Toronto: Lagos Sends Its Cinematic Best to Fest’s City to City Program

By Christopher Vourlias

Popular on Variety

The bright lights of Toronto turn on Lagos this week, as the Nigerian metropolis takes center stage for TIFF’s eighth City to City program.

Showcasing filmmakers living and working in a selected city, the program this year offers a dynamic portrait of a fast-paced metropolis of 20 million plus, known as much for its creative energy as its gritty underbelly.

Boasting a mix of new-wave indie films and selections from the country’s prolific Nollywood film biz, this year’s City to City crop will offer “a broader picture of the talent coming out of Lagos,” according to TIFF artistic director Cameron Bailey.

The program opens with “The Wedding Party,” a star-studded romcom featuring some of the most recognizable names in Nigerian film and comedy.

“We wanted to go all out to get an amazing cast,” says executive producer Mo Abudu, CEO of EbonyLife TV. “I think what we’re going to show audiences will wow them.”

Nigeria’s home-grown Nollywood industry ranks as one of the world’s most successful moviemaking machines, said to produce more than a thousand movies and rake in $5 billion each year.

While best-known for their frantic shoots and shoestring budgets, a fresh wave of Nigerian filmmakers in recent years have striven to set a higher artistic bar than their freewheeling predecessors.

All signs point to a maturing industry that’s finding its place on the international stage, according to Abudu.

“What Toronto has done is to give us an opportunity to showcase some of the work [for] a global audience,” she says,

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 today, offering “an unprecedented showcase at a major festival” for Nigerian filmmakers, according to Bailey.

It’s a moment in the spotlight, says Abudu, that won’t be wasted.

“I think it’s an opportunity for the world to see what we can do,” she says.