By Benjamin Njoku
‘The Milkmaid’, a Hausa language-based thriller on insurgency, produced and directed by Desmond Ovbiagele, has been announced as Nigeria’s official submission for the 93rd OSCARS in the International Feature Film (IFF) category.
Announcing the selection on Tuesday, the Nigerian Official Selection Committee (NOSC) for the IFF category of the Academy Awards, said it received several entries out of which six films— “Sanitation Day”, “Voiceless”, “Oloture”, “Ibi” (The Birth), “The Milkmaid” and “Eyimofe”— sailed through the first vetting exercise.
At the last stage of three films, “The Milkmaid”, scored an overwhelming majority votes.
Written, produced and directed by Desmond Ovbiagele, “The Milkmaid” is a Hausa language-based thriller on insurgency, especially as it affects women and children in sub-Saharan Africa.
Inspired by the image on Nigeria’s 10 Naira note, the film tells the story of a Fulani milkmaid who confronts extremists in a rural African community, in a quest to locate her missing sister, and how efforts to recapture her disrupted past prove complicated.
The film was selected by the 12-man NOSC, having followed the prescribed procedures by the Academy, subject to further determination by the IFF Executive Committee.
“The Milkmaid” was voted by seven of nine voting NOSC members. NOSC stated that three members were considered ineligible, due to their affiliation with some of the films in competition, in line with the Academy’s rules.
It described the process of selection as intense, democratic, and a worthy development for the Nigerian film industry.
Shot on location in Taraba State, North-East Nigeria, “The Milkmaid” stars popular northern Nigerian actress, Maryam Booth, alongside Ibrahim Jammal, Anthonieta Kalunta, and Gambo Usman Kona, among others.
The film owes its other credits to New Jersey-based surgeon, Oluseun Sowemimo as Executive Producer, Yinka Edward for Cinematography, Chuka Ejorh for Editing, Pat Nebo for Production Design, and Hakeem Onilogbo for Special Effects.
Screened in cinemas in Nigeria, Cameroon, and Zimbabwe, “The Milkmaid” is an authentic and riveting Nigerian story with global relevance. It commands beautiful acting, ace directing, and great cinematography.
The film is Ovbiagele’s sophomore, having written, produced and directed the award-winning “Render to Caesar” in 2014.
The 12-man NOSC is headed by filmmaker and education administrator, Chineze Anyaene-Abonyi. Other members include filmmaker and Chairman of Audio-Visual Rights Society (AVRS) of Nigeria, Mahmood Ali-Balogun; Filmmaker/Talent Manager, Mildred Okwo; Filmmaker/Author, Charles Novia; veteran actress turned filmmaker, Ego Boyo; notable Director and Cinematographer, Adetokunbo ‘DJ Tee’ Odubawo.
Others are theatre practitioner and Head of Production for M-NET West Africa, Yibo Koko; Group Executive Director of Filmhouse Cinemas and Managing Director of FilmOne Entertainment, Moses Babatope; CEO of Legend Box Office, Bruce Ayonote; Filmmaker and Founder, In-Short Film Festival, Victor Okhai; notable actress and producer, Omoli Oboli and journalist/film critic, Shaibu Husseini.
According to Anyaene-Abonyi, there is a significant improvement in the quality of films received this year.
“The Academy’s approved parameters had to be diligently followed to select the country’s entry without prejudice.
“And I must say that the Nigerian film industry is awakened to the internationally-acceptable requirements for film production, though there would always be room for improvement in order to increase our competitive outlook every year,” she said.
The 93rd edition of the OSCARS is scheduled to hold on April 25, 2021. Last year, Nigeria’s official submission, “Lionheart”, was disqualified for not meeting the non-English dialogue criteria, leading to the controversy on whether or not Nigerian pidgin should not be considered a local language.
Although that OSCARS rule has been reviewed, giving approval for dialogues in pidgin, “The Milkmaid”, shot in Hausa, Fulfulde and Arabic dialogues appears to have been made with the original Academy rules in mind and had not left anything to chance.