Nigerian director Kunle Afolayan is one of a handful of internationally-known Nollywood filmmakers, whom we could say is pushing for a new brand of Nollywood cinema - specifically, a Nollywood cinema that can compete in the international film marketplace, and, as we continue to see more and more of these cross-continental (we could even say pan-Africanist) collaborations, between African American or British actors, and African writer/directors (those in Nigeria/Nollywood especially), that movement continues to bear fruit.
But, before Afolayan plants his feet firmly in *new* territory, it was about 4 years ago that I attended a screening of what was his latest film at the time - the horror/thriller, Araromire (aka The Figurine), which was dubbed as the movie that “… will change the face of Nollywood on the world map…”
Did it? I can't say just yet.
At the time, I read several accounts of screenings an anticipation for the film, including this from the Africa Is Not A Country blog about the film:
“… I attended the conference on African Film in the Digital Era yesterday and they were talking about The Figurine, a “quality” Nollywood movie [i.e. sound quality, acting, editing, etcetera] that recently premiered in London. Apparently, there’s been a whole media hype around it. I somehow missed it but … nearly 3,000 people turned up at the London premiere … I really don’t know whether 3,000 might have been exaggerated figure but it’s quite extraordinary. Apparently, the organizers managed to get a second screen so that they did not have to turn away people. They even tried to get a third one but they failed The director, Kunle Afolayan, also attended the event [Sunday] …”
The film's premiere was a star-studded event with many familiar faces on the red carpet, including British actress, Ellen Thomas, along with rising playwright, Bola Agbaje - and several other British actresses, all of whom expressed their eagerness to appear in Nigerian movies.
"I've come to support the Nigerian film industry because here in Britain we're feeling very left out. For the longest time I've been interested in Nollywood and I'd love to do a Nollywood movie but I've never been asked," said Thomas. "There are lots of African-Caribbean actors in the UK who are longing and waiting for a call from Nollywood" said Ellen Thomas.
Director Afolayan did have the following advice for Nigerian filmmakers:
"Be ready to take the bold step; learn more on the business aspect of filmmaking. A good product will always sell itself. If your product is good it stands the chance of making a return in a short while. But the first thing that cannot be compromised is the quality. As a filmmaker, I can only say this is just the beginning of better things to come from Nigeria..."
I finally saw the film at either the New York African Film Festival or the African Diaspora Film Festival, and I thought it was definitely levels above what I had seen of Nollywood cinema up until then - especially in terms of overall production quality - acting, cinematography, sound design, etc. It was definitely an ambitious attempt on Afolayan's part, and it was most-appreciated by this writer.
Here's its synopsis:
While serving at a National Youth Service Corps camp, two friends find a mystical sculpture in an abandoned shrine in the forest, and one of them decides to take the artwork home. Unknown to them, the sculpture is from the Yoruba goddess Araromire which bestows seven years of good luck on anyone who encounters it, and after the seven years have expired, seven years of bad luck follow. The lives of the two friends begin to change for good, as they become successful and wealthy businessmen. However, after seven years things start to change for bad.
It's really not-so unlike similar genre Hollywood films, with the same zest, thrills, suspense, mystery, and so on, in which some artifact is discovered in some far-off place, is brought back to "the city" and strange things start to happen to those who possess it.
The Figurine stars Ramsey Nouah, Kunle Afolayan, Omoni Oboli, Funlola Aofiyebi-Raimi, Jide Kosoko, Wale Adebayo and Muraina Oyelami. It won 5 awards at the African Movie Academy Awards in 2010, including the awards for Best Picture, Cinematography and Visual Effects.
I was engaged and entertained for the most part; and now you can see it for yourselves, because the entire film is now available for viewing (for FREE) onlive, via IbakaTv, which is, in short, an online video streaming website that features primarily Nigerian cinema.
A suggestion for those who will embark on this journey and watch the film: you can't watch a film like this and compare to the myriad of big-budget Hollywood studio films you've seen all your life - especially if you've never seen a typical Nollywood film. While it, at one time, 4 years ago, represented what was considered the best in contemporary Nollywood cinema, you still have to watch it in context, and appreciate it on its own terms.
If you're curious, watch it in full below: