Michael Omonua on IFFR 2018

As part of the trainee programme for young film critics we have asked the participants to have a short interview with one of the emerging filmmakers of their region. All filmmakers are selected for IFFR 2018. 

How did you get to be part of this year’s festival?
I have two short films screening in the Beyond Nollywood programme as part of the festival’s Pan African Cinema Today initiative. I was invited to represent my own film. I am not 100% sure but I believe that the IFFR reached out to Nadia Denton who curates her Beyond Nollywood initiative and they asked her to program some Afrocentric films, she sent them the films and they accepted them.

You studied film production which isn’t a common Nigerian choice. Why film?
I have always been passionate about visual storytelling from a very young age. In secondary school in the United Kingdom, I had a film studies teacher and he introduced me to a number of filmmakers that I had never experienced up until that point. I am talking about the likes of Kurosawa, film noir, pre and post war British cinema. It was interesting to analyze these films and when I went to study film production in the University I was exposed to even more films and was able to develop my passion even better.

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With all these influences, what informed your decision to make films in Nigeria as opposed to the European culture which you were raised on?
I was working in the UK and I made short films as a student with my friends. When I left University I started making my own projects, about four or five in the United Kingdom. When I moved to Nigeria, for personal reasons, I started making films there too. It wasn’t a conscious decision to start making Nigerian films, it just happened to be where I was living at the time. I didn’t expect to stay in England as long as I did but one thing leads to another. I was fortunate coming back because Nollywood is quite big although the infrastructure isn’t quite there yet. But it is a thriving industry built on the back of pure hustle.

How was the adjustment been and has it translated in the work that you have done?
The adjustment took a while. Nigeria is a third world country so it was a huge culture shock moving there. It does take a while getting used to certain things that one would take for granted in the UK but those are also the things that happen whenever migration like that happens. In a strange way, I have been able to pick up on little things that people born and raised in Nigeria may not bother about and this has been reflected in my work. 

Your short films aren’t quite in the Nollywood commercial tradition. Judging from the reception of your work, do you think that there is space for that kind of art in Nigeria?
I think that the ideas and the stories aren’t so dissimilar. My work deals with back street abortions, babalawos (traditional healers) like many other Nollywood stories. The only difference is probably the approach and the methodology. And Beyond Nollywood focuses on people who are trying to bring more artistic values to the table.

I don’t think my work is so esoteric or experimental that the average Nigerian viewer wouldn’t get. It is approachable and quite easy to understand what is going on. I do think I bring some artistic flair because that is what I like watching myself. I do think there is a market for my work, maybe not the mainstream one but you know what, you never know unless it is pushed and marketed properly. There is need for audience engagement.

Photo in header: Michael Omonua