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Icons of Nollywood: Celebrating the Stars Who Help Shape Nollywood Behind the Scenes

Icons of Nollywood: Celebrating the Stars Who Help Shape Nollywood Behind the Scenes

Icons who Shape Nollywood Behind the Scenes - Afrocritik

The creative energy of a film production is mostly found behind the scenes, in the realm of production: a panoply of creatives whose wide range of inputs and ideas births the success of a film production. 

By Seyi Lasisi 

Months ago, I wrote a retrospective review of Moses Olaiya’s Mosebolatan which I saw at the 2023 Ibadan International Film Festival (IIFF). It felt surreal watching this once-popular film in the 80s in the company of fellow cinephiles. Intent to write a review, I did a futile search of previously written works about the film or its filmmakers, but unfortunately, there were few credible results suited to my intention. Olaiya’s case isn’t an isolated one, there is a dearth of documentation for Nigerian filmmakers who are detailing the Nigerian experience. This piece is thus inspired by the need to record Nollywood filmmakers whose impact on the industry may become forgotten if not properly registered.   Beyond the pioneering Nigerian filmmakers, this list also attracts filmmakers who are pushing the industry to its highest position in world cinema. 

These filmmakers are communal lobsters whose influence has spanned across decades. Their deliberate effort in conceptualising an idea and notoriously pursuing it to fruition marks them out as passionate artists. Here, we highlight those behind the scenes: sound designers, art directors, directors, cinematographers, gaffers, and scriptwriters. This list distances actors, not because they hold any less importance to the film industry; but because it can be argued that their creative interpretation of a role already attracts the audience. The creative energy of a film production is mostly found behind the scenes, in the realm of production: a panoply of creatives whose wide range of inputs and ideas births the success of a film production. 

Producers 

The Nigerian economic situation sometimes creates a cruel landscape for Nigerian film producers, where seeking funds, renting filmmaking gadgets, and sourcing for location — tasks mostly shouldered by producers – if not done right, could stunt the progress of film production. The producers’ troubles extend beyond the pre-production stages. There are also post-production challenges such as advertising, attracting audiences to watch the film, and ensuring that enough money is generated from the production. However gruelling these tasks, some Nigerian producers are dedicated to ensuring that a film idea blossoms.

Amaka Igwe, who is reportedly credited to have said “I am an unapologetic commercial filmmaker. I make films for profit”, is one of Nigeria’s visionary producers. Writing, directing, and producing films and TV shows around the 80s, Igwe has been distinguished as one of Nigeria’s first female filmmakers. Lined up in her filmography are the 1999 Rattle Snake and the popular Nigerian sitcom Fuji House of Commotion and its spinoff Checkmate. Her pioneering effort has been documented in the Tope Oshin-directed documentary, Amaka’s Kin: The Women of Nollywood, an intimate documentary about the behind-the-scenes career of female filmmakers in a male-dominated industry. It features the likes of Mildred Okwo (La Femme Anjola), Jade Osiberu (Isoken; Gangs of Lagos; Brotherhood), Michelle Bello (Small Boy; Before Valentine), Stephanie Linus (Through the Glass; Dry), Omoni Oboli (Okafor’s Law; Domitila: The Sequel), Pat Oghre Imobhio (Isio; Kidnapped), Adeola Osunkojo (Eleshin Oba: The King’s Horseman), Dolapo Lowladee Adeleke, Belinda Yanga Agedah (Romance is Overrated) and Ema Edosio (Kasala)

Amaka Igwe - Afrocritik
Amaka Igwe

Another female Nollywood producer gaining ascendancy is Oge Obasi. Leading the indie filmmakers’ spectrum, Obasi’s produced Mami Wata, directed by C.J ‘Fiery’ Obasi, became the first home-grown Nigerian film to be screened and won an award at the Sundance Film Festival. Barely will a groundbreaking Nollywood film be made, without having Kemi Lala Akindoju’s name on the credit list, and The Black Book and Gangs of Lagos are titles that attest to this.  

From Tunde Kelani’s Ti Oluwa Ni Ile (1993) and Saworoide (1999) to the present-day Cordelia (2021), the veteran filmmaker had notable films to his credit. The strong political undertones of Kelani’s films appraise viewers to their reality. There is also Kenneth Nnebue, credited with Living in Bondage (1992) and Glamour Girls (1994), Sunny Collins Nwatu, who produced Witches (1998) and Scores to Settle (1998), and Rob Emeka Eze, credited for Elastic Limit (2000), Games Women Play (2005), and Naked Wrestler (2008). Recently, actor, Femi Adebayo has gained ascendancy as a Nigerian producer. Adebayo is credited with producing notable epics,  Jagun Jagun (2023) and King of Thieves (2022). 

Tunde Kelani - Afrocritik
Tunde Kelani

(Read also: From Amaka Igwe to Jade Osiberu, Nollywood Female Filmmakers are the New King of Boys)

Directors 

Adeyemi “Ade Love” Afolayan was one of Nollywood’s pioneering filmmakers. His directorial efforts are evident in films, from Kadara (1980) and Ija Ominira (1979) to Taxi Driver (1983). Tchidi Chikere also has a secured position in Nollywood history as a director. His works span Blood Sister (2003) Dumebi the Dirty Girl (2012) and the TV show, Professor John Bull (2016). There is also Tade Ogidan credited with directing Owo Blow: The Genesis (1997), Diamond Ring (1998), and Dangerous Twins (2004). Following closely is Izu Ojukwu, credited with Desperadoes (2001), the period drama 76 (2016), Amina, and 4:4:44. Simisola Opeoluwa, who also doubles as a writer, directed Holy Ghost Fire (2001), Ogidan (2004), Hitler(2004). Despite the absence of high-end filmmaking gadgets of today, these directors were able to create films which attracted viewers then and still do today. 

Tchidi Chikerie - Afrocritik
Tchidi Chikerie

In recent Nollywood history, the versatile Kunle Afolayan has carved a filmmaking niche for himself. Without looking at the credit list, it is easy to detect an Afolayan-directed movie. Afolayan is recognised for period dramas and works where the characters converse in indigenous languages. From The Figurine (2009) to his recently-directed Ijogbon, the Yoruba mythological and cultural worldview always gained prominence. Niyi Akinmolyan is distinct in the way that he flirts with different film genres. His directed films such as The House of Secrets, Mikolo, and  Prophetess are contrastive, but they bear the adept experimentative zest of the director. A female director of repute who also attracts the writer’s credit is Biodun Stephen. Stephen’s directed movies (Sista, Big Love, Introducing the Kujus, and Wildflower), which sit securely as family dramas, always find a way to tell a simple story in grand ways. 

Kunle Afolayan - Afrocritik
Kunle Afolayan

Pushing the independent filmmakers’ landscape are the Surreal 16 Collective: Abba T. Makama, Michael Omonua, and C.J. ”Fiery” Obasi, who, since their appearance in the film industry, have continued to create films outside of the mainstream. Makama’s The Lost Okoroshi (2019) and Green White Green( 2016), Omonua’s short film Rehearsal (2021) and Obasi’s O-Town (2015), and  Mami Wata (2023) often push viewers’ imagination of the cinematic possibilities. 

(Read also: The  C.J. ‘Fiery’ Obasi- Directed “Mami Wata” is Bold, Beautiful and Makes a Political Statement)

Cinematographers

Beyond recording the actors’ movements, the cinematographer is saddled with the duty of capturing the nuances, gestures, body movements, and countenance of an actor. The cinematographer’s lens acts as an intermediary between viewers and actors. In the Nigerian film industry, there is a list of cinematographers whose camera lenses not just capture the beauty on the screen, but seep into creating something profound. 

During the 90s era,  popularly called “Old Nollywood”, Jonathan Gbemuotor who shot Osoufia in London (2003), Anini (2005), Diamond Ring (1998), and the recently produced The Monkey Men (2022), Mohammed Abdullahi credited with Domitila, Karishika (1998), and Mr Ibu (2004), and Lucky Eromosele, who shot Blood Sister and Endless Tears (2007), are cinematographers ensuring that audience is visually sated while watching a film production. Yinka Edward is credited with ’76, Lionheart (2018), Milkmaid (2020), Crime and Justice Lagos (2022), and Nollywood hefty budget Black Book, each of which testifies to Edward’s artistic sensibilities. Another notable cinematographer is Barnabas Emordi who is slowly building his visual language. Emordi’s black-and-white cinematography beautifully captures the landscape of Niyi Akinmolayan’s House of Secrets.

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Barnabas Emordi - Afrocritik
Barnabas Emordi

Sound Design

A section of Nigerian audiences are familiar with the name, Stanley Okorie, whose voice can be easily recognised for contributing several soundtracks for different Nollywood productions of the 90s and early 2000s. Another composer, Shadrach John created the soundtrack for Aki na Ukwa (2002), Mr Ibu, and Powerful Civilian(2007). There’s also Austin Erowele, whom Nollywood trailer editor Ebukah Emmanuel Nzeji, described as changing the scoring game in Nollywood in the early 2000s, with his Afro-softrock style of compositions and sound designs, especially in Teco Benson’s movies. Aside from the male composers, there is Chimerie Emejuobi, who composed the soundtrack for Aka Gum (2002), Fated (2005), Magic Cap (2006), and a host of others. The songs these composers created guide audiences’ auditory interpretation of what they see onscreen. 

Stanley Okorie - Afrocritik
Stanley Okorie

Now leading the Nollywood sonic landscape are Kulanen Ikyo, Tolu Obanro, and Adam Songbird, who are building their portfolio in sound design. Ikyo has worked as a composer in defining Nollywood films and TV shows. The Black Book, The Trade, Oloture, Lionheart, and Crime and Justice Lagos are notable films and series in his portfolio. Obanro and Songbird’s collaborative effort in curating the sound for House of Secrets made the cinematic experience remarkable.  

Editors

This expression, “filmmaking is a collaborative effort” gains its truthfulness when production has ended. The post-production phase requires the director or producer to entrust their films to an editor.  Armed with the director’s vision, the editor ensures the vision is interpreted while editing. Bode Alao-Festus who edited  School Dropouts (2003) and Mr. Ibu in London(2004) and Fidelis Ewata who edited Domitila, Blood Sister, and Loving April(2023), are pioneering film editors in the Nigerian film industry. 

Now leading are Martini Akande and Biyi Toluwalase who are holding the forte with editing. Akande’s editing in Gangs of Lagos and that of Toluwalase in Brotherhood matches the fast-paced movement of both films.

Martini Akande - Afrocritik
Martini Akande

Production Designers

The visual and architectural landscape of film production is the unique duty of the production designers. The late Pat Nebo defined and redefined the meaning of production designing with his real-to-life creative set up of a movie set.  Pat Nebo’s architectural interpretation of a script lends visual depth to the film. Tunji Afolayan is credited with the art direction in Maami (2011), Amina, and Jagun Jagun

Seyi Lasisi is a Nigerian student with an obsessive interest in Nigerian and African films as an art form. His film criticism aspires to engage the subtle and obvious politics, sentiments, and opinions of the filmmaker to see how they align with reality. He tweets @SeyiVortex. Email: seyi.lasisi@afrocritik.com

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