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AFRIFF Dispatch 5: Genevieve Nnaji Did Not Come To Us By Chance
There are stars and there is Genevieve Nnaji. Her produced adaptation of I Do Not Come To You By Chance ruled AFRIFF yesterday alongside Kenneth Gyang and Taiwo Egunjobi's brilliant outings.
The festival reached a high yesterday. Well, Genevieve Nnaji showed up and Kenneth Gyang screened his new feature. I had three films in mind to watch and knew it was going to be a long day. Forget the disappointment from the day before. I was ready for the day and really hoped for the best.
The first film of the day was Mojisola, another new flick by Gyang. What a flex to be screening two beautiful films in one festival, by the way. For this one, I knew to expect a love tale but didn’t quite expect the film’s locations and how critical they are to the story on a granular level. Most of all, I didn’t expect the folklore angle and the way it was intricately weaved into the story.
I have been to other parts of Nigeria and thanks to the Nigerian National Youth Service (NYSC) scheme, I undertook a 22-hour journey that took me through eight states, including Jos. I can still vividly remember the energy this city greeted me with. It was my first time but I immediately knew I wanted to go again with the sole purpose of exploring and loving this city. Unfortunately, I have been unable to but Gyang, through Mojisola, reminded me of this decision by depicting the beauty in the land of Jos. This was a story intertwined with intimacy and nostalgia.
It was striking the way a cultural deity not native to the location of the story was highly instrumental to the events that occurred. Gyang masterfully alluded to the universality of cultural elements like the very source of life — water. This was significant on two levels. First, water is everywhere even if you cannot see it. The chain of movement from streams to the mighty ocean and back again shows how the source of it all remains on a single element regardless of what body it takes on. On the other hand, humans are like water. What unites us is so fundamental that it overpowers any other form of difference. Like water, we can meet to part just to meet again. The same way we need water is the same way we need each other. In a rage, water gets anything it wants, sharing similarity with raging human passion.
During the Q&A session, the cast referred to his precise nature and how it fostered the filming experience for them.
While Gyang’s Mojisola made me nostalgic, the second film, Egunjobi’s A Green Fever blew my mind. In all fairness and my naïveté (no shame in admitting that), I had simply assumed the film was going to depict some sort of sickness or an epidemic. I’m certain the director knew there would be many like me so he preempted and exploited our assumptions in a good way, providing a suspenseful turn of events.
This creative film is a testament to the genius of a director who expertly managed very few characters within a single location. Kunmi Braithwaite played by Temi Fosudo was such a convincing character that the viewer immediately loves him and supports his motivation regardless of his reason. As if the sweet confusion the story cast the audience in throughout was not enough, the ending further stuns in an abrupt way that I found highly welcoming. A Green Fever was an exciting film and I loved it.
During the Q&A, Egunjobi said one of the reasons he made the film was because he had a picture in his head to throw together very random characters in a 90’s Nigeria setting and follow them on an equally random journey.
I took a break and got ready for my last film of the day. Someone mentioned that the superstar, Genevieve Nnaji was going to show up and the atmosphere changed. You don’t know Genevieve? (Sorry, not sorry but what do you know?)
Anyway, she produced the Ishaya Bako-directed I Do Not Come To You By Chance which is an adaptation of Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani book. The disorganisation that has become synonymous with AFRIFF reared its head again but this time, I was able to get in.
There was no personal point of reference for this film for me as I haven’t read the book. As an adaptation from a book, I imagined there would be a high standard for many who had read it. Set in the eastern part of Nigeria, I Do Not Come to You by Chance follows the story of a young boy Kingsley who had a hard luck with life despite graduating with a first class degree.
Kingsley, faced with the pressure of family responsibilities being the first son, had to resort to working with his uncle who ran an emailing scam company. What I loved the most about the story was the vulnerability of Kingsley’s family and the effort to find strength in the midst of everything happening. I loved how the actions of Kingsley were not overly explored from the angle of morality and enjoyed the language use and nuance of the Igbo culture.
Blossom Chukwujekwu’s character, Boniface was the star of the show. His personality was resplendent and Blossom executed it perfectly.
At the end of the film, I asked the director the question that bugged me throughout the screening. I needed to know the challenges they faced in adapting a book into a screenplay. My question must have roused a specific memory because he and the producer shared a deep laugh for about ten seconds. Eventually, he got around to giving me a rather profound response.
The main challenge according to him was not spotlighting Boniface and managing the storytelling in such a way that the spotlight remained on Kingsley as the story was about him. He admitted to toning down the character of Boniface on screen compared to the book. I felt how challenging that must have been as sacrificing a very entertaining character for the sake of the story must have been a hard decision.
When I asked him if he thought they were able to achieve the kind of story they wanted, he directed the question right at me and I found that hilarious. He considered my answer very diplomatic and I think he would have to make do with my diplomacy for now.
However, I can certainly say that ‘I Do Not Come to You by Chance’ is the next book on my TBR list.