Obi Emelonye

Obi Emelonye, the writer, producer and director of the Award-Winning Film, The Mirror Boy spoke with our Editor-in-Chief, Ike Ezugwu four years ago on the making of the Mirror Boy, the Nollywood and other issues. Excerpts from the interview as published in the maiden edition Nowchild Magazine are hereby reproduced here due to the topical and still-current nature of many of the issues discussed. This is also a motivational cum mentoring piece for us as it naturally spurs our youths to achieve greatness. Enjoy it.

Nowchild: Let me start by congratulating you on the success of the Mirror Boy at the cinemas across the globe. Now, tell us about yourself….who is Obi Emelonye, the writer, producer and director of The Mirror Boy?

EMELONYE: Obi Emelonye is an UNN -trained filmmaker who is a prominent member of a new generation of Nigerian filmmakers taking the magic of Nollywood to the wider world by telling global stories without losing the quintessential African voice. I hail from Imo state but reside in Chelsea, London with my wife and three children. I guess that is me in the shortest possible format.


Nowchild: What other movies and films have you done?

EMELONYE: I started making films in 1999 with a film called Good Friends. Since then, I have made about ten feature length films six of which have had premieres and or commercial runs in UK cinemas; like Echoes of War, The London Successor, Lucky Joe, The Asylum and Quiet Storm.

It has been a long journey to where I am today with THE MIRROR BOY; one that is strewn with achievements, disappointments, marketer-exploitations and huge learning curves. But it is a journey that has helped to shape my life as an international filmmaker with an African soul.

Nowchild: With The Mirror Boy, you seem to have taken Nollywood to another level. You have raised the bar. What would you say to this and what were the challenges in making The Mirror Boy?

EMELONYE: The Mirror Boy is one of those projects blessed from the onset. We set out to make a film that will represent the strides that Nigerian film industry has made in artistic and qualitative filmmaking; a film that has a truly African narrative told with a global bias without compromising on its grassroot authenticity. This is something that the Indians have achieved. The film was not really envisioned as this huge project that it has become.

But after CNN profiled me and the film in November 2010 as the future of Nollywood, the world took notice of the film and the dynamics of its future changed forever. Then we got three AMAA nominations including one in the Best Film category and there was also the small matter of the most successful premiere of any independent film in the UK at the prestigious Empire Cinema Leicester Square in February 2011. As I stood to address over 1500 people in the home of British films, I knew that my life as a filmmaker will never be the same again.

The Mirror Boy has gone on to be the first African film to receive a nationwide distribution deal with ODEON cinemas. It also became the highest grossing Nigerian film in Ghana cinemas…not to mention the huge impact it has made in Nigerian cinemas. We believed in a strategic new direction for African cinema and pursued it with vigour and belief…and by God is it working.

However, getting here has not been easy. First, we needed to commit the kind of finance that no Nollywood film has spent and where do you find that kind of money? That is where my co-producer OHTV came in. They provided the bulk of the finance to make the film. As soon as we put up a trailer of the film online, it became so well received that we had the pressure of meeting our own expectations and those of our growing fan base. Apart from these, I would say that The Mirror Boy has been a blessed project, living a charmed life and breaking down barriers, and giving other filmmakers hope that there is life after Idumota and Alaba.

Aki Genevieve

Nowchild: When will The Mirror Boy appear on DVD so that many Nigerians who have not seen it can do so in the comfort of their homes?

EMELONYE: We are hoping that THE MIRROR BOY will be released on DVD in December 2011. It will give all the opportunity to own this collectible piece of Nollywood history.

Nowchild: After The Mirror Boy, what next? What would your fans be expecting?

EMELONYE: We are already in pre production for a genre film involving airplanes. We will shoot before the end of the year in TINAPA studio Calabar with a cast that includes Mercy Johnson, Hakeem Kae Kazeem and Mike Ezuruonye. We are also working on a huge project that will announce the arrival of Nollywood to the world. It will star one of the biggest Hollywood leading ladies…no names yet…watch this space but the script for this epochal production is being finalized by veteran international writer Tunde Babalola. Exciting times for me personally and Nollywood as a whole.

Nowchild: Now, take a critical look at Nollywood. How has it fared and what do you think should be the way forward?

EMELONYE: For a film industry that started from nothing, without money and without training, Nollywood has done great in becoming number two in the world on volume. However, the straight to video formular has taken us as far as it can go and the industry needs a rennaissance. And that is already happening with the emergence of a new generation of Nigerian filmmakers willing to pay more attention to the factors of production; filmmakers like Kunle Afolayan, Chineze Anyaene, Stephanie Okereke, Lonzo Nzekwe and Mahmood Ali-Balogun to mention but a few. The way forward is to take advantage of the chains of cinemas mushrooming across Nigeria to make more artistic films which tell the same stories but more palatable to international audiences.

That way, we can make more money beyond the falling revenues from DVD sales. We can also be recognized as a proper film industry as opposed to the Home Video outfit tag that we have been labeled with now. And we can afford the huge creative talents in Nigeria a broader canvas to show the world that Naija is the entertainment capital of Africa.

Nowchild: You made so much money from the premiere and more to come upon the release of the DVD…. A young Millionaire!

EMELONYE: I am not in this industry just to make money and that is the difference between the old Nollywood and this new generation amongst which I count myself. It goes beyond the entrepreneurial filmmaking of old. It is a passion, a mini madness which can make money in the end…just like The Mirror Boy is now making. Yes, the film has made good money in all the territories that it has been released and I am grateful for that. However, it was also shot with a lot of money and that has to go back before we talk about profits. I am not complaining though, I know a lot of filmmakers across the world that will kill to be in my position. So I am humble and grateful to God.

Nowchild: You are a success and Nigerians are proud of you. Many youths see you as their role model, what is your advice to them?

EMELONYE: I have a lot of friends on the social network who seek my advice all the time and I say the same thing to them; to survive in any sphere of human endeavour, particularly in this industry, they have to get an education, work hard, pray hard, keep believing and keep dreaming. And when their chance comes, as I know it must come with persistence, they should take it with both hands. You need talent, luck, grace, good looks, contacts, stubborn optimism and perseverance (not necessarily in that order) to make it in this industry. The longer you work at it, the more likely it is to come. Good luck.

Nowchild: What are your hobbies, how do you unwind?

EMELONYE: I love football (playing and watching) and music and use these tools to relax. However, my best times are those spent with my wife and children. I am a family man to the core and take tremendous pride in my beautiful family. I am indeed a blessed man and I am grateful to God.

Nowchild: Thank you.

EMELONYE: You are welcome.