BY ‘SEGUN ODEJIMI
The short film medium is where many filmmakers – established or “upcoming” – have the chance to treat any issue they are passionate about without fear of commercial unacceptance. Filmmaking is a passion for some, a business for many. Regardless of which one it is for you as a filmmaker, with short films, you need not have sleepless nights about losing a huge capital or attracting very limited acceptance. Many people accept that short films are fields for learning, making mistakes, addressing issues and beliefs and making some form of statement without necessarily having a fear of financial plonking.
Nk’iru. Njoku‘s debut short film, Oríkì unashamedly addresses the easy-to-ignore menace that is human trafficking. A lot of people see human trafficking as some bad stuff that died in the 90s. And coupled with the fact that there is the frenzy to leave the country in search of greener pastures, no one seems to care how or why people find themselves in places like Italy, France, Germany, the United Arab Emirates, USA and so on, not to talk of even bothering their heads with whether those trips are voluntary or not.
Oríkì, made in 2019, tells the story of Otiti – a young girl whose aunt Agatha
ferries young women to Europe to become sex slaves, enriching herself in the process. Obebo, Otiti’s mother, wants her sister to take Otiti to Europe, but she learns that the sex-trafficker does not deal with virgins like Otiti. Obebo must, therefore, find a way to make her daughter an acceptable ‘commodity’; a non-virgin, sexually experienced, and ready to be exploited. If she must save herself from this plot, the emotionally repressed and taciturn Otiti must access a strength she didn’t know she possessed.
Njoku, despite this being her debut short film, isn’t a stranger to filmmaking. She has spent plenty of time in the past decade working as a writer on some of the major shows on Nigerian screens so pulling this off isn’t by any stretch surprising.
Oriki is subtle in its messaging and that’s good. And by subtle, I mean that it is not preachy despite it addressing an ill in the society. Its subtlety stares everyone in the face but, in a good way, doesn’t do a lot more than that. Many social menaces usually involve three parties: the perpetrator, the victim and the enabler. Here, the team of enablers is headed by Otiti’s mum (Efe Mayford-Orhora) who has somehow convinced herself that what she is doing is a good thing as long as it would cause an upturn in the family fortune. The other member of this team is Athana (Paul Utomi). Agatha (Shirley Oke Ofou) is the perpetrator.
Yemisi Fancy as Otiti is one of the director’s right calls. She does well in delivering the reticent but emotionally meaty performance required by the character. When the script gives you less to say, it is easy to turn to overacting. Fancy stayed onside and adds a fantastic layer to an already commendable film. It is easy to empathize with the character and a lot of that has to do with her delivery.
Another actor whose performance helps a lot in telling the story is Mayford-Orhora. As angry as you should rightfully be considering her role as the lead-enabler, the pain of a mother who thinks she is during the right thing by sending her daughter abroad comes through. Yes, what she is doing is wrong, but as all who fall on the side of “villainy” should be made to have, there is a strong argument in Otiti’s mum’s arsenal. Her husband is dead and things have been pretty tight for her and her daughter. She thinks a misdeed masked as “just some business” by Agatha is the way to a better life for them, and her daughter especially.
Through Athana, Njoku also shows how, sometimes, a person finds themselves in an unwitting conundrum. Here is Otiti’s mum pleading with him, almost endlessly, to help her ensure that her daughter is ready for the journey to the white man’s land. A journey which will, in turn, ensure a better life for them. He thinks her request is ridiculous and wants no part of it, but she’s Otiti’s mum after all and best-placed to know what is best for her daughter, so he rather foolishly accepts. What he has accepted to do, however, is bad. As a saying in Yoruba puts it: ohùn ti o dá, o dá. What is bad is bad.
The technical offerings in this short are simple but commendable. The pictures are simple but they tell the story just well. The dialogues are succinct and show the director is an established writer.
In all, this is a brilliant debut and it is interesting to see what follows when Njoku makes the inevitable leap into making features. Little wonder it has started picking up awards at film festivals.