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Photo Credit: Victor Lopez

'Ile Owo' Director Dare Olaitan on Exploring the Human Condition Through Film

Director Dare Olaitan talks about his filmmaking process and his attempt to re-educate the audience on the impact of unchecked capitalism.

Dare Olaitan was 26 when his first feature film, Ojukokoro: Greed,, was released in the cinemas. The crime thriller, which was released in 2016, received positive reviews and was nominated for the Africa Movie Academy Award for Best Nigerian Film in 2018. Knock Out Blessing, his second film, also got an AMAA nomination the following year. Dwindle, his third, — which is coming to Netflix later this month — was co-directed with Kayode Kasum last year.

In his latest film, Ile Owo, Olaitan aims to capture the horrific by exploring social hierarchies, poverty, class politics, and religion in the Nigerian society. The psychological trailer stars Immaculata Oko, Tina Mba, Akin Lewis, Bisola Aiyeola, Efe Iwara and a host of others.

In this interview with OkayAfrica, Olaitan talks about his filmmaking process and his attempt to re-educate the audience on the impact of unchecked capitalism.

Ile-Owo screenshot two women

Photo Credit: Victor Lopez

Ile-Owo is your fourth film, but the first horror. What drew you to this genre and why did you decide horror was the most fitting form to tell the story?

I think horror movies are a great way to deal with social issues by motifs and metaphors to illustrate things that I am concerned about at the moment. I am also interested in the global interest in the horror genre and its ability to travel. I would say Ile Owo isn’t a true horror film. It’s closer to a psychological thriller.

Of course, horror is not new in Nigerian films, and quite a number of millennials, including you, who grew up in the country can attest to watching them. Was there something you wanted to do differently?

I feel like horror exploded in the Nigerian film industry as a reaction to the dictatorship of [Sani] Abacha in the early '90s. This made our films metaphors for the social problems with evangelical and pentecostal churches and movements growing in that time. Ile Owo is a retread of those thoughts and feelings. Just updated for 2022.

It's interesting you mentioned religious movements. Ile Owo confronts social hierarchies, hardship, and the ways religion serves as succor for many. How much can relate to that?

I think it’s impossible to grow up in a third world country and not witness the impact economics has on many people. Religion creates some sense of structure and safety in a chaotic environment. The worse the economic situation of a region the higher the religious fervor.

Can you talk a bit about your technique, particularly on evoking fear on the big screen?

I knew my limitations and the limitations of the crew, so I tried to evoke fear in the mind of the viewer. By creating situations where the audience’s imagination completes the scare thus making it all the more personal.

And did you achieve that? Do you think the audience had enough material to work with?

I think to an extent. There is always room to grow. I learned lessons, I can say that much.

What lessons?

What Nigerians like to watch and how to structure things better. In terms of production, I’ve never done anything of this magnitude. I learned more about VFX.

You've spoken in the past about your interest in making seven films based on the seven deadly sins, which will be titled after each sin. You've made Ojukokoro (Greed). Where does Ile Owo come in? And why is exploring these themes important to you?

The seven deadly sins are an important thematic element for me. They represent some commonality in the human experience. Things people in every culture can relate to and have experienced in their daily lives. Ile Owo is not part of the seven. Igberaga (Pride) is the next one on the slate.

Ile-Owo screenshot man in car

Photo Credit: Victor Lopez

What exactly did you want to say in Ile Owo?

Ile Owo is really a film about the subjection of Nigerian women in the traditional marriage structures, how they are exploited by the expectations of culture and lose their lives and youth to support men who use them for personal gain. That was the nugget that informed the writing and creation of the story. I just had to obfuscate through metaphors and motifs.

Past conversations on social media have shown that some key players in Nollywood don't take criticism very well. How do you navigate unpleasant remarks about your work?

I can only speak for myself but I know I have no problem with well-intentioned criticism. I make art so it’s nice to get the thoughts of the people it was created for. I think the problem comes in with poorly-intentioned criticism. I have gotten reviews that called me stupid or foolish. I don’t think reviews like that help anyone and make it harder for creatives to express themselves.

How does your background in Economics and Business Management influence your work as a filmmaker?

It experiences the way I view life as it was the first viewpoint I used to parse reality. It’s evident in all my work as my subject matter almost always covers inequality and the rising gap between the rich and the poor. I think capitalism has become unchecked and I am doing my little part to re-educate the audience.

I recall a character hallucinating in Ojukokoro. There's a similar element in Ile Owo, portrayed by the protagonist's father. You seem keen on exploring the intersection of mental illness and the supernatural.

What is mental illness and what is supernatural? Are they not two shirts cut from the same fabric? I am not sure to be honest. I just like to mess with themes that are interesting to me. I think there is a thing among indigenous creatures where people who have mental illnesses are seen to be closer to the supernatural. Perhaps this is an extension of that.

Director Dare Olaitan

Photo Credit: Victor Lopez

As the writer and director, you must have had the most influence on the outcome of this film. What other factors impacted the production? If you could change anything in the process, from ideation to premiere, what would that be?

Nigeria. Making films in Nigeria is very hard. Filmmaking is akin to war. We must conquer the reality and bend it to our will in order to for 90-120 minutes, capture the audience in disbelief and play them to our wishes. Nigeria makes this hard as life here is already war. Budgetary concerns, technical inability to accomplish some of our goals are things that will always impact production. I wish I had more time and money.

What are the three things filmmakers just starting out should bear in mind?

Your message. Your reasons for doing it. Your tone. These things will guide you and stop you from missteps. I wish I had that knowledge when I started.

It's fascinating how you're able to move across different genres: crime, comedy, and psychological thriller. You're a big fan of Quentin Tarantino, and that's evident in your work. Who are some of the filmmakers that have had the most influence on your work and why?

Robert Rodriguez. Martin Scorsese. [Francis Ford] Coppola. These are the people whose films I look up too. We might have the same content in terms of premise but I like to see what they do to navigate problems because as a director all you are doing is really solving problems and translating ideas into images. I watched a lot of their film commentaries when I started out, so their voices sort of guide me.


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Photo Credit: From For Maria Ebun Pataki

The Best Nollywood Films of 2022 So Far

Here are the best Nollywood films of 2022 so far. One note: we only took into account feature-length projects for our ranking, leaving out short films and documentaries.

There have been many developments that have pushed the Nollywood film industry forward and away from the traditional cinema route. This year, Netflix has released some more original Nigerian content, including the highly talked about Blood Sisters series. Amazon Prime Video, on the other hand, is gathering its collection of local Nollywood content in preparation for what is a huge launch later in the year.

While some may argue that the industry is moving forward very slowly — especially in comparison to years in the past — there’s still more room for growth. There were only a few Nollywood highlights during the first half of 2022. But the highlights were very strong and we feel confident about where the second half of 2022 will take us.

Here are the best Nollywood films of 2022 so far. One additional note: we only took into account feature-length projects for our ranking, leaving out short films and documentaries.

Dinner at My Place

The romantic comedies produced by Nollywood are well-known, and Kevin Apaa's Dinner at My Place is unquestionably one of the better ones. In this film, Nonso (played by Timini Egbuson) intends to pop the question to his girlfriend over dinner using an expensive ring that belonged to his late mother. Nonso ends up with the ring in the soup and receives an unexpected visitor, which alters the course of the enjoyable night he had planned.

Dinner at My Place, which was originally planned to be a short film, plays into the typical love clichés. Still, its engaging and has a fresh plot. And the standout performances are enough compensation for viewers.

For Maria Ebun Pataki

In Damilola Orimogunje’s debut feature film, the director decides to tackle postpartum depression, a topic which does not get enough representation, particularly through cinema. For Maria Ebun Pataki comes well armed with some of the things that make it a good watch, despite the difficult topic it touches on: there's a simple story, good camera work, and brilliant performances from actors Meg Otanwa, Gabriel Afolayan, and Tina Mba.

For Maria Ebun Pataki is currently streaming on Netflix.

King of Thieves

There has been an upsurge in epic Nollywood films over the past few years. And the story of bravery and betrayal told in King of Thieves stands out; this is one of the most exciting additions to Nollywood’s epics catalogue.

The blood-thirsty Ageshinkole, the main character in the film, wages a campaign of terror on Ajeromi’s kingdom, but there’s more to his madness than meets the eye. For over two hours, King of Thieves weaves a plot that is not perfect but has a lot going for it to keep viewers charmed till the end.

The Blood Covenant

Directed by Fiyin Gambo, The Blood Covenant tells the story of Eddy (Oluwatobi Bakre), Jite (Uzor Arukwe), and Osiano (Shawn Faqua) who are plagued by the struggles of everyday living in the bustling Lagos. These boys, together with an old classmate who turns rich overnight, are bound by a blood covenant which they made while in school and now have to deal with the consequences when a night of enjoyment turns out sour.

The acting in the film takes the cake for most of it with Arukwe and Bakre delivering some of their finest work here. It is also worthy to commend the subtle comedy, which works well sometimes to distract from the horror that hangs over the plot.

The Blood Covenant is currently streaming on Amazon Prime Video.

A Simple Lie

Making films that stand out in Nollywood is nothing new for Biodun Stephen. This time around, she enlists Bisola Aiyeola, Kachi Nnochiri, Bukunmi Adeaga-Ilori, Bolaji Ogunmola, and other actors to do justice to her most recent comedy, A Simple Lie.

In this one, Boma (Bisola Aiyeola) is desperate for the attention of her ex-boyfriend, Xavier (Kachi Nnochiri), so much that she’d tell big lies to get him back. Her biggest lie causes a series of tragic occurrences that impact the lives of people around her and causes chaos throughout the entire film.

A Simple Lie excels as an engaging comedy film and holds the interest of the audience starting with an opening act that is amusing and simply fantastic.

Vanity

In Vanity, Ify (Jemima Osunde) is a young lady who moves to Lagos from Enugu after getting married to her husband, Kobi (Uzor Arukwe). While Ify is settling to life in the ‘big city’ as a newlywed, her husband expects her to get a job and contribute to the pool of funds for their growing family. Kobi is also very keen on her active participation, which leaves him overbearing most of the time.

Directed by Chukwuemeka Nwabunze, Vanity shines with great production, engaging storytelling and a stellar performance from Arukwe.

Ile Owo

For an industry that started off with a lot of horror movies, Nollywood tends to stay away from it regularly, sticking to its romantic comedy niche. It is why films like Dare Olaitan’s Ile Owo score cool points for existing — they’re new, different and hit a little close to the stories and beliefs we’re very accustomed to knowing.

In Ile Owo, we’re taken on a journey to meet Akanni Owo, a man who has everything but wants to live forever. He gets this for his descendants, however, there’s a steep price to pay for this to happen. While Ile Owo's opening act is fairly strong, much more is required to keep things moving forward for the duration of the show's 95 minutes.

The film features stars such as Efa Iwara, Immaculata Oko-Kassim, Sophie Alakija, Femi Lewis and Tina Mba.

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