By BENJAMIN NJOKU
Producer of “The Milkmaid” , a Hausa language-based thriller on insurgency which was announced during the week as Nigeria’s official submission for the 93rd Awards in the International Feature Film (IFF) category of the OSCARS, Desmond Ovbiagele has opened up on what inspired the making of the movie.
In an exclusive telephone chat with us, Desmond, who’s son of one of Nigeria’s celebrated columnists, Helen Ovbiagele, said the urge to make a film that has societal relevance informed his decision to embark on the production of “The Milkmaid.”
Narrating how he came about the story, the banker-turned filmmaker said the movie explores the harsh reality of insurgency in the northern part of Nigeria; using the story of two Fulani sisters, Aisha and Zainab who become victims of kidnapping by insurgents.
“ I wanted to produce a movie that has societal relevance; a film that will address the happenings in the northern part of the country. Of course, at the time, I was contemplating of making the film, suicide bombing was rampant in the north.”
“The religious extremist insurgency that has raged in northern Nigeria for almost a decade has reduced human lives in the consciousness of the general public to mere statistics, typically nameless and voiceless.”
“Inspired by the two Fulani milkmaids depicted on the Nigerian ten naira note, I felt a strong obligation as a filmmaker to harness the considerable tools available within the medium of cinema to help give a voice to those, living or dead, who are not in a position to speak for themselves.”
“As uneducated street hawkers situated in one of the poorest regions in Africa where strict religious customs and cultural restrictions prevail, the principal characters of The Milkmaid are inevitably located among the world’s most vulnerable and disadvantaged, whose rights as human beings are consistently ignored (at best) or (more often than not) flagrantly violated.”
“The film portrays the quest of the two sisters to preserve a sense of personal dignity – and even sanity – in the face of formidable opposition, but in addition, also seeks to challenge the stereotypical concept of the actual victims of the conflict,” Desmond whose debut ‘Render to Caesar’ was released in 2014 narrated.
The soft-spoken Desmond said he was hopeful that after a long battle to release the movie, “Milkmaid” will make the election list for 2021 OSCARS.
“I was hopeful. We know that we have done the best we could. I believe I have a film which has quality because I know the effort we put in to make the film. The cast and crew are some of the most experienced hands in the industry.
Ovbiagele reveals that the movie, which bagged eight nominations at the forthcoming Africa Movie Academy Awards, AMAA has been premiered in Cameroon and Zimbabwe respectively.
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. The last stage of three films, it added had “The Milkmaid”, scoring overwhelming majority votes.
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 states 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 describes 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.