sec­ond­ing our in­dus­try to Hol­ly­wood. But I guess it may be too late to ad­vo­cate chang­ing it now.

Why is it dif­fi­cult for film­mak­ers from else­where to break into Hol­ly­wood, for in­stance, and do you think those in Nol­ly­wood can forge col­lab­o­ra­tion with Bol­ly­wood? I re­ally don’t think our goal would be try­ing to break into Hol­ly­wood - and per­haps that’s why most film­mak­ers try- ing to do that haven’t had much suc­cess. The few who break into Hol­ly­wood be­come Hol­ly­wood. And that’s not the goal we should all be pur­su­ing - at least, that’s not what I’m pur­su­ing. Hol­ly­wood uses you when it needs you, and it uses you only how it wants to use you, defin­ing you only as it pleases its pur­poses. And when it no longer needs you, that is it! I think the bet­ter ap­proach is to try to un­der­stand how Hol­ly­wood works, and try to use the knowl­edge to your own ad­van­tage, to get your own films made and seen, and in the way you want them made and seen. And it’s only this way that we can make tan­gi­ble and rea­son­able col­lab­o­ra­tions with other in­dus­tries, Hol­ly­wood, Bol­ly­wood, or whichever. There’s noth­ing wrong with hav­ing a re­la­tion­ship with Hol­ly­wood or Bol­ly­wood, but it’s best to do it on your own terms, with your terms equally re­spected as any other on the ta­ble.


Oladigbolu and Tunde Ke­lani at an in­dus­try event

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