When Eyimofe got everyone talking at Berlinale 2020
It took Chuko Esiri exactly three years to write the script, which evolved quite a bit from its very first iteration. However, at the heart of the film’s first and final version, which was eventually recorded, was a story about Nigeria: about migration, about the way in which the country, Lagos, most importantly, interacts with its citizens and how that can, on one hand, give you opportunities, and on the other, push you out.
“I remember reading James Joyce’s book, Dubliners, and in reading it, Joyce said that he aimed to put up a well-polished looking glass into Dublin and the Irish people, and that, for me, was a moment that really crystalised what I was trying to do in the story, in the screenplay of this movie. It really came out of a time when I was wondering what sort of future I could have in Nigeria and was wondering what sort of future Nigeria could have for itself. I was really beginning to understand this allure of getting out and I put those feelings on paper and into this,” Chuko hinted.
As a cinematographer, Arie was able to see clearly what his twin brother was trying to say in the script and was able to help bring it to life.
“His frustrations about what we go through; what everyone in the country goes through on a daily basis, particularly the everyday person. We’ve always been frustrated by that, so, the work resonated with me and it was my job to try to help Chuko make the writing as concise as possible and strike at the heart of some of the issues the film is trying to highlight. You know, the Byzantine nature in which we go about doing things here that frustrates people to such an extent that they are willing to risk their lives at sea to find new shores, wherever that maybe,” Arie noted.
So, when GDN Studios took that bold step to breathe life into Eyimofe script, it was driven by the vision to support a project that has the potential of putting the country on a global film stage.
Though not your typical Nollywood script, the production outfit, which specialises in facilitating entertainment, media and creative projects in Nigeria for production or co-production, apparently saw the big picture clearly and made the film happen.
The news about Eyimofe’s selection in the 70th Berlinale Forum elicited excitement among Nigerian film practitioners, who see the feet as an opportunity for more filmmakers from the country to aspire to be in one of the ‘Big Three’ European film festivals — Cannes, Berlin, and Venice. To others, this will help beam light on the country’s film industry, especially on independent filmmakers, who are determined to change the narrative.
Eyimofe’s journey to Berlinale 2020 was that of high expectations from both Nigerian practitioners and their international counterparts, who were eager to see the film that has set a new record for the country’s film industry. Though the Nigerian Film Corporation (NFC) had a stand at the African Hub, which has now moved to Marriot Hotel, Berlin, Eyimofe was the centre of attraction. A visitor to the festival wouldn’t miss the film flyer with Nigeria’s coat of arm boldly printed behind.
Hours to the world premiere, news filtered in that New York-based Aspect Ratio Sales has taken sales rights of Eyimofe. It, however, excludes Africa and Asia where producer, GDN Studios retains. Tickets for the world premiere at the 496-seater Cinemaxx 3, and that of the second screening at Colosseum 1 were sold out. If not for the reserved seats, it would have been difficult for even some cast and crew of Eyimofe to get a space.
In the audience were some film practitioners from Nigeria such as OC Ukeje, Tope Tedela, Emem Ema and rest, as well as Nigerians living in Germany, who were present to celebrate something positive about the country. Family members and friends of the production team, including proud parents of the twin directors Arie and Chuko, Mr. and Mrs. Esiri were also present to see the film.
However, the hall was dominated by practitioners from other countries, who were interested in seeing Nigeria through the lens of the Esiri brothers. And with the level of publicity and awareness deployed by GDN Studios, the impressive turn out didn’t come as a surprise.
The producer of the film Melisa Adeyemo, as well as the directors, had few minutes to introduce the movie to the audience before the tape rolled. Being the first independent Nigerian film to compete at Berlinale, expectations were high.
To the sound of Celestine Ukwu’s vintage track, the world, for the first time, saw the film Eyimofe, an alternative migrant tale that approaches a much-discussed topic from a new perspective. For about 120 minutes that the film lasted, the storyline and the scenery that serves as a window into the city of Lagos and Nigeria engrossed the audience. And for Nigerians living in Germany, it was a nostalgic feeling that connects one to home.
“It’s not the usual Nollywood film,” one of the ladies noted, as the film tells the story of Mofe (Jude Akuwudike) and Rosa (Temi Ami-Williams), who are determined to pursue what they believe will be a better life in Europe.
Though a typical Nigerian story, which will definitely resonate with most Nigerians, Eyimofe comes from the point of view that, with hard work and perseverance, life can equally be meaningful at home.
The end credit for the film was greeted by applause from the excited audience, who had an exciting journey to Nigeria through the film.
“I like the film; I really enjoyed the scenery of Lagos that I saw. I particularly love the humanness of the stories; the realities of the lead characters of the film, Mofe, and Rosa and how the stories connected with me,” Nigerian actor Tope Tedela, who was at the premiere said.
The lead actor Jude Akuwudike, who saw the full film for the first time, told The Guardian that is was an honour to be invited to be part of the project.
“I’m just seeing the film for the first time since we finished production. It was such a good thing to work with a group of artists, who are competent and expressive; the whole thing was efficiently done.”
The UK-based actor, who left Nigeria at a young age, was nostalgic, as he spoke on his experience on set in Lagos.
“I left Nigeria at the age of six, so to be given a gift like this, a beautiful script. I was in Lagos for five weeks working for the first time; I was so excited. To be there in Nigeria as an adult for the first time during Independence Day? I had time to look around and absorb the city and the country; it was such a good feeling.”
On his part, Jordan Mattos of Aspect Ratio Films, the distribution company for Eyimofe, observed that the impressive turn out for the premiere shows the level of interest the film has generated.
“If you look around, you can see that it’s not easy to pack the hall full. So, it means people are very much aware of the film, that it has legs to travel, that the organisers of Berlinale have fate in the film. The fact that the seats were sold out tonight and even tomorrow means it’s really good time.”
Mattos further informed, “We plan to hit many cinemas, starting with a good, strong festival premiere in the US. Now, we have to find a niche country for more premieres. Once we introduce the film to audiences at the festivals, then we can start to plan distribution on theaters, online and the rest.”
Like the premiere, Eyimofe’s second screening at the Colosseum 1, Prenzlauer Berg, was equally sold out. Sheri Hagen, director of the critically acclaimed The Lives of Others and Auf den zweiten Blick (At Second Glance), who saw the film at Colosseum 1, said, “it was the first Nigerian film at the Berlinale that I will see after all these years of the festival. I enjoyed the acting; I enjoyed the cinematography and directing very much. I felt it was a beautiful independent film out of Nigeria, which works universally and globally. I always believe Nollywood was a step to introduce Nigeria’s film industry; to see that there are talents there who can write, who can act and produce. But this film is different. People are always talking about American and European standards, but Africa has standards too. So, it’s good for the American and European audience to see that the standards are there; they just need to go there, pick up stories and make them into films. It was good to see that the cinema was packed, that people came out to see Eyimofe.”
The Delphi Filmpalast, Chartlottenburg, was equally packed full as the film had its third screening. Among dignitaries that saw the film were the Nigerian Ambassador to Germany, Yusuf Maitama Tuggar and his wife and some top officials of the embassy. They were received by the Chairman/Publisher of The Guardian, Lady Maiden Alex-Ibru.
In his reaction after the screening Ambassador Tuggar described Eyimofe as a well-made film that celebrates the achievement of the Nigerian Film Industry.
“It’s a fantastic film that highlights the range that the Nigerian movie has. This is supposed to be an independent film, as supposed to Nollywood movies we have been viewing. For me, it’s going to be a big hit; it’s going to show that there’s so much potential in our movie industry.”
The Ambassador, who commended the production team of the film, noted that Eyimofe couldn’t have been shown in Germany at any better time than now.
“The time that the film is showing in Berlin is a perfect time because of sudden issues to do with migration in Germany.”
Expressing his joy over the impressive run and reception the film has been enjoying in Berlin since the premiere on Monday, Tuggar said: “It made me very proud that young Nigerians produced the film; writing such script, directing it, it was fantastic. The fact that the film attained this recognition at Berlinale says a lot. I know that these young men are going to be around for many years.”
The Ambassador noted that Nigeria has a vibrant media and entertainment industry, adding, “This is something that is driving the growth of our economy. We have the fastest growing media and entertainment sector in the world and this film is a good example of what can be achieved by Nigeria in terms of filmmaking. ”
Eyimofe’s impressive run continued till the last screening at the Cubix 9, Alexanderplatz, where participants at the 70th Berlinale had the opportunity to see the film for the last time; the story was the same.
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