Tomisin Adepeju is a director, occasional actor and screenwriter. He is the director of Marianne, a short film that charts the journey of a Nigerian man to ‘a remote, African pentecostal church with his ailing wife.’
Marianne was an official selection for the Urbanworld Film Festival 2015. Tomisin explains the background of his passion for film and what Marianne is about.
Can you tell us a bit about yourself and how you got into film?
I was born in Ibadan, one of the largest cities in Nigeria in Oyo State. I moved to Lagos with my family when I was seven because my father worked for a finance house over there. He had been commuting back and forth for a few years until he decided that it was best we moved to Lagos permanently. I lived there until I was 12 before we all relocated to London, where I currently reside.
I clearly remember the day my father told my siblings and I that we would be moving to London permanently. It was a pretty surreal feeling, they had mentioned it over the years that we would be moving abroad at some point but I just never really prepared myself for it.
Film has always been an important and consistent part of my life.
London, of course, was completely different to anything I had experienced at that point, the surreal feeling that gripped me in Nigeria lingered for a while during those first few months of moving here, the process of trying to adjust to the very different environment, climate and cultural landscape was very interesting and definitely life-changing.
Film has always been an important and consistent part of my life. I remember my siblings and I would always films together on Sundays in Nigeria. This tradition continued when we moved to London, we would watch the Sunday night films playing on Channel 5 or on the BBC.
I didn’t have a light-bulb moment where I suddenly decided I was going to make films. The decision to become a director was a gradual process that began when I was 15 years old when I saw Woody Allen’s seminal masterpiece, Annie Hall. I remember watching it and just being completely captivated by it, the story and characters deeply resonated with me. I began to watch films from a different perspective from that point onwards.
I made a few shorts in college and then went on to study film theory at university. I think it was my exposure to filmmakers like Mira Nair, Spike Lee, François Truffaut, Paul Thomas Anderson, Jean-Luc Godard and many others, during my time at university that undoubtedly made me realise that I wanted to become a film director.
What is Marianne about? How did the film come about?
Marianne follows the story of Moses, a young Nigerian man who travels to a remote, African Pentecostal church with his ailing wife. He takes her to this church because he truly believes that God can cure her illness. At its core, the film is really a love story about a man who wants to save the woman he loves.
The film is my final graduation project at film school, we were told on the first day of school that we had to start thinking of an idea for our final project, so I really spent a year trying to come up with something that I felt completely encapsulates and encompasses all the themes that were important to me; themes like love, religion, death, faith and cultural identity.
It is something that I have seen first-hand.
I had always found the subject of faith-healing incredibly fascinating, it is something that I have seen first-hand and always thought would be interesting to explore in a narrative context. I also realised that I could utilise this subject to explore the two themes that Marianne primarily focuses on: love and death.
You are British and Nigerian and the film is about a mixed-race couple. How do your Nigerian/British sides clash or compliment each other?
A majority of the films I have made really explored the dichotomy of Nigerian and British relations in the context of race, religion and relationships. These two identities have undoubtedly influenced and shaped the kind of stories I tell, as evident in this film. I love the themes, issues and concepts that arises from the clash of these two sides.
For me, the two sides are perpetually tied to each other, they both form the very basis and core of who I am. So in many ways, these two identities undoubtedly compliment each other, I draw from both cultural experiences and sensibilities to inform and enrich any project I embark on.
The film is about faith. Is faith important to you?
Absolutely! It’s something that you really can’t explain, it’s a deep, personal conviction that consumes you and can have a powerful and profound effect on you. In the context of the film, Moses undoubtedly believes that there is a spiritual cure for his wife’s physical illness.
He strongly believes it.
It’s something he can’t explain or rationalise to anyone, but he strongly believes it. He subsequently acts on it by taking his wife to this remote, spiritual gathering.
Did you get any funding for your film? Can you give any advice regarding the admin and financial obstacles you presumably faced?
I ran a Kickstarter campaign for the film which was unfortunately unsuccessful. The whole experience, however, was very useful and it definitely taught me a lot about the crowdfunding process and how to approach it. Perhaps the most important lesson I learnt from the Kickstarter campaign was the importance of having a core team of individuals who truly believe in your film and are consistently supporting you throughout the whole experience.
I received some generous donation from some church communities.
It’s invaluable having people around you who can promote and advertise your campaign to the right groups of people that would most likely contribute to it. I was quite lucky that the majority of the people who actually pledged to the failed Kickstarter campaign still contributed financially to the film. So the film was funded by these generous individuals and through the donations of close friends and family members. Also, because of its subject matter, I received some generous donation from some church communities who kindly came on board as executive producers.
Also, quite early on during the writing stage, I made a very important creative decision to shoot on Super 16mm. I knew that because it was a film school project, I could get a lot of deals as a result. I thankfully managed to get a lot of discounts on the film stock, camera and lights for which I was incredibly grateful.
Which filmmakers and films do you admire? Any African ones?
There are quite a lot of directors that I admire; filmmakers like Woody Allen, Paul Thomas Anderson, Spike Lee, Billy Wilder and many others. I am a big fan of emotional, character-driven narrative work, some of the films that have resonated with me over the years include Annie Hall, Swingers, Brief Encounter, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, The Apartment, Roman Holiday, Punch Drunk Love, Manhattan and many others.
It’s a very long list. I actually saw this film a few weeks ago that absolutely captivated me and I have thought about everyday since. It’s called A Place in the Sun and it’s directed by George Stevens. The film is an incomparable masterpiece that has so much profound depth and brilliance. It’s the best film I have seen in the past two to three years.
There are quite a lot of African films and directors that I admire; the New Nollywood movement in Nigeria has produced a slate of brilliant filmmakers who are creating truly ground-breaking work, directors like Kunle Afolayan, Niyi Akinmolayan, Daniel Oriahi, C.J. Obasi, Kenneth Gyang and many others. One of my favourite Nigerian films that I always revisit is B for Boy, masterfully directed by Chika Anadu. It is such a powerful piece of work.
I also admire the works of filmmakers like Zeresenay Mehari, Abderrahmane Sissako, Destiny Ekaragha, Francis Bodomo and Andrew Dosunmu whose films truthfully capture and present the African experience from the diaspora. Mother of George by Andrew Dosunmu is one of my favourite films.
I am currently adapting Marianne into a feature. I also recently won a Restless Pitch competition in Paris, where I successfully pitched the feature to an industry panel. As a result, I am going to be offered some mentoring and support over the next few months as I develop the project. I am also developing a three-part TV miniseries that I am hoping to direct early next year.
Follow Tomisin on Twitter @TAdepeju