A small number of new well-produced movies are upping the ante and altering the perception of the local Nigerian film industry, called Nollywood. Okechukwu Uwaezuoke reports
House lights! All small talk ceased as a sudden hush descended among the small audience at the Lagos Sheraton Hotel room that Sunday afternoon. A special screening of Mahmood Ali-Balogun’s Tango with Me was about to begin.
Sitting almost incognito among the audience – largely made up of film critics and art writers – screen diva, Genevieve Nnaji watched from her seat. Beside her, her manager Ajua Dickson looked ever ready to offer any moral support she would need.
Also in the audience was Joseph Benjamin, who played the lead role as Genevieve’s husband. The film also featured industry leading lights like Joke Silva, Bimbo Akintola, Kate Henshaw-Nuttal, Tina Mba, Bimbo Manuel and the stage director, Ahmed Yerima.
A lead role in the 35 mm celluloid film ups Nnaji’s rating among her peers in the industry. How long would those Nollywood shoddily-scripted home-videos, churned out in DVDs, sustain its incredibly mammoth followership?
Mindful of the flaks these locally-produced films have drawn for their poor quality, Ali-Balogun decided to go the extra mile to produce a first-rate Nigerian film. It took the 1984 University of Ife (now Obafemi Awolowo University) graduate of dramatic arts, who specialised in film production more than two years to produce the script. This was while cross-fertilising ideas with other accomplished scriptwriters.
Shooting Tango with Me on 35mm celluloid was a clear statement of his mission. To achieve his dreams of producing a high-quality film of international standard, he travelled to Bulgaria, where he availed himself of the latest Kodak technology to master the film.
His previous productions were no less painstaking. One was his award-winning MNET short film, A Place Called Home, which, shot in 1998, clinched a coveted FESPACO nomination the following year. In 2003, he produced and directed, Temi ni Tooto, which won the REEL award. These contributed in earning him a distinguished African Movie Academy Awards (AMAA) Special Recognition award in 2005.
Before taking the headlong plunge into his career, Ali-Balogun had a three-year stint at the Nigerian Television Authority’s National Productions Department. Soon afterwards in 1988, he established his outfit Brickwall Communications Limited in Lagos.
His latest film, Tango with Me, tells a gripping story of love, forged and burnished in the crucible of tribulations. A fairy-tale like honeymoon is blighted by the rape of the bride. The newly-tied nuptial is mortally threatened. This is especially as the unfortunate violation had led to an undesired conception. Here the filmmaker, a pro-choice activist, confronts the viewer with a moral choice: should the bride get rid of this unwanted pregnancy or not?
Nnaji, who sat through the Sheraton room screening, had also painstakingly built herself an enviable career in the industry. She also featured alongside Omotola Jalade-Ekehinde in another first-rate Nigerian movie shot on 35 mm celluloid. She plays Chioma, the concerned and devoted sister of a distraught Anya (Omotola Ekehinde), in the film titled Ije: the Journey.