After weeks of shooting on location and dealing with postproduction, filmmaker Ema Edosio Deleen is set to release her latest movie, Kasala. The 90 minutes feature film, which will go on big screen soon, is the story of four boys (TJ, Chikodi, Abraham, and Effiong), each of them with different personalities, but united by the bonds of friendship. They're young, faced with problems as with almost all of us, but still try to find ways to have fun in their slum neighborhood nonetheless. In this interview with CHUKS NWANNE, she spoke on the project and her resolve to cause a shift in the industry through her works.
What informed your decision to produce Kasala?
I strongly believe there's a shift happening in Nollywood now. The reason I say this is because there are a lot of filmmakers like us, who have decided to go against the norm to make stories that matter to Nigerians and stories that affect Nigerians. I say this because this film was self-funded; some of the funds that I got from it were through friends. It was a very small budget; I really wanted to make this come to life, and I literally worked with a small crew. Then, I shot, produced, directed and edited it, to make it happen. So, even with its imperfection, we didn't have a million naira budget, with our determination, this film has travelled to about 18 film festivals. We are going to Yale and we were also invited to London by the Royal African Society to close their festival. The reception in Nigeria shows the need and the hunger and the passion for this kind of stories, and I'm determined to make this kind of stories. I'm more connected to people than the bourgeoisie, the fancy houses; I'm more connected to this kind of stories.
Kasala is a typical ghetto story, what's your attraction to that lifestyle and what do you intend to achieve with the movie?
I worked with the BBC and I did a lot of documentaries for them. Going into these communities, rather than the narrative that is being pushed that these people are sad, there's a sense of pride among Nigerians from the low-income areas. So, I wanted to show this aspect of Nigeria. It's also a tribute to Lagos because, to survive in this city, you have to fight; it's a constant struggle. Everything goes against you -- from electricity to so many things. The movie shows the tenacity of Nigerians; it goes against the lazy youth narrative. It's just showing the inner lives of Lagos and people from this community.
The characters you used in the movie represent different ethnic groups in Nigeria, especially with their names. Was that deliberate?
It's the story of Nigerians; it's the story of Lagos. Though we have diverse cultural backgrounds, they would always have a common ground; I think that's what happens in Lagos. I grew up in Ojo; the Yoruba surrounded the Igbo, it was communal. Yes, there were daily squabbles, but at the end of the day, we would come back together. Our parents would drink beer together, we would chat and it was all like family. I think that's the story of Lagos and the story of Nigeria.
And the use of Pidgin as language for the movie?
Oh, I couldn't imagine them speaking English; I think pidgin language is very unique and authentic. They were all from different backgrounds and Pidgin is one of the things that unify us as Nigerians. It was very authentic for them to speak Pidgin.
In making this movie, you opted for a dedicated soundtrack, why that choice?
I didn't want to slap it like Olamide. I went to a producer IBK SpaceshipBoi and talked about the soundtrack and how I wanted it to feel. He made eight tracks, which we used for the film; so, they were made especially for Kasala.
One other thing I picked from the movie is the fact that it celebrates virtue, was that deliberate as well?
The funny thing is that in the slum, there is that sense of hopelessness, but there is a very strong sense of bonding and pride. You could see the guy fight for his neighbour, and that is what I wanted to show. The narrative about people from the slum is destitution. Yes, I agree that there is destitution there, but there is a strong bond. I'd give you an instance where I went to film at Makoko, one man says, 'this is our VGC. This is where they gave birth to us and we would die here.' I was looking around me and I was shocked; it's theirs and they would fight for it. Nigerians have that bond; they have that friendship and we would fight for it. That's one of the things that are missing in films that depict Nigeria - that sense of pride, that sense of unity, of friendship, of tenacity. That's what I wanted to really depict in this film.
Is this movie going to be on the cinema?
Going on cinemas nationwide started since October 12. Initially, it was very hard to get it in there, but when it started getting those international acclaims and people started asking for it, I got those slots.
What were the challenges in getting the film on the cinemas initially?
They said it wasn't for their target audience; that was the only explanation they gave me. They said it was too arty for the Nigerian audience, until we started travelling around and they called me back to have it.
What's your take on the Nigerian movie audience?
I think in cinema, in the beginning, we were just excited to see our films get on VOD and on the big screen. So, the audiences were open to consuming everything on the big screen. But I know that right now, there's a huge demand and one of the things that really got my attention was the reaction at the Lights, Camera, Action film festival. From the beginning to the end, it was beautiful. I was really excited because I was so afraid that I would not bring this film back home to my people. So, you can tell that there is a shift happening, and the audience wants to see films that they can relate to. They want to see films that they love; they want to see characters that they know. Fine, we live in Lekki, but growing up, a lot of people in the middle class came from bad towns like this; they want to see, connect and reminisce with this. With these kinds of films, there would be a big demand.
Kasala was initially rejected in Nigeria but accepted abroad, how does that make you feel as a filmmaker?
I'm part of the system, so, I wasn't surprised; I knew that because I work in Television. I make films for EbonyLife TV, so, I understand how they think and how they work. I knew what I was going against, but I was very determined; I knew I wanted to make this. So, I was ready for a fight. Not necessarily a fight of words, but a fight to push this film as far as possible. A fight to show people that there is something else. So, it was a sense of fulfillment. It's a validation to make your film, get out there and make it.
What informed your choice of Surulere as location for the movie?
The thing about Surulere was that one of our crewmembers lives in Surulere; it was easier for us to access it. I worked with this small, talented crew, and it's easier for all of us to meet in Surulere; it's more centralised. And it was like a ripple effect. One person wondered, 'Ah, who are these small people with cameras?' then, another person opened up their doors, the children started coming out. We actually went back after production; I rented a big screen to show them the film and they were so happy.
We've always talked about community cinema in Nigeria, but is it the way to go?
Yes, because even when we were setting up the screen, all the guys came out and started asking, 'who are you? Where's our money?' But when they started watching, they all liked it. As we were watching, somebody went to the back of the projector and they started shouting, 'who are you?' Then they said, 'stop the film.' All of them left their seats to go fight. Then, when they settled, they came back, sat down and continued watching. So, these are the kinds of films that people are looking for. These people made Nollywood; they are hungry to see themselves represented on Nollywood, that's why I made this film, honestly.
Against the backdrop of the usual stereotypes about Nigeria, what was the reaction when the movie was screened abroad?
I think they had never seen Africa like this before; a lot of our films are shot indoors. I think they were amazed with the characters. The narrative in the West is about children with bellies and flies, but they were amazed by the dynamics in the movie. First of all, there was something that happened when I screened in Paris, this elderly lady saw Nollywood and she came into the cinema to watch it. She waited for me and said, 'Thank you so much,' that they had never seen this kind of movie. They were very curious about the characters. They were very curious about Nigeria; they were very curious about the street, the strength, even with the squalor, the fights. I mean, I went to a festival and we screened with Isoken. We didn't use a lot of money, but we were very close to winning the audience's choice in the US. Black Panther has opened up the door on what it means to be truly African. There is a hunger and a search for that, and with migration, people want to understand where these people are coming from and that's what they were looking for in the film.
You talked about filmmakers like 'us', who are these people?
There's a resistance growing up. You are looking at Abba Makama's film, Green White Green; C.J. Obasi, Imoh Umoren... there are some young filmmakers, but a lot of them are not as lucky as I am. Some of them have films that they just have to take to VOD immediately. There are people, who are creating more and more films like this.