Akin Omotoso goes sweet on romantic comedy

2014-06-01 15:00

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Nigerian-born film maker Akin Omotoso is renowned for his often violent, politically charged movies. Now he’s moving to make a light-hearted romcom. Percy Mabandu finds out why

There’s been a shift of direction in the local movie industry. Film makers have started moving towards more light-hearted genres, switching from blood-drenched political dramas to romantic comedies.

Nigerian-born film maker Akin Omotoso (40), who is perhaps Joburg’s unlikeliest candidate for a Valentine’s Day poster boy, has moved into romance.

The director of everyone’s favourite violent films is now tackling a love story called Tell Me Sweet Something.

With a sentimental smile on his face, he says: “I actually love love songs. I get so taken in by a sweet R&B track.”

Omotoso says he’s always wanted to make a film like Love Jones, the 1997 movie starring Nia Long and Larenz Tate about celebrating love in the city of Chicago.

So why are politically charged films making way for lighter fare? Because the film industry is finding it harder to make profits and romcoms tend to sell better.


Omotoso is not alone in his experiment. Sara Blecher, who directed Otelo Burning?–?a story laden with political and sexual violence –?is now busy with Andani & The Mechanic.

It’s a family film about a female entrepreneur navigating the land mines of life in Joburg and of unspoken love.

Omotoso’s new film stars Nomzamo Mbatha and Masego “Maps” Maponyane. They play out an unlikely love ­affair between a fashion model and a young bookshop owner who has dreams of being a writer.

The movie is set in a youthful and vibrant Johannesburg.

It’s like Omotoso’s very own Love Jones. “I wanted to tell the story of celebrating love in Joburg, the city I love,” he says.

Omotoso’s earlier cinematic exploits can be compared to Love Jones’ precursors, like Boyz n the Hood. Two of his previous films, Man on Ground and God is African, concerned themselves with dark themes.

The latter is about a student’s battle to broadcast his protest against the controversial execution of Nigerian writer Ken Saro-Wiwa.

Saro-Wiwa was hanged by the military dictatorship of General Sani Abacha for allegedly ­killing Ogoni chiefs at a pro-government meeting.

The former is a gritty tale that traces xenophobic violence and the disappearance of a Nigerian man in that time.

Omotoso says Tell Me Sweet Something will be much easier to punt: “It is an easy genre to sell to audiences. But there’s also a whole lot of good love stories out there, so it’s also harder to manage the expectations.”

Omotoso says although the movie can be expected to do well, “it’s still a low-budget independent film”.

He refuses to put a figure to it, but in South Africa this usually means the budget is under R4?million.

“A lot of people came forward with help. I’m a big believer in people ­pooling their resources to make things happen?...?although it took four years to get it to production.”

One of his funders is the department of trade and industry’s rebate scheme.

It’s an incentive programme through which the government injects a percentage into a movie’s production budget based on how much of the filming and postproduction takes place in South Africa. It’s an intervention Omotoso calls the biggest game-changer in a struggling but growing industry.

Gesturing to hold the left side of his chest he adds: “You know, I remember watching that car explode in Man on Ground and thinking, it’s going to be a while until I cause someone to die in a film again.”

» Follow @SweetSomethingz on ­Twitter for updates on its release

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