Producer, Ego Boyo (right); director, Akin Omotoso and two cast members of the film
• It’s a cinematic voyage of self-discovery
There is no debate. Nollywood was founded on talkies. Till date, most offerings from the industry do more talking than showing. Not that the filmmakers here lack the capacity to make silent films or art films. There are a few – CJ Obasi, Abba Makama, Kenneth Gyang, Didi Cheeka, Stanley Ohikhuere and Joe Brown Ubaka – who have shown capacity to make stunning art films.
However, the problem, usually, is that apart from the popularity such films (art films) earns them, they are likely to end up in financial ruin. It is either distributors and cinema exhibitors would be too scared to touch such films or they will play to an empty hall if they manage to get a slot at the cinema. Besides, most producers are reluctant to fund silent or art films. The assumption is that audiences would prefer to see dramatic flare than pay to see silent films that are considered tortuous in terms of viewing experience.
But silent films are interesting to watch, especially when they are well made. Take the 2011 silent film The Artist, for example. French director, Michel Hazanavicius, who wrote and directed it, made good use of sound to tell the simple story of a silent movie Hollywood star, George Valentin, who meets a young dancer and helps her rise to the top of her career. The Artist was a well-made film. The movie has the right heart and right balance of artistry and its success made talkies optional for most modern audiences. Indeed, Hazanavicius proved, with The Artist, that a filmmaker does not need dialogue and so much in terms of technology, including the use of computer-generated images to make a good film. He proved too that nothing delights than watching a movie that tasks one’s imagination and that leaves room for viewers to figure out what to make of a narrative.
This is probably what Ego Boyo and Akin Omotoso intend to prove with their 2017 silent film A Hotel Called Memory. As producer and director of the silent film A Hotel Called Memory, both Boyo and Omotoso’s careers are bound to catch fire for upsetting the status quo. They are also bound to be the talking point among moviegoers, who will be wondering why they decided to delve into the murky waters of silent films, when they could tell the same story with dialogue and the usual predictive music that pepper most Nollywood offerings.
But A Hotel Called Memory is a delight to watch. Set and shot on location in three African cities – Cape Town, Lagos and Zanzibar – the film will undoubtedly provide some kind of special pleasures to modern viewers, particularly the arty crowd. Written by Branwen Okpako, the movie follows Lola (played by Nse Ikpe-Etim), who was once married to a chap, who is so obsessed with work and so neglects her. She seeks divorce and eventually they are separated. Next, she heads out of Lagos to Zanzibar on a journey of self-rediscovery. While there, Lola tries hard to forget her past and move on with her life. Things get a bit complicated in between when she finds a chap acting like a baby. He ignores Lola, but grows petulant if she speaks to anybody else. Fast-forward and Lola flashes a smile and together with her newfound love, they toast to peace with herself at last.
An absolutely stunning film, even though sound fails sometimes and the edit in some scenes tend to be utterly daffy. Omotoso, who has been previously successful with dramatic features like Man on Ground and Vaya, having also won a couple of awards, including Africa Movie Academy Awards (AMAA) in ‘Directing,’ brings his experience to bear in helming this satisfying film with spectacular use of music. He has, with Boyo, who shared in his artistic vision and who obviously didn’t laugh him away when he approached her with a proposal to helm the movie, created a breath of fresh air, a film that breaks the tradition of not spoon-feeding the audience by telling the plot-points, but rather allowing the audience to make a sense of what they are seeing and or to engage in some conversation afterwards.
Shot on a set that is not as lavish as the set of Omotoso’s more famous films (Man on Ground and Vaya), there are more boats and rivers and sunsets as well as monuments as there are cars, living rooms and road networks. Omotoso made spectacular use of music and also hired a fitting cast that played their roles to the hilt. Ikpe-Etim as Lola is a delight. The actress looks great for her part and she gives an appealing performance, which makes her the main draw for the film. The other draw for the film is the pretty cinematography, costuming, soundtrack and set design. The supporting cast didn’t do as much as to match up Lola’s performance level but they were roundly okay. Omotoso plays a supporting role (Lola’s ex-husband) and he smolders in his role except that the audience never gets to know what later happened to his character and their only child.
Interestingly, A Hotel Called Memory has already won the audience’s award for Best Experimental film at the Black Star Film Festival in Philadelphia, U.S. It opened the 2017 edition of Light Camera Africa Film Festival. There are plans to take it round the festival circuit and show it in cinemas across Nigeria.
Keen film observers are of the opinion that when it opens at the theatres in Nigeria, moviegoers should be advised to go into the theatres with their thinking caps; this is not a regular Nollywood affair, but one that offers a different viewing experience. All they need do is just relax and enjoy a simple love story told without dialogue and with a relatively short runtime, which means that the film doesn’t overstay its welcome.