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‘It’s important to hold door open for the next woman’

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Olatoni

Directorial debutant, Teniola Olatoni’s new movie, The New Normal, premiered at cinemas nationwide last weekend. The story revolves around the lives of four couples and a single friend as they navigate individual and collective issues of discrimination, misogyny, addiction, mental health, infertility and nepotism, while trying their best to keep up appearances and escape society’s suffocating boots with their often hilarious and always surprising results; thus finding their way to a whole New Normal. Featuring some of the biggest names in Nollywood including Richard Mofe Damijo, Mercy Johnson-Okojie, Bimbo Akintola, Kehinde Bankole, Yemi Blaq, Femi Jacobs, BrodaShaggi, Meg Otanwa, Mofe Duncan and others, The New Normal has already bagged some international awards, including the Best International Narrative at the annual American Black Film Festival (ABFF) Jury Awards, and the award for Best African Female Filmmaker at the Toronto International Nollywood Film Festival (TINFF). She spoke with TOBI AWODIPE on her journey into the industry, helping upcoming women creatives succeed amongst other things.

Tell us about your foray into filmmaking; what sparked your interest?
I have always been interested in telling stories and found films a fascinating medium. This is a 20+ years dream deferred plus years of staying awake to watch the Oscars have to count for something. For me, 2018 was crunch time, it was either show up or shut up so I headed to film school to pick up the fundamentals and thankfully, here I am.

The New Normal is your directorial debut. Could you give us a brief insight into your journey directing it?
I had a bunch of stories playing around in my head that just needed to be told. I gave them to my writer; Tunde Babalola and I’ll say he did an amazing job with the script. I was nervous about directing it myself, but Tunde and Tobi (my associate producer) said to me, “Teni, it’s your story, only you can tell it!” I borrowed brain from there and it was game on from that moment.

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What’s the core message of TNN?
Be kind and less judgmental because everybody around you is dealing with something. Finding your own New Normal because ‘Normal’ has only ever been what the majority say, is for you as an individual to figure out what works for you. The scenarios in the movie are so relatable and viewers identifying with them have been my biggest joy.

TNN has already bagged some international awards already, but why do more Nigerian films not feature at international festivals?
I believe they do. Our Nollywood style of storytelling is evolving so much; I think you will see even more. TNN has been super blessed to be recognised and acclaimed internationally; this tells me our story resonates with so many whatever your race, gender or creed. I find that amazing; my entire team has done a fabulous job on this.

A lot of actors are going into directing and production these days, in your opinion, is this a good thing or not?
It is neither good nor bad. Whatever brings progress in a positive direction should be welcomed. It is easy to criticise and condemn so maybe as an actor, after you have experienced the rigors of production, sourced funds, dealt with other actors, dealt with distributing and marketing your film, you will understand why that producer is pushy and the director, particular.

With your experience in this industry, what would you like to see done differently?
I would like to see distributors more open and less condescending of the filmmaker’s vision. All films cannot be the same and if attitudes do not change and become more embracing, so many brilliant films will go uncelebrated. Exhibitors (cinemas) also have to do more. Things like technical hitches, projectors not working properly, schedules delayed and changed arbitrarily are heartbreak for any filmmaker.

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With the present fears of COVID-19 and TNN showing at the cinemas, are you worried that more people wouldn’t see it?
The cinemas have done a great job adapting to current realities with strict safety and social distancing protocols and I applaud them. Of course, I worry which is why we have our virtual cinema opening soon to assist in this regard.

Apart from showing at cinemas, are there future plans to put it on global streaming sites like Netflix?
It is all in the works to be honest; we want the world to see TNN. It’s already happening and we are looking forward to so much more.

How best can we help upcoming women creatives thrive in this industry?
Dear fellow beloved creative, you are and have a unique gift, do not be afraid to use it. Tell that story from your unique perspective. Be that creative everyone wants to court. Check that attitude, it is unbecoming. Create your own table; others will jump on board. Be thankful for the ‘NOs’ they clear your path to the ‘YESs’. Share knowledge and pitfalls and do keep learning and honing your craft. Most importantly, hold the door open for the next woman; we will arrive faster and better as a collective. So, head up, shoulders back, heels on point and get strutting because you absolutely can.

After this, what can your teeming fans look forward to seeing from you in the near future?
We have a lot for everyone to look forward to and don’t worry, we will not fall your hands.
Follow us @sourmashstories and @teniolaolatoni for all the exciting things we are planning for everyone.

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