15th April, 2011
Another potential blockbuster joins the list of new-Nollywood productions which have wowed cinema goers in recent times. Renowned documentary maker Mahmood Ali-Balogun adds to the growing number of improved Nollywood productions with the premiere of his much-awaited feature film â€˜Tango With Me.â€™
The movie starring Genevieve Nnaji, Joseph Benjamin, Joke Silva, Alex Usifo and Ahmed Yerima amongst other screen heavyweights premieres on Sunday, April 17 at the Silverbird Cinemas in Lagos. With Ali Baba lending his comedy to the glamorous event, thereâ€™s a lot more in store for the eveningâ€™s guests.
Shot on 35mm, â€˜Tango With Meâ€™ tells the story of a couple (Nnaji and Benjamin) whose love is tested on their wedding night. How or if they weather the storm is what the romantic drama entangles its audience in.
The curious will be itching to know why the documentary maker chose this story amidst other ideas that might have been jostling for his attention. â€œItâ€™s a story that I feel needs to be told,â€ Ali-Balogun said. â€œThat is what happens in our everyday lives, but people are not willing to talk about it, to discuss it. But a lot of people are hurting and I think we need to bring that kind of story to the fore to bring out some of the challenges we face as a people, as a family, as couples, as young people trying to carve a niche for ourselves in this very robust world. Itâ€™s about communication, itâ€™s about forgiveness, itâ€™s about values that we cherish that we are beginning to take for granted. What inspired the story, is the fact that as a filmmaker you need to make yourself relevant and whatever you do must have something to impact on peopleâ€™s lives. Itâ€™s not because of any particular experience.â€
The director and producer penned the story himself but praises the screenplay writer, Femi Kayode, as having done â€˜a fantastic jobâ€™ with finishing the story.
Ironically, the idea for a documentary on Nigeriaâ€™s unacknowledged role in global politics over the years, lost to â€˜Tangoâ€¦â€™ on Ali-Balogunâ€™s list of prospective productions. Initially meant as part of celebrations for Nigeriaâ€™s golden jubilee the documentary remains in the cooler because government officials who were supposed to support the project did not understand his plans, amongst other reasons like time and funding.
So how much of himself as a documentary maker did he bring to â€˜Tangoâ€¦â€™?
â€œMaybe my documentary instinct also is what influenced that kind of story because itâ€™s kind of issue-based. With documentaries you definitely are saying something you want the rest of the society to take notice of. Itâ€™s not necessarily for entertainment, like we have with feature movies. And again the meticulous nature of documentary work, in the sense that you are talking about reality. Documentaries donâ€™t paint pictures; they show you the stark reality as they are. That also helped in this work in the sense that there was an eye for detail in the acting and the sound.â€
Considering â€˜Tango With Meâ€™ is a story about love and forgiveness, would it be logical to expect a happy ending even if the specific issue it addresses usually does not have a happy ending in reality? â€œEvery love story ideally should have a happy ending,â€ Ali-Balogun offered without giving much away.
â€œArt really, these days is beginning to dictate what life should be. Even sci-fi movies are trying to dictate what direction we should go,â€ he elaborated. â€œReally I donâ€™t believe in art for artâ€™s sake. Particularly as a film maker, you must use your film to project something positive that will bring about positive change in society. So if in real life such situation doesnâ€™t have happy endings, itâ€™s because people are not able to resolve these issues, which is what the film tries to do. So it could serve as an insight into what people should be willing to do if they face such challenges.â€
Asked how he settled for Nnaji and Benjamin as his lead characters, Ali-Balogun said, â€œI tried to pick the best materials available and looked at the people who could fit into the roles and that I could easily work with and make them interpret (the role) the way I want them to. To a large extent, they were able to achieve that (interpret the roles).
Four-week rehearsals before the authentic shooting proved helpful towards getting the best out of his cast, especially as the movie was being shot on 35mm. According to the director, â€œBecause we shot on film, you can not afford to make mistakes when you are shooting. It is not like video where you can wipe your tape or your digital chip for you to record again after mistakes are made. (With the rehearsals) we were able to achieve a lot, but better results were achieved when we got to the set; the emotions flowed better.â€
With pre-shooting rehearsals alone taking four weeks, one wonders how long the entire filming process took. Explaining the temporal framework for the principal photography, which took six weeks; pick-ups and b-rolls and having to wait for the bad weather to clear, the process which started in November 2009 ended in March 2010. Post-production amid some technical issues that arose after shooting meant the film was not completely finished till March 2011.
Stormy clouds and the harmattan haze were however not the only challenges Ali-Balogun faced while producing the movie.
He said, â€œThe critical challenge most producers face is the risk of running over-budget. I tried to manage it and, to a large extent, it worked. Of course, you had the challenge of location, in the sense that we donâ€™t have sound stages here like you have in the big studios abroad, here you have to use peopleâ€™s homes. The challenges of disturbing them; external audio in terms of noise; cars blabbing; generating sets, but we were able to manage all that particularly when we did the â€˜post-â€˜for the sound.â€
There are plans for the AMAA-nominated film to be taken to festivals, a salient reason for the directorâ€™s shooting on film. The use of film however meant importing a small crew of foreign personnel to man the cameras (they were not available here) he brought in from the United States.
â€œThis is a format that we are not used to working on, so I had to bring people who work almost everyday with such a format. (Secondly) the kind of personnel we have here, theyâ€™ve not been working on it for a while and filmmaking is about constant practice.â€
A year earlier, the filmmaker admitted to having spent 50 million naira so far. One year later his total expenditure is better left imagined. Personal funds and goodwill from friends including Pastor Taiwo Odukoya helped fund the project. After the film was done, he was able to get substantial support from MTN, the telecoms company, which he describesÂ â€œas quite encouraging. They were quite benevolent in giving support.â€
This led to the question of how the quality of productions can affect funding.
â€œThe funding issue is as a result of lack of structure in the industry for now because people are wont to ask â€œIf I put this money into your movie, how do I get my money back?â€ Thatâ€™s what any reasonable person will ask you with the informal distribution we have. Even though some efforts are being made correcting it, itâ€™s not working thus far. So it leaves funders to a lot of risk and for you to convince them is sometimes a tall order. People have to really believe in what you are doing, within the chaos thereâ€™s some semblance of sense because if you know your onions youâ€™ll do a good job. Going through the cinema release, you have a lot of leverage, a lot of exposure at least in recouping some part of your funds before you go on DVD and TV. So it leaves less room for abuse, for pirates to infiltrate because you still have control of films. Your prints are with you, whereas if it goes directly on DVD, the exposure and risk is more. Thatâ€™s why you have to make good efforts to make good quality films so it can go to the cinemas.â€
â€˜Tango With Meâ€™ is undoubtedly one of such productions. Ali-Balogun assures the filmâ€™s potential audience thus, â€œThey are going to see something of quality. They are going to have something to take away from the movie apart from the entertainment value itâ€™s offering them. Itâ€™s an everyday story but handled from a perspective they could hardly imagine. Thatâ€™s the beauty of the movie. Youâ€™ll expect certain kind of reactions from people, but youâ€™ll see alternatives to these reactions. It could generate some controversy in terms of how some of the issues were resolved but thatâ€™s an authorâ€™s discretion.â€
The controversy is despite the filmâ€™s thematic foci dwelling on faith, human endurance and individual perceptions of self and others. He also describes the film as â€˜a tourism tool,â€™ with many of the external shots flaunting Nigeria as â€˜a place where things work; where some of the goodies that you see all over the world are available here.â€™
Despite the discouraging lack of structure within the entertainment industry, Ali-Balogun remains patriotic and hopeful, â€œThatâ€™s why I made a purely Nigerian movie that I know can lend itself to international appreciation and audience.â€ With the time, effort and passion, put into the production, one can only expect that the home-based audience will be very much impressed as the flick begins its local runs.