Imoh Umoren’s latest work ‘Lagos: Sex, Lies and Traffic’ x-rays the life of an average Lagosians amidst the running story of a political poster boy. The trailer grips you with reins of social consciousness and thrills of anticipated good storytelling.
Umoren is an award winning filmmaker known for his socially conscious work, especially producing the first black and white silent film in Nollywood ‘Hard Times’ which won an Africa Magic Viewers Choice Awards (AMVCA) in 2015.
In this chat with Anita Eboigbe, he maintained that the Nollywood audience wanted better films and expressed his joy at the new crop of film makers coming up to fill the quality gap.
Below are excerpts:
Your films are very socially conscious and deal with tough issues, what inspired this?
I am inspired by real life. I observe life and I have gone through a lot of heartache, losing my parents, my siblings.I have had a sad life. I once even lost my dog when I was off to school and my cousin’s girlfriend poisoned it. It broke my heart.
So yeah, going through so much pain myself has opened me to the feelings of others and what they go through. So I make films that relate to our humanity.
My characters are usually vulnerable people struggling with their confidence and with life. I mean I don’t set out to make movies with a social message or things like that. I just write them based on experiences I have been through or observed.
I have also made some bland comedies I must confess mostly TV shows with one-dimensional characters because sometimes people just need a bunch of clowns on TV running around doing absolutely nothing.
I used to disdain people that make it. I still do but sometimes the people need to be entertained and not worry about an incompetent government or lack of electricity. But primarily, I tell deep stories because that’s what I am here for mostly.
Do you think Nigerians are as interested in your kind of edgy conscious works compared to other genres?
Nigerians are bored with the films we offer them lets be honest. We have well shot bare stories of people sitting on the couch and talking to each other; everyone gets tired of that.
Our viewers are very sophisticated now. We watch Game of Thrones and horror movies, you should know we want more.
I am glad there are lots of good filmmakers in Nollywood now, so though we had envisioned a quick revolution, I guess we will settle for slow and steady but the business is moving. Better films are coming out daily.
Tell us about Lagos: Sex, Lies and Traffic; the inspiration and message in the film?
Last year Mnet approached me to pitch a couple of film Ideas to them. I had developed the film three years ago really. So I sent them a bunch of ideas and they loved that and we agreed to make it into a film.
I don’t know if there’s a message behind the film as much as it is an expository. And basically, you can sum up Lagos in those three words Sex,Lies and Traffic.
People have sex with such intensity around here you will think mankind is about to go extinct and we are trying to repopulate, we are lied to by preachers, presidents and Ponzi schemes and in all of this you are stuck in traffic.
Lagos:Sex,Lies and Traffic is a parallel story of the lives of people from different backgrounds that eventually merged.
A poster boy politician gets his mistress pregnant and they have to cover it up or his political ambition is in jeopardy.
So in this film we have drug dealers, prostitutes, politicians, area boys, corrupt police men, taxi drivers; essentially everyone you will meet in Lagos.
But there’s a lot of political undertones in the film. I hope it doesn’t go over the people’s heads.
How was the production process like – challenges and smooth sails?
Making a film is easy. Know what else is easy? open heart surgery. Films are difficult to make even bad ones but I started out by getting a co-writer for the script Gbemisola Afolabi.
I realised I wanted to make a film that touched all aspects of the city and I didn’t want to write it solely from my own point of view and amazingly she brought angles that I didn’t even think of (if you watch the scene in the hairdresser salon you’ll understand).
Storywise, I think Lagos:Sex,Lies and Traffic will be one of the best ones this year.
How does this project differ from your other works?
Lagos:Sex,Lies and Traffic is different because I have stories that run concurrently through the film.
My typical style is usually one primary thread from top to bottom because I never want viewers to be let off the intensity of a character by offering subplots that softens it.
So the subplots of those ones lead right back to the line of fire. It is also my second film I’ve collaborated on in terms of writing. I also did that with club.
I don’t want to be the agony uncle of Nollywood. I have people still trying to kill me off ‘The Happyness Limited’ and ‘Children of Mud’ so if you follow my work you will see the difference.
As an Indie director, what has the experience been working in the Nigerian industry?
The film industry around here has a low entry threshold and that’s why we have a lot of mediocrity. And that has been my problem.
Everybody and their grandfathers want to make films and so we are sometimes looped into the same category you hear comments like “You Nollywood people no dey try” because for every good film there are 1000 mediocre films.
So setting myself apart has been a challenge and it’s unnecessary because if there’s a standard then you don’t have to do anything over the top to stand out.
It’s like when Hotels advertise their services and include “We have 24/7 standby generator” you see if we had light they wouldn’t have to include that as a service.
We are still grappling over the basics and that’s what hurts. I sometimes get tired of working in an entry-level business
If there is anything you can change in the movie industry, what would that be and why?
Distributors not taking any financial risks. The filmmaker takes all the risks, sources money, makes the film, pays the actors and crew, secures distribution, spends a lot of money pushing the film and if that film tanks then it’s all on you and not the distributor.
People reserving the juicy dates for their film releases of films they haven’t even shot. It’s tragic.