#Blastfromthepast Meet Kenneth Gyang: Nollywood’s hottest director

As Kenneth Gyang’s new feature, Oloture, makes its Netflix premiere on October 2, we take you way back to 2013 when we highlighted Mr. Gyang’s talent and brilliance in a profile that presaged this very moment. This is a salute to an auteur.

Kenneth Gyang does not look a day older than sixteen.

He is smallish and dark with white teeth that contrast sharply with his dark skin. He is dressed casually in a striped shirt over tan pants and has dark blazers on.

Mr Gyang is excited and clearly animated but what one might mistake for verbosity is actually self – assuredness; a familiarity with his subject matter and a willingness to share.

He talks with ease and knowing about movies, about movie directors, about multi-layered stories, what a writer would call multiple plotlines that intersect as one. He says he loves Alejandro González Iñárritu and his movies from Amores Perros which starred the diminutive  Gael García Bernal,  to 21 grams with Sean Penn and  Babel with Brad Pitt.

He speaks about movies with the same animated and familiar ease with which fashionable girls talk about shoes, bags and make up. This is a man who understands what he is talking about.

The point must be made again; though he might look like one, Kenneth is not a boy. He is at the moment Nigeria’s hottest movie director with a movie that will be the talk of the town once it opens on October 25, 2013.

His movie, ‘Confusion Na Wa’ is Nollywood at its best and yet not really Nollywood. It is an embodiment of the new Nollywood, that nascent phenomenon that Femi Odugbemi has lately described as Nollywood 2.o.

Not yet released widely, “Confusion Na Wa” has already won a cache of awards for its director, the actors and script.

This is a movie riding on its amazingly multi-layered story, razor-sharp dialogue, amazing actors and studied pace. There are no drawn out scenes, no ostentation, no flash and no crass display of wealth. What you have is street savvy and sass, sauciness and dark humour. This is a movie that many would go to see not once or twice but thrice because they want to hear every line, catch every joke, understand every thread of the outlandish story. This is a movie that will leave you asking, at the very end with, what my friend calls the dumb-head-scratch, “ehn, e don finish?” because it wouldn’t feel like it has “finished”. It is a movie that you will re-write over and over in your head.

And what is the story? A man loses his mobile phone which is picked up by two younger men. They go through his messages, discover that he is having an affair with a married woman and begin to extort money from him. But then their dalliance with a young lady puts them in the bull’s eye of her father’s rage. At the climax of the movie, these disparate characters are united in a bar and every one seemingly gets his comeuppance.

Kenneth Gyang is trained for this. Educated at the Jos based National Film institute, where as he says “being in film school allows you to try and fail, try and fail. We were into story telling but then I remember going to Burkina Faso where I attended lots of Master Classes on how to tell the “visual story.” I saw lots of films that African movie makers had done and yes, I can say that that helped sharpen my on-screen story telling ability.”

That story telling ability shines through in “Confusion na Wa” but Kenneth already had an opportunity to try out what he learnt at Jos and Burkina Faso. He cut his directing teeth on the BBC sponsored didactic tv series, “Wetin Dey?” which was where he first met and worked with the A-list Hausa language star, Ali Nuhu.

More on Ali Nuhu in a bit.

The initial premise for the movie “Confusion na Wa” came from a short story by Akpo Kagho which appealed to Gyang because as he puts it “I like multi-layered stories” but even though the story is completely changed at the end Kenneth Gyang still gives Kagho full credit.

The title ‘Confusion Na Wa’ evokes Fela’s “Confusion Break Bone” and is, as the young director puts it, largely “a tribute to Fela Kuti while also maintaining an authentic afro-centricty.”

Kenneth’s production company is named KpataKpata films and he has a British partner, Tom Rowland-Rees whom he met in Berlin. So, the question of “authentic afro-centricity comes up.” How authentic can they really be, this white and black duo?

“Yes, my partner is British” Kenneth begins, his small fingers flailing like a conductor’s. “But when we met in Berlin I just saw in the midst of white faces this white boy who came to me and said ‘Saanu’. So, I found out that his parents were expatriates in Zaria and so he knows a lot about Africa because they had lived in the Congo too during the time of Mobutu. And that’s how we actually hooked up.  He knows about Africa.”

The movie, according to Mr. Gyang, cost less than 5 million naira to make (with support from the Rotterdam based Hubert Bals Fund) mostly because the actors; Ramsey Nouah and OC Ukeje took huge pay cuts to do it.

Principal photography was 14 days long. There was a shift of location from Jos to Kaduna because of the crisis that disrupted things. But then post-production took longer because his partner was abroad and he was in Nigeria and logistics was a nightmare.

He speaks proudly of Jos with its fine literary, musical, theatrical traditions; think of Helon Habila and Ireti Doyle and the Amatas, MI and Ice Prince and PSquare all moulded from the clay of Jos.

“Confusion na Wa” as a movie is a throw-back to the very best of Nigerian television even though Kenneth says the movie came out of his enduring fascination with South-American movies like Amores Perros and City of God.

There is a very “Cock Crow at Dawn” – like feel to the acting and locales.

The cast of actors on “Confusion na Wa”  is a filmmaker’s delight. Tunde Aladase, better known as the go–to script writer is a surprise and a delight as the cheating housewife.

Ali Nuhu who is legendary in Hausa movie circles nails it in his first major English language role as the hapless hard-done by cuckold, Bello, who never seems to put a foot right.

There is an amazing scene towards the end of the movie when after he has delivered a heart-felt and uncharacteristic parting shot to his colleagues, he returns with a request that will crack you up every time you see this movie.

OC Ukeje is a loveable cad with a charming personality and you can’t help but fall in love with his character, Charles, when he says to their weed supplier that they need a “hybrid” weed and when the dealer retorts with “which one be hybrid?” Charles laughs and says “I just like the word.”

This is a dark movie with a tragic end but there is a laugh per minute that helps to keep it upbeat without it descending into gloom and that is mostly thanks to the narrative provided by Chichi played by Gold Ikponwosa. Smart and intelligent, he is timid, diffident and very unlucky.

His voice opens the movie and ends it with an “As I lay dying” feel.

When he says “if you are lucky, you will meet God wearing a brown pair of trousers,” you have to laugh just to stop yourself from crying and that is what this brilliantly executed movie does to you; tease out laughter and tears all at once.

Oloture is out October 2, on Netflix.

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