Film & Television


Korede Azeez

Korede Azeez is a young female filmmaker whose film ‘Halima’s Choice’ is one of the winning works in the UNESCO-NETFLIX initiative called ‘African Folktales Reimagined.’ Described as African Folktales Short Film Competition, the project targets young filmmakers in Sub-Saharan Africa, providing them with resources including $90,000 budget to make short films. Six emerging storytellers were selected Nigeria, South Africa, Mauritania, Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania. Yinka Olatunbosun engages Korede Azeez on the how she coasted to global limelight.

Your experience at BBC media propelled you into filmmaking. But before then, were there some experiences in your childhood that prepared you for this role?

I remember watching a lot of Nollywood movies when growing up as well as hallmark movies and for some reasons, I would imagine what it was to create the scenes. Funny enough, I didn’t know who the director or the cinematographer was. I used to daydream a lot as a child and I was always intrigued by stories. I read a lot of story books. My mum was always buying story books. I started writing short stories myself when I was nine years old or ten. Since then, I have been writing stories since then., And then I remember when my mother had her first camera phone, my brother and I used to play around with it a lot in those years. It was then I discovered that when you are recording a video and the subject leaves the scene and you pause the video, by the time you play it back, the person disappears from the scene. That’s how we learnt the trick to creating the disappearing scenes.

After that we started role playing, making drama around the house. I never thought all that would translate into a film making career one day. It was when I started to make films that it dawned on me.

How did your choice of course of study impact on your filmmaking career?

I studied mass communication at the university. At first, I was torn between science and arts. I did both for a year before my teacher insisted that in had to take one. of course, I wasn’t planning on becoming a doctor. I wasn’t sure why I selected arts. Many people used to think that arts students were dumb. And that’s what I intended to change. My favourite subjects were Mathematics, Physics and government. I wanted to study law at some point but I learnt that it involved a lot of cramming. And I lost interest. It didn’t sound like my thing. I stumbled on a UNN brochure where they had the courses and course outline. The course I liked the most was theatre arts, it seemed that the courses outlined would be so much fun. The topics seemed really interesting and I wanted to do theatre arts. When I was applying to Caritas University, there was no theatre arts; so I opted for mass communication.

The programme was good for me because my school had a radio station. And at that time in Enugu, there were not so many radio stations. Lucky for me, I started working as a student presenter and producer at that time. By the time I had graduated, I had four years of experience working in a radio station. Upon graduation, they gave me a full-time job.

Enugu, where you grew up and studied, is a cultural hub. Many movie productions had been done in Nollywood history in that coal city. Did you get any sort of tutelage in Enugu?

While I was in secondary school too in Enugu, I was involved in a production which was a television series as an actor. There was a BBBC Media actor play on radio then called ‘Story Story.’ I loved it. Even though I was used to watching television, I thought it was pretty interesting. So I actually attempted doing something like that and found this blog series on Tomi Adesina’s blog. I reached out to her and said I would love to turn that into a radio drama and we started recording it with my cheap mic and laptop and without knowing much about production. We never finished it because everybody graduated.

I knew I wanted to do drama even more. It is a process that I enjoyed and I would love to do a lot more. During my service year, I was determined to work in a television station to get that experience of working with professional cameras and all of that. They were going to keep me in front of the camera as a presenter but I kept going behind the scenes. I was given the opportunity to learn about producing, the skills I acquired, I was able to use it to secure a job at BBC Media action. I was there for almost two years and left in 2020 during the COVID period.

Did you voluntarily leave the BBC Media Action?

BBC Media Action is funded by donor organisations and the pandemic affected the funds. About 70 percent of us had to be let go.

What did you do after that?

For a while, I enjoyed my life because it was nice not having a full-time job for a while. In between time, I had a child but that didn’t slow down work too much. I already made a short film while working. I got another opportunity to make a short film later that year and after that, I got into a directing programme organised by Steve Bukas and his [production company. What they try to do is to bring new directors on board- those directors that have made short films but haven’t made feature films yet. I got into the first ten selected. Mine was the first to be made. I think I spent most of 2021 doing that. In between that I was writing scripts as well.

Let’s talk about your debut flick on NETFLIX, ‘Halima’s Choice.’ What is the story you are using the film to tell?

A lot of us carry stories with us for a long time. With me, in particular, I noticed that most of my stories grow in me for a while. It could stem from my own experiences drawn from past relationships (not romantic) or the experiences of others. When I learnt about ‘African Folktales Reimagined,’ I started digging for folktales. But then, I found this story that actually comes from Southern Nigeria. The story of this girl whose parents want her to marry a rich man. She refuses to marry any of the old suitors. She wanted a fine young man whom the parents disapprove of and she left with him. She discovers the man was a spirt with borrowed human form. By this time, she is stuck. She is stuck with the man’s spirit family. She eventually is allowed to return to her family when she marries the rich old man. It was a cautionary tale to make girls marry who their parents want. But I have a problem with that message. I decided to take that story and spin it in terms of the core message, instead of telling a cautionary tale, it became let the girl make her own choice –whether good or bad.

Why did you choose to bring a futuristic angle to the storytelling?

I have always loved fantasy and sci-fi but as Africans, we love our traditions including magic and witchcraft. But today, people just sneer at those things because they think you are not a forward-thinking person if you are talking about these things.  Although, I will say this is our own technology. It also depends on where we are as a people and if we are obsessed with technology. I always ask questions about how far technology can take us and what happens if things go wrong. These are some of the questions that sci-fi movies tend to want to answer. Girls are still being forced to marry who they do not want. I believe that may still happen in the next 200 years. So I thought, what opportunity might these girls have to stand up to this nonsense? Those were some of the thoughts in my head. What about the future?

When will the film be released?

The film will be released on Netflix on March 29.

Fulani culture is almost a taboo subject for Nigerian film makers. How come you are not afraid to venture into such cultural storytelling?

One thing that drew me to the story was the fear of the Fulani culture. I wanted to know more. Being a Muslim that grew up in Ibo land, there were occasions where people see my passing by, and they will call me Boko Haram. I wonder why people would paint an entire nation black because of a few criminals. That was where I began the research about the Fulani. I got to interview and engage with some Fulani. They are not as scary as they are being projected on the media. it was mostly curiosity that took me there.

Are there people who influenced your career as a filmmaker?

Ousmane Sembene. We call him the father of African cinema. What I like most about his films is that they are artistic and done well. There is always a strong message and it talks about very important truths. I know that films should entertain but films have the power to impact on lives. It might not change the entire world but it should be a little push. I believe that if people saw more Muslims in mainstream contexts, they will see that we are pretty much the same.

I believe that one should learn more about the craft as much as possible. Every story is different and is an opportunity to learn. I started as a sound person and I am also a videographer and I edit. Eventually, I would like to be known as a director and producer.

The arrangement with mentors is a fantastic idea because I felt this while project is the most expensive film education that could happen. Jenna Bass is very kind. She is invaluable. I could always ask her questions and she has my best interests at heart. She was amazing to work with, she was firm and kind. She would give me feedbacks that would make me think for days and again it was a lot of learning. Having a mentor saves you from mistakes that you could have made.

Korede Azeez

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