Rogers Ofime is a Canadian-based, Nigerian actor, film maker and television producer. He is best known for producing several films including Hotel Rush (2013), Prodigal (2013), Scarlet (2014), Oloibiri (2014), and several notable Nigerian television drama, including Tinsel, Hotel Majestic, Hush, and The Johnsons. In this interview with TONY OKUYEME, he talks about Oloibiri, which recently made its debut on the streaming platform, Netflix, challenges and expectations, and other issues.
Sixty-five years after the discovery of oil in ‘Oloibiri’, the community is currently an eyesore, with nothing to show for its significant role in Nigeria’s oil business. The question is who is to blame, the oil multinationals, the government or the ‘influential’ indigenes of the community?
Sixty-five years of a system, a pattern that all stakeholders should have used to forecast for development and human growth, don’t forget that in passing blame you do not exonerate yourself, you only shift focus making the future ask the question “How did we get here?”
The film, ‘Oloibiri’, is not your regular Nollywood film that sells sensationalism that assuages the sensibilities. What is it about the film that makes it important for me to watch?
The truth, the reality of the situation in totality. Nollywood films vary and the audience that each film is made for have come to love the film and the filmmaker. I believe in making films that are true to life and can provoke the audience to change.
What was it that you were looking for in a script that Samantha Iwowo provided?
How best to tell a story that will not offend but educate about a forgotten national treasure. It happened, it is still happening and she had the mandate of bringing it to life through well-articulated dialogue and action.
How did you select the director?
We looked for someone who was as passionate about the story as we were and creative enough to see through the eyes of the indigenes of Oloibiri in particular and Nigeria in general. We were glad when the director agreed to visit the community for one week during pre-production and this sparked the desire to want to tell the story of the people of Oloibiri.
How were you able to manage the budget of a project such as this with so much at stake in terms of quality and technical details?
We had a team of producers who ensured we stayed within the planned budget for the film. We had one year to plan for this film so we had ample time to raise the funds and support needed for the project. We also had an Executive Producer, Oge Neliaku, who showed great support to the project and the plight of the people of Oloibiri.
Why is it important to put Oloibiri on the Netflix streaming platform after it had its premiere a few years ago?
It is an original Nigerian story, it is a beautiful work of art and every day technology gives us ways to document art, education and entertainment for posterity. We also believe that the message of Oloibiri is ever green and will continue to be relevant even in another 10 years. We just hope that change comes to the community so that our message can then become about when Oloibiri was in ruins.
Oloibiri addresses the subject matter of Niger-Delta insurgence in a way that echoes in other parts of the country where we have recorded insurgence. What is the position of the film makers n this movie: is it to be objective or subjective in the approach to telling the Niger-Delta story?
We told the Oloibiri story; unfortunately, it is replicated across the Niger-Delta. We did not address insurgency; we addressed the trigger that has led thousands of youths seek redress through violence which is never truly the answer to conflict resolution. We would say we rather were objective in our creative approach to the plight of the Oloibiri people.
What were some of the considerations for casting in this movie, especially for the lead actor role?
Someone with the ability to draw the audience, hold their attention while teaching them about history and most importantly actors who connected to the story. I believe that the first step to giving an actor a role is how the actor connects to the story- this is when you can really have believable performance.
How would you say that technology has helped in solving parts of the problems of film distribution in Nigeria?
SVOD, VOD and Digital satellite platforms have created the avenue through which filmmakers to a large extent have begun to receive remuneration for all their hard work and sweat.
A movie like Oloibiri is about making a solid statement for change. What has changed in the oil community between 2015 and now since Oloibiri has been produced?
A major change has been the current administration’s approval for the takeoff of the OMRC (Oloibiri Museum and Research Centre), which has been in works for over three decades, we were able to get the government attention back to the community.
What impact do you expect from Oloibiri now that it is reaching a larger audience?
A wider audience means we can reach more well-meaning Nigerians in the diaspora especially of Niger-Deltan heritage do more especially the cleanup of the rivers and provide a drinkable water system that works.
Is Oloibiri film an advocacy for the development of the abandoned town?
Not just for Oloibiri, but also for the entire Niger-Delta region and also for Nigeria as a whole. Would I be wrong to say Oloibiri is a metaphor? May be I won’t be wrong.
What has been the reaction of government to the film?
Interested and responsive to the people of Oloibiri. For instance our premiere of the film had well top leaders who apologised to the community – this for us was a great achievement.
Did it attract prolonged censorship and approval by Censors Board?
No, it was quite a smooth presentation to them. Our film did not attack or indict anyone, we just told a story that is believable and relatable.
What were the challenges in producing this film?
It was during the Ebola crisis, so getting and convincing the foreign crew and cast that it was safe to film in Nigeria was a herculean task which we eventually got over. This happened just one week to production and it was too late to cancel. We were glad we could solve the problem and shoot went smooth.
How is it different from the other films you have produced?
Just the location; we approach all our films with the same passion and enthusiasm. We never compromise quality in any of our production.
Now that it is on Netflix what next?
We have two other projects coming on the Netflix platform. They are projects dear to our hearts. ‘Mystic River’ is a six-part series and ‘Voiceless’ just left the cinemas, so people who were not able to catch it in the cinema can wait for it on Netflix.
Any plans to revisit the Oloibiri story in future, especially given the changes that may have taken place?
It is in the works. We hope to do a sequel to show the improvement and the good things that has happened to the community since after filming.
What would you change in the movie if you had opportunity of doing a sequel?
Make it a local language film so we can enter it for the OSCARS.
How has the journey been so far as a filmmaker?
It has been interesting and sometimes tumultuous. It has made me appreciate the little things that we normally take for granted. For me, film is life and I can’t wish for another life outside film.