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Home » From Sundance to Oscars: The journey of ‘Mami Wata’

From Sundance to Oscars: The journey of ‘Mami Wata’

In an exhilarating turn of events, the Nigerian Official Selection Committee (NOSC) announced that C.J. Obasi’s cinematic project, ‘Mami Wata’, was chosen to represent Nigeria in the International Feature Film (IFF) category for the 2024 Oscars. The selection, made public early this week, has set the stage for a much larger acknowledgment of Nigerian cinema on the global platform.

Last year, no Nollywood film was picked for the IFF category at the Oscars in 2023. The committee did not find the three films – ‘King of Thieves’, ‘Anikulapo’, and ‘Elesin Oba: The King’s Horseman’ – that made it to the final stage eligible to fully represent the country.

Obasi’s ‘Mami Wata’ weaves a compelling narrative, showcasing the story of a West African goddess and her diminishing influence in a struggling village, depicted with striking poignancy in a captivating black-and-white visual palette. Its premiere at the renowned Sundance Film Festival earlier this year was nothing short of a triumph as it garnered a special jury prize with applause for the film’s cinematography.

Expressing his profound gratitude and honour, Obasi took to his social media handles to emphasise the significance of the film’s selection for the IFF category. “This means something for the culture, and the new narrative about Nigerian cinema. We will live forever, but only through our art. Long live Nigerian cinema,” Obasi said, encapsulating the collective sentiment of pride and accomplishment within the Nigerian film community.

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The genesis of ‘Mami Wata’ dates back to 2016 when Obasi conceived the idea and embarked on the arduous journey of its development. Multiple drafts and immersive participation in script refinement labs were pivotal in sculpting the film’s powerful narrative. In an exclusive interview with CNN, Obasi delineated his ambition to create a hyper-stylised film, drawing inspiration from cinematic maestros like Akira Kurosawa and David Lynch. The characters of Prisca and Zinwe, integral to the film’s fabric, were a heartfelt tribute to Obasi’s late sisters, infusing the storytelling with a personal touch.

‘Mami Wata’ opened on September 8, 2023, with little fanfare, as the distributor, FilmOne Entertainment, made minimal marketing efforts. According to reports, FilmOne also could not secure accessible, convenient showtimes for the Sundance winner, even though the company said the film presented an opportunity to support stories that push artistic boundaries.

The film’s opening weekend brought in an underwhelming N2.4 million. This paints an inaccurate picture of the acceptance of, and demand for, such films in Nigeria.

Among the production companies associated with ‘Mami Wata’ are Obasi’s Fiery Film Company, Guguru Studios, Palmwine Media, Swiss Fund Visions Sud Est, and Ifind Pictures of France, reflecting the international collaborative effort that underpins the film’s remarkable vision and execution.

Read also: CJ Obasi’s ‘MAMI WATA’ rakes 12 nominations at AMAA 2023

Despite the poor outing in the cinemas at home, the critical reception of ‘Mami Wata’ has been nothing short of resounding acclaim, with the film amassing a perfect 100 percent approval rating on the review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, based on 29 reviews. The Hollywood Reporter has lauded it as “A vivid narrative and a dynamic study in colour,” a testament to the film’s evocative storytelling and visual finesse.

As the film is on course for the Oscars, it not only represents a triumph for the Nigerian cinema but also stands as a beacon of cultural representation and storytelling prowess, poised to captivate the hearts and minds of audiences worldwide.

In a move that signalled a big recognition of the Nigerian film industry, five of its practitioners – Richard Mofe-Damijo, C.J Obasi, Jade Osiberu, Kunle Afolayan and Shola Dada — were invited in June this year as part of the 398 new members of the prestigious Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, the body responsible for the Oscars.

The landmark achievement, announced by the Academy in its 2023 member intake, further cemented Nollywood’s place on the global stage and acknowledged the exceptional contributions these individuals have made to the film industry, not just in Nigeria but worldwide.

Read also: Nigeria submits ‘Mami Wata’ for 2024 OSCARS

The NOSC, since its establishment in 2013, has submitted only three Nigerian titles to the Academy Awards, popularly known as the Oscars: Genevieve Nnaji’s ‘Lionheart’ in 2019 and Desmond Ovbiagele’s ‘’The Milkmaid’ in 2020. The Academy disqualified ‘Lionheart’ on the grounds that it did not meet the IFF’s language criterion as the movies for that category should be more than 50 percent of non-English dialog track; ‘The Milkmaid’ was accepted but did not reach the Oscars’ nomination stage.

As it is described on the NOSC website, an international film is a feature-length motion picture with over 40 minutes, produced outside the United States of America and its territories with predominantly more than 50 percent non-English dialog track. The criteria also allow for animated and documentary films.

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