Despite decades as one of the most prolific film-producing countries on Earth, Nigerian cinema is still largely underrepresented on the festival circuit, so it’s always worth noting when a great movie makes its way to Western audiences, especially when it combines Nigerian traditions with the complexities of modern life. The latest to join that slim but growing section of cinema: “The Lost Okoroshi,” which will premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival as part of its just-announced Discovery slate.
The film follows a young man, stuck in a job he doesn’t enjoy, who begins experiencing visions of his Nigerian ancestors. The experience results in him transforming into a traditional Nigerian masquerade, a masked performer who channels spirits through dance, which sounds fun and all … until he has to go to work the next day in full performance garb. What follows looks to be a Kafkaesque story of a man torn between two worlds.
The tradition of masquerade has roots in almost every culture on Earth, but Nigeria has a particularly special relationship with it. Known as Mmanwu, secret societies within Nigerian communities put on masks to communicate with gods and ancestors. But the ritual is more than prayer, as the wearer of the mask is believed to take on newfound spiritual powers. It’s part of the nation’s rich history, but pairing it with the realities of contemporary working life makes for an interesting story about the role tradition plays in our lives.
This modern Nigerian story is the latest from director Abba Makama, who is one of the leading voices for Nigerian cinema today. He previously directed “Green White Green,” another TIFF selection that is now streaming on Netflix, as well as “Nollywood,” the Al Jazeera documentary about Nigeria’s film industry. He should be a presence at major festivals for years to come.
In an official statement, Makama said, “I want Africans to keep in touch with their cultures and traditions and globalization makes it increasingly difficult for us to connect with our past. Masquerades have generally been demonized and considered bad omens in western religions. With this project I aim to change the narrative and reintroduce the masquerade as a colorful, playful and benign entity.”
“The Lost Okoroshi” will be making its world premiere as part of TIFF’s Discovery program. Check out the film’s first trailer, exclusively on IndieWire, below.