Nigerian filmmakers, producers and actors are hoping a spotlight on Lagos at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) will open Nollywood up to the world.
But equally important, the filmmakers say, is maintaining the originality and fresh storytelling that has made the well-established Nigerian film industry such a national and regional success over the past two decades.
“Our stories are original. That’s what makes us stand out,” said Omoni Oboli, the filmmaker, producer and actress, whose movie Okafor’s Law had its world premiere at the festival this year.
“I feel like the audiences are bored. Hollywood is churning out the same thing over and over again … We have fresh stories. It’s original,” Oboli said at a press conference in Toronto. “If they’re bored, they should look to us – look to Nollywood.”
Oboli’s film is among eight Nigerian features being screened as part of the festival’s annual City-to-City programme, which shines a light on filmmaking in cities around the world. In previous years, this section has shone a light on Seoul, London, Athens, Mumbai, and Istanbul, among other places.
Cameron Bailey, the film festival’s artistic director, told Al Jazeera that he took “a leap of faith” when he made the decision to focus on Lagos this year, but he said he believed the timing was right.
“In addition to the very commercial films that have been coming out of Lagos for many years, there’s a new generation that has a new Nollywood cinema that is working at higher budget levels, taking more time with their productions, greater technical quality and also just greater artistic ambition,” Bailey said.”We’re beginning to see new kinds of films come out that I think can work very well on the festival circuit and in the rest of the film industry, so that’s why I wanted to do it now.”
The eight Nigerian films at the festival explore an array of storylines and genres, from the comedic capers of a Lagos cabbie in Daniel Emeke Oriahi’s Oko Ashewo (Taxi Driver), to a drama about Lagos’ successful battle against an outbreak of Ebola in 93 Days, directed by Steve Gukas.
In 76, Izu Ojukwu looks at the impact of a failed coup attempt in Nigeria in 1976, while director Uduak-Obong Patrick has made a youthful crime-comedy with a Lagos backdrop in Just Not Married.
The Wedding Party, meanwhile, invites audiences in to experience the joy and traditions of a Nigerian wedding – complete with all the drama and complications that may arise.
“What makes a Nigerian wedding party so different? You have to experience it first hand to be able to understand it. It’s nothing like you’ve ever seen before: the colours, the attire, the people … It’s a remarkable experience,” said director Kemi Adetiba about the film, her first feature.
“The stories I think will resonate with all audiences,” Bailey said, “but what you get to learn about, is how the storytellers shape their films in a very distinct way.”