C.J. ‘Fiery’ Obasi‘s Mami Wata takes the lead with 12 nominations including Best Film in an African Language, Best Cinematogrphy, Best Sound, Best Screenplay and Best Director.

Kunle Afolayan‘s Netflix Original, Anikulapo, comes in second with nine nominations followed by Izu Ojukwu’s period drama, 4:4:44, with eight nods.

According to Raymond Anyiam-Osigwe, the award ceremony will be held on Sunday, October 29, 2023 at The Balmoral event centre situated inside Sheraton Hotels, Ikeja GRA, Lagos.

Themed ‘The Renaissance’, the 2023 AMAA will be redefining the continental awards ahead of future plans and the 20th edition.

Here is the list of nominations for the 2023 AMAA:

• Enmity Djin – Mauritania

• Azania Rises – South Africa

• Bashorum Gaa – Nigeria

• Africa Cradle of Humanity and Modern CivilizaHon – Senegal/Canada

• Nightlife in Lasgidi – Nigeria

• Maayo Wonaa Keerol – The River is not a Border – Senegal

• Ifine (Beauty) – Sierra Leone

• LeSpectre de Boko Haram – Cameron

• Pusha Pressa Phanda – South Africa

• Anikulapo – Nigeria

• The Kitera Chronicle – Uganda

• Four Walls – South Africa

• Talia’s Journey – Christophe Rolin (Senegal/Belgium)

• Golden Stripes – Peace Osigbe (Nigeria/UK)

• KOFA – Jude Idada (Nigeria/Canada)

• We Were Meant To – (United States) – directed by Tari Wariebi

• The Ballad of Olive Morris – (United Kingdom) – directed by Alex Kayode-Kay

• FiWy-Four Days – (United Kingdom) – directed by Cat White and Phoebe Torrance

• Raw Materials – (Jamaica – directed by Sosiessia Nixon-Kelly

• Sound of the Police – (United States) – directed by Stanley Nelson

• FantasHco Negrito – Have You Lost Your Mind Yet – (United States) – directed by Yvan Iturriaga and Francisco Nuñez

• Black Rio – (Brazil) directed by Fernando Sousa and Gabriel Barbosa

• Chee$e – (Trinidad & Tobago) directed by Damian Marcano

• Our Father, The Devil – (United States) directed by Ellie Foumbi

• The Pastor and the RevoluHonary – (Brazil) directed by José Eduardo Belmonte

• Pat Nebo – Anikulapo – Nigeria

• Eve Martin – Omen – DRC

• Sira – Burkina Faso

• Antoine Nshimiyimana – Fight Like a Girl – Rwanda

• Chantel Carter – Gereza – South Africa

• Bunmi Demilola Fashina – Mami Wata – Nigeria

• Toyin Bifarin Ogundeji – Anikulapo – Nigeria

• Millicent Jack – 4-4-44 (Four Four Forty-Four) – Nigeria

• Djibril Drame – Xalé – Senegal • Elkehoste and Baloji Omen – DRC

• Sidi Ouedraogo Sira – Burkina Faso

• Campell Precious Arebamen – Mami Wata – Nigeria

• Hakeem Effect and Toyin Bifarin Ogundeji – Anikulapo – Nigeria

• Lila Vander Elst – Omen – DRC

• Our Lady of the Chinese Shop – Angola

• Omowunmi Okungbure – Gangs of Lagos – Nigeria

• Fight Like a Girl – Rwanda • L’Axe Lourd (The Highway) – Cameroon

• Gereza – South Africa

• Omen – DRC • Obinna Arua – 4-4-44 (Four Four Forty-Four) – Nigeria

Best Achievement in Visual Effects

• Andrej Gregori, Voranc Kumar, Ziga Radulji -Omen – DRC

• Alexandre Dachkevitch – Mami Wata – Nigeria

• Josh Borrill – The Trade – Nigeria

• Emmanuel Bassey – Gangs of Lagos – Nigeria

• Juliana Oswald – Our Lady of the Chinese Shop – Angola

• Vianney Aube Sira – Burkina Faso

• Erik Griekspoor – Omen – DRC

• Samy Bardet – Mami Wata – Nigeria

• Michel Tsagli – Xalé – Senegal

• Lilis Soares – Mami Wata – Nigeria

• Joachim Philippe – Omen – DRC

• Richard Henkels – Fight Like a Girl – Rwanda

• Thomas Wilski – Talia’s Journey – Senegal/Belgium

• Eduardo Kropotkine – Our Lady of the Chinese Shop – Angola

• Nathan Delannoy – Mami Wata – Nigeria

• Bertrand Conard – Omen – DRC

• Sylvie Gadner – Sira – Burkina Faso

• Layla Swart – Gereza

• Madhew Leutwyler – Fight Like a Girl

• C.J. ‘Fiery’ Obasi – Mami Wata – Nigeria

• Ufuoma MeHHri – 4-4-44 (Four Four Forty-Four) – Nigeria

• Moussa Sene Absa, Pierre Magny, Ben Diogay Beye – Xalé – Senegal

• Madhew Leutwyler – Fight Like a Girl – Rwanda

• Anikulapo • 4-4-44 (Four Four Forty-Four)

• Maleek Sanni – Gangs of Lagos

• Ewube -L’axe Lourd (The Highway)

• Darisimi Nadi – Obara’m

• Sanou Titiama – Le chant des fesits (The Song of the Rifle)

• Eyiyemi Afolyan – Anikulapo

• Francis Onwuchei – The Trade – Nigeria

• Jeff Jackson – Four Walls – South Africa

• Hakeem Kae-Kazim – Fight Like a Girl – Rwanda

• Jimmy-Jean Louis -Rise

• Uzoamaka Aniunoh – Mami Wata – Nigeria

• Rokhaya Niang – Xalé – Senegal

• Clarck Natmbwe – Fight Like a Girl – Rwanda

• Peter Mensah – Rise- United States

• Richard Mofe Demalo – 4-4-44 (Four Four Forty-Four) – Nigeria

• Marc Zunga – Omen – DRC

• Fenando Kamugisha – The Fallen Advocate – Uganda

• Tobi Bakre – Brotherhood – Nigeria

• Justine Murichii – Shimoni – Kenya

• Mike Danon – Sira – Burkina Faso

• Lucie Debay – Omen – DRC

• Ehle Mbali Mlotshwa – 4 Walls – South Africa

• Nafissatou Sisse – Sira – Burkina Faso

• Adesua Etomi – Guns of Lagos – Nigeria

• Nse Ikpe EHm – 4-4-44 (Four Four Forty-Four) – Nigeria

• Bimbo Ademoye – Anikulapo – Nigeria

• Ama Qamata – Fight Like a Girl – Rwanda

• Baloji – Omen – DRC

• Ery Claver – Our Lady of the Chinese Shop – Angola

• Jean Elliot Ilboudo (le Chant des fusils)The Song of the Riffle – Cameron

• Moussa Sene Absa – Xalé

• C. J. ‘Fiery’ Obasi – Mami Wata

• Apolline Traore – Sira

• Izu Ojukwu – 4-4-44 (Four Four Forty-Four)

• Kunle Afolayan – Anikulapo

• Kgosana Monchusi, Menzi Mzimela, Juvaiś Dunn – 4 Walls

• 4-4-44 (Four Four Forty-Four) Nigeria

• 4 Walls – South Africa

• Sira – Burkina Faso

Mama Efe, played by Rita Edochie, is the god whisperer whose authority is increasingly called into question following a string of failures that shake the belief of her followers and embolden her detractors. The tired matriarch has to fight internal and external battles to keep her esteemed place of privilege and perpetuate a system drowning under the weight of its promise.

In the prosecution of this ideological game of wits — and untamed violence — Mami Wata‘s agenda is openly political but also timely in the context of the state of African politics over the past three years.

For all of the devotion and reverence Mama Efe gets as the de facto leader of Iyi, the people are getting the short end of the stick. Even though they happily pay her periodic tributes, baskets filled with everything they work hard for, all they get in return is sick children who die because the village has no hospitals like its more-advanced neighbours. The town is also lacking most of the other development indicators a thriving society needs.

The conflict feels familiar because it’s not any different from the wave of discontent sweeping many African countries against their democratic leaderships. The system requires that the people believe in and uphold the sanctity of a social contract and be rewarded for playing by the rules. If the people their taxes and perform their civic duties, their leaders will provide schools, hospitals, good roads, clean water and maybe even an amusement park or two.

It’s the same type of disaster that eventually strikes Iyi when Jasper (Emeka Amakeze), a rebel fighter with no clearly articulated motivations, gives Jabi’s group the push to finally act and violently overthrow Mama Efe’s reign.

The aftermath of such an action is the same whether in any of the African countries affected by military coups, or fictional Iyi. The new overlords make a raft of promises to succeed where the old overlords failed — provide schools, hospitals, good roads, clean water, and maybe even turn water into wine.

But art imitates life, and the result of the rebellion isn’t much different from what has become the common outcome of numerous coups that have happened in Africa. In the place of those promises of development, there’s only more inept leadership and looting, only now playing in a different system that probably puts the people in more jeopardy. The violent taketh by force, but then, what next?

Mami Wata‘s ideological conflict about the utility of a mythical deity is projected through the same rumblings dominating political discourse across Africa. The intellectual disagreement on whether the continent needs democracy to function properly or just a decent roster of well-intentioned benevolent dictators is crystallised in how Mami Wata’s characters struggle between modernity and blindly sticking to culture and traditions. But the film isn’t explicitly preachy about which is best, and doesn’t commit to leaning heavily anywhere — it merely points to places where you see mirrors.

Mami Wata ends with a promise that another well-intentioned leader at the helm may be the beginning of new things for the people of Iyi, but just like the fate of Africans in the real world, there’s no guarantee of anything.

Hearing about this horror movie piqued the curiosity of the three-year-old. Finally getting to see that movie made a lasting impression, one that influenced his choice of genre and style and kicked off the long, challenging, yet fascinating journey to creating the globe-trotting Mami Wata.

Since watching that movie, Obasi, with the help of his producer and wife, Oge Obasi, has made Ojuju, an internationally acclaimed 95-minute, zero-budget zombie story that is also on IndieWire‘s Top 12 Best Zombie Movies of All Time list, O-Town, a short film called Hello, Rain, and now, his third feature-length film, MamiWata which has taken the world by storm. Throughout his filmmaking career, he has had his faithful partner fighting by his side to make their dreams come true in the face of several obstacles.

In this chat with Pulse, the award-winning director and producer walk us through their incredible lives, from their origin stories to their union and the totality of their career so far.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

C.J.: Three years old is when filmmaking started for me. There was this movie called Evil Dead. They used to play it, I think, every Friday or Saturday night on the local channel. I’m the last in the family, so all my other siblings wouldn’t let me watch. But every day, they would talk about the movie and how it was the scariest thing ever. It just made me more curious to watch. I think it was maybe around four or so that my elder brother finally let me watch. It’s my first ever memory of movies. I remember just the anticipation that I had built up just to watch that, sitting in the living room, we had this old black and white TV. The movie starts with this very long opening shot of just the camera moving through the woods. You just follow the camera moving through the woods, and then it ends up in this very mysterious, spooky cabin in the woods.

Because they had built up this hype about monsters and demons and things like that, I was expecting to see monstrous creatures emerging from the darkness. When you watch the entire movie, you realise that none of that ever happens in the film; the entire film is people getting possessed after the book is read and the so-called force is unleashed. My point is that Evil Dead did all of that without really showing anything, and I think the power of suggestion, which is intricate to cinematic language, stayed with me. I remember even as a kid, I would draw things, like my own rendition of films that I liked, and I started to do that early on. My artistic form became more advanced as I got older. At some point, I would have storytelling sessions and try to reenact some of my favourite scenes, then have my own versions of some of the scenes I liked in movies while playing with my friends. I think that was my beginning as a filmmaker, even though I may not have known what being a filmmaker was.

Oge: I think the path chose me. I didn’t go looking, but in my journey, I am that person who has pretty much done a lot of things. It all came together, developing me for this time. When those things were going on, I was like, ‘Why am I this today and then that tomorrow?’ Eventually, you find that everything ends up being useful, and it is just like a preparation ground. I walked into a set for the first time where they were filming TY Bello‘s Greenland, and it was intriguing. I was working with a guy who was also into directing and stuff. For the first time, I found internal balance. I found something that challenged me physically and mentally at the same time. I was a production assistant for a while. I loved it so much that I did it for free because it was interesting to me. My first movie set was Figurine (2009).

I got into producing shortly before I met C.J. Again, I didn’t go looking; it found me pretty much because I didn’t come across stories that inspired me to go all out for it. I could manage your production and make sure that everything was on point, but I was never attached storywise. With C.J., I didn’t have that problem. I do not have his background in film, so I had to learn on the job. I was more of a book person in my formative years, so for me, an awesome movie is a movie I see and I’m like, ‘I would have loved to read that as a book’. There are all those details they can’t tell you because they have just like 90 minutes to tell that story. The script, the stories, and the things he wanted to do did that for me. Sometimes, I don’t even know what he’s talking about, but I want to see it happen. I want to see it on paper, and I want to see how that comes to life.

C.J.: It’s like any other kind of relationship. When you know, you know. Outside of the film conversations, this side is enriching as well. I feel like it’s enriching from every angle, beyond just film. She will tell you I’m more of a film person. Yes, she’s a film producer, but I eat, sleep, and dream film, so finding someone who can do that for you outside of film was always the goal as far as a life partnership is concerned.

Oge: When we met, I wasn’t looking. In fact, I decided I wasn’t getting married because how do you go on set for three months and somebody is vexing? It wasn’t really practical to expect that you would meet a guy who was understanding, and I didn’t have the energy to fight, so I decided that I wasn’t going to get married. When I met him, I was like, ‘Lagos will chew this guy up and spit him out’. He had big dreams. He grew up in Owerri, so it wasn’t like he was hardcore. So, my first instinct was that there was something to protect here. I felt like I should shield him and help him in the industry. It wasn’t like I was a very powerful person in the system, but whatever I could do to help him get started.

Initially, people would ask, ‘What has he done before?’ So, after a while, we just had to do something. He had a script for O-Town, but I felt that it wasn’t the time because it was too large. So, he wrote Ojuju; there I was reading the script, seeing normal people and things, and the next thing zombies came in. We didn’t have any money, but I had garnered goodwill and relationships over the years, and that came in handy for us, so we did Ojuju. But nobody would touch it. What I wanted was for just one ad agency to just take it and give us money so I could pay the people that worked for us. Then when they ask, ‘What has he done before?’ We can refer to this but nobody wanted it but we got into the Africa International Film Festival (AFRIFF) and then found our part. Somehow, we started talking about marriage. I don’t even know how we got there, but we got there pretty quickly. After we knew we were getting married, it took a while to make the marriage thing happen. For me, it was when we couldn’t finish Ojuju post-production, and we were living together then. So I was like, ‘Shey, it’s because we’re living in sin that God doesn’t want to help us finish the film? Let’s just get married; what are we waiting for?’ We decided to do it production style, so we didn’t tell anybody beyond our immediate family. We put it on a weekday, freestyled, and got married. Things started happening after that, so maybe there was something to that.

C.J.: I studied computer science at the university, so even after graduating I had a regular job like everyone else, but I was just miserable. I felt like my life was slipping away without making movies. All my life, I wanted to make movies, but I never quite felt inspired by the films that I saw around me to ever do that. I thought I would become an author, so I started writing short stories, and that’s actually how C.J., the initials, came about because I wanted to be part of the fellowship of authors like J.D. Salinger, C.S. Lewis, and HD Wells. I felt like those guys were special in a way, and I wanted to be part of that fellowship. So when I was a teenager, at 15 or 16, I started to initialise my name. I never became a published author, but the name stuck.

If you asked me this question five years ago, I wouldn’t be able to answer, but I think my style, if I have one, is something that connects the viewer to a higher feeling or a higher power. Even if I’m making something, I want you to feel like there’s something higher than you. This comes from what I felt in the cinema that I grew up watching, so I’m always trying to capture that. But what I found was that I never saw a Nigerian movie that did that for me, and so I felt like it was my job to figure out how I could do that as a Nigerian filmmaker. It’s a long journey; I don’t think I have perfected it, but I think it’s a worthy cause to stay on, just to keep perfecting that. It did come together a lot with Mami Wata; it came together in a way that I never thought was possible with Mami Wata because I had to rethink everything I knew about filmmaking and African cinema.

C.J.: It was a vision. I call it a vision now because I wasn’t sleeping; I was fully awake. I was outside. I think I just checked out for however long it was. To someone looking at me, it could have been one second, but it felt like a long time. In that vision, I saw who I believe to be the goddess Mami Wata standing in the ocean with long locks of hair down to her feet. It seemed like she was naked, but you couldn’t tell because her hair covered every part of her body and she had dark skin. The entire thing is in black and white, even the clouds. My goodness, every time I describe this, I get goosebumps. It’s become a thing now because I remember everything in vivid detail, from the clouds to the sound of the waves. Then there’s this young woman, maybe 21 or 22, walking towards her. She passes by me as she walks towards the deity, and I come to at this point. This was in January 2016, and so the entire journey was from 2016 to 2020.

C.J.: Between 2016 and 2018, I wrote maybe eight or nine drafts of the script. I didn’t like any of them, but every time I showed it to someone, they would say, ‘This is the best script ever’. I knew it wasn’t the best script ever, but I had to figure out what was wrong with it. So that took me on another journey for two years. Oge did producer’s workshops and all of that. I did several script-writing labs across Africa and Europe to eventually arrive at the script. By that time, I had done a lot of interrogation of the script and also of myself, which was even more important, and I was able to arrive at the script that I knew for sure was it. Things kind of happened even faster because all the while I was trying to develop and write the script that I liked, we were still trying to forget funding. A lot of it worked out until we had a script. It’s not like it worked out completely, but at least the process to see it manifest into fruition just kicked off as soon as we had a script that was ready to go. By the time we premiere in January 2023, that would be seven years. It’s crazy; the film started in January 2016 and is releasing in January 2023, and you know what they say about seven.

Oge: First of all, I was sold on the logline, the first one which he typed out on his phone. I read only the first draft because I had many details jumping around in my head. I was focused on trying to get funding, which was difficult. It was worse than Ojuju because it was black and white and it was Mami Wata. When we started, the way people responded was quite different from today. Someone said, ‘Holy Ghost Fire. There was a whole lot of that and vehement opposition even from filmmakers, which just made me dig in. While waiting for Mami Wata, we made Hello, Rain, and then the Surreal16 collective was born.

Eventually, when we went to the lab in Burkina Faso, it was a whole different energy because these were seasoned filmmakers from across Africa who had been in cinema. You know, we commercialise this art form so much that we take it for granted, but these are people who have given their lives for this art form, money or no money. They were pioneers of African cinema from Senegal, Burkina Faso, and Ivory Coast, and they were happy. It was a different reception, and they were so supportive throughout the period we were in Burkina Faso and beyond. Then we had to pitch the film at Durban FilmMart in South Africa, and even though South Africa is not West Africa in terms of sharing this culture, it was still the same thing. People kept coming afterwards, hugging and saying thank you. Nobody says thank you for making a film in Nigeria. It was all the validation that I needed, even though instinctively I knew we were on the right path, and then COVID-19 happened the very next year. I knew that if we didn’t make the film then, time would pass, so all the preproduction happened virtually during the lockdown—the costume, putting the team together, and everything else.

Oge: It was hard. I feel like I pushed through the project with psychic energy because I didn’t have resources, but we just kept going. It’s really weird. There was a time we ran out of money on set; food was a problem, everything was a problem, and everybody was looking at me. I had to look like I was doing something, so I said I was going to the bank. I went there, and I just stood there. I didn’t know what to do, but I knew that I couldn’t go back. It was hot, so I walked into a bank, and those people were so efficient that there was no queue. They kept asking me if I had been attended to; eventually, the customer care guy asked me to come over and then asked how he could help me.

At first, I told him I came to take AC, then I started telling him the story of my life. He didn’t speak good English, but I wasn’t talking for him to understand me; I was just pouring out my heart. After a while, in between him attending to customers, he told me that his wife was outside on a bike that she would take me somewhere, and that I should take whatever I wanted and come back when I had money to pay. Then he gave me 60k Cefa in cash. I went with my wife to a shop where they sell foodstuff, and I was asked to take anything. I first took a cup of sugar, but nobody blinked. I asked for something else, and no one blinked. Then I said bag of rice, which they put aside. I grew bolder and asked for two bags, then oil, pineapples, and a basket of fruits. That shop had a dent by the time I was done. They called a tricycle, loaded it for me, then called a bike for me, and that’s how we went back. When they saw me, everyone was happy, and it just seemed like some money had been injected into the production, and that kept people going. I’m grateful for things like that; they remind you that you know you’re not alone. We had a lot of odd support.

After the shoot, we were back to zero funds, and then we won two grants that amounted to about $31,000 towards post-production. It wasn’t the entire amount we spent, but at least we got started. We had a post-production team unexpectedly because, on a good day, we couldn’t afford those guys. They were top guys in France, and all of them loved the project and made things easy for us, so there’s all this flexibility around it, and here we are today. We shot in just the Benin Republic, but the cast and crew were from more than eight countries.

C.J.: I got my DOP, Lílis Soares, who is Brazilian. By the time we started talking, we had spent the entire lockdown trying to craft a new way of seeing African bodies. I have said this over and over and over again, and I’ll keep saying it: The thing about filmmaking is that it uses light and sound to communicate codes at 24 frames per second. So everything you watch influences you; it puts codes in your head, whether you admit it or not. So the reason why we see white people—Americans and British—in a certain light is because we’ve been programmed over the years by cinema to see them that way. We haven’t done that for Africans, at least not in the specific way that they have. Even African filmmakers have this problem, so yes, we’re telling our stories, but the codes we use are still very much Western-influenced, we still use the same codes. So if I’m telling an African story about some slum in Africa, it’s not a bad thing; I don’t have any problem with negative portrayal, but it’s the empathy and the voice with which you tell that story that makes a difference. For example, you would have movies set in poverty-stricken areas in the United States, but there is a certain empathy with which they are told.

We don’t do that. So when we are telling stories about our impoverished people, we look down on them, the camera looks down on them, and the lighting looks down on them. That’s what I had to become conscious of, so when you watch Mami Wata, without giving anything away, everybody looks like gods, and that, for me, is really what it’s about. It’s interesting you bring up Barry Jenkins and that particular show, The Underground Railroad, because while he was in production, we were also in production for Mami Wata. The Underground Railroad came out before ours, but when it came out, I had a conversation with my DOP, and this was the same conversation leading up to Mami Wata. Now it is called ‘The Gaze’ because it’s about how you look at dark bodies and dark skin and how you portray them cinematically. We didn’t call it ‘The Gaze’ there, but what we said was that it was a specific perspective that needed to change, and that perspective starts with how you see yourself first, and then with that change, you can now figure out how to do that with the camera and with the light. It’s a constant conversation. It’s not like one knows; it’s a constant conversation that you have to keep having with your cinematographer, and we had that conversation all through the entire shoot just to keep infusing those codes from scene to scene. It’s a lot of work, but it was something that we felt needed to be done.

With this film, it had to be this particular camera; it had to be an Arri Alexa, and we had to shoot specifically on RAW, which is the footage that allows you to have more bandwidth in terms of what you can do post-production. It’s more expensive because normally if you are supposed to have two hard drives for your movie, you end up having 10 just to store everything, but what that allowed us to do was that by the time we got to post-production in Paris, the post-production technicians, from the editor to the person doing the colour grading, had so much raw footage to work with. So that at the front end, when they render it, you just have something that looks better than if we had done otherwise, which was an upside.

C.J.: I was doing post-production in France because the movie was selected early. It was the first film they selected, and this was as far back as April. They hadn’t even opened the call for submissions when they selected it. One of their senior programmers, whom I had stayed in touch with since Durban FilmMart in 2019, would check in now and again. So when the movie was ready, I told her, and she said, ‘As soon as you have a cut, it doesn’t even have to be finished; just send it to me’. So we had a cut ready in February 2021, and I sent it to her. We got the email that we had been selected in April, which is a one-in-a-billion chance of happening. So, what they did was select very early on, and they had like a 12-man committee, so everyone agreed that they wanted the film in April. They didn’t want to wait, and they didn’t want us to submit to anyone else. We were going to finish post-production in July, and one of the top festivals in Europe was going to premiere the film in August, but I had already done that. In my mind, I wanted to go to Sundance. If you see my vision board, every year I write, ‘I’m going to Sundance’, and that is what happened.

Oge: I was in Cotonnu. He called me. It took a while for it to sink in because you are in Sundance, but you are still calculating how to pay the remaining people you owe. It was mentally and emotionally jarring. I had always known we would come to this point, whether at Sundance or Cannes, where we would launch to a global audience. It wasn’t surprising; it was a relief that we had finally gotten there, and I mean, I was majorly happy for him. One thing I always promised anyone who worked with me was that I was very unlikely to pay you anything near the biggest salaries in the industry, but one thing I would not do is make you work on a project that you had to explain. So if you make a film with me and mention the name, people will know. I’ll give you projects that will stand out on your CV.

C.J.: My way into any kind of story is cinema, and when I say cinema, I’m saying something very specific. Cinema in itself is a universal language; that’s the reason why you can watch a Korean film, and whether or not you’ve been there, it touches you. You can watch a Chinese, Indian, or Brazilian movie because it is a universal language. As a student of cinema, my way into my kind of storytelling was always through cinema, so I never saw it as something that couldn’t travel, even when we were making Ojuju. I always knew it would travel.

I’m not one of those filmmakers who says, ‘I hate my work’. No, I love my work. I love everything I make because I put everything in it. It doesn’t have to be perfect for me to love it. I know what I put into making it. I know that I put myself in there. I put my blood and everything in there, so whether you like it or not, I know I did what I wanted to do. Criticism doesn’t move me. For me, my standard of success as a filmmaker is being able to look myself in the mirror, and for every single thing I’ve done, I’ve been able to do that. I’ve never done anything I didn’t have to do; I’ve never had to compromise myself. I’ve never had to do any of those things. I recognise how much of a privilege it is to be able to do that and to even have a producer—forget that she’s my wife—but to have a producer who can go to bat for you to ensure that dream and that vision is protected because that’s what your producer is supposed to do for you whether you’re married to them or not. For me, that has always been something I’m always grateful for. I have never had to soil myself in any way cinematically, and I’m happy about that.

Oge: The first time I spoke to Moses Babatope about the film was during the Durban Film Festival. He saw people saying hi to me about the pitch, and he asked me what it was about. He noticed the interest, and we talked some more about it. Then, coming back to Lagos, I got a letter that they were interested in distributing. After the film was ready, we came to Lagos and informed him that it was in black and white, but he said that wasn’t a problem. We told him about Sundance, and he said he knew it was going there; that was pretty much it. I think distribution has also had its challenges with audience expectations and all of that. I feel there’s the Nigeria factor, and everybody is trying their best to keep their heads above water. I believe moving forward there will be bolder collaborations, especially as this is also opening a whole new market for us and them as well. It’s breaking through that’s the hardest part; once you’ve gone through, then the sky is your limit.

C.J.: I just want to say that I think it’s a big statement for the industry that FilmOne is distributing the film. It could have been anyone, but FilmOne distributing is a big statement right now, and I think the industry needs that—not just filmmakers, the entire industry needs to have this sort of perception of where the industry is going next and the possibilities. Everyone knows what FilmOne stands for; everyone already understands and respects the brand, but for the brand to back a film that is very specific but has global appeal by being in Sundance says that the industry is ready to move to the next level, and for me, that’s a big thing.

C.J.: There are a few of those. I have checked off one of them, which is to have my TV show. Even though I can’t talk about that yet, but that is coming. It’s going to be shot here locally, but with proper funding, it’s on that level. That was a big box for me to check, especially walking with those particular people that I am working with. I’ve always wanted to work with A24; hopefully being at Sundance allows that. I guess the other one would be the Oscars, but we’ll see. For now, I’m just focused on doing great work—the kind of work that is a new offering when people think of Nigerian film or TV. I don’t want them to have a mindset about what that is. I don’t want them to have a prior image of what that is because of what we can offer. We’re able to offer diverse kinds of things; that’s my dream. The show is horror, but I plan on doing some things apart from horror.

Since becoming the first homegrown Nollywood movie to make its world premiere at Sundance earlier this year, Mami Wata has won several awards globally, screened at reputable festivals and bagged international distribution deals.

The globe-trotting is currently showing in Nigerian cinemas. It is also set to be released theatrically in the United States, UK, Switzerland, and at least 10 Francophone African countries before the end of the year.

Obasi took to Twitter today, July 13, 2023, to announce the date for the movie’s local premiere writing, “The only way to experience it… MAMI WATA in cinemas across Nigeria September 8.”

The upcoming, celebrated West African folktale is one of the most anticipated movies by a Nigerian filmmaker.

Shot entirely in Benin, West Africa, Mami Wata is set in the remote West African village of Iyi, where the villagers worship the mermaid deity with some guidance from Mama Efe, who acts as an intermediary between the people and the all-powerful water deity Mami Wata.

Doubt is sown among the people when a young boy is lost to a virus, leaving Efe’s devoted daughter Zinwe and skeptical protégé Prisca at a crossroads.

Things are worsened by Jabi, a local, determined to take over control of the village. With the arrival of the rebel warlord Jasper, who is on Jabi’s side, Prisca and Zinwe must plot to save their village and restore Mami Wata’s glory in Iyi.

Produced by Oge Obasi, edited by Nathan Delannoy, with cinematography by Brazillian DP Lílis Soares, the cast includes Rita Edochie, Uzoamaka Aniunoh, Evelyne Ily Juhen, Kelechi Udegbe, and Tough Bone.

Mami Wata hits Nigerian cinemas on September 8, 2023.

Watch a teaser of the highly awaited movie below:

Watch a teaser of the globe-trotting West African folktale.

C.J. ‘Fiery’ Obasi has released a teaser for his highly anticipated movie, Mami Wata.

The short clip teases a dramatic night scene with up-close looks at some of the prominent faces in the film.

Rita Edochie, Uzoamaka Aniunoh, Evelyne Ily Juhen, and Kelechi Udegbe are featured in the teaser.

'Mami Wata' is Obasi's third feature film
‘Mami Wata’ is Obasi’s third feature film

The clip comes along with the news of Obasi’s latest deal with Aya Films. Variety reports that the UK-based distribution company has acquired the rights to the Sundance Award-winning film.

On signing with the distribution company, the filmmaker says, “I’m quite moved by Aya’s sensitivity to new forms of African storytelling, and how they seek to find its rightful place in the current world cinema conversation. This, for me, is what true love for cinema is all about, and I’m excited to be a part of the movement.”

Announcing the news on Twitter, the filmmaker thanked the crew and cast for all their hard work.

Following the new deal, Mami Wata will be released in the UK later this year. The film will also be released theatrically in North America by Dekanalog and sometime in Nigeria by FilmOne.

The movie is set in the remote West African village of Iyi, where the villagers worship the mermaid deity with some guidance from Mama Efe, who acts as an intermediary between the people and the all-powerful water deity Mami Wata.

Doubt is sown among the people when a young boy is lost to a virus, leaving Efe’s devoted daughter Zinwe and skeptical protégé Prisca at a crossroads.

Things are worsened by Jabi, a local, determined to take over control of the village. With the arrival of the rebel warlord Jasper, who is on Jabi’s side, Prisca and Zinwe must plot to save their village and restore Mami Wata’s glory in Iyi.

Produced by Oge Obasi, the film is written and directed by Obasi, with cinematography by Lílis Soares.

Mami Wata is currently making the rounds at festivals across the world, gaining critical acclaim from critics.

Watch the teaser:

Here, the black and white drama continued its awards sweep by picking up three trophies at the festival themed, “African Cinema and Culture of Peace.”

Mami Wata won the PRIX DE LA CRITIQUE Pauline S. Vieyra (African Critics Award) at the Special Awards Gala.

Next, the drama received the MEILLEUR IMAGE (Cinematography Award) and finally the MEILLEUR DÉCOR (Set Design Award) at the Closing Awards Ceremony on March 4, 2023, in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso.

Mami Wata, which took seven years to develop and complete, is named after the African mythical water spirit.

Set in the mythical West African village of Iyi, the movie follows Prisca and Zinwe, daughters of Mama Efe. The latter is an intermediary between the Mermaid goddess and the people of Iyi, a small fishing village in West Africa. Their destinies change when Jasper, an escaped mercenary takes over Iyi.

The movie has received critical acclaim during its festival run and currently maintains a perfect score of 100% on review-aggregation website, Rotten Tomatoes.

With Sundance and FESPACO out of the way, it remains unclear when Mami Wata will start screening in Nigerian cinemas and/or debut on streaming platforms.

Watch a teaser of the highly anticipated ‘Mami Wata’ below:

Variety reports that the fast-growing indie sales, distribution and production company has acquired the international rights to the West African folktale.

Commenting on the acquisition, Miguel Angel Govea, a partner at Alief, said: ”We are over the moon about ‘Mami Wata,’ our favorite adventure fantasy film of Sundance 2023. C.J. has concocted a mesmerizing and enthralling folk tale where all expectations are upended by cleverly grounding the film in magic realism.”

Securing the international rights means ‘Mami Wata’ will now be distributed across the globe exclusively by Alief.

As a result, there will be more eyes on the critically acclaimed black-and-white film, which is every filmmaker’s dream.

This acquisition is irrefutable proof that the international audience is more accepting of our movies, validation for Obasi and Nollywood in general.

While Alief owns the international rights to the movie, the North America rights are represented by Marissa Frobes at CAA Media Finance while the African rights have been obtained by FilmOne.

Following the acquisition, Alief is presenting the film to buyers and festival programmers at the ongoing European Film Market (EFM) in Berlin.

Holding from February 16-22, 2023, the EFM is of the top three meeting places of the international film and media industries where around 10,000 representatives from all over gather to do business.

On taking ‘Mami Wata’ to EFM, Alief President Brett Walker said: ”We are excited to hit the ground running at the European Film Market pitching this outstanding film to our genre buyers and programmers, whom we are quite sure will love it as much as we do.”

Named after the African mythical water spirit, the black and white drama is set in a mythical village. It tells the story of two sisters who fight to save their people and restore to the land a water deity.

‘Mami Wata’ explores the fate of a local deity and her followers in a rapidly-changing world after a stranger washes to shore.

Seven years in the making, the film continues to attract great reviews as it makes the festival rounds. It will be the closing night film at MoMi First Look 2023.

Watch a teaser of the highly anticipated ‘Mami Wata’ below:

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