The African International Film Festival (AFRIFF) opened its doors to film enthusiasts and stakeholders from all over the world for its twelfth edition with great fanfare, on Sunday the 5th November 2023. Highlighting the theme of “Indigenous 2.0 Global”, this event, rich in cultural significance, showcased the dynamic intersection of African cinema and heritage with the screening of Lonzo Nzekwe’s Orah.
It was a splendid celebration of the confluence of indigenous heritage and a global perspective. With a focus on expanding indigenous African stories to a global audience, attendees included prominent figures like the chairman of Access Corporation, Herbert Wigwe, the Governor of Lagos, Babajide Sanwoolu, the US Consul General for Lagos, Will Stevens, France’s Ambassador to Nigeria, Emmanuelle Blatmann, Aida Sowho, the Chief Marketing Officer at MTN, the Minister of Art, Culture and the Creative Economy, (represented by the Director General of the Nigerian Film Corporation) among many other industry giants. The atmosphere was charged with excitement, setting the stage for a week dedicated to the celebration of African narratives suited for a global audience.
The evening’s cinematic pinnacle was undoubtedly the premiere of Orah, a crime thriller masterpiece by Canadian Nigerian director, Lonzo Nzekwe. Orah was one of the two Nollywood films that showed at the 48th edition of the Toronto International Film Festival, TIFF in September. It follows the story of Orah Maduka, an illegal immigrant taxi driver in Canada who takes on the powerful crime underworld, to unmask and bring justice to her son’s killers.
In a classic revenge thriller, we see a grieving Orah move mountains to bring her vengeful wrath against the Hazar crime family who she initially launders money for, in return for bringing her son, Lucky to Canada. After killing her father for raping and leaving her with child at 15, Orah flees to Canada with help from her uncle, leaving her son at her mother’s doorstep, for a chance at better life. However, Lucky is killed for refusing to smuggle drugs into Canada for Bami Hazar, the ringleader of the Hazar crime family who is also wanted by the Nigerian government for money laundering. She first attempts to seek institutional justice against him but she gives in to vengeance when the FCRA officials themselves prove to be corrupt.
Produced by Amos Adetuyi, Floyd Kane and Lonzo Nzekwe, the film sees a talented cast, including Oyin Oladejo, Lucky Onyekachi Ejim, Kelechi Udegbe, Agape Mngomezulu, and others, all contributing to the emotionally gripping cinematic adventure.
Filmed in both Canada and Nigeria, Orah offers a different perspective on the themes of trauma, justice, vengeance, institutional corruption and the migrant experience. The film, which is somewhat inspired by the murder of Nzekwe’s brother by the officials of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS), and his family’s search for restitution from the hands of the Nigerian government, aims to impact its viewers positively.
With Orah, Nzekwe also aims to signal other filmmakers on the evolving taste of the Nigerian audience, stating that it didn’t seem feasible to make thrillers because of the assumption that Nigerians did not enjoy the genre but with over the years, Nigerians have begun to relate to more authentic crime thrillers, the success of movies like The Black Book, Gangs of Lagos and Brotherhood indicate a growing appetite for authentic crime thrillers.
In line with its commitment to promoting the growth of African cinema, AFRIFF will be hosting a series of enlightening panel discussions and workshops. These sessions will look into topics ranging from creating enabling environments for African film and Tv, to empowering filmmakers to tell better african stories and indigenous storytelling for a global audience. The wealth of knowledge shared in these discussions will be invaluable for emerging and seasoned filmmakers alike.