Watch the Online Premiere of Femi Oladigbolu’s Afrofuturist Film ‘Oba’
We’re premiering the new short film from the south London-based filmmaker, which tells the story of “a lost boy in the diaspora falling into his destiny”.
You may recognise Femi Oladigbolu's work from a range of commercials and music videos. The latter often takes place across various locations in London, and the subjects of his music videos include the likes of Jorja Smith, Pa Salieu, Backroad G and Ghetts. His style is, at times, surrealistic; he elevates scenes of everyday life with the unexpected, demonstrating the breadth of his imagination. His work for Pa Salieu and Ghetts in particular showcases his use of fast-paced, sharp and deft camera work that enhances the speed and reflects the incendiary energy of the artists’ tracks.
Now, Oladigbolu has turned his hand to his first short film, entitled Oba. A competition run by BBH formed the impetus behind this short film, which we’re proud to announce is being premiered online for the first time on Trippin. Oba is an Afrofuturist offering that follows a young man, named Ayo, who’s been chosen to be the next successor to the late king. Throughout the 11-minute short, Oladigbolu weaves in elements of a specific Yoruba religion – a longstanding interest of his. Ayo, is, as Oladigbolu says, a reflection of himself and the film is an exploration of his fascination with African deities, combined with his Nigerian heritage and experiences growing up in the UK.
We caught up with the filmmaker in his southeast London flat, with the Crystal Palace and Arsenal match playing in the background. Below, we talk about his use of traditional African gods, his craft as a filmmaker and what's coming up next.
This is your debut film, and in many ways it’s a departure from your previous work. What drew you to the genre of Afrofuturism in particular?
In truth, the constraints of the brief proved to be the catalyst for the creative journey. Oba came about through a competition run by BBH, where one of the rules dictated that the film must be shot in the applicant's country of origin. Knowing I could not shoot in Nigeria, I found creative licence in setting this in an imaginative future. This then helped to dictate the rest of the creative. This is what led me to start looking into Afrofuturism.
What are some of your references for this film, and where did you look for inspiration?
I had two big references that I shared with my team. That was Denis Villeneuve's Dune and The Tragedy of Macbeth by Joel Coen. I also used MidJourney to help create some of the detailed parts.
For someone who hasn’t watched the film yet, how would you describe it?
It’s about a lost boy in the diaspora falling into his destiny.
How did you approach the film’s depiction of gods?
This film delves into a specific tradition and the Yoruba religion in which the Oyo state is a pivotal state within the Yoruba tribe. The Oyo Mesi play a crucial role in communing with the divine when a new king is appointed. In the narrative, they give their approval and support to Ayo. My intention was to infuse a sense of mystery and beauty into their portrayal, navigating a fine line between ambiguity and tangibility. Through their enigmatic movements and intricate styling, I aimed to create a sense of intrigue. From concealing their faces behind different types of masks to unveiling their identity through sound design, and revealing the elemental realms they represent as Gods. It was an enjoyable exploration in depicting the Orishas.
Have traditional gods and African deities been a longstanding interest of yours?
I've had a deep curiosity about the Yoruba religion for quite some time now. Ever since reading Things Fall Apart, the intricacies of the Yoruba belief system have captivated me.
I vividly recall an uncle once sharing the intriguing revelation that I am a direct descendant of Shango, which further embedded this spiritual heritage into my consciousness. Once I knew I was going to film a scene depicting African deities in my work, It gave me the opportunity to delve deeper into my curiosity. The research journey led me to explore the rich tapestry of the Orishas, unravelling the nuances of different Gods, their symbolic representations and their distinctive characters. The process was not only fascinating but also immensely fulfilling.
Does Ayo in any way reflect yourself?
Absolutely, Ayo is me in many ways. On a straightforward note, there's the intriguing prospect of someone from my lineage being chosen as the next Oba of Oyo. My great grandfather, Bello Gbadegesin Oladigbolu II, held the position from 1956 to 1968. In its simplest form, this film explores the 'what if' scenario of me being chosen.
However, on a deeper level, it's also a reflection of my journey as a filmmaker. There's a line in the film where Aunty imparts to Ayo, “Everything you've wanted is already inside you.” I was speaking directly to myself. As a Nigerian Black-British filmmaker, I acknowledge that my perspective may not align with the mainstream, yet I possess a wealth of stories that I am uniquely qualified to tell. This film serves as a manifestation of the tales passed down to me since childhood, blending the richness of my Nigerian heritage, my imagination and experiences growing up in the UK.
What’s the significance of the name change at the end?
In the commercial and music video space, I'm recognised as Femi Ladi. The 'Ladi' part is a condensed version of Oladigbolu, a name that carries significant meaning for me. Many of my friends call me Ladi, and it just stuck. However, when it comes to crafting narrative works, particularly those I've written, I'm intentional about using my full name.
Nigerians, as a culture, bear long, beautiful and meaningful names. Growing up in the UK, there's a tendency to lose sight of the profound beauty and power encapsulated in these names. Often, we abbreviate or modify them to fit more seamlessly into our surroundings. Subconsciously, I feel I fell into that trap or way of thinking. So, with my narrative work and within the industry, I wanted to reclaim the use of my proper name.
Oladigbolu is a name I cherish, one that holds significance for many. The name change and the way I did it at the end of the film was very deliberate. It aligns seamlessly with the dualism inherent in the film and harmonises with its overarching themes. This was my way of asserting, “This is me, this is what I stand by and this is what I take pride in.”
Can you walk me through the process of making this come to life?
It was really important to get the right collaborators on board, from heads of departments to my post-production teams. I knew it was an ambitious project. I want the world to feel expansive and big so it was important to get the right people involved.
I had an amazing creative producer in Ray Okudzeto, and together we did a lot of research and produced an 82-page deck detailing every aspect of the film. This deck helped all the departments to be on the same page and bring it to life. We shot over three days in east London and were maybe in post-production for a month or so after that.
Are there any particular techniques you used that you’d consider to be your signature style?
I wont say so, no, this was my first narrative piece that I’ve written so I’m still finding out my style within the narrative space. Maybe that becomes more apparent the more films I make.
Did you try any new techniques with this film that you hadn’t previously used?
In terms of camera work no, not really. In music videos, I get to experiment a lot in terms of techniques, but here I just wanted to serve the story in the best way possible which didn't necessarily require techniques that I wasn’t already familiar with.
Can you walk me through any obstacles you had to overcome?
With every production, there are always obstacles. Money and time normally being the biggest of them, but that was to be expected. In fact, by the time you get to shooting, it’s really about reacting to the obstacles that will inevitably come up. We did lose a location and we had casting issues on the day but in all honesty, the shoot itself was fairly smooth.
What are some of the learnings you’re taking away from the making of this film?
The biggest learning was that I really enjoy making longer narrative pieces. I found the whole experience really edifying for me as a filmmaker and has energised me to make truthful work.
Is Afrofuturism a genre you’re planning on exploring in more depth?
I’m not sure I would phrase it like that, but I would love to do a follow-up of Oba in the feature film space.
What’s next for you?
Another short film and then my debut feature film.