When I first saw Dare Olaitan‘s Nollywood debut, Ojukokoro at its premiere during last year’s Africa International Film Festival (AFRIFF), I was so impressed I told everyone who cared to listen that it could well be Nollywood’s best effort in 2017.
I wasn’t the only one impressed though. The screening hall filled with filmmakers and film enthusiasts couldn’t resist offering the film a standing ovation when the credits rolled. This film was different. Simple, with the regular faces, yet different.
Last Sunday, at the closing ceremony of the just-concluded iREPRESENT Documentary Film Festival (iREP), I was deep in discussion with respected critic and writer, Oris Aigbokhaevbolo and director of upcoming film – Okon Lost in London – Sunkanmi Adebayo. Oris had missed the film’s screening at AFRIFF but had seen it earlier that day. He simply couldn’t hide his excitement. Like me, he felt it was an amazing film.
The writing was beautiful. How the story drifted back and forth among the characters is what makes it even prettier. And then, there is the indigenization of the characters and their lingo. For us critics, one of the biggest issues with “New Nollywood” is the apparent abandonment of good storytelling for attempts at impressing with big cameras and equipment. This, coupled with the urge to Westernise every of our characters, is why we haven’t seen strong characters as were common in the 90s. For actors who aren’t exceptionally brilliant, giving them the arduous task of delivering in a lingo they aren’t quite comfortable in has contributed in their performances falling flat on the screen.
But not only did the makers of Ojukokoro create several unique lingua for the characters (examples are the different variants of pidgin and the Benin thrown in at several points), they looked for actors who were quite comfortable in delivering them. As inconsequential as this seems, what it does is, it reduces line-processing time and gives the actor one less thing to worry about when they deliver.
Ojukokoro brings with it a new execution of a crime feature mixed with huge doses of humour. But like I argued in my discussion with Oris and Sunkanmi, this film is very unlikely to make the money AY Makun and Mo Abudu made with their most recent productions. And the reason is not far-fetched. Many Nigerians want to see slapstick. Ojukokoro is proudly not. But what it will lack in financial arrogance, it will have abundantly in leading the conversation about writing for film and execution of the crime genre.
Over the past couple of years, Nollywood has crossed into a new level of commercial filmmaking. The box office returns of A Trip to Jamaica and The Wedding Party combined reached staggering levels despite Nigerian economic recession. Since 2016, the industry has also crossed into a new level of artistic filmmaking. ’76 and The Arbitration did that last year, now Ojukokoro has taken it even a notch higher.
Femi Ogunsanwo, where did you find these filmmaking monsters?
The year is still young but I say again: This might just be the best Nollywood film you’ll see in 2017.