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Entertainment of Wednesday, 4 April 2012

Source: Ameyaw Debrah

It is difficult for independent African film makers to get on the mainstream international stage - Kunle Afolayan

Award-winning Nigerian film maker, Kunle Afolayan, who was recently in Ghana for a press screening of his latest film, ‘Phone Swap’ which premieres at the Silverbird cinema in Accra, April 5, has described the movie as a comedy drama with elements of romance with great production. He said, “If you look at the title it’s easy to assume that they swap phone and that’s just it, but by the time you start watching it you wouldn’t be able to predict where the story is going, which is something very unique about the film.”

The film maker, who also did a Ghanaian premiere for his critically acclaimed thriller, ‘Figurine’ a couple of years ago said it was a good experience because there seem to be an alliance between Ghana and Nigeria and so Ghana feels like home to him whenever is in Ghana. He commented that, “Industry-wise, Ghana and Nigeria have been doing a lot of collaborations and I am glad that we are beginning to introduce new ideas, new genres of film that has a lot of good production value and can go beyond the shores of Africa to the international world.”

He agrees that the success of ‘Figurine’ put a lot of pressure on him: “Once you have set a certain standard, all eyes are on you and you can’t afford to let your fans and the people out here down. For me, it’s not really about my immediate environment. I also want to do something that can sell who we are as Africans, which is why all the elements in my film, from script to costume to language, music, art direction and everything else must reflect who we are as Africans.”

In spite of the dedication to good production values, Kunle is aware that his kind of movies and the renaissance in African cinema is not fully appreciated by the masses who have acquired a taste for stereotypical Nollywood productions. He comments: “Every class of film has got its market; in whatever you do you can set a standard for yourself and restrain yourself to that. I can say that I am making a movie with a 10,000 dollar budget for this particular market and once I make my money and my statement then I am contented. But for some of us who are looking beyond, looking to take Africa to greater heights, we need to increase our scope. We need to increase our budget because it cost a fortune to do the level of film I do and I cannot come down on that, it can only get better.”

“Talking about budget, I would not want to unnecessarily have a big budget for no reason. If there is a simpler story that doesn’t require a big budget, then the better for me. But if you want to maintain high production values in terms of sound, picture then you cannot go below a certain budget even if you are getting your actors for free. Logistics and equipment cost a fortune and for us it has to be so.”

The renowned film maker also remarked that his reward for doing such movies has been contentment. “I am building a structure that I believe a whole of people would follow once I see that I have done it and I have been successful with it to at least recoup my investment. And most importantly is the mileage and recognition we get internationally with such productions. We need to sell what we have more, it is difficult for an independent film maker from Africa to get on the mainstream international stage but if we follow the standard that a few Africans are beginning to do then very soon we will be there.”

‘Phone Swap’ revolves around Akin and Mary who meet for the first time at an airport where they accidentally bump into each other and mistakenly swap their identical phones. This leads to a destination mix up after they receive one another’s text regarding a travel destination. Consequently, Akin ends up traveling to where Mary is supposed to go and vice versa. Neither knows about the swap until they have reached their opposite destinations and “the phone” stops ringing (In Mary’s case) and “Won’t stop ringing” (In Akins’s case) . As a result of the phone swap, they agree to help carry out each other’s missions, armed with the information and data on each other’s phone. But it’s not as easy as they both think as new obstacles and complications rise at every turn as they both struggle to adapt to their alien environment and situation. Mary has to walk in Akins shoes and represent him in a company meeting while Akin has to represent Mary in her the family meeting. This they do with hilarious results…

‘Phone Swap’ stars Nse Ikpe-Etim, Wale Ojo, Joke Silva, Chika Okpala, Lydia Forson, Hafiz Oyetoro among others.