UK Film Premiere: Africa Utopia Festival screens Hello’ Rain -Director CJ Obasi Talks Film

Africa Utopia, at London’s Southbank Centre will screen the UK premiere of Nigerian Director CJ Obasi’s short film Hello’ Rain on Friday 20th July.

“Hello, Moto stood out for me, and I could really see it all – three strong black woman scientist witches with crazy supernatural wigs kicking ass. I had never read anything like that, so I wanted to see that on screen”. CJ

Obasi who grew up watching Hammer House horror films and a love for Stephen King novels has fast made an impact on the festival circuit. After his degree in Computer Science, he decided to go into filmmaking full time. His debut feature, a zero budget film “Ojuju” premiered at the prestigious Africa International Film Festival (AFRIFF)  winning the award for “Best Nigerian Film”. Ojuju has screened in various festivals since, such as the Pan African Film Festival in Los Angeles, Shockproof Film Festival in Prague.

Obasi’s sophomore effort is the feature film “O-Town”, a crime thriller epic piece, which he calls his “Western in an Eastern land” and describes as his “exploration into genre-filmmaking”. O-Town premiered at the 2015 Africa International Film Festival. It was nominated for Best West African Int’l Film at the Screen Nation Awards, UK,  Obasi through his production company Fiery Film acquired the rights to Hello, Moto a short story based on the universally acclaimed Nigerian- American author, Nnedi Okorafor, for a short film adaptation. The story follows a scientist-witch who, through an alchemical combination of juju and technology, creates wigs which grant her and her friends supernatural powers. The film screens at  19:45, Southbank Centre’s Purcell Room, Ticketed (£15) Buy tickets here.

Alt A caught up with CJ before his arrival in the UK for his Q&A session and screening at the Southbank Centre. Image credit: Hello Rain: UK Premiere.

Did the film turn out the way you visualized when thinking about how to adapt the short story? Well, I doubt any film ever turns out the way a director visualizes them. If you’re really lucky, you can maybe hit 60% of your expectations. Best case scenario. The important thing I think is doing the best you can with the resources available – time, money and equipment. They all go together really. But when you put in your best, and it comes from a pure and sincere place within, it’ll shine through to the audience. At least most of the time and that will always give you a measure of satisfaction 

How did you find Hello Moto and what was it about the story that you liked? I had asked the Author, Nnedi Okorafor if she had any un-optioned short stories, so she sent me a catalogue of her short stories to read. I read them all, and loved every single one. If I could I would make every one of her stories, but something about Hello, Moto stood out for me, and I could really see it all – three strong black woman scientist witches with crazy supernatural wigs kicking ass. I had never read anything like that, so I wanted to see that on screen. 

Why did you change the name to Hello Rain? Hello Moto’ apparently is still a registered trademark of Motorola, and when we approached them to come on board for product placement, they said we could use their phones, but not the title. We thought about it, and there really wasn’t any point to use a phone, we couldn’t tie to the title, like the story did. So I changed the title to “Hello, Rain”, being that the lead character is Rain, and she makes the juju calls to her friends. Plus, it sounded a good a title as any without deviating too much from the source. 

Do you think the African Futurist story is the next big thing coming out of Africa? I really cannot say for sure. But there’s going to be a wave for a little while. And I think its healthy, if the stories really come from a well thought out and grounded place. Because, yes we need to challenge dated stereotypes about Africa and African people, and yes, Africans need to tell their own stories and place themselves in alternative situations. And this goes beyond Afrofuturism really, to every kind of genre of cinema or storytelling, where we really must push the envelop of what it means to be African. 

What is your career journey, when did the film industry attract you? For as long as I can remember. Even before I knew there was an industry to begin with. As a small child,  I used to draw comic renditions of some of my favourite films, shows and cartoons. But in secondary school it really started to take shape, and my friends from back then will tell you, how all I ever talked about was how I was going to be a filmmaker when I grew up. Everyone was fed up with me. This continued up until college. Same thing. Funny thing is, I never really knew how I was going to do it. But life happened, and you try to make a career doing the 9 – 5, at least I tried for a moment. Until I couldn’t do it anymore. It was hard doing anything else other than film for me, because I genuinely felt like I was wasting my purpose. And I was never happier than the day I left that job to pursue filmmaking full time. 

Do you think that we are moving closer to movies coming out of Africa matching the global box office success of Hollywood? There is a potential for that. There really is. We have an ocean of untapped stories in Africa – from our myths, lores and traditions that can translate well into a studio blockbuster. But it takes and will take some risk on the part of the studios or those with the finances to back African filmmakers so they can make those movies at the highest levels possible, with access to the same channels of distribution that any global blockbuster enjoys, and not just some niche distribution. 

Today is Mandela 100th birthday, what does Mandela mean to you? I was pretty young during Apartheid, but I don’t think there was any Nigerian home that was not in solidarity with Nelson Mandela and the fighters of apartheid. You could see and feel it everywhere, from the conversations among my parents, my elder siblings, to the music we enjoyed at home from Ladysmith Black Mambazo, Paul Simon, Miriam Makeba – even Nigerian musicians of the day like Raskimo (rest his soul) and Majek Fashek all created anti-apartheid music. All that was very much the atmosphere I grew up in. Which is why the whole thing with Xenophobia against Nigerians in South Africa is pathetic. I mean, when you think about it – what Nelson Mandela and everyone who fought against the system went through, and how the entirety of black Africa, and even most of the free world banded together to support black South Africa, only for them 20 years down the line to murder fellow blacks. Just makes you think – how would Mandela feel about all this. I think it’s great we remember him and what he stood for, but also to really confront ourselves as Africans on how we live and treat one another. 

What was the first film that you have ever worked with? There where several attempts at filmmaking from shorts, to even trying my hands at a feature – all failed attempts. Then I made Ojuju – a completely no-budget zombie film which won several awards and did pretty well in the film festival circuit, with some critical acclaim – that pretty much launched my career in 2014. 

If you were to work with any actor/actress who would that be? Danai Gurira and Lupita Nyong’o. 

Tell me a what you have learnt since starting on the this journey? Don’t wait for anyone to give it to you – because that may not happen. But get busy doing something. 

What next? Currently putting final touches on a script and seeking funding for a feature film titled Mami Wata. It is a black and white supernatural thriller based on the Mermaid Goddess of West African folklore.

Where: Southbank Centre Belvedere Road London SE1 8XX

 

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