TIFF 2023: Did Nollywood Have A Better Outing? Not Really!
If based on the number of Nollywood films that were officially screened at the 48th edition of the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF), which ran from Sept. 7 through 17 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, this year could be classed as a good outing for Nollywood and the Nigerian film industry. So, the answer to the question in the headline would be a yes.
I was in Toronto for three days (September 10-12) and my main objective at TIFF 2023 was to catch as many African films or events as possible, with a special focus on Nollywood, of course. I saw two Nigeria films: “I Do Not Come To You By Chance” and “Orah” and both were directed respectively by Ishaya Bako and Lonzo Nzekwe.
In addition, I made it to two Africa-centric events. The first event was the Industry Conference and Micro session, “Lights, Camera, Collaboration: ‘Orah‘ and the possibilities of Nigeria-Canada partnership.” Naturally, Nzekwe who is a Nigerian-Canadian director was a guest on the panel. I also attended “Perspectives on African Cinemas and its Industries.” On the all-women panel was Chioma Onyenwe, co-producer of “I Do Not Come To You By Chance.” That had the vibe of ‘women supporting women’ although only time will tell if we’ll see any fruits in the future.
The quality of the films and their reception looked good on Nollywood and Nigeria. “I Do Not Come To You By Chance,” produced by the trio of Genevieve Nnaji, Chioma Onyenwe and Chinny Carter, is adapted from a book of the same title by Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani. She was in attendance.
It’s the story of Kingsley (Paul Nnadiekwe), a university graduate who, despite his degree and excellent grades, cannot get a job. Pressed hard by the weight of financial expectations and responsibilities as the first son of an Igbo family, who is culturally called Opara, he turns to his maternal uncle Boniface aka Cash Daddy (Blossom Chukwujekwu), who is an email scammer, Yahoo-Yahoo or 419, for work. Kingsley’s act of desperation became a necessity after he was dumped by his girlfriend, Olanna, for a richer suitor ready for marriage.
No, Kingsley wasn’t under any illusion as to the kind of work his uncle did because, as a young boy, Uncle Boniface used him to write and post letters to his various marks which then led to Kingsley’s parents (Norbert Young and Jennifer Eliogu) sending Boniface out of their home. Almost two decades later, Boniface is now a full-fledged Cash Daddy. But Kingsley’s dad, chasing a hard-to-get pension, suffers a stroke and dies in the process. Does crime pay or what?
Blossom Chukwujekwu is the undisputed star of this film. Unfortunately, he didn’t make it to TIFF.
In “Orah,” Orah Madukaku (Oyin Oladejo) is a Nigerian immigrant taxi driver in Canada who helps her bosses launder money with the promise they’ll help bring her son Lucky (Emeka Nwagbaraocha) from Nigeria to Canada. However, things don’t go quite as planned: Lucky is murdered while being recruited as fall guy for drug crimes committed by Tariq (Agape Mngomezulu), who is the son of crime boss, Bami Hazar (Lucky Ejim).
Oyin Oladejo gives a gripping performance as the grief-stricken mother seeking justice for her son. Nonetheless, there are other underlying issues in “Orah”: Teenage Orah murders her father in cold blood because he was sexually molesting her, perhaps leading to her pregnancy. Orah’s mother (Tina Mba) is locked in her religious cocoon and refuses to believe her daughter, not even after the death of her grandson. The Nigerian crime fighting agencies featured in “Orah” are irredeemable as the older Orah must take matters into her own hands, again.
Now, there’s still the question of whether Nollywood had a better outing at TIFF this year. In my TIFF 2022 coverage I’d asked: “Should Nollywood take the Toronto International Film Festival more seriously?” This year, I was about to ask a question along that same line: ‘Should Nollywood do more at TIFF?’ What I mean by “more” is for Nollywood to create a bigger buzz in Toronto.
All of this is against the backdrop that, as far as the Toronto International Film Festival is concerned, Nollywood is neither a newcomer nor stranger. In the case of “I Do Not Come To You By Chance,” Bako, its director and the film’s producers are TIFF returnees. Bako was at TIFF 2017 with “The Royal Hibiscus Hotel,” and Nnaji and co. were at TIFF 2018 with “Lionheart”. What’s more, there’s sufficient evidence to show that TIFF is a friend of Nollywood or Nigerian cinema.
In 2016, TIFF showcased the films from eight Nollywood directors at the 41st edition of the festival: Kemi Adetiba (“The Wedding Party”), Izu Ojukwu (“76”), Steve Gukas (“93 Days”), Abba T. Makama (“Green White Green”) Daniel Emeke Oriahi (“Taxi Driver-Oko Ashewo”), Niyi Akinmolayan (“Arbitration”), Uduak Obong-Patrick (“Just Not Married”) and Omoni Oboli (“Okafor’s Law”).
Therefore, contextually, the answer to the question in the headline would be a no. This evaluation focuses solely on the publicity (or the lack thereof) for the Nollywood films at TIFF 2023.
Long before the festival kicked off, and while the festival was ongoing, different people were emailing accredited media about their films. My email inbox was bursting with messages from all kinds of publicists sending information on how and where to watch their films. But from Nigeria or Nollywood film producers, there was not adequate useful information.
Last year, I was fortunate to get an invitation to the private screening of “Gangs of Lagos” directed by Jade Osiberu. I was impressed. Sending words out to relevant media doesn’t require more than checking the list of accredited journalists who would be attending the festival. But then, how many Nigerian film makers are so organized to the extent of having a dedicated, professional publicity management team to coordinate their publicity needs?
At TIFF 2023, it felt like I was digging for some yet to be discovered gold mine while looking for the screening information on “Orah”. It was easier to watch “I Do Not Come To You By Chance” because of the fact that it was screened under Centrepiece programme, which gave it prominence of the TIFF official schedule. On the other hand, “Orah” was under the Industry Select programme and listed in the official TIFF schedule for the Micro Session Industry conference. However, there was no information on where to watch it.
I found out at the Micro session that there was going to be another screening the next day but where? On the day, I got that information from volunteers at the entrance of the TIFF Bell Lightbox, TBLB, building. If I, who was searching for this information, had such a hard time, what’s the chance that someone else could accidentally discover this film? The South African films showing at the festival were better promoted.
The inadequate preparation by Nigeria’s flagbearers at TIFF make me ask: Why should Nigerians and other festival attendees fly blind as to what’s on offer at the festival, and why not disseminate information via the mailing list of accredited media or, better still, make use of the Nigerian stand run by the National Film and Video Censors’ Board (NFVCB)? The latter would’ve been a good one-stop for relevant information.
Wouldn’t it have been wonderful if the Nigeria stand and the African Hub, which was right beside it, had leaflets, pamphlets, or anything to promote our films? I am deliberately not talking about the Nigerian government’s involvement in this at this point. However, I’m waiting to see if things will improve with the creation of the new ministry of Art, Culture, and the Creative Economy.