The 41st Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) wrapped up mid-September. One of the highlights this year was the choice of Lagos as the featured city in the annual City to City pick for TIFF. Dozens of Nollywood stars hit the red carpet for the premiers of the eight films featured as part of the City to City, which shone the spotlight on the Nigerian Film Industry.
I had the chance to meet and interview some of the actors and directors and the consensus was that being on this platform was proof that the mainstream film industry is taking notice of African content. At the end of it all it’s about storytelling. The best films tell stories that reflect life.
The press conference spotlighting Nollywood was moderated by Cameron Bailey, Creative Director of TIFF. All the directors of the featured films were on hand to discuss being part of the festival and what it means for African films. Omoni Obili, whose film Okafor’s Law premiered at the festival, said that Nigerian stories are original and that people are getting bored of the same stories that Hollywood is putting out over and over. “We have fresh stories,” she said. “If they’re bored, they should look to us, look to Nollywood.”
When I spoke with Kemi Adetiba, Director of ‘The Wedding Party’, her passion to share stories from Nigeria was evident. This was her first feature film and she received positive reviews. At the premier of her film, Actor David Oyelowo made a surprise appearance addressing the sold out crowd about his pride in the growth of the Nigerian film industry. He even joked about being in a room full of people who can actually pronounce his name. [Click here to see clip]
The film ’93 Days’ was the biggest budget Nigerian film at TIFF. Starring Danny Glover, the film tells the story of how Nigeria dealt with cases of Ebola during the epidemic in some West African countries in 2014. It received great praise for the production level and storytelling. The movie ’76 told the story of the failed Military coup in 1976 in Nigeria. It was a hisorical drama that received mixed reviews. It’s not often that African countries tell historical stories in feature films. The lead actress, Rita Dominic, said doing films like this can be challenging since much of the history isn’t documented well. They had to source some information from news outlets like the BBC. Just as other historical dramas from Hollywood share pieces of history, this was very important and relevant when trying to teach a new audience about different parts of African history.
At the Queen of Katwe premiere both Lupita Nyong’o and David Oyelowo made an appearance. I had a brief interview with David, who talked about the importance of African stories being told. Unfortunately I didn’t get to speak with Lupita. She arrived late to the red carpet and by the time she finished interviews with the larger media companies, she was led away by her team right past our crew and others who were also waiting. She looked regal and represented African style at its best.
I was also eager to interview Mira Nair, Director of Queen of Katwe, but she stopped speaking to media after she finished with the bigger news outlets and time was cutting close to the film’s scheduled screening time.
One of the things a lot of people who have never worked the red carpet at global events like TIFF don’t realize is that not everyone gets the same opportunity to speak with the lead actors in the film. For the most part if you’re not with one of the top 10 news outlets, you’re lucky if you get a personal interview with most celebrities (who often arrive late). We were at the 29th spot for the premier of Justin Timberlake’s film. He ended interviews very quickly on the carpet, meaning we didn’t even get a sound bite from him.
Kurt Russell spoke with me about his passion for the story in Deepwater Horizon, which stars himself, Mark Wahlberg, Kate Hudson and Gina Rodriguez. The film tells the story about the biggest oil spill in American waters where many lost their lives.
My final night on the red carpet included an interview with legendary musicians Keith Richards and Ronnie Wood of The Rolling Stones. Their film, Rolling Stones Olé Olé Olé, documented their concert tour in South America which ends in Cuba for thier first visit to that country. It was amazing to interview global legends in the music industry and see that once you’ve found your passion, you can do that for life.
‘Giants of Africa’ screened as part of TIFF’s documentary films. It follows the dreams of young men at basketball camps started by Toronto Raptors GM, Masai Ujiri in Nigeria, Ghana, Kenya and Rwanda. It’s clear that Ujiri is passionate about giving back to the community. He came from humble beginnings in Nigeria and to have the ability to inspire hope and change in the lives of young men is what fuels him.