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Exclusive: In Conversation with Damilola Orimogunje

Bside recently caught up with screenwriter and director of For Maria Ebun Pataki, Damilola Orimogunje, a maverick leading a new narrative in Nigerian cinema.

If you ask multi-talented Nigerian screenwriter, producer, and director, Damilola Orimogunje how he developed an interest in filmmaking, he will simply tell you that his passion for writing began early in life and so the need to tell important stories that influence social change has always been an important part of his life.

Orimogunje is part of a new generation of Nigerian filmmakers making visually compelling and unconventional African content for social change and his latest project For Maria Ebun Pataki, a moving drama that sheds light on the impact of postpartum depression is a true testament to his dexterity as a storyteller.

Globally, postpartum depression is one of the most common but often unrecognized complications of childbirth, yearly affecting about 10–15% of postnatal women. The film examines these complications alongside, anxiety, and the long-term effects of traumatic birth. While speaking on the need to tell a story about postpartum depression from a Nigerian perspective Orimogunje said: “I saw a Twitter thread about postpartum depression in Nigeria and the stories were very deep. I realized these things have not been talked about enough. Then there is the issue of mental health that people don't tend to discuss enough and these conversations are important”.

Since the release of the Art-house film on Netflix, conversations about postpartum depression and his style of storytelling have opened doors for a new form of narrative in Nollywood. “I am just excited because Nigerians love the film”. he tells me about the reception he has been getting since the release of Ebun Pataki.

As a director, he takes his inspirations filmmakers and he practices a lot to be able to tell the kind of stories he wants to tell; ‘I am a big fan of Asian cinema, my favourite filmmaker is Wong Kar-wai, he is a Hongkong filmmaker and then one of the things I take from him is gorgeous images and shots. it's beautiful to watch in terms of colour combination”. As a means of staying true to himself, Damilola Orimogunje strategically identifies his audience and tells stories tailored to them.

In this exclusive Bside interview, we sat down with the multitalented filmmaker to talk about his journey, his meticulous style of storytelling, and the growing need for Art-house films in Nollywood.

This interview has been slightly edited for clarity and context.

Bside: How does it feel to be the number one film on Netflix? ORIMOGUNJE: It's nice and beautiful to see. I am just excited because Nigerians love the film. You know it's like a new time and it's been a while since we’ve had people’s reception to a film like this. What I am trying to say is; most times commercial films get this kind of attention but for a low-budget film and then it's not comedy, it's a sad film and it's getting this kind of reception, it's amazing. So yes, I am excited.

You’ve previously mentioned that For Maria Ebun Pataki was inspired by a series of tweets about postpartum depression. What is it about the tweets that made you decide to do a film? ORIMOGUNJE: I was at the point where I wanted to make a short film, family drama, a quite intimate one. Shortly after that, I started speaking to a friend who eventually became a co-writer of the film. We were just speaking randomly about postpartum depression and how people have little knowledge about it. Even then, I didn't know much [about it myself] even though I have witnessed it. Then, we just left the conversation, and shortly, I saw a Twitter thread about postpartum depression. Everyone shared their stories and it was so moving and then I realized these things have not been talked about enough. Then there is the issue of mental health that people don't tend to discuss enough. At that point, I had to call my co-writer back, I showed the thread and I was like why don't we make a film out of it. And that was the inception of Ebun Pataki

How were you able to get enough research to tell the story?

ORIMOGUNJE: I researched online. I watched different videos of victims basically and then experts talking about the illness. And from then, I started talking to friends who knew anyone that had experienced or was currently experiencing postpartum depression. So I met with a couple of them and talked to them physically; I asked them a lot of questions which helped me to back up my online research with facts. Then I realized that it varies and not everybody passes through the same things Derin, the main character in the movie passed through but I wanted to capture the entirety of it. Also, I spoke to medical experts and ask for their views and this aided a lot during the writing process. What were the references you used to get those kinds of shots and technicalities in place? ORIMOGUNJE: Firstly, I think for the past few years, I have been practising and learning more. I feel there is an uneven representation of Nigerians in cinemas. Everything and everyone is glossy and glamorous. The stories that I choose to tell mostly revolve around low or middle-class characters. I believe cinema should feel real. Somebody said something to me, he said one thing I achieved with the film was remove the glass between the audience and the film. So a lot of people have said they felt like we were intruding on their privacy and that was the original idea when I was making the film, I want people to feel it. People talk about Derin not saying a word for the first half of the film, I wanted people to connect to the film without doing so much and there was no way to do that without emphasizing on certain very minimal things: Phcn cutting power supply, dirty bathroom and all of that little stuff. While we were scouting for a location, we were specific about an apartment where people currently live in. Even though we slightly retouched the apartment we settled on, it was still a place where people were living. We didn't try to improve on it, we just largely left it the way it was. Let's talk about the Actor-Director relationship, especially with Meg Otanwa the lead actor, what kind of conversations did you have to aid her character delivery?

ORIMOGUNJE: Right, if you ask Meg, the first thing she'd tell you is Dami is a crazy guy. So I mean when I told Meg about the film and I sent her the script, I said to her, before you take the role, I want everything to be natural so, I mean from makeup to hair, effect and all. I want you to look like someone that just gave birth. One of the things I appreciate about Meg, which is why I was so confident to give her the role, is her dedication to art. It’s quite obvious that she takes her craft very seriously. She is a professional and she is good. Before shooting this movie, we've been talking and she said had mentioned that she wants a role that's a bit challenging. Before we started filming, She'd wake up everyone morning take a picture of her belly and say this is what it looks like now, we did that for like three weeks. What do you think the industry will look like in the next few years with the kind of stories you are daring and willing to tell? ORIMOGUNJE: I feel like the dexterity that is currently missing in the industry right now is gradually springing. Because, one, the audience seems to be ready for diversity in storytelling. So you know, filmmakers are daring to be more than one thing, which is great for the industry. We are evolving, the pictures look good, they look better than they used to be. The only thing we lack is storytelling, and now we have so many people willing to improve on this. I am not even going to talk about myself but people are doing amazing jobs, So I think in the next couple of years, with the advent of films like " For Maria", “Juju Stories”, there is a whole lot in store for the industry. There is still nothing wrong with watching slapstick comedies, I watch it sometimes. It's fine. But I believe in the next few years it should be able to get better. I mean Afrobeats is now everywhere. I see that for Nollywood in the next few years. Maybe not a few but sometime before we die.

What are you working on next? Do you feel pressured to make something else now?

ORIMOGUNJE: I don't think I feel any pressure at the moment. Ebun Pataki like I said is a small project. I still have a lot of scripts that I haven't filmed because I just feel I am not ready or the funds are not available yet. The project I am proud to talk about is a film I produced last year called "All The Colours Of The World Are Between White and Black". It's something people should look forward to and I am also looking forward to working on a feature film as well this year. Fingers crossed, it's amazing.


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