Film

Talking to Obi Emelonye Director and Writer of new biopic Badamasi

Obi Emelonye is a Nigerian film director best known for directing award-winning films such as Last Flight to Abuja (2012), The Mirror Boy (2011), and Onye Ozi (2013).

Having worked with some of Africa’s biggest names in acting in Hollywood, Europe, and Nigeria, he is also regarded as a star-maker of sorts, who is motivated by talent and the passion to replicate success in every project, while deploying the best of technology and technique.

In 2020 during the coronavirus pandemic, which shut down businesses globally, Obi Emelonye became the first film director to make a movie via Zoom, by working remotely with cast members in London and Lagos. The movie, Heart 2 Heart, received critical acclaim from major media outlets all over the world. Ahead of the UK premiere of Badamasi his recent film at the O2 in London on June 12 ALT caught up with him.

What made you move from the legal field to filmmaking?

My life has been a potpourri of different professions. I trained first as a theatre artiste. Then I played professional football before I trained as a lawyer as practiced as a solicitor for a few years. After all of that, I reverted to filmmaking 15 years ago. All I can say is that everything I am goes into everything I do. I have done these things at the times that I considered right and they have all, in their own ways, prepared me for this life as an international filmmaker. I still get to use my legal training in dealing with contracts and intellectual property for my projects. But I am at peace with myself. i arrived at that stage in my life when I am doing what I love and loving what I do. I consider it a huge privilege.

What was it like juggling the two careers when you first started out?

Like everything in life, there were teething problems when I was judging legal training and eventually practice with teaching myself how to write and direct for film. I would finish work as a solicitor and come home to write scripts at night. I would say that the support from my wife through this difficult phase cannot be unestimated. Without that wholehearted belief in the process and the journey, I probably would have been forced to quit at the toughest periods. But i have finally transitioned from a lawyer to a filmmaker and I look back with fond memories of the hard work and stubborn optimism that made it possible.

How or do you think the Pandemic will effect Nollywood?

The pandemic has affected every sphere of life in every country of the world. Nollywood has been hit hard like most film industries. Productions have been delayed and cancelled in some cases and professionals in the sector have struggled with their finances. But challenges are simply opportunities to innovate and evolve. Nollywood has responded to the crisis by producing the first remotely directed film of the pandemic era. It is an honour that I hold for directing a short film titled HEART 2 HEART on Zoom in April last year.  Nollywood has also consolidated its place on global streaming platforms like Netflix and Amazon during the pandemic. And when the pandemic is over, I believe that the industry will carry over some elements of the remote filmmaking and online streaming as it searches for its place in a fractured global film industry.

What do you like most about film and what are the stories that excite you?

I was introduced to films by watching Stephen Spielberg’s Indiana Jones. I like the transportation into a new world, the out of body experience of film and the magical world it can create and force us to inhabit. I am not a film enthusiast with genres. I like a good story well told, whether it is horror, romance, thriller or comedy. And I try to show my creative range by making films across most of the genres. The Mirror Boy is fantasy. Last Flight to Abuja is thriller, Onye Ozi is comedy. Crazy, Lovely, Cool is a TV series and Badamasi is a biopic.

Where did you train in filmmaking do you think film school is a must?

I am still a student of film. I am presently a PhD student of film at Goldsmiths University of London. My earlier training in film was mainly informal- short online courses and practice. After over 20 years of practice, the knowledge I have gathered cannot be taught in a film school. So, every filmmaker’s path is different. There are some film school alumnis that are doing great and there are some fantastic filmmakers who have never been to film school- Christopher Nolan, Quetin Tarantino etc. 

Tell us what inspired Badamosi and the true events that it evokes?

Badamasi emerged out of a quest to tell topical stories based on history of Africa. My resolve to tell these kinds of stories was strengthened after watching Last King of Scotland and Mandela. Both films were made by non-Africans and inspite of the quality of the films, I sensed a perspective that was voyeuristic, almost imperialistic. I said to myself that unless we tell these stories by ourselves, then, foreigners will come in and tell them without authenticity but with plenty of agenda. I was drawn to the story of IBB because of his pivotal role in Nigerian politics, military and civilian; because of the history surrounding him; because of the fraught politics; because of the controversy, war, coups; and because of the June 12 saga.

Who is your lead character?

Enyinna Nwigwe ‘murdered’ the eponymous role as General Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida. His performance has attracted an Africa Movie Academy Award nomination for Best Actor in a Leading Role. He managed to capture the essence of the controversial leader- his mannerisms, his foibles, his voice, his intonation and inflection and his eccentricity. Casting him in that role set this film up for the success it is enjoying now. 

Where was the film shot? 

Badamasi (Portarit of a General) was shot in Lagos, Minna, Abuja and Nsukka, Nigeria.

What makes a good director?

A good director is a good storyteller who harnesses all the factors of production at his disposal (story, script, set, scenery, mise-en-scene, actors, equipment, editing, music, sound design, visual effects, promotion) to tell a compelling story that connects with audiences and elicits the right emotions.

Where do you call home?

I live in Chelsea West London with my wife and three children but I’ll always be that village boy with a big head from Imo state in Nigeria. The duality of my nationality and indeed of my persoanlity is reflected in my worldview and gives my films an uncanny ability to resonate internationally but without losing the local connection.

BADAMASI (Portrait of a General) World Premiere

Book tickets here: Date and time Sat, 12 June 2021 19:00 – 22:00 BST

Location Cineworld – The O2 Peninsula Square London SE10 0DX

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