Ibinabo Fiberesima On the Making of a Historical Thriller: ‘Amanyanabo: The Eagle King’
The Nigerian movie industry is no slacker as it has also proved that its heart is true to telling the untold stories and singing the unsung praises of the mighty people that came before, be it pre-colonial leaders, pre-colonial warriors, and tribes that fought tirelessly to protect their territory from British invasion.
Telling these stories is never easy. Because it hinges on the factual rather than the fictitious and, because of its penchant for historical accuracy, filmmakers do not always descend into this arena. Only a few are brave enough to accept that task, and they do deliver with the brilliance and skill of a true expert in the arts. Among the brave, few are actor turned producer, Ibinabo Fiberesima, whose new film Amanyanabo: The Eagle King is already turning heads before its official release.
Based on true events, the historical biopic centers around King Ibanichuka, Ado the VI, the mighty pre-colonial king of Okrika who fought tooth and nail to defend his heritage and protect his people from the corrupting elements of the British invasion.
In this conversation, Fiberesima discusses the upcoming film, the inspiration behind the making of the project, and what it was like bringing the history of the Ijaw people to the limelight.
Your new film “Amanyanabo: The Eagle King” has been teased all over your social media. Can you give us a brief insight into what the film is all about?
The story is inspired by a book written by Dr. Alfred S. Abam, Ado the IX, Amanyanabo of Okrika. It is about the last true sovereign king of Okrika, Ibanichuka, Ado the VI, Amanyanabo of Okrika who was deposed within the same decade as King Jaja Jubogha of Opobo, Oba Ovonramwen Nogbaisi of Benin and Nana Olomu of Itsekiri. In the story, Ibanichuka becomes king against the odds and has to face numerous challenges both domestic and state to save his people from annihilation. The movie outlines some of his conquests, alliances, and even a civil war. He weathers these storms while trying to unite a people already divided by the practice of a foreign religion led by a wily Christian chief wielding his supremacist agenda and finding a solution to colonial encroachment led by a sadistic British consul.
I doubt a lot of people are aware of the existence of King Ibanichuka. What made you want to tell his story?
A lot of people rightly haven’t heard about him. I dare say a lot of Ijaws, especially the present generation who aren’t in touch with their roots have not. Quite a number of us grew up on the stories of the great Bini monarch, Oba Ovonramwen Nogbaisi (whose story was even captured in a play written by the legendary Ola Rotimi), the flamboyant Jaja of Opobo and Nana Olomu of Itsekiri. But there were other leaders too that reigned around the time. They had their own run-ins with the colonial authority and even held their own in that regard. King Ibanichuka was one of them. His exploits are still remembered in Okrika to date, and I believe it is Okrika’s personal failing that all these years we didn’t deem it necessary to tell the story of our own.
I felt it was an injustice not to tell his story. In my quest over the years to correct this, I even had a play drafted by Wole Oguntokun in the interim, but I had always felt that films presented a wider reach than any stage performance. So when the opportunity came, I knew there was only one story I was going to tell. In the bid to tell his story I also used the opportunity to broadcast Okrika to the world. I produced this movie pro bono publico due to my desire to project the Ijaw people and her culture and to tell the stories of the Niger Delta. The film will showcase interesting bits like our unique rites of coronation, marriage, and family, Okrika’s military and political alliances, trade relations, the famous War-Canoe Houses in battle, and more.
What was your creative vision for the film?
My creative vision for “Amanyanabo: The Eagle King” was to foster a reorientation of our cultural values and consciousness. I wanted to reinstall a sense of black pride in how we once lived, interacted, and developed as a people before the advent of the colonialists. We were a civilization in no need of redemption and we can still recover our worldview and disentangle ourselves from the shackles of the modern chaos we call civilization.
“Amanyanabo” is the first film to be produced by your production company, Queen Bae Studio Production. How did you feel when you launched the company and went full steam ahead into the production of the film?
I have always been an adventurous person. I don’t believe in shirking away from challenges. I am passionate about my people and I unrepentantly want to tell their stories to the world. To do that, I needed a vessel and that was how I launched Queen Bae Studio Production. The idea for the name came about funnily. You see I have always been referred to as the ‘Queen Bae of the Niger Delta’ by my close friends. So when I was thinking of a name for my production house, my friend Qweku just popped it. He felt it was a nice way to immortalize the name given what I was about to embark on. I immediately bought the idea and that was it. Queen Bae Studio Production was born. So, the story was ready, the vessel was ready and now the film is finally ready.
What was it like working with the cast and crew on set?
It was a very wonderful experience. For the cast, I worked with capable hands that were imbued with years of cognate experience in the movie industry. Everyone knew their onions. I mean check out the list: Nkem Owoh, Monalisa Chinda-Coker, Walter Anga, Patrick Diabuah, Uju Okoli, Gentle Jack, Columbus Irosanga, Soibifaa Dokubo, Sonny McDon W., Ovunda Ihunwo and a host of other upcoming actors gave their all into the film. Even the extras were totally given to the story. God bless them all. There were no complaints when working long hours, there was camaraderie and no accidents. Our British actor Lucien Morgan always relished stripping to sunbathe and swim in our rivers. It was a private laugh seeing him red from our sun. He never seemed to be bothered by the sand flies.
The crew was another thing entirely. Fred Amata directed and Izu Ojukwu served as the Production Consultant, so you can see I worked with the best hands in the industry. Each frame was well thought out and planned to ensure adherence to contemporary filmmaking standards.
Did anything interesting happen behind the scenes that you would like to share with TNR?
Interesting things did happen behind the scenes and I can tell you one or two. One, Nkem Owoh was literally stranded at sea close to midnight after shooting. We had to move around a lot by boat. Okrika is a coastal region and on one of the trips home, his boat ran aground in the dark at about 11 pm when the sea route dried up. Two, the aboriginal extras brought in to play the warriors thought the battle being filmed was real and came with shiny machetes, chanting war songs. Okrika people are feisty shaa. They had to be convinced to relax, but that did not stop some prop shields from being pierced and actors from being cut. Director Fred Amata got himself hoarse screaming “CUT! CUT!” in fright during the battle scenes. Oh, and of course, we sank three War Canoes during the sea battle. That was something we really didn’t plan for.
When picking the cast for the film, what qualities were you looking for in the actors?
One or two of the cast I initially penciled in couldn’t make it due to scheduling conflicts but those on the wings didn’t waste time to board the ship. In the end, I’m just grateful for being blessed with thespians that were dedicated to their craft and sold to the story, that’s all. When you pick actors that love your story I believe 90% of the work is done. Nkem Owoh for one was amazed at the plot and dialogue but doubted if the script as it was could be achieved. Each day cleared a little of the doubt and inspired him to give more than he had ever given. The same went for the other actors. I remember a funny incident. One night, Soibifaa Dokubo, Nkem Owoh, Columbus Irosanga, and Walter Anga all ganged up to defy the director in a particular scene when it was being muted to shorten their lines. All of a sudden the fatigue left their eyes and they delivered the best scene since principal photography started…without missing a single line in four pages of dialogue. They were that principled and willing to ensure professionalism was ingrained.
When filming, what shooting locations did you use? How long did it take to shoot the film?
We used principal locations, including Mgbegbe-gboko Island, One Man’s Island, Okoro Ama, and Akalogbo Ama all around the beautiful island of Okrika. Principal photography commenced in April 2022 and ended in May 2022 in a total of 21 days.
When would the film premiere? Would it be making its way to cinemas, streaming services, or both?
Production is one thing and getting it to reach the widest audience is another. We’re critically now in the marketing and publicity stage. There are a lot of options open to us. We are also being broached by cinema houses and some platforms but we are consulting widely to arrive at the best business decision that will reach the widest audience available. We want the movie to get to the widest audience and we will choose any platform that can make that happen.
I was reading your biography and you went from pageant queen to actor and now producer. What was the transition like for you?
It was seamless. Pageantry, acting, and producing are all within the same sphere. I have always been interested in the arts. In secondary school, I participated in the arts and at the prestigious University of Ibadan I studied for a Bachelor of Arts Degree in English and Literature. The studies heavily influenced me and led to my foray first into modeling and pageantry and then into the film industry. As an actor, I proceeded to earn a Master’s Degree in Audio Visual Management from the Media Business School in Ronda, Spain. All these prepared me for the path I have embarked on today. It was deliberate and well thought out so the transition from one point to the other was not so difficult. I will be directing soon, so keep tabs on that.
Among the many hats you wear, you are the National Director of the Miss Earth Nigeria Beauty Pageant. Can you tell TNR what the pageant is all about?
The Miss Earth Beauty Pageant is an international event that was brought to the fore with a vision to channel the beauty pageant entertainment industry as an effective tool to promote environmental awareness and find a lasting solution to the dangers posed by wrong environmental practices. I swiftly bought into that vision and since 2022, have launched and organized the Miss Earth Nigeria Beauty Pageant. I have had the singular privilege of presenting its winners to the annual showpiece event held in the Philippines. Nigeria has had the most brilliant candidates represent her in recent years in the persons of Susan Garland (Okoye), Gwenivere Chioma Ifeanyieze, and newly crowned queen, Esther Oluwatosin Ajayi who picked up five (5) gold medals during the pre-pageant stage of the competition last year.
The Nigerian film industry, popularly known as Nollywood, is a constantly evolving space and over the years we have seen a lot of interesting historical biopics. Why do you think audiences should watch “Amanyanabo”? What makes the film different from the others?
My new movie is not your regular biopic. No, it is way more than that. The story captures every genre−drama, dark comedy, romance, action, thrills, and tragedy−and blends them into a tantalizing potpourri that is “Amanyanabo: The Eagle King.” From scripting, every scene was well thought out. At the production stage, we used the best camera and anamorphic lenses to bring the movie to contemporary standards. Sound was handled by a first-class specialist with years of experience. I understand what we released was just a teaser, but that little piece was enough to have eager viewers salivating at the prospect of seeing the whole thing. It even got me excited. Many people are already on my neck: students of history, family, friends, and the media. Everyone wants to see what Ibinabo has cooked in Okrika.
What advice would you give to aspiring filmmakers?
I would advise aspiring filmmakers to be dogged in the pursuit of their dreams and being dogged entails the following. You have to first choose a craft. Anywhere belle face does not work. Then you need to find a mentor. Mentorship is easier now as it could entail physical interaction, following one on social media, watching sessions on YouTube, or applying to serve on movie sets. Then you need as a matter of utmost importance to patiently learn the craft. Diligence is key in this thing of ours as rush rush will get you into a mess. It is better to partner with an experienced colleague on a job than to use someone’s investment to learn work.
Also, make friends and associates and be courteous to everyone. I do not understand the kick some actors get in being nasty to people as it always leads to an abrupt end in their careers. Many think it brings respect, but it only makes them silly and a pain to work with eventually. Be smart to prevent posting nonsense on social media to remain relevant. Lastly, when the opportunity comes to you, grab it like it’s your last chance.
Watch the teaser for “Amanyanabo: The Eagle King” here.