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Ray of sunshine on Nollywood at Sundance Filmfest

By Shaibu Husseini
21 January 2023   |   2:57 am
In what is considered a major win and a great stride for the Nigerian Motion Picture Industry dubbed Nollywood, three Nigerian born filmmakers- CJ Fiery Obasi, Wale Oyejide and Funa Maduka will be ‘repping’ Nigeria at the 2023 Sundance International Film Festival...

CJ Fiery Obasi

In what is considered a major win and a great stride for the Nigerian Motion Picture Industry dubbed Nollywood, three Nigerian born filmmakers- CJ Fiery Obasi, Wale Oyejide and Funa Maduka will be ‘repping’ Nigeria at the 2023 Sundance International Film Festival, which opened on Wednesday January 19, in Utah, United State.

The Sundance is reputed as one of the top five film festivals in the world (Berlinale, Cannes, Toronto and Venice) and it is a well-regarded film festival for indie filmmakers who see massive breakthrough in their projects and career.

While Funa Maduka will be at Sundance as a member of jury of the World Cinema Dramatic Competition section, C.J Obasi and Wale Oyedeji will be having the world premiere of their films Mami Water (Cj Obasi) and Bravo, Burkina (Wale Oyejide). Moviedom salute the filmmakers, who by this feat have contributed in turning the spotlight on Nigeria Cinema.

Wale Oyejide (Bravo, Burkina)
NIGERIAN-AMERICA filmmaker Wale Oyedeji will have the world premiere of his narrative feature film debut as director Bravo, Burkina at Sundance. The film, which conveys the magic and melancholy migrants bravely bear across borders, tells the story of a Burkinabe boy who flees his village and migrates to Italy but later discovers a way to go back in time to regain what he lost. The poetic story bends time to explore the meaning of existing in two states, coming and going, running away and running toward. It is a multidimensional exploration of love and migration. The film will be competing in Next Competition section of Sundance.

A lawyer, musician, speaker, writer, designer and co-founder of Ikire Jones a Fashion company, his Ikire Jones designs have been exhibited in museums globally and they have appeared in major motion pictures including Black Panther and Coming 2 America. He is a Sundance Screenwriting Fellow, National Geographic Explorer, TED Fellow, and Open Society Foundations Fellow. His documentary After Migration: Calabria is streaming on Criterion Channel.

Filmmaker C.J ‘Fiery’ Obasi (Mami Wata)
C.J Obasi’s Mami Wata will have its world premiere at the Sundance film festival, which opened on January 19. The film will be recorded in history as the first film by a Nigerian based filmmaker to premiere at the prestigious Sundance festival.

Although films by Nigerian filmmakers have featured at Sundance, including Lizard, a short film by Nigerian born but UK based Akinola Davies Jr, and Wale and Clemency by Nigeria born but US based filmmaker Chinonye Chukwu, the films are by Nigerian born filmmakers residing and working abroad. So, Obasi’s black and white fantasy drama that is based on West African mermaid folklore and mythology will be the first that will spotlight Nigerian cinema at the festival.

Shot on location in Benin Republic, the film features talented actors such as Kelechi Udegbe, Rita Edochie, Evelyne Ily and Uzoamaka Aniunoh. Produced by Oge Obasi, Mami Wata will be competing with 11 other films in the world cinema dramatic competition section. The film is centred on the mermaid folklore and it follows two sisters who must fight to save the people of their village.

For Obasi whose previous films such as Ojoju, Hello, Rain and O-Town have screened at many festivals, Mami Wata, which will be distributed in Africa by Filmone, is about an African deity rooted in West Africa mythology, religion and spirituality.

He also said, “I really wanted to make a film about our spirituality, grounded in universal themes and exploring genre through ancient belief systems. African cinema has come a long way, but for us to take African cinema to the next level, and in some ways, perhaps create a new cinema – I believe we must do so through genre – however, genre rooted in culture and spirituality. And Mami Wata for me encapsulates the need to see that new kind of African cinema.”

Born in Owerri, Imo State, South East Nigeria, C.J.’s directorial debut came in 2014 with Ojuju; a zombie thriller film. The movie was screened in various festivals around the world, including the Pan African Film Festival in Los Angeles, Shockproof Film Festival in Prague, New Voices in Black Film Festival in New York, Nollywood Week Festival in Paris, Fantasia Film Festival in Montreal, and at the Africa International Film Festival where it won the award of the Best Nigerian Film. The film also got him the Trailblazer of the Year award in March 2015, at the Africa Magic Viewers’ Choice Awards (AMVCA).

Funa Maduka (Sundance Juror)
FILMMAKER Funa Maduka is one of the 16 jurors granting awards at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival. She is distinguished as one of the three-jury members of the World Cinema Dramatic Competition section, alongside Shozo Ichiyama and Annemarie Jacir. The other sections are U.S Dramatic Competition, U.S Documentary Competition, World Cinema Documentary Competition and the Next Competition section.

An award-winning filmmaker and the former head of International Original Films at Netflix where she worked with the world’s top global and emerging filmmakers, Funa’s debut film as a director, Waiting For Hassana, had its world premiere at Sundance in 2017, making the film the first Nigerian production ever selected to debut at Sundance.

A widely travelled filmmaker and film executive, Funa pioneered Netflix’ move into international film production, building a development slate across Europe, Middle East, Asia and Africa. Also her film acquisitions brought Netflix its first film nominations at both the Golden Globes and the Academy Awards. Previously she worked at Participant Media developing and managing campaigns for film and television projects.

Funa is an awarded filmmaker, credited with writing, producing and directing the first Nigerian film to world premiere at the Sundance Film Festival. An alumnus of Cornell University and Harvard Business School, Funa is a member of the Academy of Arts and Sciences.