I first met self-taught Canadian-Nigerian filmmaker LONZO NZEKWE about 5 years ago when he asked me to promote the debut screening of his first feature film, Anchor Baby, here in Toronto during the annual Toronto Int’l Film Festival. Although Anchor Baby was not part of the Festival, we arranged that the screening take place at a major cinema multiplex during the period when most int’l film media and industry folks were in town. The screening was a resounding success with a packed house (we actually turned people away), lots of media coverage and Lonzo was off and running with his feature film that was made mostly in and around Toronto on a shoestring budget.Over a dozen or so int’l film awards later…….the writer/director has now brought his latest project, a 37min. crime thriller, Meet The Parents, to the screen and that, too, has started amassing critical kudos and awards including the Best Short Film award at the 2016 Africa Movie Academy Awards. I recently sat down with Lonzo and asked him to share some insights into his self-made career, and about the upcoming Toronto Int’l Film Festival where he will be supporting fellow filmmakers and stars of Nollywood, as the Nigerian film industry is called, who are coming into town as part of this year’s TIFF City to City: Lagos program.
Having only spent a short time studying filmmaking, can you share some of the most challenging obstacles you’ve experienced being a self-taught producer/director?
One of the major challenges is getting funding for new film projects. Up till now, all my film productions have been self-funded because it’s tough to get investors when you are an independent filmmaker. Another challenge is getting media exposure for the films after they’ve been shot, but thanks to social media and my IronFlix movie streaming platform, I’m now able to reach a global audience without breaking the bank.
Your first film was the feature length Anchor Baby (2010) which went on to win so many international awards after premiering here in Toronto. How did such immediate success impact your career and/or goals for your future?
Anchor Baby (pictured below) catapulted me to the front of the line after its success. The film played in Nigerian cinemas for about 12 weeks, the UK for 6 weeks, Ghana and Canada for about 2 weeks. As dark as the ending of that movie is, there’s something special about the film as a whole because it pulled no punches and it’s brutally honest. All the 13 film awards including Best Film at the Harlem International Film Festival and two nominations at the 2011 Africa Movie Academy Awards made people take notice. I guess at the time, they wanted to know what’s up with this self-taught first time filmmaker.Your most recent film was a short titled Meet The Parents which is garnering critical acclaim as well as moviegoer praise. It recently won Best Short Film Award at the 2016 Africa Movie Academy Awards – what sort of comments/responses have you received about this second film from the African and worldwide film community?
It’s interesting because after I made Anchor Baby, a few people thought its success was a fluke. The truth is that Anchor Baby was easy for me to make and I knew at the time that I have the potential to write and direct other good movies. By the way, Meet The Parents is 37 minutes long and I consider it a mini-feature film because it actually feels like you’re watching a full feature length film. When you watch Meet the Parents, you can clearly see the growth on the writing and technical aspects of my filmmaking. I’ve received great reviews from film industry people here in Canada as well as Nigeria. Recently, a well respected industry insider in Toronto watched the film and wrote that he likes the film’s look, especially the real sophistication in the way I crafted the images and sound. I jokingly tell people that the film has a “38 Special” flow to it because a snub-nosed 38mm handgun played an important role in the major turning point of the film.
As a film writer, what inspires your stories? I gather Meet The Parents was inspired by a Jay Z song?
I get inspirations from my pains, worries, love, loss and life in general. Meet the Parents was originally inspired by a Jay Z song of the same title in his 2004 Blueprint 2 album. It’s about a father who abandoned his infant son for a life on the streets and 15 years later, fate brings father and son together again in deadly street fight that will alter their lives forever. I’m a huge Jay Z fan from his Reasonable Doubt days and his music in general has been a source of inspiration as a black filmmaker. He paints vivid pictures with words and every time I heard that song, I get these haunting cinematic images in my head that won’t go away. So I decided to put it into film in my own personal interpretation and also added other plausible twists and turns that made the film special.
You recently launched another exciting project, this time it’s a film, documentary & TV streaming platform called IronFlix that offers entertainment from Africa-based production companies. What inspired this new business and how did you create IronFlix.com?
I believe that filmmakers should create their own path to success instead of waiting for someone to else to get you there. I started IronFlix because I kinda see the direction film consumption is heading. VOD streaming is not the future; it is now! I want to be able to reach my audience anywhere in the world without depending solely on cinemas and traditional television networks.
I originally came from Nigeria, a country that built their film industry (Nollywood) from scratch without help from the government. Most people like me (Nigerian filmmakers) don’t worry about things like “Oscar So White” because we try as much as possible to create our own opportunities and create a market for our work. No one can marginalize us and tell us the types of movies or stories to tell. We have our own film industry, film festivals, cinemas and the Africa academy awards that’s slowly being recognized around the world. One of my main goals is to collaborate with like-minded individuals working in Nollywood, Hollywood and other western film industries to help spread genuine African stories to a global audience.
What are the top films being viewed on IronFlix that we should all watch out for?
Some of the great films and Tv shows you can watch now on IronFlix include Anchor Baby, Ojuju, Making of A Mogul, Pamper Your Mum, Form 36 and many many more.
Your next film project is called Laundrymen – is that a short or feature film? Can you share any teasers or background info on this new production?
Laundrymen will be a feature film. I’ve been developing it for over three years now and it’s a revenge crime thriller. It will be my most ambitious project till date and I’m looking forward to starting production. I’m still raising funds to shoot it so if you know anyone interested in financing a great film, please contact me let’s make it happen.
What advice (or cautions) can you offer emerging indie filmmakers starting out along a similar career path as you did?
All I can say is just do it. Most people talk about what they are going to do when they have the right money, equipment, cast and crew etc. Truth is, you will never have everything right the way you want it. Also, make sure whatever film you’re making is saying something, and it’s something you can be proud of after all is said and done. Your time is way more valuable than money because you can’t replace the time you lost on a film that isn’t about anything.
You can follow Lonzo on his journey with Meet the Parents, as well as his activities during TIFF via social media:
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