“You’re fortunate to make a film and you’re fortunate to get the film out. All the things that happen afterwards are great, but that’s not why you do it. You do it to be true to the story,” said Film Director and writer, Akin Omotoso, while on set directing a TV series in Johannesburg.
Akin Omotoso directed the award winning film Vaya, which will be having its European premiere at the Berlin International Film Festival in February, 2017. The film was also screened in the Contemporary World Cinema section at the 2016 Toronto International Film Festival, and at the inaugural Joburg Film Festival in November of the same year. The film also received the “Special Jury Prize” at the 2016 Africa International Film Festival in Nigeria.
Omotoso said he is driven by the story and the work put in for a film to show on the big screens. “After eight years of working on the stories behind ‘Vaya’ and then having it screened at the Toronto International Film Festival – it’s a great accomplishment!”
Vaya came out of the Homeless Writers Project, telling multilinear stories that have grown over eight years. The film explores what it means to come into the city of Johannesburg as a migrant with expectations that bear challenges to their fruits.
“We drive past people in the streets and you see someone who is homeless, and one never stops to consider that this person also came here with a dream. And even that term ‘homeless’ is used loosely, because it does not mean that their particular situation is permanent.”
Omotoso said his drive to storytelling is the resonance with its audience. “You’ve gotta find something in the stories that resonates to its people, and just the idea of what’s it like to not have your own urgency, what’s it like to be at the mercy of other people – that is the key element explored by Vaya”.
Bearing the challenges of filmmaking, Omotoso said, “I am an advocate for the storytellers and the films that we want to make.”
At the core of Omotoso’s advocacy for storytellers is the need for a sustainable environment that ensures the ability to tell stories to the end.
“Sustainability in the long run means that multiple projects can be developed and given the utmost opportunity to be successful,” said Omotoso.
Other factors that determine the success and failures of films are: costs, markets, distribution, funding, and the audience.
“How you get your content to the audience is still a compelling discussion,” said Omotoso.
“And somebody has to fund your film, and hopefully you want to give that person their money back. And the distributor has to put the film out and they too want to get their money back”.
Omotoso said the structure is complicated and in some cases, all about the returns.
“And that’s the challenge – the costs to get the projects out there and how to always mitigate costs and returns”.
Notwithstanding the stumbles, filmmakers continuously overcome and shape a more enhanced future for filmmaking.
For motivation, Omotoso recalls the words of the great Senegalese Director, Djibril Diop Mambety, “It’s important for the world that African cinema exists”.
Omotoso said there are many films by great pioneers and directors who have built a strong heritage of films with African content regardless of the structural difficulties.
“You give your all. You make these films and you leave the rest to the people,” said Omotoso drawing on a maxim from the sport of basketball, “you leave it out on the floor and then you go home.”
Being born on the continent, Omotoso said he is fortunate for his multicultural background that has shaped his African identity and crowned him as a citizen of the world.
When asked what he would like to be remembered for, Omotoso said, “that I didn’t squander the opportunity to tell stories, and that I was someone who took full advantage of the opportunity that has been given to me to tell a story”.
Within this year, Omotoso will be releasing a number of projects including a documentary titled The Colour of Wine, which looks at the history of South African democracy from the point of view of wine and of black winemakers, in what it means to move into a space of change. The director will also be releasing a tone poem titled A Hotel Called Memory produced by Ego Boyo, starring Nse Ikpe Etim, set in Cape Town, Zanzibar, and Lagos. Omotoso also has a project in the Berlin Co-Production Market titled Waiting for an Angel, based on Helon Habila’s book.