A FORGOTTEN PLACE
As a filmmaker, my motivation, approach, and overall perspective centers on purposeful, creative, storytelling. In order to take on a sole role as producer and commit to a project to the extent that a successful independent film requires, I must strongly believe in the strength and relevance of the script and the artistry of the director whose vision will bring it to life. Thus the best reasoning for my involvement can be found in my support for this story and the filmmaker Odera Ozoka. First is the historical relevance. I want this film to be made, because I believe that film plays an increasingly important role in our global culture and in the documentation and preservation of our unique cultures. Underrepresented stories in media ensure that the record includes diverse perspectives, thereby offering a more accurate account of the human experience and capacity for self-expression. When the subject matter is based on actual events, as is the case in A Forgotten Place, the responsibility is even greater. For audiences who have no connection to the Biafran War neither through life experience nor cultural history, this film becomes a means by which their understanding of the world and our global history is expanded. For the Nigerian people, those who experienced the war, and those living in the African diaspora, the film is a mirror, a means for self-reflection and honest critique, a catalyst for continued conversations. For all of us, the film can serve as another tool to teach us about the ramifications of war and the hopes, fears, and resilience that we all share. I knew that in writing the script, Odera would bring a deeply personal connection to the subject matter, a commitment to historical fact, and a worldliness that conquered bias or limited thinking, and thus I was confident that once prepared to unleash his creativity, the screenplay would graciously carry the weight of a war film and live up to the potential to affect hearts and minds. Second is my mission to democratize film. I understand that my access to the industry has been in large part due to my education, personal network, and financial resources. It has also been in part, geographical. There are many extremely specific factors that have created gross inequality in possibility for filmmakers. This is changing, but there is still a long way to go. I feel as if my personal contribution can be through collaboration with artists from all over the world and by taking film productions outside of Hollywood or the US at large, and into global communities that can benefit from the economic stimulus as well as the exposure to the field. A Forgotten Place will employ skilled artisans and much of the talent and crew from Nigeria. It is a project of large enough scale to create impact and a platform for these artists to be seen by the larger international film community. Many scenes will be filmed in locations not even commonly used in Nigerian cinema. The broader the contribution to the cinematic arts, the more detailed, innovative, and transcendentally powerful the medium will become. Films like A Forgotten Place advance the art form. And then there’s the particular example of the writer/director, Odera Ozoka. Odera can explain, with astounding forethought, how the film depicts the war through neo-realism or the internal struggles of the main characters through surreal vignettes. Yet these descriptions merely brush the surface of the artistic elements that encompass the creative direction for this film. A Forgotten Place is so many things. It is a drama, anchored by the depth of interpersonal relationships but also has elements of an epic, period war film. Odera’s approach to setting, the use of evocative landscapes in exotic locations, through which the characters travel on their quest, make it an adventure. His experimental plan for color and lighting and willingness to explore the darkest parts of humanity are sampling from film noir. Anjelica Bastien wrote “Noir is chimeral and dream-like. It is that black, yawning abyss we tell ourselves not to fall into. It is the dark mirror we are afraid to gaze upon. In noir, the monsters are human, the monsters are us.” This too is A Forgotten Place. In an age in which most movies are hybrids in genre and form, Odera expertly utilizes mechanisms from the whole spectrum of film techniques. And yet a strong sense of authorship in his work proves that his creative choices are purposeful. Lastly, there is the viability of the project. The script’s focus on personal stories rather than a far-sighted view of the war makes the budget both realistic to acquire and to successfully produce the film while maintaining production value. Odera’s experience having completed two feature films coupled with his unique access to Nigerian resources bode well for him in building a great creative team and the execution of his vision. The depth of the script matched with a reasonably sized budget will also make this film alluring to actors, so the possibility of assembling a cast with some great known and unknown talent is strong. And I’m bringing my very particular producing experience, which has given me an understanding of excellence in production value according to American industry standards and a realistic idea of line producing films in foreign countries, in isolated locations, with limited film resources, and often with people of another native language. Odera and I have shared the story, the intent of the film, our personal missions, his creative approach and the strategy to financing and distributing the film. It should be clear that A Forgotten Place’s success is evident from the unexampled combination of its parts.
A Forgotten Place is a narrative feature film set during the Nigerian Civil War (Biafran War). As the Nigerian army kills Igbos and occupies major towns in Biafra, EMEKA a twelve-year-old Igbo boy, lives in an underground bunker for safety. In the opening scene, Emeka hears a woman pleading with a soldier for her life while a baby wails. Terrified, he sits in a dark corner of the bunker and listens. Suddenly, the sound of one gun shot and her voice is no longer heard. Then another. The baby’s cries cease. Emeka shudders. The soldier argues with another man, and a few more shots are fired. Then there’s nothing. After time passes, Emeka looks outside. He finds a horrific display of dead bodies strewn everywhere, fallen in the midst of fleeing. Then, he stumbles upon one single living person, a wounded Yoruba soldier named KAYODE. Emeka drags the unconscious Kayode into the bunker and dresses his wounds. This act of kindness begins a friendship. During their time together, Kayode teaches Emeka how to survive; they reminisce about their lives before the war and what they both look forward to at its end. Emeka has a small radio through which they gather updates and opinions on the war from various local and international voices. One day, passing Nigerian soldiers come in contact with Emeka and try to kill him, but Kayode intervenes, killing them. In the process, he is severely wounded in the neck. Later, UJU, a mysterious young Igbo woman traveling with a rescued baby, UCHE, and a small goat, stumbles across the bunker. Kayode calms Uju’s obvious anxiety by handing over his only weapon, an AK-47, to earn her trust. He confesses that he doesn’t know how long he’ll live and begs her to take Emeka wherever she’s headed. He is on a mission to reconnect with his family and trying not to get caught, as he is AWOL. After a difficult goodbye, Emeka, Uju and the baby Uche head on in search of the hidden city where the Igbos are said to have taken refuge. They traverse harsh and disparate terrain and begin to build a family unit out of the most desperate circumstances. Through their imagination and triumphant spirits, they create their own fun as a means of temporary escape. Meanwhile, Kayode proceeds in the opposite direction, determined to see his family one last time. As his body becomes weaker and weaker, he moves in and out of a hallucinatory state, which exposes his worst memories of the war, his best memories of his family, and his hopes and fears of what the future holds. On his journey, he meets a weathered French photo-journalist, ANNE, who has been abandoned in the middle of the foreign landscape. Unable to communicate with Kayode but terrified of traveling alone, Anne decides to follow the soldier in an attempt to find a safe town. When Emeka, Uju, and Uche finally find the “hidden city”, they quickly realize that it’s already been ransacked and burnt to the ground. They find no survivors, and Emeka’s family hung from a tree amidst other townspeople. Before Emeka can completely give up hope, they’re captured by a group of rogue soldiers who seize the opportunity to steal their minimal resources. Despite the command of the soldier of highest rank, three of the soldiers take turns raping Uju. This is the moment where Emeka, privy to the act, loses all innocence that he’d held onto. In a last attempt to aid Uju and Uche, he tells the soldiers that he will lead them to another Igbo hide-out in exchange for their freedom. He claims that the radio, set to a station in his language, which they cannot understand, is delivering directions to his tribe. The soldiers accept the bait, and Emeka takes them on a run around journey, forces them into leaky boat on a rushing river, and waits for his opportunity to kill each of them. Kayode eventually succumbs to death, leaving Anne to an untold fate. Emeka is able to outsmart the soldiers, killing two and pushing one overboard. In the closing scene, he travels down the river alone, and through titles the audience is told that he and Uju survive the war. A Forgotten Place is about hope, fear, and the strength of the human spirit. It seamlessly moves between scenes of harsh realism and colorful, surreal sequences, creating layers of experience.
My focus is to organize and manage the project’s phases from development to distribution, maintaining the bird’s eye view necessary to bring a film to the screen and the myopic attention to detail needed to create stand out cinematic works of art. A Forgotten Place is truly a film made for a global audience, because it is a story about that which unifies us as a human race and the devastating effects of war. We believe that people any and everywhere have something to gain from seeing this film. With that said, it’s particularly important that the film is brought to Nigerians specifically, as the struggle to unify those from disparate ethnic backgrounds continues. By approaching the few theater chains in the country and organizing our own local screenings, we can bring the film directly to our target audience. There’s three main venues that are ideal for this film: festivals (such as Cannes, Berlinale, Toronto, Venice, Sundance, Tribeca, Pan African Film Festival, American Black Film Festival, and your very own International Film Festival Rotterdam), theaters (with emphasis on release across Nigeria), and independently organized screenings in communities that do not have regular access to theaters or films. We’ll also take advantage of the American Film Market (AFM). Soul Diaspora was a huge success when it debuted at PAFF, and Odera’s maintained relationships with that organization. We both have personal/professional relationships with NPO’s in developing communities worldwide and can organize screenings through partnership. And of course we’d like to take full advatange of the opportunities brought through our partnership with Seed & Spark!