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Halloween 2015 Countdown – Nigerian Director Kunle Afolayan’s Horror/Thriller ‘The Figurine’

Halloween 2015 Countdown - Nigerian Director Kunle Afolayan's Horror/Thriller 'The Figurine'

Nigerian director Kunle Afolayan is one of a handful of internationally-known Nollywood filmmakers, whom we could say is pushing for a new brand of Nollywood cinema – specifically, a Nollywood cinema that can compete in the international film marketplace, and as we continue to see more and more cross-continental (we could even say pan-Africanist) collaborations between African American or British actors, and African writer/directors (those in Nigeria/Nollywood especially), that movement continues to bear fruit.

But, before Afolayan plants his feet firmly in *new* territory, it was about 6 years ago when his horror/thriller, “Araromire” (aka “The Figurine”) hit USA shores – a film that was dubbed a movie that “… will change the face of Nollywood on the world map…”

Did it? I can’t say if that actually happened; but, it’s a film that did inspire some conversation among African bloggers (especially those outside of the continent, in the USA, Europe and elsewhere).

For example, this, at the time, from the Africa Is Not A Country blog about the film: “I attended the conference on African Film in the Digital Era yesterday and they were talking about The Figurine, a “quality” Nollywood movie [i.e. sound quality, acting, editing, etcetera] that recently premiered in London. Apparently, there’s been a whole media hype around it. I somehow missed it but … nearly 3,000 people turned up at the London premiere … I really don’t know whether 3,000 might have been exaggerated figure but it’s quite extraordinary. Apparently, the organizers managed to get a second screen so that they did not have to turn away people. They even tried to get a third one but they failed The director, Kunle Afolayan, also attended the event [Sunday] …” 

The film’s premiere was a star-studded event with many familiar faces on the red carpet, including British actress, Ellen Thomas, along with then rising playwright, Bola Agbaje – and several other British actresses, all of whom expressed their eagerness to appear in Nigerian movies. “I’ve come to support the Nigerian film industry because here in Britain we’re feeling very left out. For the longest time I’ve been interested in Nollywood and I’d love to do a Nollywood movie but I’ve never been asked,” said Thomas. “There are lots of African-Caribbean actors in the UK who are longing and waiting for a call from Nollywood” said Ellen Thomas.

Director Afolayan did have the following advice for Nigerian filmmakers:”Be ready to take the bold step; learn more on the business aspect of filmmaking. A good product will always sell itself. If your product is good it stands the chance of making a return in a short while. But the first thing that cannot be compromised is the quality. As a filmmaker, I can only say this is just the beginning of better things to come from Nigeria…

I finally saw the film at either the New York African Film Festival that year, and, as I recall, it was definitely levels above what I had seen of Nollywood cinema up until then – especially in terms of overall production quality – acting, cinematography, sound design, etc – which are areas in which Nollywood cinema is typically criticized. It was definitely an ambitious attempt on Afolayan’s part, and it was most-appreciated by this writer.

So what’s the film about? While serving at a National Youth Service Corps camp, two friends find a mystical sculpture in an abandoned shrine in the forest, and one of them decides to take the artwork home. Unknown to them, the sculpture is from the Yoruba goddess Araromire which bestows seven years of good luck on anyone who encounters it, and after the seven years have expired, seven years of bad luck follow. The lives of the two friends begin to change for good, as they become successful and wealthy businessmen. However, after seven years, things start to change for bad, as expected.

It’s really not-so unlike similar Hollywood genre films, with the same zest, thrills, suspense, mystery, and so on, in which some artifact is discovered in some far-off place, is brought back to “the city” and strange things start to happen to those who possess it.

“The Figurine” stars Ramsey Nouah, Kunle Afolayan, Omoni Oboli, Funlola Aofiyebi-Raimi, Jide Kosoko, Wale Adebayo and Muraina Oyelami. It won 5 awards at the African Movie Academy Awards in 2010, including the awards for Best Picture, Cinematography and Visual Effects.

Also, a book analyzing the film, titled “Auteuring Nollywood: Critical Perspectives on The Figurine” (cover above) was released last year – said to be the first book in the history of Nigerian Cinema to be devoted to the work of a single Nigerian film director. It contains scholarly essays, exploring “the thematic focus and cinematic style employed in The Figurine,” as well as interviews with the cast and crew, insights into the African, specifically Nigerian film industry, and the trends in “New Nigerian Cinema.”

Sadly, the film isn’t readily accessible (to USA audiences); it was released on DVD, and was, at one time, available on Amazon, but it’s not there anymore. A Nigerian streaming video platform called IbakaTV, appears to have it, but you’ll need a subscription to watch. I’m not at all familiar with them, so I can’t vouch for the service: http://ibakatv.com/figurine.

I did find the film online, in pieces on various free video sharing sites, although I certainly don’t encourage piracy.

But in closing, a suggestion for those who will embark on this journey and seek out the film: you can’t watch a film like this and compare to the myriad of big-budget Hollywood studio films you’ve seen all your life – especially if you’ve never seen a typical Nollywood film. While, at one time, years ago, “The Figurine” represented what was considered the best in contemporary Nollywood cinema, you still have to watch it in context, and appreciate it on its own terms.

A trailer follows below, although it really doesn’t do the film justice. It’s the best I could find online.

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