Bola Akanbi

AMVCA Winner Bola “Enigma” Akanbi Shares Experience on the Accelerate Filmmaker Project and Winning an AMVCA

The Accelerate Filmmaker Project since its inception in 2017 has been training and rewarding young, creative and passionate filmmakers, giving them an opportunity to kick start their careers in filmmaking. The programme is facilitated by Accelerate TV in conjunction with Access Bank and in partnership with the Africa International Film Festival (AFRIFF); with award-winning actor and producer Kemi Lala Akindoju as the project manager.

The project involves stages of online and offline competitions. Interested young aspiring filmmakers are given a theme to work with to create a minute short film to be posted on social media. The best 50 are longlisted and would have to go through varying stages of the competition till they are shortlisted to 20. The shortlisted 20 undergo a period of rigorous training and in the end, have to pitch stories to a selection of judges. Those whose pitches get vetted become the programme’s finalists, the top 5. The top 5 are individually mentored by established filmmakers and given a sizable budget to bring their pitches to life. The films premiere at AFRIFF by the end of the year. 

Over the years, judges and mentors of the Accelerate Filmmaker Project have included filmmakers such as Niyi Akinmolayan, Kemi Adetiba, Mildred Okwo, Seyi Babatope. 

One of the finalists and success stories of the first edition of the Accelerate Filmmaker Project is Michael Akinrogunde better known as Ama Psalmist whose short film Penance won the 2018 AMVCA for best short film. Bola “Enigma” Akanbi, finalist of the second edition has followed closely in his shoes. In March 2020, he also won an AMVCA for his short film Thorn. He speaks to More Branches about the Accelerate Filmmaker Project and winning the AMVCA. 

Talk about your journey to filmmaking. Has it always been your aspiration? 

I’ve always nurtured an ambition to tell stories. As a kid, I would gather my siblings and tell them stories that I had made up; that progressed to writing novellas that I never got to publish, which led to me studying theatre arts in school. 

And then Accelerate Filmmaker Project ushered you into the real world of filmmaking?

Prior to Accelerate Filmmaker Project, I had interned with a number of production houses such as Funke Akindele’s Scene One Production and Kunle Afolayan’s Golden Effect. I worked with them on a number of productions and learnt the basics of filmmaking from the experience. 

So Accelerate Filmmaker Project was an opportunity to further gain training. Take us through the experience. 

I was a Youth Corper serving in Port Harcourt when I saw the advert on Instagram. Accelerate Filmmaker Project is a competition and so we were told to make a minute video on the theme “Friendship.” I made the video and was among the 50 longlisted. We went through different stages before the shortlist was selected. I had to travel down to Lagos for the workshop. We had weeks of intense training. Our classes were facilitated by Kemi Adetiba (Directing), Bose Oshin (Production management), Tolu Ajayi (Short films), NODASH (Cinematography), Victor Sanchez (Writing).

On the final day, we were to pitch our short film stories to the panel of judges. The judges included Mildred Okwo, Daniel Oriahi, Joke Silva, Niyi Akinmolayan, Victor Sanchez and Seyi Babatope. The results were announced after the pitching and I was one of the top 5. That was how I got the grant to produce Thorn.

I found it interesting that Thorn explored mental health, a condition Nigerians do not take seriously. What inspired it? 

Thorn was inspired by our society. The film is a painful reminder of our society’s refusal to confront the dangers of implosion suffered by mentally displaced persons. It is also advocacy against domestic violence. I observed that we don’t really explore the subject beyond physical abuse. But what about the other effects such as PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder), the cycle of violence and much more. I explored the part that is not commonly addressed. 

I guess this novelty of theme, got you to the Top 5. What was the feeling? 

It was surreal and unexpected because I doubted the story minutes before pitching. It was very validating and has boosted my confidence in my journey as a filmmaker. I can’t fully express how I felt when my name was mentioned amongst the top 5.  Looking back at the accolades and recognition the film has given me, I always thank God that I didn’t miss such a great opportunity. 

Thorn really has amassed accolades and recognition. Screening in top festivals such as AFRIFF and the Durban International Film Festival, recently it won the highly coveted AMVCA for short film. You were up against acclaimed directors such as Stanlee Ohikuare and Tolulope Ajayi. How did it feel being on that stage and holding the plaque?

It was a dream come true for me. I felt on top of the world. Being in the same category with filmmakers that I look up to was a big deal for me. Winning the award motivated me to never give up and to always remember that my dreams are valid. 

What have you been doing Post-AMVCA?

I have a yet to be released film titled Jam. It’s a story based on parental influence on children’s career. The premiere is slated for later this year.

I also have a documentary I’m working on. It’s funded by an NGO and I’m not allowed to give full details yet. We’ve shot some scenes in Ogun state before the lockdown. We’ll be shooting the Lagos scenes soon.

I’m also collaborating with a production company to shoot some TV films this year. Some producers have also reached out to me to direct their upcoming projects. I’m glad that the lockdown has been lifted and filming can commence.

Interesting. So tell us what you think made the facilitators of the Accelerate Filmmaker Project repeatedly pick you while you were auditioning and competing with other aspiring filmmakers?

Since it’s a competition, I knew I had to give my best at every stage. I made sure to tell good stories and pay attention to details so that my entries could meet up with the expectations of the judges and also stand a great chance when compared to other entries. 

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