The Velvet Café

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When a forgettable movie became an unforgettable experience

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How much does context mean for your appreciation of a movie? A lot, it turned out as I watched Last Flight to Abuja.

If someone had shown me this movie, telling me it originated from Hollywood, I would have dismissed it as a forgettable movie that never rises above its obviously very low budget.

I would have frowned at the effects, so cheap and simple compared to what we’re used to. This would have passed in the 60s when the standard trick to show flight troubles in Star Trek was to shake the camera and let the actors throw themselves to the side. These days we expect a lot more.

I would have objected to some of the actors: so stiff and unconvincing, delivering the lines as if they were reading from a paper preparing for a school play.

I might also have said something about the writing which is anything but subtle. Huge chunks of exposition are served without any attempt to hide it. And then there’s the end [spoiler warning] where everybody conveniently survives the flight crash, apart from the one villain who not only dies deservedly, but also according to his own will. [end of spoiler] It’s so unlikely that it becomes ridiculous.

Normally I would have cringed at this heavily stereotyped film, giving it a harsh 1/5 rating But as it was now, the screening of Last Flight to Abuja turned out to be one of the best movie going experiences I’ve had in a long time, a 5/5. I won’t forget it anytime soon.

A Nollywood movie
So what was this one little thing that made the whole difference? It was the switch of one letter, from an H to an N.

Last Flight to Abuja wasn’t recorded in Hollywood. It was made in Nollywood in Nigeria. In case you didn’t know it, this is the second largest film industry in the world in terms of number of film productions.

Nigerian movies don’t normally reach Swedish cinemas, but I got the chance to watch it as a part the African film festival Cinemafrica that recently was held in Stockholm.

Not only did I get to see an African movie for the first time in my life, I also got the chance to meet the director, producer and writer of it, Obi Emelonye, who held a Q&A after the screening. This turned out to be a real eye-opener for someone like me, who knew nothing about Nollywood until this point.

Obi-EmelonyeProud and humble
Living in UK, Emelonye was very well aware of how it compared to most films we normally watch, humble and proud at the same time.

–  I know this isn’t up to the standard that you’re used to. But we’ll be getting there!

And then he went on to share his vision for the future development of the Nigerian film industry, where he’s trying to lead the way towards a new quality level and a higher ambition than what’s been standard until this point.  An example this movie was shot over three weeks, which is a very long time in Nigeria. The normal production time for a Nollywood film used to be five days, from the point when the idea first came up until it was out for sale.

The film has also stepped up in the way it shows women. There are several women who are portrayed as professionals who are competent to take care of themselves, such as a co-pilot and a flight director. This was made intentionally, with the idea to move the positions forward.

– It’s not perfect, but we can’t change everything over a night, said Emelonye, asked about the gender perspective.

A box office success
The effort and money put into Last Flight to Abuja has paid off. It has become a box office success, the most watched movie in Nigeria ever, including Hollywood imports such as The Dark Knight Rises. And recently it was nominated in several categories for the African Movie Academy Awards.

In the Q&A he made it clear that while Emelonye wants to make a high quality movie, the commercial interests will always have priority to the artistic side. And that’s how he motivated the ending.

– You have to let people leave the theatre with good feeling in the end. If everyone died, no one would want to see the movie.

At this point there are ten multiplex theatres in Nigeria, which doesn’t sound much for a country with 170 million inhabitants. For a while they had been closed down for safety reasons, but now they had reopened and Emelonye seemed to be confident about that they would stay and grow in number.

A brightening future
If it’s true that Hollywood peaked long time ago and now is on decline, the opposite thing could be said about Nollywood, and that’s in the end what made it so inspiring and exciting to see the movie and listen to the story behind it. As bad as the movie is, as interesting is it to watch it.

Obi Emelonye is arguably one of the pioneers who will lead this newborn film nation into a hopefully brightening future. It was a privilege to get watch and learn more about one of the first, important steps on that journey.

Last Flight to Abuja (Obi Emelonye, NI/UK 2012) My rating: n/a

Some of my colleagues in the Swedish network Filmspanarna also watched Last Flight to Abuja. Here’s what they made of it:

Deny Everything (English)
Fripps Filmrevyer (Swedish)
Moving Landscapes (Swedish)
Rörliga bilder och tryckta ord (Swedish)

Written by Jessica

March 20, 2013 at 8:00 am