Director Obi Emenloye has been talking up the uniqueness of his film, ‘The Mirror Boy’ which premieres in Nigeria on August 5. Starring Genevieve Nnaji, Osita Iheme, Ugandan Edward Kagutuzi and Gambian Fatima Jabbe amongst others, the movie has beenshown to appreciative audiences in the UK, Gambia and Ghana.
An adventure movie, ‘The Mirror Boy’ is about a London boy taken back to The Gambia, his mother’s country, as punishment for getting involved in a street fight. He gets lost in a forest in the West African country while following a mystery boy first sighted in a mirror and later in a crowded market in Banjul.
For the young
The London-based director, who was in town recently to promote the movie, said he made the film to cater to a section of Nollywood often overlooked in productions. “First, it is not often that you see Nollywood stories told from the point of view of a young person. I wanted to tell a story from the point of view of a young person to see if you can capture a younger audience for Nollywood. We wanted to see if we can appeal to them because they are the future of the industry. The second was observing my son who is seven in the UK trying to balance his dual nationality. At school he is a British boy; at home he is a Nigerian boy.
For some people it’s very confusing, especially if there is no father-figure to help them cope. So, I tried to explore the disconnect between first generation Africans and maybe first and second generation children born in the Diaspora. We are trying to tell those children, including the ones in Africa, that Africa might not be perfect but this is where you are from. At the end, our protagonist fell in love with Africa in spite of all the problems he encountered. He discovered who he was.”
Going to Gambia
Though Nigerian filmmakers shoot at locations in the West and parts of Africa, Emenloye scored a first by shooting a significant part of ‘The Mirror Boy’ in The Gambia and the remaining scenes in the UK. The Theatre Arts graduate of the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, who also studied and practised Law in the UK, originally wanted to shoot the movie at the Obudu Cattle Ranch in Cross River State. He had earlier met the state’s commissioner for tourism and written a proposal requesting logistic support. Things didn’t work out when Cross River lost some of its oil wells to Akwa Ibom and thus could not support his venture. Luckily, the actress Fatima Jabbe facilitated shooting in The Gambia.
“She said why don’t you come to Gambia? She said, ‘Give me a list of what you want and I will make it happen.’ The next day she called me and I spoke to the president. He said we don’t have money but we will give you what we have. In fact, they did more than they promised. A lot of people said they gave us money, there was no money but what they gave us was more than money. We are very grateful to the president of Gambia and we hope that other African leaders can emulate that to help midwife a new emergence in African cinema.”
Shooting the movie in the tiny, tourism-driven West African country, the director disclosed, was stress-free. “80 percent of the film was shot in Gambia with the support of the president so that reduced our stress. I live in the UK and the bulk of the crew came from the UK. It was Genevieve and some few others that came to London for the London bit. We shot 10 days in Gambia and three days in London.”
Emenloye, who played professional football with Rangers and Julius Berger and had trials with Charlton Athletics and West Ham United in the UK before committing himself fully to filmmaking, is happy with what he has achieved with ‘The Mirror Boy’ so far. Earlier this year, Kagutuzi won a statuette at the AMAA Awards for Best Young Actor while Genevieve Nnaji recently won Best Breakthrough Artist at the Monaco Film Festival. The movie’s run at the cinema in the UK and its potential impact also gladdens the director’s heart.
“Nollywood has stagnated a little bit but there is a new resurgence and I’m happy that ‘The Mirror Boy’ has taken this resurgence to a broader audience, especially with what we have done in the UK where we have been in the cinema for three weeks. We had a premiere in Ghana and it went very well. We have another coming up in Kenya, South Africa and the US.
We are trying to take this film around because we want people to see it. It’s a good spiritual journey and for children who have not been opportune to come to Africa, it shows them what it is like. It is not a perfect picture but it is a beautiful place and it shows who we are. This is where we have connection. We mention umbilical cord a lot in the movie and it is because we are connected to our land by that umbilical cord. Whether it is beautiful, hot, cold or unsafe, this is where we are from and it’s a beautiful place.”
The director also discloses the motivation behind his casting. According to him, “Genevieve is a very committed actress and has shown herself to be at the top of her game. When I was writing the script, I knew that barring contractual and scheduling difficulties, she was going to play the role and she delivered with aplomb. I wrote the role for Osita. There was a temptation to bring Aki and Pawpaw together but I felt they would bring a lot of baggage from their past so I needed to separate them and use Osita because of the way he looks. I wanted a cheeky mischievous face on this mystical character.
“Edward Kagutuzi was the most difficult to cast because we were looking for a 12-year-old boy who can carry the film. It was very difficult, we had two auditions and weren’t any closer until an agent sent us Edward’s photograph. Edward was 19 at the time but looked 12. He was in first year at the university and as soon as we saw him, we felt he would bring certain level of interpretation to what is a child’s role.”
On why the film is premiering in Nigeria last, the director, whose next movie is going to be shot on 3D in Tinapa, Cross River State, said, “We chose Nigeria last because this is our biggest constituency. Everything we have done in Ghana and the UK is in preparation for this because we learnt from those experiences.”
Written by Akintayo Abodunrin
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