Though he has been in the industry for a while, filmmaker Eric Aghimien came to limelight with the release of his action packed movie, A Mile From Home, which earned him awards at both the 2014 Africa Magic Viewer Choice Award (AMVCA) and the 10th Africa Movie Academy Award (AMAA). To prove that his achievement with his first attempt at filmmaking is not a fluke, Aghimien is back with yet another action thriller with a slice of comedy entitled Slow Country. Written, produced and directed by the talented filmmaker himself, the move, which premiered at the cinemas yesterday, parades the likes of Ivie Okujaiye-Egboh, who played the role of Kome; Sambasa Nzeribe as Tuvi (the drug kingpin); Tope Tedela as Osas, and Majid Michel as Inspector Dave. Others are Richard Brutus as Brasko, Gina Castel as Ola, Adebayo Thomas as Peter, Victor Eriabie, Imoudu ‘DJ Moe’ Ayonete, and Shola Thompson-Adewale. In this interview with CHUKS NWANNE, he spoke on his career as a filmmaker, his latest work and plans for the industry.
Your latest movie Slow Country is currently showing at the cinemas, could you tell us about the project?
Slow Country tells the story of Kome, a homeless teenage mother, who in a bid to cater and secure a good life for her son Peter sought refuge in the arms of a drug kingpin Tuvi. The kingpin ushers her into the world of prostitution and drug trafficking. However, when faced with a serious dilemma and the sudden return of her ex-boyfriend Osas, who desperately wants to win her heart, having abandoned her for seven years, she gets fed up and attempts to break free.
Every character in the movie was carefully built and the each of the cast member portrayed their characters well. We paid attention to details every step of the way; performance, choreography, visual effect, special effect… everything. It is exciting for me and for everyone involved in this movie that people will finally get to see this work.
How did you come about the storyline?
It wasn’t like anything serious because I wrote the first 20 pages in 2011. It was supposed to be my first movie, but realistically, it wasn’t possible to make the film with the kind of money I had then. So, I had to write A Mile From Home and made it within the budget I had in 2011. This time around, I was able to pull enough funds for this one; I had to just bring it out one day and completed it within 8 days.
Does it have anything to do with Nigeria?
Slow country is metaphorical, but it is not about Nigeria, so let me clear that. People think it’s about Nigeria because of the things we went through recently, but no, it’s not about Nigeria; it’s just the right name I could come up with to describe the emotions this woman was going through. First of all, a lot happen in our mind; most of the battles we fight in life happen in our mind, trying to make decisions, trying to do stuffs. There is a whole different world within us that we have to contend with everyday. So, just for a woman, who is sitting down in the dark room, thinking what her life would have been like and what her life is right now, comparing both. It was something that almost indescribable; I had to look for a word to describe how she felt and ‘slow country’ came to my mind.
Some of the actors in A Mile From Home also featured in Slow Country, how did you select your cast?
I’m very particular about characterisation in my stories and my scripts, so when I write characters, I write compelling characters; characters that are memorable. What I do is, when I write a story, everything I do is about that character; it must favour the character. You see in the film, I used a couple of the characters in the previous film; I had to bring them back because they are still the characters I used in Slow Country. When you write characters, there are some people that their looks just suits your character; the way they look, the way they talk, the way they acts just suits your character. I take time to discuss my character with the person, except for people who just have it naturally; like Ivie and Majid, I know they could easily pull this. But there are some characters that I had to discuss with the actors, ‘this is what I want, this is my vision, this is how the character is going to act, this the kind of cloth he will wear, this is how he is going to walk, his expression…’ we discuss everything. Like Tuvi played by Sambasa Nzeribe, it was an outstanding performance, but we had a long time to discuss the character. He comes to my house every night then; we sleep over the character, and we wake up on the character. And thankfully, it came out the way I envisioned it to be.
You also brought back Tope Tedela?
Tope Tedella was phenomenal in the sense that, when I wanted to make A Mile From Home, I was ‘a nobody.’ But I just had a vision, and fortunately, I was able to sell the vision to them and they too had nothing to lose; they just wanted to do some work. So, we came together and made our first movie; they were very committed, though there was no money involved. We did the film and it was a success. That had created a kind of relationship between us, me, Tope Tedella and Sambasa. So, when I created this one, this one was, it was natural to have them on it. Obviously I knew the cast that will work for each role; I just called them. Subconsciously, I was also writing the character for them; I knew what each of them could do.
You focused on drug trafficking and prostitution in Slow Country, any reason for that?
The truth is drug is not very common; I mean like cocaine is not commonly seen around in Nigeria, probably because of the poverty level. People are struggling to find what to eat, is it cocaine they will now eat? But the truth is, it’s there; there are a lot of people, who are addicted to drugs; it’s there on the street, but because people don’t find it often, they find it difficult to relate to it. Prostitution, of course is there. A lot of our youth goes through this same situation my character goes through. So, there was no particular reason, but sometimes when I drive by some areas, I see some ladies standing by the roadside. Some of them were compelled to be there; maybe a relative forced them into the situation, some of them, just in order to survive. Apart from that, there are also women on the street, hawking with their child under the sun; I can’t even do it and I can’t even allow someone close to me to do it because I will be scared. That motivated the story, even the characters. I think prostitution was what came to my head when I wanted to write that character; it could have been traffic hawking. I think prostitution and drug trafficking are more emotionally devastating for a lot of people.
It seems you have penchant for action movies?
I like action movie, but beyond that, it’s about storytelling; action is just something on the side. Some people like to call me an action movie director; I’m not an action movie director. I’m just a storyteller and I really don’t agree when people call me an action movie director. I chose action because first of all, it was like problem solving, because before now, when people talk about action movie in Nigeria, they laugh because they think it’s going to be ridiculous. So, I wanted to solve that problem personally and I started putting things together. I started acquiring the kind of knowledge I need to be able to solve that problem. So, when it was time, I decided to solve the problem about action movie in Nigeria, convincing the audience that it was possible. That is just a start because there are still places we are going; amazing scripts with compelling visual effects and stunts that I’m building already. But I won’t like to be seen as an action movie director, because if you look at the story, it has every element; it has drama, it has romance, it has a bit of comedy, but we just leave it as thriller or action. It’s even more challenging to make an action movie.
From your experience so far, do you thin you’ve been able to solve the problem of making action movies in Nollywood?
Yes, convincingly, because I have heard a lot of testimonies. But the first one I heard was that some people were on a movie set trying to do an action movie, another person was like, ‘it’s not possible, let’s just do our drama.’ Somebody just opened his phone and played A Mile From Home trailer to the guy and the guy looked at it and said, ‘this is not Nigeria joor.’ Eventually, they were able to convince him that it was Nigerian and then he changed his mind afterwards. Then a couple of other people, who used to say they would never watch Nigerian films, are now watching because of Slow Country.
What makes this movie special?
Basically, it is just about paying attention to details every step of the way; in performance, in choreography, in visual effect, in special effect, everything… it maters a lot. Another thing is that people are not willing to sacrifice for what they want; I think I have done that. I have paid the price for whatever is happening right now. I worked and worked, I learnt, I read a lot. In fact, I read to make my first film; I didn’t have money to go to film school, so I read books and articles online; I was practically online every day. I think I have paid the price because I researched and read for over three years before I was ready to make my first film. That’s like going to film school anyways. People are not willing to learn, but they just want to be, and you just have to go through that process of learning before you can be.