By Ọmọ́túndé Kasali

 

As 2017 draws to an end, it is enjoyably refreshing to reminisce on a historic occurrence in the Nigerian film industry: the first Nigerian silent movie A Hotel Called Memory was screened in November 2017. Directed by Akin Ọmọ́tọ́sọ, produced by Ego Boyo, written by Branwen Okpako, and starring Nse Ikpe-Etim, Kemi ‘Lala’ Akíndójú, Mmabatho Montsho, and Nomzamo Mbatha, AHCM is a fresh take on filmmaking in burgeoning Nollywood.

In the film, we see a woman, played by Nse Ikpe-Etim, struggle to rediscover herself as she goes through a bitter divorce after a marriage of many years, eventually wrecked by infidelity. She holidays in Zanzibar and Cape Town, two of the three cities – with Lagos as the third – in which AHCM is shot. As an aside, this is meant to give a seamless pan-African relationship between these African cities, such as exist for European cities like Berlin, Amsterdam and Paris.

As a non-dialogue film in which the actors communicate non-verbally and occasionally by texting to pay homage to historical silent movies as well as reflect the huge significance of texting in modern ways of communication, AHCM, explains Akin Ọmọ́tọ́sọ, is so made that it invites the individual viewer to construct their own perception of the film. The idea is to stimulate engagement and have the viewer actively project themselves into the story, experience it, and ultimately develop their own meaning of it – in contrast to conventional films where viewers sit before the screen and passively take in information. Interestingly, he reports that he has received varying interpretations of the film from viewers at the end of the premieres, all of which are correct in their own terms.

The director, Akin Ọmọ́tọ́shọ at a recent screening in Lagos.

However, there are questions on the strangeness of such a silent film to the Nigerian viewer who is accustomed to conventional movies, as well as on the commercial viability of AHCM – both of which Ego Boyo vigorously debunks. On the first point, she argues that silent movies such as AHCM are not highbrow and there is a ready audience for them. However, this audience has to be found. On the second, she affirms that the overriding interest in the making of AHCM was creative and not commercial as it was made at great financial risks with no external funding and therefore, to the good of the production, less pressure.

Subsequently, the film was produced on a lean budget, smart technology with no lighting, with a lean cast whose choice was informed by their openness to new acting challenge such as would be offered by AHCM, as well as rigorous filmmaking which took two years. Conclusively, Akin Ọmọ́tọ́sọ offers three pieces of advice to young filmmakers looking to break through and push the boundaries of filmmaking in Nollywood: acknowledge that it is hard, take it as a marathon, and don’t take nos.

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Omotunde Kasali is a language and literature enthusiast. He lives in Lagos.

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