Nigerian twin brother filmmakers Arie and Chuko’s ‘Eyimofe’s premiered at this year’s BFI London Film Festival.
The cross-continent careers of twin brothers Arie and Chuko Esiri have taken them from New York, where they were both awarded Masters in Fine Arts, to Paris and London, where Arie worked as a photographer, to Lagos, where Chuko produced Julius Onah’s ‘Big Man’ and where the brothers shot their debut feature film Eyimofe.
Eyimofe, Yoruba for ‘This Is My Desire‘ stars the UK-based actor Jude Akuwudike (Mofe) in his first leading feature film role, alongside the Nigerian newcomer Temi Ami-Williams (Rosa) in her first screen appearance. Split into chapters and set in the present day, Eyimofe follows Mofe, a factory technician, and Rosa, a hairdresser, on their quest for what they believe will be a better life on foreign shores. The film juxtaposes Mofe and Rosa’s perspectives to explore male and female experiences in Nigeria.
We spoke to Arie and Chuko about Eyimofe’s UK premiere at the BFI’s London Film Festival, and their journey as filmmakers thus far ...
Please introduce yourselves.
Chuko: My name is Chuko Esiri and I am the co-director and writer of the film Eyimofe (This is My Desire). I am a filmmaker.
Arie: I’m Arie, Chuko’s twin, the other director and I’m a filmmaker.
Please give us a word or a sentence that best describes your life right now.
Arie: Somewhat displaced.
How big an influence was film on your lives growing up? At what point did you both realise you wanted to be filmmakers
Chuko: Growing up I don’t think film was any more important to me than it was to any child. The experience of being taken to new worlds has always been magical. But looking back I think my enthusiasm was capped because the prospect of being a filmmaker was nonexistent. Filmmaking became a consideration when I was at university, I was studying law, like a good Nigerian boy, and I hated it and that experience really forced me to consider what I wanted to do with my life and here we are.
Arie: My experience is of course not too dissimilar to Chuko. Film really only began to feature in my life around the age of 8 when we were sent to boarding school in England. A movie was put on for us every Saturday night and quite the event made of it. Like Chuko, a frustrating stint at university pushed me towards photography after graduating, and in turn, I found my way onto my first film set where I worked in the lighting department. I’ve not looked back since.
Which film or filmmakers have had the most impact on the filmmakers you want to be and the type of films you want to make
Chuko: The work of Edward Yang has had an outsized influence on me. The list changes each week but he’s a constant. Hopefully, I make films that bring us closer together. There’s a dearth of stories from my corner of the world and as the information we receive about a certain place or people becomes increasingly dubious it’s necessary to prove that humanity is indeed banal.
Arie: Chuko showed me Bicycle Thieves by Vittorio De Sica around the time we’d both moved back home to do our civil service. The very real concerns I had for characters from a time, place, and culture that was not my own had a profound effect on me. It struck me that if I could somehow achieve the same thing for others, through films that considered my place in time, then a life in cinema would be worthwhile.
Being brothers how do you navigate working together – honouring your relationship but also seeing each other as business/creative partners?
Chuko: It’s pretty seamless, we have very similar tastes and are quite comfortable in our respective lanes; Arie is more visually inclined whereas I have a literary disposition. We’re constantly sharing notes and ideas and of course, there’s a level of trust and intimacy that’s rooted in something much deeper.
Arie: We don’t agree on everything but I agree with that statement.
Eyimofe is the first feature film you’ve both directed and, while you both have studied and worked in the UK and US, this film is set in Nigeria. What inspired your decision both to return to Nigeria to make films and to set the film in Nigeria?
Chuko: There was never really a question of where our films, at this stage at least, were going to take place. Nigeria is home and despite the time away so much of what we feel is rooted there. There has always been this question of why aren’t there more faces like ours on screens? Stories from Africa are shockingly underrepresented, even on the festival circuit, there are no more than 2 or 3 each year.
Arie: To go back to Bicycle Thieves, I originally had aspirations to be a cinematographer, but after that movie, it was clear to me that I would not be able to choose the films I shoot as a DP and that I would have to make films in Nigeria for filmmaking to make sense to me at all.
Do you have the same goals and visions when it comes to filmmaking?
Chuko: Insofar as we want to tell stories from Nigeria, yes. Putting a light on our culture and people is deeply important to us both.
The film follows Mofe, a factory technician, and Rosa, a hairdresser, as they attempt to emigrate from Nigeria – what was the inspiration behind these characters? Are they based on anyone you know?
Chuko: The characters are very much composites of people we know or have known. More than anything we wanted to humanise the people you see in life vests and detention centres.
Do you feel that your experiences living in Nigeria and the UK and the US have influenced the aesthetic or themes of your films?
Chuko: The experience of living between these countries made me acutely aware of the truth that the human experience is essentially the same and that aspects of it could be at once specific and universal.
Arie: Aesthetically we have found most of our influences from films from a wide range of countries and those visual references take on new meaning when they are in dialogue with the spaces and characters we know in Nigeria.
Do you have a sense of writing for Nigerian audiences as well as audiences in the Nigerian diaspora?
Chuko: Not at all. I think if one is sincere in their storytelling then it will belong to everybody.
Arie: I don’t see the Nigerians in the diaspora as any different to those in Nigeria. They (those in the diaspora) rely on us as filmmakers to stay true to our culture if they are to get an authentic experience of home in the cinema.
Did you feel any pressure to make Eyimofe cater to the expectations of European audiences?
Chuko: No. I could make the argument that the film’s pacing and tone reinforces this. We leaned quite heavily on the cinematic theories of Teshome Gabriel who wrote a wonderful book called Third Cinema in the Third World which focused on the style and ideology of films from the Global South.
Arie: We can’t make such concessions if we want to make the types of films we aspire to make. However, it is a concern of mine that some critics and festival programmers in the West (who programme very few African films) will see things in our movies that they will refuse to accept as our truths because it does not align with theirs.
Eyimofe seems to be a part of a new wave of independent Nigerian filmmaking. What do you envision as the future of the Nigerian film industry?
Chuko: The Nigerian film industry is very much in its infancy and has the potential to stand as tall as our literature or music.
Arie: My hope is that the future of film back home is broad and varied in style and voice. The advancements in film technologies and internet access has democratised filmmaking in many ways and is already enabling this.
Is there a push back against the typical Nollywood film?
Chuko: I’d hesitate to call it push back. I think collectively we’re simply adding another string to the bow that is the Nigerian film industry.
Are you fans of Nollywood or do you want to distance yourselves and projects from the genre?
Chuko: As a consumer, I am definitely a fan of Nollywood but as a creative, I don’t see myself making films in that genre.
Arie: Our uncle was a well-known actor back home, so his movies were our entry into Nollywood, which I’m a fan of. I spent time on some of his sets so perhaps this is where my affinity for the genre comes from. I definitely have ambitions to try my hand at a couple of Nollywood movies.
Do you have any other films or projects in the works?
Chuko: Plenty of film and some television too.
Arie: Yes but they all need financing so if you have any leads, halla!
Eyimofe was at the BFI’s London Film Festival 11-14 October. Eyimofe will also be screened at AFI Festival on 20-22 October online and have a physical screening in London at Film Africa 2020 on 31 October (get tickets here).