The 41st Toronto Intl. Film Festival has announced its selections for its eighth City to City program, shining the spotlight on eight filmmakers from the sprawling metropolis of Lagos, Nigeria.
The eclectic selection, which includes raucous comedies, courtroom thrillers, and fast-paced period dramas, is a microcosm of Lagos itself — a fast, feisty, dynamic city of 20 million plus that is the cultural and economic pulse of Nigeria.
Boasting a mix of new wave indie films and selections from the country’s prolific Nollywood film biz, this year’s City to City offers “a broader picture of the talent coming out of Lagos,” according to TIFF artistic director Cameron Bailey.
“I think [audiences] are going to be surprised by what we show them,” he says.
Nigeria’s home-grown Nollywood industry ranks as one of the world’s most successful movie-making machines, said to produce more than a thousand movies and rake in $5 billion each year. Famous for its frantic shoots and shoestring budgets, its films have raced across the country’s borders to captivate audiences around the world.
Yet while Bailey admits that the standard Nollywood fare is typically “made quickly and made to be consumed quickly,” City to City will include a selection of movies that reflect a sea-change in Nigerian filmmaking. Boasting bigger budgets, better production standards, and a higher artistic bar than their freewheeling predecessors, they are films, says Bailey, “made to be savored.”
The selected films are “76,” by Izu Ojukwu, a period drama set in the aftermath of the Nigerian civil war; “93 Days,” by Steve Gukas, a thriller based on the real-life response by health-care workers to the 2014 Ebola outbreak, starring Danny Glover; Niyi Akinmolayan’s “The Arbitration,” a drama set in the fast-paced world of the Nigerian tech sector; Abba Makama’s coming-of-age story “Green White Green,” about three young boys from different ethnic groups on an adventure to make a short film; “Just Not Married,” by Uduak-Obong Patrick, a caper comedy-thriller about a college student trying to make his way out of the slums; “Okafor’s Law,” by Omoni Oboli, a comedy about a man’s efforts to prove the maxim that a man who’s slept with a woman can always bring her back into his bed; Daniel Emeke Oriahi’s “Oko Ashewo (Taxi Driver),” about how a struggling village mechanic’s life is turned upside-down when he moves to Lagos; and “The Wedding Party,” by Kemi Adetiba, a romcom romp about wedding hijinx which will open the City to City program.
Five of the movies will be having their world premieres.
Along with screenings, City to City will feature an intimate onstage conversation with acclaimed helmer Kunle Afolayan and actress Genevieve Nnaji, widely considered to be the face of African cinema.
And for the first time, the Rising Stars program – which in the past has offered a platform for emerging Canadian actors – will travel beyond its borders to include Nigerian thesps O.C. Ukeje and Somkele Iyamah-Idhalama, for what Bailey describes as a “professional development boot camp,” offering a range of specialized programming, workshops and seminars for the duo.
The program sets the stage for a rollicking Nigerian contingent to arrive in Toronto when TIFF kicks off Sep. 8. Bailey notes that anticipation for City to City was so high when he last visited Lagos that countless helmers, producers and actors said they were booking flights to Toronto, even if their films weren’t part of the final selection.
“This is an unprecedented showcase at a major festival” for Nigeria, he says, offering a rare opportunity for many Nigerian bizzers to rub elbows and swap business cards with colleagues from around the globe.
“They’re very confident filmmakers, and they’re here to let the world know what they’re doing,” says Bailey.