2020 was a weird and difficult year.
The coronavirus pandemic shuttered the film industry for months at a time with one swoop as governments issued stay at home and no travel orders in a scramble to keep the raging pandemic under control. Still, artistes found a way to present new work to the world. Two were Netflix originals, one premiered at the Berlinale before Covid and one opened on the dying days of 2019 (such good old times.)
Sometimes it seemed like film was all we had to get us through the most trying times of the year. These are the ones that mattered the most.
10. Finding Hubby
After a stint producing two films (Ojukokoro, Knock Out Blessing) with Dare Olaitan plus work on some of Africa Magic’s most popular television series, Femi Ogunsanwo returned to the big screen with Finding Hubby. The laugh a minute drama is the adaptation of Tunde Leye’s viral blog series of the same name. Ade Laoye leads a talented cast of thespians that include Kehinde Bankole, Omowunmi Dada and Munachi Abii.
Netflix’s latest Nigerian Original is a sobering and often clumsy drama about sexual assault on University campuses that is ripped from the headlines. Kunle Afolayan returns to the kind of big, bold storytelling that made him a household name and gave him a lot of his prestige. While Citation is a pan-African visual delight, Afolayan’s interpretation of the Tunde Babalola screenplay isn’t quite a return to form.
8. This Lady Called Life
Directed by Kayode Kasum, This Lady Called Life starring Bisola Aiyeola features an overdependence on romantic love as the catalyst to self-confidence but isn’t this the spirit of plenty romantic comedies? Viewers in search of a film that plumbs the underbelly of romantic attachment may have to look elsewhere. This one tells the story of one woman’s search for self-actualization and financial freedom and it does it quite modestly.
Òlòtūré marks a significant change in direction for EbonyLife Films, renowned for their box office conquering romantic comedies. This is the first time that Abudu would be going for prestige and high stakes advocacy instead of reliable formula and market sweep. Òlòtūré, an account of an undercover investigative journalist is a product of skilled compromise. Abudu gets her prestige pic, director Kenneth Gyang scores a wider audience.
Skin, the buzzy documentary produced by Beverly Naya and directed by Daniel Etim Effiong is the kind of well-intentioned project that arrives every once in a while. With Skin, Naya one of the most famous actresses of her generation and her creative partner, Daniel Etim Effiong, also a popular actor in his own right take it upon themselves to investigate the cultural phenomenon of skin lightening. The results are interesting.
5. The Lost Okoroshi
In a quiet departure from Abba Makama’s debut, The Lost Okoroshi has more of a straightforward narrative, but that doesn’t mean it is any less energetic or zany. A fast-paced, hectic romp through the city of Lagos, The Lost Okoroshi embraces abstraction as it considers identity, displacement and the forces – both physical and supernatural – that keep human beings grounded.
4. Shine Your Eyes
Technically, Shine Your Eyes isn’t quite Nigerian considering it is set in São Paolo and directed by a Brazilian Matias Mariani with money coming from the United States. The titular phrase is likely to translate differently to different people but any Nigerian in them recognizes the slang as a shrewd warning to be extra vigilant. This title is particularly apt in this fish out of water story about a Nsukka born, Lagos based musician who travels -to São Paulo in Brazil on a wild and stressful search for his long-lost elder brother.
3. Trouble Sleep
Trouble Sleep directed by French-Congolese filmmaker Alain Kassanda takes its title from an abbreviation of the Fela Kuti tune, Trouble Sleep Yanga Wake Am. The rich documentary captures the city of Ibadan at dawn, the various sights, sounds and the energy coalescing into a potent snapshot that hints at beauty in its raw form. Kassanda tracks a day in the life of a young taxi driver and his counterpart from the road transport workers union, documenting their unique occupational challenges.
Produced independently, with support from Lagos based GDN Studios, Eyimofe, directed by the duo of Arie and Chuko Esiri, is not your regular Nollywood fare. The two-part immigration story has no big name stars headlining, the sets aren’t shiny Lagos mansions and there is an absence of exaggerated contortions which usually pass for emoting. Eyimofe premiered in the Forum section of the 70th Berlin International Film Festival.
1. The Milkmaid
Ambitious and epic in scope but with plenty of intimacy and feeling, The Milkmaid tells a universal but wholly specific story of human resilience in the midst of devastation. Director Desmond Ovbiagele lifts a window into a world that until the 2014 abduction of the Chibok girls has largely been kept hidden away from mainstream war accounts. The Milkmaid is a potent examination of displacement and trauma and centers the girl child. It is bound to start conversations on extremism and the intersection between poverty, gender and the war industrial complex in the north east.
Wilfred Okiche is a medic, reader, writer, journalist, culture critic, and occasional ruffler of feathers. One of the most influential critics working in the Nigerian culture space, his writing has appeared extensively in platforms like YNaija.com and 360nobs.com. Okiche has provided editorial assistance to the UK Guardian and has had his work published in African Arguments, Africa is a Country and South Africa’s City Press. He has received trainings and acquired experience in multimedia and online journalism. He also appears on the culture television show, Africana Literati. He has participated at critic programs in Lagos, Durban and Rotterdam.