Filmmaker Omoni Oboli premiered her risqué comedy Okafor’s Law to great acclaim at TIFF 2016. Smart direction, a sharp script, and a fantastic cast came together to create a major highlight of this year’s City to City: Lagos programme. Omoni herself became a spokesperson for the Nigerian film industry during the Festival, expressing the need for “Nollywood” to experience more international exposure. Omoni attended TIFF, along with the seven other City to City filmmakers, because of the generous donations made by supporters like you to the Share This Journey fundraising campaign. Thank you, once again, for your incredible support.
We caught up with Omoni a few months after her return to Nigeria.
Hello Omoni! How has life been for you since TIFF 2016?
Life’s been great! I have been putting finishing touches on Okafor’s Law as I prepare for the cinema release of the movie. It was a fun but hectic experience at TIFF 2016, and I had to rest a bit before getting back into work. I’ve also featured in another movie since then.
How would you describe your experience at this year’s Festival? What were some of the highlights?
It was an education for me. I saw moviemaking in a different light from what I was used to. It enlightened and exposed those areas we in Nollywood don’t normally see in our own environment. Filmmaking is a huge business, and there are lots of players involved that we don't use in our smaller industry, compared to Hollywood. The euphoria of the whole event and the people I met at the festival changed a lot for me on how I see the business of filmmaking. My eyes were opened to the sheer magnitude of possibilities that abound from making a good film. I saw people who had never known about industries like Nollywood relate and embrace our storylines, understand our jokes, and they are now interested in seeing more where those came from. The questions from the audiences and the private conversations were the major highlights of this event for me. You often wonder how it would be if the spotlight that you've craved was suddenly given to you, and now I know.
What did you gain from attending the Festival? How did you develop professionally and personally?
The major thing is the exposure; meeting lots of filmmakers and industry representatives, and noting how each one's work benefits the industry in areas which I hadn't exploited before. The movies that were viewed and hailed by the diverse audience opened my eyes to a more global filmmaking perspective. Personally, the way we were treated by the TIFF officials and volunteers was quite refreshing. They were warm and eager to make the whole experience memorable for us all, and that helped to create an atmosphere that breeds intermingling between the different cultures and a better understanding of our various ways of executing our storylines. Professionally, I saw the work ethic of the organizers with the graceful and constructive criticism of our work by audiences, professional colleagues, and agents, as a bright spot. It helps to know where you truly are in the grand scheme of things, so that you can aspire to go forward or remain where you are if you refuse to take advice well. Cameron [Bailey] was very open to us and helped to bridge the gap between us and the already hugely popular Hollywood.
How has TIFF prepared you career-wise? Since the Festival, Okafor's Law was accepted into the 27th Stockholm International Film Festival. Did you take anything away from TIFF that could be applied to this next achievement?
I have had to rethink my approach to filmmaking, such that it has a more global appeal while still maintaining our local feel, so I don't lose my identity. The Stockholm International Film Festival selection was great and quite successful. I'm always excited to show my work to more audiences across the globe, and this is born out of the confidence of seeing such a diverse audience as those who attended TIFF, watching my movies and genuinely enjoying it as I intended it. Coming to Stockholm, I was more confident with my movie, and the audience was not disappointed with what they saw. TIFF prepared me for that and more.
How have your colleagues, friends and family, reacted to the success of the film?
Oh they love it! Especially my family, of course. Many of my colleagues have bought into the vision of a more progressive Nollywood film industry, and some of them now see everyone else's success as a stepping stone for the entire group. I've been all too willing to give out my experiences at the Festival as a morale booster for some, and they're cooking up pleasant surprises of their own. The benefit to the industry of such an exposure far outweighs the personal ones, and many have come to realize that. I believe that the foretaste we have had has sparked a hunger for more global recognition, and this is going to increase the quality and the quantity of such movies in the near future. They now see that we have the original storylines that need to be told, and the world is ready to see them. So the world should watch out for Nollywood. We're coming!
As you know, TIFF works year-round to transform the way people see the world, through film. Our mission plays out through our outreach programmes, Special Delivery and Reel Comfort, our initiatives in protecting and projecting film heritage, such as with our Save This Moment campaign, and our efforts to further filmmaker development through various labs and industry programming. How did you experience the charitable aspects of TIFF?
As a charity, the selfless demeanor of the organizers showed through the way they took us, a budding film industry, and tried to merge us with the rest of the world, so that we felt like we belonged there. The fact that they were more concerned about helping to introduce us to the rest of the film world, with the hope that they have set us on a trajectory toward self development, is the stuff you'd expect from those who are a charitable organization. They did their bit to get us to move from one level to another and for that I am deeply thankful, and I believe the same goes for the rest of my colleagues whose works were featured, and many others who hope to have theirs selected. The exposure of the artists would leave an indelible impression that would create the right zeal, and in many others, to aspire to heights they probably didn't know they could attain. For me, the life of an African female global filmmaker has just been birthed. I can't wait to continue the journey.
What are your future plans? What are you looking forward to in the coming year?
Firstly, I am looking forward to showing my movie at the cinemas, so that people back home can see what all the fuss is about. Thanks to TIFF, the buzz has been high. I also have a couple of productions ready to go. I've written some features that I can't wait to start shooting. It promises to be a very busy and exciting year for me as a filmmaker, scriptwriter, producer and director. I intend to do more in the international collaboration circuit, and I hope to have another movie selected for TIFF.
Thank you for your time, Omoni! We really appreciate it.
You're welcome! I would like to say thanks to TIFF for giving us such a huge platform to be recognized! It was a rollercoaster ride that has kept us moving in a more positive direction. I believe that many more movies from Nollywood will make their way into the official selection of TIFF as the years go by, because Nigerians are not known to back down from challenging themselves to rise even further when their eyes have been opened to such exposure.
A huge thank you to the members and donors! Without you, there would be no TIFF and without TIFF, I would not have had this opportunity to present my work to a global audience. I urge you to keep supporting TIFF. You are making the dreams of filmmakers around the world come true!