Editi Effiong: On social activism through film [Pulse Interview]

As exemplified in 'Up North' and 'Fishbone', Editi Effiong is unequivocally pressed on projecting film as a medium for social change.

Editi Effiong joined the film industry in 2018 with 'Up North' [Instagram/editieffiong]

Before 2018, the name Editi Effiong did not ring a bell among ardent Nollywood followers. But all that changed after his feature film 'Up North' premiered to critical acclaim. The Tope Oshin directed film grossed about N94,006,142 in the box-office, making it the 15th highest-grossing Nollywood movie of all time.

Interestingly, 'Up North' was born from one of the weirdest experiences of Effiong's life. "After the elections in Nigeria, I kind of felt that the country got so divided and, it was a weird thing to do. I decided to start travelling around the country to meet more people", says Effiong in an exclusive interview with Pulse.

"The North is so beautiful, so amazing and you meet great people. These are the stories that we never get to see. All we hear and believe is that there is Boko Haram and, we only see everything through negative eyes. The only thing that takes us from the South to the North is NYSC. Therefore, that's why I think that on the return of that trip, I started drafting the outlines of what the story would be about the North".

As can be easily guessed, shooting in Bauchi for weeks with over half of the cast and crew not residents of the state cost money. Effiong's team flew a 100 people to Bauchi state for principal photography which lasted for about 20 to 23 days. "It's not like working in Lagos, it's much more intense, things are much more expensive in a different place. Then we had pickups in Lagos and pickups in Bauchi, five days of the week".

Following the success of 'Up North', the Anakle films' boss ventured into directing with his debut short film, 'Fish Bone' with Shaffy Bello as his leading lady. The film centres on yet another social menace- drug counterfeiting.

The message of Editi Effiong's 'Fishbone' and 'Up North' are pointers to the filmmaker's move to push for social change, valid activism, especially in these dire times.

Now let me tell you about Editi Effiong's journey to filmmaking. "My dad had a whole lot of books and, I read every single thing. I grew up in that artistic awe but, my dad was so afraid of me acting in that awe more or less, so I went through my senior secondary school doing nothing but science".

From writing his first novel at the age 13 to playing around with programming, Effiong reveals he eventually settled into advertising where he had a flourishing 12-year career. "I started in Advertising for about 12 years. I was doing visual storytelling for about 8 of those 12 years; I was helping brands tell their story; making short films, making ads you know, and so it wasn't like a very rude awakening when I moved to make films".

So why social themes? Using his N9 million budget short film, 'Fishbone', Editi details the significance of his message. "The film overall is a film that is supposed to disgust you. You are supposed to be disgusted by the villain of the movie which is society. The actual villain [Shaffy Bello] is the country that she lives in".

When the film director is not writing stories or gearing up for a new production, he is active on Twitter engaging his over 59,000 followers with tweets ranging from Nollywood business to timely thoughts on the state of Nigeria.

One evergreen moment was his thoughts on some Nollywood filmmakers disassociating themselves from the umbrella term. These prominent filmmakers denounced Nollywood as not representative of their style of filmmaking. Others like Editi insisted it was futile to fight just a name while other issues requiring urgent attention.

"I think, no I believe that we have to learn to walk, to run before we can fly and that argument about not being Nollywood takes you nowhere. So you're not Nollywood, then what? Does it get you to make better films? Does it get you more investments? Does it get you better box office numbers? No. I think we need to get our priorities straight. Once you've secured the bag, you can decide to call yourself a piranha or a hippo, no one cares. Just focus on building an industry that works for you".

Nollywood's biggest challenge, among others, is distribution. "We don't have enough distribution to take care of the films we make in the industry", Editi shares. "For example, a film that would cost N200m to make it great is hardly going to get made because people aren't going to be able to distribute those films locally to recoup their investments so now we have to be clever".

Ultimately, the industry, like Nigeria, is on the verge of a revolution and Editi agrees that while there is a lot of work to be done, things can only get better from here on.

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