The first question I ask Niyi is about family, how he is able to combine work and family. He’s thrown aback, he wasn’t expecting this; it’s not a question people ask men. I’ve been asked the question many times so I’m taking out my revenge on him. But Niyi is gracious enough to answer. He tells me he and his wife are best friends, and that takes away 95% of the problems. His wife keeps the family together and ensures he doesn’t break down. In return, he gives her a lot of loving.
Akinmolayan initially wanted to be an inventor; to solve problems. He studied engineering but says the experience was a disaster. ‘I didn’t learn anything then one day, I accidentally discovered that one could use computers to tell stories by putting images together’. That was the turning point for Niyi, he fell in love. It might not be invention but he figured he could still solve problems by making films that would inspire people.
Nollywood is often seen as a platform for moral standing, people expect films to have a clear message, hopefully some that will correct societal ills. Akinmolayan says he’s not here to preach to anyone. He doubts that films can correct any ills but says it can definitely create awareness, enable discussions and possibly influence culture. ‘Some of our exaggerated mannerisms, we inherited from watching lots of Nollywood films over the years’ he explains. ‘Films can create a sense of collective culture. Most people think once there’s crime in the United States of America, that the cops show up, they also think America will leave 99 sheep in search of the one lost one. Almost all their films have the American flag swinging proudly. I personally think all Chinese people can fight’. For these reasons, he believes film can create an abstract representation of a people.
Akinmolayan’s films often break genre barriers; his movie can start out as drama, get comedic and end up dark. Niyi explains that he doesn’t see genres; he just sees a means to tell a story. He is more interested in the essence of storytelling and advises young filmmakers ‘to inject the Nigerian essence into every story irrespective of genre.’ Being a bit of a trouble maker, he gets excited about scripts that have the potential to start discussions however controversial. ‘If a film is about an answer that starts a new question, I’ll do it.’ Niyi adds. This is why he directed The Arbitration and Falling, for the questions they raised.
This young filmmaker is particularly interested in training. He wants Nollywood to be a world player not a small circle where only a few people stand out. ‘There’s no inspiration to be better if I know there’s little or no competition, but if I know I’m competing against 20 equally good films, I have no choice but to rethink how I approach my work from the filming to the distribution.’ Niyi wants to share his knowledge and discovery with others in order to create something big. He wants an industry, not a bunch of popular filmmakers. ‘Imagine if Tim Berners –Lee had kept the internet to himself, many of us won’t even be able to make films as a some of us are self taught from YouTube videos’ he concludes.
Akinmolayan is also interested in Animation. His first film Kajola was quite popular albeit for the wrong reasons. But this didn’t deter him, Niyi has heavily invested in an animated series, despite the lack of resources for animation in Nigeria but he’s determined to make it work, if only for the sake of Nigerian kids whom he says hardly have any Nigerian content to watch these days.
The Arbitration is currently showing in cinemas and enjoying rave reviews. It is the director’s favourite out of all his works because it was the most challenging film for him. He needed to take a story very heavy on dialogue and turn it to something everyone would love and not be bored after the first twenty minutes. And it worked. ‘I’m very happy people love the film; it’s been a humbling experience’, he tells me.
Akinmolayan attributes his success to collaboration. ‘It’s the big difference between my first film and the ones I’m making now’. Niyi adds that he’s learnt to collaborate better with industry people, from writers to producers to distributors. He advises people to open up and allow other people bring in their ideas into their work. He believes this is what made his last three films successes.
It is no surprise what Niyi’s advice to young filmmakers is; ‘ SHUT UP AND SHOOT’