Excitement as Berlinale selects its first Nigerian independent film.

Though several other Nigerian films have featured at the festival, including sideline shows, this is the first time an independent film from Nigeria will make the Berlinale Forum and compete for the GWFF Best First Feature award.

News of Eyimofe at the 2020 Berlinale has sparked excitement among the Nigerian film industry practitioners, who see the feat as an opportunity for more Nigerian filmmakers from the country to aspire to be at one of the “Big Three” European festivals – Cannes, Berlin, and Venice.

To others, this will help beam light on the country’s film industry, especially on independent filmmakers.

“It means we are getting there, breaking new international grounds. It’s a good opening for Nigeria to tell its wonderful stories. I’m very happy about this,” the actress Shan George said.

Reacting to the development, filmmaker and internationally recognised film critic, Didi Cheeka, said it’s good that this is happening on the 50th anniversary of the Forum section at Berlinale, adding that one good film helps another.

“Every film culture has got a mainstream and an alternative or underground – with Nigeria, seemingly, the exception. For years, international focus on Nigerian cinema had exhausted itself on the commercial phenomenon known as Nollywood, showcasing it at festival sidebars; ostensibly denying the possibility of the existence of other filmmakers wanting to go beyond Nollywood.

“This year’s Forum expanded, for whatever it’s worth, shows we’re here, still standing, complementing the commercial mainstream. For me, the important thing is really what this does for my friend’s career, how he leverages on this,” he said.

Former Lagos State Commissioner for Culture and Tourism, Steve Ayorinde, noted that Eyimofe’s outing at the Berlinale must be celebrated.

“Before any other major festival looked our way, Berlin was the first, in 2004, to welcome the new Nigerian cinema to the global stage; thanks to Dorothee Wenner.

“It’s immaterial if the producers of Eyimofe tag their film as Nollywood or Nigerian film, what’s important is that almost 20 years after Berlin welcomed us as a sideliner, we are now getting closer to the ringside; it’s an achievement that must be built on.”

Ayorinde, a renowned film critic and jury member for the Africa Movie Academy Award (AMAA) added, “The producers of the film from the US and GDN Studios, through Mr. Toke Ibru, approached us at Lagos State Government when this film was being made and we gave them utmost support and cooperation.

“I’m personally happy that Eyimofe made it to the Berlinale mainstream four years after eight Lagos-made films made it to Toronto International Film Festival for the very first time. This simply adds to the honour and glory of what we can achieve.

“It’s about doing well at home and seeking to compete well on the global stage. A big congrats to every cast and crew member of Eyimofe for coming this far. We shall get to the Promised Land in no time,” he said.

Commenting, Adé Sultan Sangodoyin, a co-producer in Eyimofe observed, “I think it’s important to note that the directors don’t consider this a Nollywood film; it’s modeled after Edward Yang and Hou Hsiao Hsien’s Taiwanese New Wave and Indian Parallel Cinema in style and structure, which is clear when you watch it. But, yes, it’s proudly a Nigerian film we hope would create a new meaning of freedom, expression and new considerations of cinema within the Nigerian landscape.”

On his part, film scholar, Tunde Onikoyi, recalled, “A few years ago, Lindiwe Dovey, one of the finest scholars of film festivals and curatorial practices once argued that it has become impossible to deny that the landscape of the ‘A list’ film festivals is slowly changing in relation to films by Africans and filmmakers from Africa.

“There have been many programs that have centered their core themes on Africa. Not just because the continent had been sidelined from crucial discourses of the world, but because attentions have shifted towards the goings-on on the continent, and African filmmaking has found its place among many other artistic expressions suitable and capable of illustrating some of the most important issues that have surrounded the continent.”

He continued: “Berlin International Film Festival is an ‘A-list’ film festival that has pitched its tent a long time ago, among some of the most remarkable film festivals.

“For Eyimofe to have been considered suitable to feature at Berlinale is an achievement for the industry.

“The film has stood among equals by not only treating a topical issue that resonates with the African experience but has confirmed that New Nollywood screen media is no doubt changing the culture of visual creativity and creation on the continent.”

Onikoyi, who lectures on African Cinema/Screen Media and Post-Colonial Studies, at the Adeleke University, is of the opinion that the New Nollywood is not just commercial in framework, but also registers the artistic rendering of greater films.

“It offers for the world something rich for all and sundry to understand the link between the ‘local’ and the ‘global’ as these concepts are fully comprehended by serious filmmakers from Nigeria and indeed Africa. Eyimofe will be among a plethora of cinematic creation that will remain a mirror practice, serving only to allow a few directors to integrate themselves into the intern’s circuits of African cinema, including film festivals.”

For the award-winning filmmaker, Kenneth Gyang, whose works Confusion Na Wah, Blood and Hyena and Lost Cafe have been screened at several international film festivals, Eyimofe’s selection to be screened at the Berlinale Forum is a major shift for the Nigerian film industry and something that should be celebrated.

“It’s really huge for the industry and the way it works is that, because it is screening at such an important section of the Berlinale, it means that when someone from the industry makes a good film next year, it could actually be in some other film festivals like Cannes, Venice, and Sundance. I think we should celebrate it as an industry.

“I mean being in Berlinale Forum is huge because Berlinale is a well-respected festival in the world. I’m really happy as a filmmaker because I know that with this acceptance, I can actually get funding from say the World Cinema Fund as a Nigerian filmmaker to make a film.”

For Aaron Chiundura Moyo a Kenyan filmmaker, “This indeed is wonderful news for Africa in general and Nigeria film industry in particular.”

Presented by GDN Studios, Eyimofe was written by Chuko Esiri and produced by Melissa Adeyemo.

The film, which has Lady Maiden Alex Ibru, Toke Alex Ibru, Olorogun Oskar Ibru, Kayode Akindele and Ifeoma Esiri as executive producers, was a 2018 NYU Purple List Award winner for its screenplay and was one of 10 films chosen for last year’s IFP Narrative Lab in New York.

Wholly financed by Nigerian investors and shot on 16mm film across Lagos State, Eyimofe is a diptych that tells the story of two people’s quest for what they believe will be a better life in Europe.

Described as the alternate migrant tale, Eyimofe approaches a much-discussed topic from a new perspective: one in which you get to know who the people caught in raids and rescued from the sea are. Their dreams and desires.

It stars Jude Akuwudike, Tomiwa Edun, Temi Ami-Williams, Cynthia Ebijie, Chioma Omeruah, and Jacob Alexander. Arseni Khachaturan is the director of photography, while Taisa Malouf handled production design with Daniel Obasi handling costume; Andrew Stephen Lee (editor) and Akin Adebowale were in charge of the music.

Eyimofe is nominated for the GWFF Best First Feature Award, alongside Chico Ventana También uisiera Tener un Submarino (Window Boy Would Also Like to Have A Submarine) from Uruguay / Argentina / Brazil / Netherlands / Philippines, by Alex Piperno; Gorod Usnul (In Deep Sleep) from Russian Federation, by Maria Ignatenko; and Namo (The Alien) from Iran by Nader Saeiviar.

Since 2006, when it introduced the GWFF Best First Feature Award, the Berlinale has shown more commitment to supporting the next generation of filmmakers.

The award is endowed with 50,000 euros, which was donated by the GWFF (Gesellschaft zur Wahrnehmung von Film- und Fernsehrechten), a society dedicated to safeguarding film and television rights.

The prize money is to be split between the producer and the director of the winning film.

Additionally, the director will get a high-quality viewfinder as both a useful instrument and a memorable trophy.

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