- Interview by
- Dika Ofoma
Lagos is Nollywood’s hub. However, every day, films continue to be shot across other Nigerian cities such as Asaba, Enugu, Ibadan, and Abuja. These films may fit outside mainstream Nollywood, that is, films shot in Lagos for theatrical release, but they are equally watched and are even more reflective of the lives of the better percentage of Nigerians than the cinema films that mostly romanticize wealth and luxury living. Nollywood is typically sub-categorized into other branches like Asaba Nollywood (films shot in the less bustling city of Asaba or other parts of southeastern Nigeria) and Yoruba Nollywood (the Yoruba-language film industry), known for the less “artistic” films that are still released straight-to-video (the method of film distribution that birthed the industry) and, recently, on YouTube.
The industry is, however, quite de-structured. Sporadically, independent filmmakers outside of these industry divides, with a keen attention to both the technicality and art of filmmaking, spring up to tell quintessential Nigerian stories. For In Ibadan, first-time feature film director Taiwo Egunjobi disavows Nollywood’s penchant for crass comedies and maudlin dramas, offering instead a simple yet heartfelt story about love and forgiveness set in the ancient city of Ibadan.
Former Lovers, Ewa (Goodness Emmanuel) and Obafemi (Temilolu Fosudo), are reunited in their hometown of Ibadan, years after their breakup, which was partly a consequence of Ewa’s relocation to Lagos. They confront the issues that caused their separation and attempt closure. The story is inspired not just by the life of the director, but also other members of the cast and crew domiciled in Ibadan, who have had to juggle relationships and career opportunities between the ancient city and Lagos, the city of dreams.
Taiwo Egunjobi and I conversed about the making of In Ibadan and Nigerian cinema.
In Ibadan isn’t your first film. For a few years now, you’ve been writing scripts for other directors and have made a couple of shorts. Many see short films as a journey into learning filmmaking and fully developing into a filmmaker. What convinced you that the time was right for you to make a feature?
Great question. I think it was a sudden realization that the Calvary wasn’t coming, I wasn’t going to be handed the kind of money I needed to make the kind of films I wanted to make. But more importantly, I felt making a feature film was the right step in my education as a filmmaker. You need to put out your art and keep honing it.
It means then, that part of your hesitation was seeking perfection. Instead of continuing in that, you finally found courage to allow yourself to evolve.
Exactly. Every filmmaker begins at that mental point. You always start with a lot of dreams: you want to make the next classic, have a big cinema run, go to Cannes, and win all the Oscars. If you’re not really honest with yourself, that could just be a prison.
Something striking about In Ibadan is that you stayed true to your style. You still play with colors and with music like in your shorts. (You previously made an experimental film about music, Musomania). I’d like to hear about the thought process of creating the sequence of scenes where there’s a band just playing music, interspersed with flashbacks of our protagonists’ past love lives. It’s almost as though the music was a voice over narration replacement for those scenes.
Well, I guess it’s how I was educated in film and the things that I’ve come to love in cinema. Music is a big part of film and I’ve always been inspired by great performances in films and how to employ them in telling the story. Especially the films of Tunde Kelani. So yes, we wanted the music In Ibadan to be a part of the story and not simply for the fun of it. And we were lucky to find amazing musicians.
I was coming to Tunde Kelani. The film also employed a comic style that seems to have been inherited from him. He is one of your influences. Are there other influences, especially from Nigeria and the rest of Africa?
Interesting. And that’s the funny thing about influences, I guess they creep into your work somehow. I’ve been influenced by a lot of filmmakers. In Nigeria, Femi Odugbemi, and there’s Djibril Diop Mambéty, the legendary Senegalese filmmaker. But my influences extend beyond the continent—I’m big on Yasujuro Ozu and Yorgos Lanthimos. I just resonate deeply with a lot of what I’ve seen or read from these people.
These are all interesting filmmakers. Sticking to your style also means that you did not compromise for commerciality. In Ibadan is calm and quiet—a slow burn. The storytelling is nonlinear. Something else very unconventional about the film was the open-ended conclusion. One of your experimental short films, aptly titled Don’t be a Nollywood Stereotype, ridiculed certain Nollywood tropes. Were you trying to hold yourself to your word when making this film? How deliberate were you on working at not making the conventional Nollywood film?
Well, it’s all about the story. A simple, honest tale set in Ibadan. I think the slow, contemplative style just felt right for the story, the world, and the resources we had to tell it. Yes, there are lots of languages a director can employ to tell a story, and yes, there are also directorial styles: commercial or art. To me, it’s a bit of both, staying true to the story and staying true to myself and also my language. And I think it just points to what everyone has been saying, Nigeria has a lot going right now in film, call it the new wave or neo-Nollywood; a lot of filmmakers are emerging and becoming a part of the global Nollywood experience.
I like this thought. Someone unfamiliar with your works might pin the choice of relatively unknown casts for the film on budget constraints. While this could be true, actors such as Temilolu Fosudo and Simisola Olatunji have featured recurringly in your films. How important was it for you to work with a familiar crew and cast to actualize your vision for the film? And when you were making the film, were you thinking cinema? How did you hope to sell the film and recoup investments?
Wow. Well, I just happen to know these actors from way back and we’ve grown together. They know and understand our process and how we like to work. It was a lot of fun on set. We were a family, and I will continue making stuff with them. In Ibadan required very honest performances and I was able to get that from them with no hassles.
Honestly, we didn’t think a lot about distribution, we didn’t even consider theatrical distribution. We took a leap of faith and we are learning a lot about the market. We all know what the cinema business so no use stressing there. We are quite pleased with being on AfrolandTV though.
How did you get it on AfrolandTV?
My friend Damola Layonu told me about the platform. I reached out and they got back in about a week. Pretty simple.
The three women who exist in your film, happen to be thorns in the life of the protagonist or have hurt him in some way. Two had sexually harassed him, even. There’s a way the world today seems to have cast women as the better of the sexes in terms of morality. In flipping the script, were you trying to make conversation?
Well, we just told the story, in a lot of ways, inspired by events in my life, in Temi (Fosudo)’s life. I’m sure there are aspects that are interesting to discuss, but that didn’t play on my mind. I must say though, life happens to both men and women, mistakes happen all the time and we learn from them. Love needs a lot of sacrifice and forgiveness to work, from both men and women.
In In Ibadan, Ibadan is breathtakingly photographed. In a sense, Ibadan became one of the characters. The movie explored our protagonists’ relationship with the city—Ewa relives her memories in Ibadan and wishes she never left for Lagos. Lagos is the land of opportunities, hopes, and dreams for Nigerians. The consensus is that the better pastures, better jobs, and opportunities are there. Year in and year out, young Nigerians in their multitude leave their smaller cities and towns for Lagos, hence the overpopulation of the city. Aspiring filmmakers and actors are not exempt. Despite the difficulties of shooting in Lagos, it has remained Nollywood’s hub for years. Did you consciously attempt to make a case for Ibadan with the cinematography?
Great question. Ibadan has been perceived in a way and by extension, photographed in a way, with a lot of clichés. So, like you said, Ibadan was a key character in this story. We wanted to do better, and really romanticize the city in a different way. You know the deal with the famed brown roofs, the amala, the gruff etiquette of the people, we didn’t want to fixate on that. But instead, find the beauty in the simple things.
There was this shot at the start of the film that juxtaposed the brown roof with the skyscrapers/tall buildings. And I thought that was brilliant.
Yeah. That’s Ibadan in transition. Old and new.
At the start of our interview, you acknowledged that part of your delay in making a feature film was seeking perfection. I am curious to know if there are parts of In Ibadan you think you could have done some things differently or even better.
Sure, there are aspects of the plot I felt we could have tightened and handled better, especially the third act. And I wasn’t too pleased with the quality of the sound at times, I felt we could have done better. But water under the bridge now. You can always get better.