Tomisin Adepeju is among the next generation of filmmakers who has seen the success of two of his movies ‘Omo Dada’ and ‘Marianne’. Both short film have gained huge acclamation across independent and mainstream media, which in effect as earned him international awards. The Met Film School graduate is among the likes of Koby Adom and Joseph A Adesunloye who have increasingly become the next generation of Black filmmakers sweeping across Britain and the world.
NWD wasted no time but to allow you viewers to get the an insight into the mind of the sensation. We discuss his technical abilities and style when comes to demonstrating his culture. The journey that took him to develop his own execution techniques to demonstrate themes such as identity and race against spirituality and religion. Plus, Adepeju reflects on his successes of his two films and gives his thoughts on the future of Nollywood, as it continues to become an alternative avenue and revenue for the British economy.
From bus inspirations to his suit-and-tie attire, we present our exclusive interview after the jump.
1. Before we begin this interview, we want to applaud you for setting a new standard that sets the bar high for the next chapter of Nollywood. How long did it take for you as a director to perfect your craft in such a way that it produces beautiful visuals for both your films ‘Omo Dada’ (The Good Son) and ‘Marianne’?
Thank you so much for the kind words. I have been making films since 2008, my very first effort was a short I wrote, directed and starred in called ‘The Stranger’. It was a collaboration with my sister who the cinematographer and my brother. A lot of my subsequent short films were experimental projects or simply homages and parodies to some of my favourite films. However, there were themes that were evident in those early works that I would go on to develop and further explore in ‘The Good Son’ and ‘Marianne’, themes like love, death, race and cultural identity. I think my development and growth really took place at film school, I was taught by some incredible tutors, directed a lot of short narrative scenes and collaborated with a lot of talented individuals. At the end of the experience, I realised what type of stories I wanted to tell and how I wanted to visually convey them. Overall, it’s been a long process of experimentation and self-discovery to get to where I am now. Also, it is important to highlight that film is a collaborative medium and I was fortunate to work with two brilliant cinematographers on both films; Caleb Wissun-Bhide & Mark Hamilton, they are equally responsible for the success of the shorts. I feel I am definitely still learning, growing and further developing my craft and voice as a filmmaker.
2. From both Hollywood and Nollywood, who have been your inspirations when it comes to filming?
I have a long list of films and film-makers that have inspired me over the years. Probably the most important director that has influenced me tremendously is, Woody Allen. I always credit his seminal work, Annie Hall for planting the idea of becoming a film director. I saw it when I was 15 and it immediately had a profound impact on me. I am primarily drawn to emotionally-driven narrative content, I have been inspired by the works of film-makers like Billy Wilder, Paul Thomas Anderson, David Lean, Spike Lee, Richard Linklater, Chris Nolan, Frank Capra, Wes Anderson and so many others. I have also watched the films, Annie Hall, The Apartment, Starship Troopers, Adventureland, Swingers, Brief Encounter, Boomerang, Dr Zhivago, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Do the Right Thing & A Place in the Sun an unhealthy amount of times. They are all masterpieces. I also have a very strong, emotional attachment to Leo McCarey’s “An Affair to Remember”, it is just a magnificent piece of work. I have been recently been inspired by the New Nollywood movement going on in Nigeria, I am a big admirer of Kunle Afolayan’s work, his film out now is truly incredible. I am also a big fan of the work of Daniel Oriahi, Niyi Akinmolayan, C.J Obasi, Destiny Ekaragha, Andrew Dosunmu, Kenneth Gyang, Francis Bodomo and many others. Also, ‘B for Boy’ by Chika Anadu is one of my favourite films, it is a mesmerising piece of work.
3. You have even developed your personal branding by making sure that everywhere you go, you wear a suit! So we want to know, how many suits do you have?
I think it’s important to always be smart and well dressed, I feel extremely comfortable in a suit so I only wear them. I have actually never counted how many I own, I have far too many.
4. We’ve seen ‘Omo Dada’ at Screened Nights, and it received a huge reception. Not only has the film done well here, but it has been screened at international film festivals such as No Gloss, Roma, The San Francisco Black Film Festival and the Miami Independent Film Festival. How does it feel for your work to be recognised internationally, as well as in the UK. Does it help boost your credibility as a filmmaker?
It’s just humbling to have been recognised by a lot of international film festivals, I never imagined the film would have the reception it’s had, it was a small, personal project that was made as an exercise at film school. So I’ve just been grateful and really pleased that it has been well received. And yes, it absolutely boosts my credibility as a film-maker, I never set out to make a film for a specific group of people or audience, film is a universal medium, I hope that my work will appeal to audiences all around the world, regardless of their culture or background.
b. How does it feel to hear that your film ‘Omo Dada’ was screened at the BFI Black Star event?
I was elated when I heard the news, that I was going to be a part of the BFI Blackstar event is quite phenomenal. The event celebrates the towering and influential work of black talent on and off screen, so to be affiliated with such a prestigious event is an incredible honour.
5. How important is it for Nigeria to invest both internally and externally into their film industry? Many critics say that the industry could be a potential market for financial revenue.
I think it is imperative that they invest both internally and externally into their industry, Nollywood has grown so much over the past fifteen years, the new breed of young film-makers like Niyi Akinmolayan, Abba Makama, Daniel Orahi, C.J Obasi and so many others are creating original, and groundbreaking piece of work. These filmmakers need the platform, resources and financial support to build on the incredible talent they clearly possess. I think if the industry fully supports their work and vision, they could create powerful and engaging films that would turn over a sizeable profit. In the late 60’s to the early 80’s, the new Hollywood movement supported a cinema led by a group of young, passionate auteurs like Steven Spielberg, Martin Scorcese and Francis Ford Coppola, they had complete creative freedom and were backed by big studios like Warner Brothers and Paramount. The film-makers went to direct several critically-acclaimed box office hits during that period. I strongly feel that these group of Nollywood film-makers undoubtedly have the potential of creating a very similar film movement in Nigeria.
6. Any prospects of producing another short film in Africa? Or do you want to keep it strictly in the UK?
I do actually have plans to direct a short film in Nigeria, I am currently working on a new draft of a script I am hoping to shoot next year, its a project I have been developing for several months now and I am very excited about telling this story. The film is set amongst the backdrop of the current refugee crisis in Nigeria. It is a really emotional and human story that I feel has to be told, considering the economical and political climate of the country. There are millions of people currently displaced in Nigeria, families whose lives have been destroyed irreparably by the crisis, I want the film to acutely capture their plight and struggles. I want the world to see these individuals, not as the “Breaking Headlines” they’re always identified with, rather, as simply human beings, with goals, dreams and ambitions.
7. Your second film ‘Marianne’, which screened at S.O.U.L, gave a different perspective and look into the role of religion. We’ve seen in the past how many documentaries show the negative side of religion on Africans, but in your film, it’s depicted in not only a positive light but more in the sense that it is spiritual with a sense of suspense. What made you decide to place an element of spirituality in your movies?
I grew up in a Pentecostal church so I have always been interested in and fascinated by the events that occur in these gatherings, it is mysterious and unexplainable, powerful and unforgettable. Faith, God and Spirituality are very important to me, as a result, I wanted to reflect these themes in my work. Spirituality is definitely an important theme in the story but films is an objective medium, I didn’t want to make a film targeted at Christians, I wanted to present a universal, human story, one that follows a man’s journey to save the woman he loves. Love is a powerful theme that unites us all, regardless of race, culture or religion.
8. It’s been reported that even the Chinese are looking to distribute Nollywood films into their country. How important is it, with the Nollywood films being the third largest in the global film industry, to lead the second chapter of its film industry to global domination?
Already, we are seeing pressure internally by actors, directors and screenwriters themselves to produce innovative content that tells interesting and provocative stories Nollywood is at an important crossroads right now, the industry has grown so much in the past five years that it has attracted the interest of a lot of important institutions and establishments. Recently, the Toronto International Film Festival’s prestigious City to City Spotlight programme focused on Lagos, Nigeria. The programme showcased the works of Nollywood filmmakers living and working in Lagos, their films were very well received and played to several sold out screenings. I feel that the industry has a wealth of young, talented young film-makers that are already making captivating and innovative content, however, as I alluded to earlier, the industry has to do more to support these filmmakers. If they do, it could really elevate the industry to new, unprecedented heights. I don’t know if the work I have made so far can be categorised as Nollywood films, I don’t think they are British films either, they are somewhere in the middle. I do have plans to direct some feature length films in Nigeria, I would love to one day direct a 1920’s period drama set in Nigeria and England.
9. Describe your personality as a movie title.
John Ford’s The Quiet Man.I would say I am a quiet and private person. I was probably too quiet during my teenage years, opened up a lot during my time at University and have mellowed out again as I’ve gotten older.
I would say I am a quiet and private person. I was probably too quiet during my teenage years, opened up a lot during my time at University and have mellowed out again as I’ve gotten older.
10. Everyone’s talking about Nate Parker’s movie ‘Birth of Nation’ in the sense that not only will it bring a new storytelling of slave narratives. But it will even influence a rise of independent filmmakers in the States, as it’s been the first time that the real influence of Black Americans in World History has been told. Even in Africa, many wars that combated colonialism need to be told. Should that be one avenue that both Black filmmakers, both on the continent and across the Diaspora should explore?
I have not seen Nate Parker’s Directorial debut but I really want to as I have heard great things about it. I think it is incredible that Parker has chosen to tell this story, I think it is imperative that important narratives like these are told. We need to unearth powerful stories like the one Parker has chosen to tell and present them boldly and unapologetically. I don’t think there has been a film made about Nat Turner’s life so I think it is brilliant that Parker has decided to make a film about this very important figure. Steve McQueen of course, masterfully achieved something similar with ’12 Years a Slave’, a film which focused on Solomon Northup’s life. Whilst I think it’s important that the stories of these black historical figures are captured on screen, I think we shouldn’t just focus on stories set during slavery, there are so many other stories out there that need to be told, stories that can only be truthfully told by us. It is our job and duty to tell these stories, if we don’t, no one will.
11. What’s the one advice that you’ll give to any filmmaker in your position right now?
I would simply tell them to try and find their own voice as a filmmaker, I think that is the most important element of being a director. You have to know what kind of films you want to make, it influences and affects every decision you make. It doesn’t matter if you own the latest camera or if your short film cost 100K. If you don’t know what you want to say, then your film has no identity, voice or direction.
12. Who else would you recommend that we should look out for in the film industry?
My friend and colleague, Koby Adom is doing some really big things right now, he recently graduated from London Film School and his film House Girl is premiering at The London Short Film Festival next year. Solomon Onita Jnr is another film-maker that I think will go on to create captivating work in the future, I loved his short film ‘Joy’, which was picked up by HBO this year. His latest short film, Witch Hunt premiered at the Africa International Film Festival in Lagos, Nigeria. Shola Amoo and Joseph A Adesunloye are also churning out some amazing work, both their directorial debuts ‘A Moving Image’ and ‘White Colour Black’ premiered at the BFI Film Festival this year. And finally, Frances Bodomo is one of the most exciting young filmmakers right now, her two short films Boneshaker & Afronauts are quite phenomenal, you can watch Boneshaker on Vimeo. Her recent short film, Everybody Dies! is a powerful and timely piece of work.
13. What are the prospects that you’ll create a feature length film? We see that your style of filmmaking has the potential of captivating an audience.
The prospect is very real and impending, I am currently writing my first feature which I am hoping to make early next year. The feature is based on one of my short films so I am very excited about further expanding on the world presented in the short. I am also working on a treatment for another feature I am hoping to direct next summer.