Rogers Ofime is a Canada-based Nigerian filmmaker, movie director, and television producer, renowned for producing several compelling movies and TV soaps including Voiceless, ‘Tinsel’, and Mystic River. In this interview, Ofime shares a lot about his film, Oloibiri, and its impact on the Niger Delta region as well as entire Nigeria. “Oloibiri” he explained, makes it easy to comprehend the plight of the Niger Deltans abandoned by the government and oil multinationals adding that “It is also a movie based on true-life events, the abandonment of Oloibiri, a historic town to the oil and gas industry in Nigeria, which is where the country’s first commercial oil discovery was made by Shell Darcy in June 1956”.
‘Oloibiri’ has just been put on the Netflix streaming platform after its premiere a few years ago, why?
It is an original Nigerian story; it is a beautiful work of art and everyday technology gives us ways to document art education and entertainment for posterity. We also believe that the message of Oloibiri is evergreen and will continue to be relevant even in another 10 years. We just hope that change comes to the community so that our message can then become about when Oloibiri was in ruins.
Oloibiri is still in ruins with nothing to show for its significant role in Nigeria’s oil business 65 years after the discovery of oil in the community, who do you think is responsible?
Sixty-five years of a system, a pattern that all stakeholders should have used to forecast for development and human growth, don’t forget that in passing blame you do not exonerate yourself rather, you only shift focus making the future ask the question; “How did we get here?”
What makes the film different and compelling?
The truth, the reality of the situation in totality. Nollywood films vary and the audience that each film is made for has come to love the film and the filmmaker. I believe in making films that are true to life and can provoke the audience to change.
What were you looking out for in a story told and scripted by Samantha Iwowo?
How best to tell a story that will not offend but educate about a forgotten national treasure. It happened, it is still happening and she had the mandate of bringing it to life through well-articulated dialogue and action.
Oloibiri addresses the issue of Niger-Delta insurgence, echoing a similar situation in other parts of the country where we have recorded insurgency …?
We told the Oloibiri story; unfortunately, it is replicated across the Niger Delta. We did not address insurgency we addressed the trigger that has led thousands of youths seek redress through violence which is never truly the answer to conflict resolution. We would say we rather were objective in our creative approach to the plight of the Oloibiri people
Considering the quality and content of ‘Oloibiri’, has anything changed in the oil community since its production?
A major change has been the current administration’s approval for the takeoff of the OMRC (Oloibiri Museum and Research Centre), which has been in the works for over three decades. We were able to get the government’s attention back to the community.
What impact do you expect from Oloibiri now that it is reaching a larger audience through NETFLIX?
A wider audience means we can reach more well-meaning Nigerians in the diaspora especially of Niger-Deltan heritage. Do more, especially the cleanup of the rivers, and provide a drinkable water system that works. The film is for Oloibiri, but also for the entire Niger-Delta region and also for Nigeria as a whole. Would I be wrong to say Oloibiri is a metaphor? Maybe I won’t be wrong.
How has the government reacted to the film?
Interested and responsive to the people of Oloibiri. For instance, our premiere of the film had well top leaders who apologized to the community – this for us was a great achievement.
How did it scale through the Censors Board?
It was quite a smooth presentation to them. Our film did not attack or indict anyone, we just told a story that is believable and relatable. What challenges did you encounter while producing the film? It was during the Ebola crisis so, getting and convincing the foreign crew and cast that it was safe to film in Nigeria was a herculean task which we eventually got over. This happened just one week to production and it was too late to cancel. We were glad we could solve the problem and went ahead with production.
Why was it not entered for the last OSCAR?
Oloibiri is not a local language film. It was shot in English.
Is it in any way, different from the other films you have produced?
Just the location, we approach all our films with the same passion and enthusiasm. We never compromise quality in any of our production
Now that it is on Netflix what next?
We have two other projects coming on the Netflix platform and we ask you to watch this space. They are projects dear to our hearts. ‘Mystic River’ is a 6-part series and ‘Voiceless’ just left the cinemas so people who were not able to catch it in the cinema can wait for it on Netflix
Would you want to revisit the Oloibiri story in the future, if things change?
We hope to do a sequel to show the improvement and the good things that have happened to the community since after filming
What would you want to change in the sequel?
I will make it a local language film so we can enter it for the OSCARS
How would you describe your journey as a filmmaker?
Interesting and sometimes tumultuous. It has made me appreciate the little things that we normally take for granted. For me, the film is life and I can’t wish for another life outside film.
How were you able to manage the budget of a project such as this with so much at stake in terms of quality and technical details?
We had a team of producers who ensured we stayed within the planned budget for the film. We had one year to plan for this film so we had ample time to raise the funds and support needed for the project. We also had an Executive Producer OgeNeliaku who showed great support to the project and the plight of the people of Oloibiri.
Has technology in any way helped in solving some film distribution challenges in Nigeria?
SVOD, VOD, and Digital satellite platforms have created the avenue through which filmmakers to a large extent have begun to receive remuneration for all their hard work and sweat.