For Maria Ebun Pataki focuses on the aftermath of birth and a woman’s struggle with postpartum depression.

The film directed by Damilola Orimogunje, starring actress Meg Otanwa as ‘Derin‘ who along with postpartum depression is also navigating oppressive social and familial expectations around motherhood. For Maria Ebun Pataki sheds light on a neglected theme with a sense of dignity and restraint reminiscent of Mother of George (Andrew Dosunmu, 2013).

It offers a deeply emotional journey, magnified by the exquisite music of highlife fusion group The Cavemen. We spoke with Orimogunje about the film, currently showing at the 2020 Film Africa Festival within the “Beyond Nollywood Program” until November 8, 2020.

Please introduce yourself …

My name is Damilola Orimogunje, I’m from a Southwestern state called Ekiti in Nigeria. I’m an artist, primarily a screenwriter and film director.

Please share a word or sentence which best describes your life right now.

Evolving, stressed, sometimes ecstatic.

Meg Otanwa as ‘Derin‘ in For Maria Ebun Pataki

How did you come about the idea of For Maria Ebun Pataki?

After seeing the French film “Amour” for probably the 7th time, I decided to make a simple and intimate film that focuses on a family. A random chat on postpartum depression with a friend and a thread on Nigerian Twitter about the same topic inspired the idea and story for the film.

How is maternity/reproduction usually portrayed in Nigerian cinema and what were you trying to avoid?

Oftentimes, it is too much show and tell. I wanted to tell a relatable story differently. So I decided to make it a bit abstract.

I was struck by the prayers given for the newborn when the couple return home from the hospital. Among them was “you will not be a slave, you shall not be enslaved”. What is the historical and cultural context of that prayer?

The prayers from the staircase are from psalms 24, a depiction of glorifying the name of God and calling His presence into the new home of the young child. The prayer continues to talk about slavery in the context of being a slave to your peers. This is often a prayer Nigerian mothers of the older generation say, wishing their children supersede their feat in all ramifications. Also, bless the child to be successful and not suffer at the mercy of his/her peers.

What makes slavery and its afterlives, still today, such a potent reality in Nigeria?

The slavery in this context is not literally. But a wide amount of the populace in Africa are still enslaved by their own people. By some of the upper-class whose aim is to disenfranchise and political leaders who subject people to deprivation of their rights and impoverishment. This is still a potent reality because of the selfishness deeply rooted in the mind of people.

For Maria Ebun Pataki

The bathroom scenes are incredible, filled with a quiet restraint which makes the emotions they portray even rawer. I’m thinking for instance of this moment when we see Derin’s naked belly and its distended form, but indirectly, through a small mirror in the bathroom. Can you tell me more about how the role the bathroom plays in the movie compared to other rooms of the house, but also how you conceived it, in terms of lighting, camera movement, design, decor, etc. ?

While conceptualising the roles of each part of the house, I knew the bathroom belonged to Derin. She’s spent the most duration of the film isolating herself from everyone including her child, the bathroom becomes her safe-place for solace. The room is a zone of no judgement like we see in other parts of the house. She sees herself through the small mirror and when she couldn’t anymore, she shatters it. For these reasons, aesthetically I wanted the room bare and white which represents her mind. I wanted the camera movements to be subtle and focus on the character/scene. This is why most of the shots are long takes with minor cuts.

You are part of the program “Beyond Nollywood” in the 2020 Film Africa Festival. How would you define Nollywood and what does it mean to go beyond it?

Nollywood is a film industry with great potential, a myriad of stories, and rich culture. Beyond Nollywood is a new wave of the new generation of filmmakers making unconventional films that go beyond the cliches of Nollywood.

Getting to know you:

  • A book you have to have in your collection? – Things Fall Apart – Chinua Achebe.
  • A song/album that defines the soundtrack of your life to date? – Childish Gambino – Feels Like Summer.
  • A film / TV show that you can watch/have watched repeatedly? In The Mood For Love – Wong Kar-Wai.
  • The first stage production you saw and what it meant to you? – A Yoruba stage-play I saw as a child at the National Theatre. I can’t remember the title but it’s about a local Coffin Salesman who wants people to die for his business to grow. It was terrifying.
  • What’s made you sad, mad, and glad this week? – The EndSARS protests in Lagos. For the first time in my life, I’m proud and glad of being a Nigerian youth because of the dedication of the youths towards the protest. I became sad and mad because of the barbarism of the government towards this cause, the killings, and lack of accountability.

For Marian Ebun Pataki is currently showing at the 2020 Film Africa Festival within the “Beyond Nollywood Program” until November 8, 2020. Find out more and book your tickets here.