From classic Nollywood horrors to Hulu's 'Ramy' here's what the Nigerian director Abba Makama is watching while at home in Lagos.
Life is returning to normal in Nigeria's entertainment capital, Lagos. The congested roads are back. Cinemas are reopening and Nollywood filmmakers are returning to sets. But Abba Makama, the director of the critically acclaimed The Lost Okoroshi and Green White Green, feels indifferent about all of it.
"The pandemic has not changed my lifestyle at all," he tells me last Sunday, over the phone from his quarantine location in Lagos. "I am a very insulated person, I could go months without leaving my house. So I don't have anxiety about when the lockdown is going to end." His only problem is finding creative ways to tell stories if the pandemic continues, but it's a challenge he finds exciting.
However, Makama is not entirely shielded from the effects of the coronavirus pandemic, and to escape all of it, he's turned to Nostalgia, embracing films that remind him of a time the world was less gloomy. "A lot of what I have been watching is associated with fun childhood memories," he says. "I don't watch anything that will put my mood down. I have not watched any pandemic related films; reality is far too intense for me to fuel more paranoia."
He has been working too. There is a new screenplay, Lagos Ultras, a black comedy about race and identity set in a dystopian Lagos. Also, there's post-production for Juju Stories, the sophomore anthology film by Surreal 16, a film collective that includes him, C. J. Obasi and Michael Omonua. The film, which explores superstitions and myth around juju, is divided into three chapters – Suffer the Witch, Yam, and Love Potion – directed by each member of the collective.
Spaceship Earth (2018, directed by Matt Wolf)
Plot: Spaceship Earth is a documentary about eight brilliant explorers who locked themselves in a biosphere for two years.
Makama's notes: "It relates to what's kind of going on right now. It is about a group of fifty scientists who built a biosphere and they live inside it for three years. It premiered at Sundance this year, but obviously, it could not get a nationwide release because of the pandemic. Again, it deals with quarantine, and these guys are quarantined in a biosphere because they were trying to create a simulation if the human race explored other planets and lived on Mars for instance."Watch on Hulu
Smokey and The Bandits 1 and 2 (1977 and 1980, directed by Hal Needham)
Plot: A road action-comedy that follows an eccentric racecar driver, The Bandit, who makes a bet that he can transport a truckload of Coors beer from Texas to Atlanta in 28 hours.
Makama's notes: "It is directed by [Hal Needham], a famous stunt car driver turned director, the character of Cliff Booth [from Once Upon a Time in Hollywood] is loosely based off him. We had parts one and two of the film on VHS in the '90s and we will watch them over and over again. It's just freaking hilarious. The comedy is insane and the stunt driving is out of this world. It is a classic feel-good movie. There is a character in the film played by Jackie Gleason, who improvises almost all his lines, he is a comedic genius. A lot of my sarcasm and sense of humor comes from him."
Nneka The Pretty Serpent (1995, directed by Zeb Ejiro)
Plot: A classic Nollywood spiritual horror flick about a gorgeous mermaid sent to the world to destroy men.
Makama's notes: "A friend and I were both watching Nneka the Pretty Serpent recently, and people may not know this, but Nneka the pretty Serpent had a huge influence on The Lost Okoroshi. It is the first '90s Nollywood film that I watched with my own volition – a friend lent me a VHS cassette, I watched it and it scared the fuck out of me. It's such well put together story, so when I was developing Okoroshi, I was like I want to do something that has the energy, aesthetics and feel of '90s Nollywood. Again, it's relating to Nostalgia – I wanted to go back to that era."
Watch on Youtube.
Midnight Paris (2011, directed by Woody Allen)
Plot: This fantasy comedy follows Gil Pender, a writer, who while on vacation in Paris with his wife, finds himself transported to the 1920s every midnight.
Makama's notes: "I'm a big fan of Woody Allen, and I don't know if it will be a bit controversial to add him to the list. But I think it's important to voice out one's opinion, and people need to try to separate the art from the artist. I am not a Woody Allen's sympathizer and his personal life is something that I'm not interested in. However, the films he has made are of great influence to me and I cannot deny that. He is one of those writers that have inspired me to not only work extremely hard but also inspired a great deal of my sense of humor and style of writing.
"So I have watched Midnight in Paris, Mighty Aphrodite and Deconstructing Harry during this lockdown. Again, feel-good movies that make me laugh.
"Midnight in Paris, I think, is Woody Allen's most commercial film. It stars Owen Wilson, and he plays a successful Hollywood writer who's on vacation with his wife in Paris. Every time it is midnight, he enters a mysterious taxi that transports him to the early 20th century Paris. So he's in Paris but in a different time every midnight, and he runs into all the cultural influencers of that era from Gertrude Stein to Pablo Picasso to American writers in Paris like Ernest Hemmingway. Its vastly funny, very smart, amazing references. It is a film I enjoy every time. Also, the lead character is very relatable; he is someone caught between the here and now. He believes there was a certain time that's better now, and all of us right now are in that space where we wish could go back to 2019."
Ramy: Season 2 Trailer (Official) • A Hulu Original
Plot: Ramy is a Hulu comedy-drama about a first-generation Egyptian-American on an identity and spiritual journey.
Makama's notes: "Ramy is a coming-of-age story about a young Egyptian-American conflicted about who he is as an American with immigrant parents and his spirituality as a Muslim in America. The beautiful thing about Ramy is, he is so relatable for any immigrant or minority. It is kind of like Atlanta, not as surreal, it's really grounded in reality, but they have a similar vibe. The protagonists are quite similar; you are sympathetic to them, they are confused, but they aren't exactly good people, very relatable characters the average person can identify with."
"I finished the last episode today, and on May 29, season 2 will drop. It features Golden Globe Award-winning Mahershala Ali. So I'm looking forward to seeing that."
King of Boys (2018, directed by Kemi Adetiba)
Plot: An epic crime thriller about the rise and fall of an underworld king, Eniola Salami.
Makama's notes: "My favorite scene in King of Boys, I told Kemi Adetiba, is the scene where she was cross-cutting between Eniola Salami at the beach praying and Reminisce's Makanaki with Babalawo doing his ritual. That's an iconic scene. It is a good piece of work Kemi put together."Watch on Netflix and Amazon.