Director Azubike Erinugha discusses his new film "The Champion Sportsman" starring John Okafor, Patience Ozokwor and Sandra Achums
If you are an avid Nollywood fan, you may have come across the trailer of the new film by Azubuike Erinugha titled "The Champion Sportsman". The story revolves around Okoro Ajuonuma played by the wildly popular Nollywood Star, John Okafor pka Mr. Ibu who travels to Germany with someone else´s passport. Having no idea the identity of the passport owner, Okoro begins his quest to make quick money only to be faced with realities of life as an immigrant in Europe. According to producers, the comedy reveals the typical clichés which causes immigrants to arrive their desired country unprepared for the rigours of life abroad.
The director of "The Champion Sportsman", Azubuike Erinugha chats to us about the film which will soon be coming to a cinema near you.
Why did you make this film, "The Champion Sportsman"?
We decided to take a shot at one of the most topical issues in today’s global politics that is migration. Why is it okay for a German to go on vacation in Kenya? And the Kenyan may not be allowed go to Germany whenever and however he wants? Why do Africans take risks to get to the western world? Why do we place ourselves in tiny canoes joggling currents and dangerous tides of the untamed ocean? Assuming one doesn’t die during the course of the journey, what awaits the person at his/her final destination? If the person was warned before embarking such a journey, would they have listened and prepared better for the life ahead? Are most of our expectations of Europe erroneous in reality, or what? How many young men are trapped here in Europe while their families back home are counting years for them? If our people keep migrating to Europe illegally there must be a pull. This pull is silent and psychological. It is based on this silent psychology that we weave the realities of European border politics, racism, legality, skills, language and integration outside Africa.
The quality of the clips look good, what camera did you shoot on?
The shots in “The Champion Sportsman” are breathtaking and highly creative. Our Director of Photography and camera crew are top talent in Europe so the credit goes to them first not the camera. That said, we shot on 3 full HD cameras. Sony XD CAM HD to be precise. The cameras are something else but it takes well trained and experienced camera operators to bring out the best in terms of setting, temperature, management and angles.
How long have you been in the film industry?
It is difficult to say because I probably was in Nollywood even before it became known as Nollywood. During my freshman year, I was already writing television scripts for “Icheoku” which used to show on NTA 8 Enugu. I joined the “Battle of Musanga” cast in Abiriba sometime 1996 or so.
Will you be going the cinema route first with "The Champion Sportsman"?
The film was actually designed and developed for cinema screening from day one. DVD and VCD will come much later. We have already signed for cinema distribution in Braunschweig, Germany. A Belgian distributor is currently working on French subtitles to launch the film for the EU in Brussels. So, yes, we are going the cinema route first.
What was the first film you shot?
“Choices” was the first feature length film I shot in 1995. I did not like the audio so I made sure it was not released. My brother and some marketers wanted to release it like that but I had to fight them physically! I hope to redo the film again because it does have potential.
Would you call “The Champion Sportsman” a comedy?
I would call “The Champion Sportsman” a satire. This is because the term comedy has been abused in Nollywood. It is quite humorous from start to finish but you still get informed and educated while being heavily entertained. The film is so different from the regular dry and purposeless plots some people term comedy.
What other films have you directed?
I have either produced or co-directed in the past. “The Champion Sportsman” is the first film that has my stand alone signature as a director.
What was it like working with Mr. Ibu and Patience Ozokwor in one film?
Heavy fighting in the beginning because I came with a totally unusual approach in film directing. Mr. Ibu and Mama G are wonderful actors and powerfully experienced, even more than me. But as soon as they understood why I was stressing them all around, it turned out to be the greatest fun for all of us.
What was the budget for the film?
The actual number of cast and crew in Berlin is 158 while the Nigeria unit is composed of 33 people. Just to give an idea: within Germany we moved a whole class of over 30 students from the University of Braunschweig, moved more cast and crew members from other countries to Berlin. There are costs to feed and house all these people for cumulative six weeks. There is also the cost of the Nigeria unit, fees, logistics and so on. We are lucky because some foundations, companies and groups supported us owing to our migration theme and the style our film carries this message across. Sometime this year we would want to sit down and check the books to help us name a specific figure on how much money “The Champion Sportsman” eventually gulped
In other words you won't give us a figure for the film?
To be honest, any figure I give right now will not be exact. In order to avoid unnecessary error I suggest we wait for a few weeks for the accountants to balance accounts. We started our project two years ago with initial budget of 210,000 Euros. It was going to be something small, but during the production stage, more professionals joined us, fees started going up, most materials got rejected and there were demands for high end equipments, lots of travel within Germany and within Nigeria, and so. Our budget more than doubled overnight. We are still in the post for various cuts of “The Champion Sportsman”. Sound mastering alone will cost us a couple thousand Euro! Right now we still owe some money and some people still owe us money. As soon as the accountants come up with a report, a definite figure will emerge.
Don't you think that if producers gave out figures of the budget, investors might be more likely to be interested in investing in film?
I absolutely agree with you but I also believe it is always right and professional to give out the authentic information. The final cinema version of our film is 33 gigabyte of full HD in compressed movie file. That alone will tell any investor in the world how much in terms of resources have gone into the film. I think also that investors look at the qualities of location, art and set designs, costumes and actors especially in our case where professional actors play prominent role on and behind the camera.
Champion Sportsman might arguably be the first true comedy or satire as you call it, to be released in Nigeria cinemas in the "new Nollywood" dispensation, what kind of box office figures are you looking to make?
There is no doubt that “The Champion Sportsman” will change the way comedy is being done and viewed in Nollywood. Coming to cinema will be huge because our film already has all it takes to attract realistic box office figures. We have John Okafor, Sandra Achums and Patience Ozokwo from Nollywood while the German film industry brings Stephan Lohse, Andre Edelblut, Mimi Beau-Spontin and Sussane maierhoefer and others. The picture and sound quality are on point. The story is great with suspense and most importantly laughter from beginning till end. Of course it promises to bring the audience streaming to the cinemas. Remember we have already screened the film in independent cinemas in Europe and studied both the European and African migrant audiences.
Most important question of all, how did you get John Okafor aka Mr. Ibu to jump off that diving board?
How does one answer such a question without giving away the story line? That scene took us a whole day to shoot. We had a traffic meeting and it was hilarious. We all know how perfect Germans aspire to be in anything they do. The entire set-traffic meeting was on this one issue; should John Okafor (Mr. Ibu) jump or not? Nobody was querying him for insisting on doing the stunt instead I saw policemen arrive set. Apparently, someone had called the police saying I had an ulterior motive to drown John Okafor!