In order to curb the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Nigerian government mandated a lockdown of the country after a few cases were recorded in the nation’s capitals of Lagos and Abuja. While a number of industries and corporate organisations could have their staff work from home, for an industry like Nollywood, it meant that film productions had to come to a halt, and film release dates pushed back indefinitely as cinemas were shut down, leaving actors and filmmakers idle.
Week in, week out, we saw actors churn out filmed monologues on Instagram as a way to keep in their craft and score the attention of filmmakers for future projects. Some took the notch higher: experimented virtual filmmaking, collaborated with fellow actors and made short films that explored genres from action to magical realism.
Actors Moshood Fattah and Mike Afolarin partnered on a short film (directed by Kelvinmary Ndukwe) that had two friends, Ropo and Femi, dissatisfied by Nigeria’s current political situation, in a banter over the nation’s future—what it holds for them, and generations to come. The film is befittingly titled Aargh!, onomatopoeic of the frustrations of the Nigerian condition. Aargh!, cheesy in dialogue and didactic in its message, also offered suggestions on youth inclusion in government and the electoral process.
Moshood Fattah spoke to More Branches about making the film.
You’re mainly an actor but you did not just feature in Aargh!, you were also writer and producer. Would you say the pandemic and the mandated lockdown contributed to spurring the creativity?
I have two degrees in performing arts. One from the University of Ilorin, the other from the University of Lagos. I’m grateful for the training I received in University of Ilorin, the curriculum was extensive. We were trained in theatre, film, and radio. I took a couple of courses on creative writing and script writing. I also produced a number of films and theatre productions as student project. This afforded me the opportunity to grow in my craft. However going into the industry, acting was my break and I mainly pursued it. But the training I had received in other sectors were still a part of me.
During the lockdown, Mike Afolarin reached out to me for a kind of virtually produced film that we could individual shoot in our home then mash up the videos as a scene. I was pleased that a fellow actor had reached out to me to do stuff, however I worried that it would come off artificial, since we won’t be sharing a space. So I suggested we meet up instead and shoot the scene together. I volunteered to write the script and we asked friends in the industry to help out with shooting and editing. Few days to shoot we found out that someone in the house we were supposed to shoot in had been diagnosed of COVID-19, and we had to stall production.
It was during this period that the internet became rife with stories about injustices, corruption, and politicians embezzling money. I was appalled by how apathetical the youths were to it. And that was inspired the story of Aargh!
Aargh! wasn’t just critiquing the society or lamenting about the apathy of youths to politics like you mentioned, it was proffering solutions too. Sometimes art is content in just asking questions but you were providing answers. Why this?
Writing Aargh! I was angry at the country’s situation and I allowed these two characters have that conversation, and it started to blossom. And it became what it became. I think it made better sense that the characters were offering suggestions on making the electoral process more accessible to youths, rather than just ranting about it. The youths are energetic and smart but the problem is that they do not know where to direct that energy towards. What I wanted to prove with the film was that as young guys we are smart thinkers and talkers and when we channel these thoughts into something positive, we could achieve some good.
I really want to make work that can be relevant outside of the arts. I’d like to write scripts on things that would see me having conversations with lawyers, scientists and politicians. That is the beauty of great art, its relevance transcends the arts. The same way Sherlock Holmes has influenced policing and law. I’m glad that I made a film that is not just entertaining, but also functional.
We saw a lot of Instagram monologues during the pandemic, a number of them waxing as political or as socially conscious as Aargh!. Why did you choose to send your message through dialogue instead of monologue.
I’m not a fan of monologues. I think monologues are very self-centered and conceited. A conceited form of performance. It’s like you’re saying see me, see me, see me. Whereas in a scene its about the mood, the story, the objective. And for Aargh!, it was important for me to honour both sides of the argument with the issue that I was going to discuss. While the character Femi is saying leave the country for greener pastures, Ropo is insisting that not all of us can leave, we have to fix the country. I can relate to both voices. I think they’re both valid and entitled to being heard.
As the writer and producer of Aargh!, your thoughts and opinion bleed through the conversation, however on a more personal front, are you Team Ropo or Team Femi
You know they say when writers write, fundamentally, they write about themselves, and I think that both characters represent the two voices in my brain, in my mind. A part of me wants to stay, the other wants to leave. And there have been actors who have sought greener pastures overseas and didn’t quite make it there. Then you look at the likes of Genevieve Nnaji or Wizkid who made a name for themselves from home and are now global stars.
I think one of the biggest pill to swallow as a creative is when you consider how much more you would be making if you were doing the same type of job in a different clime and environment. Nigeria is not the most encouraging or conducive place for an artiste, the lack of structure makes it very difficult to be an artiste, however many have thrived inspite of it, and have built successful careers.
It’s interesting to see that you’re conflicted on this. But like you rightly mentioned, despite the difficulties, the arts and entertainment are sectors that thrive in Nigeria, and you can have the best of careers working in these fields. What of the millions of Nigerians with other ambitions and working in different fields? Do you think the relative privilege of bring in the film industry, affords you the luxury of this conflict?
It is a dilemma for me. Because leaving the country would mean forgoing all the work and the career that I have built here, and starting afresh. People have made it work here, so I believe I can make it work here.
The Nigerian film industry has come under a lot of criticism over the kind of films it’s producing; it’s refreshing and inspiring seeing a politically conscious film from a young filmmaker like yourself. Is filmmaking something you’re looking to take more seriously?
Producing Aargh! took me back to my university days as a team leader and working in different capacities for our numerous student projects that included theatre productions. Working on Aargh!, writing the script, overseeing the editing, just filled me with an oomph and I want to do more. It’s interesting that a lot of the work done on the film was done off my phone. I wrote the script on my phone, hired the crew from my phone, and it’s one of the things the film talks about, using technology for good work. I really would love to produce more films.