TO GOD BE THE GLORY – A Surreal16 Filmfest Experience

At the African International Film Festival in 2017, the Surreal16 Collective announced their manifesto; sixteen guidelines for making films as members of the collective.
December 13, 2023
Written By
Ifeoluwa Olutayo
In this Article

The Surreal16 collective was founded in 2016, when three filmmakers, C.J Obasi, Abba T. Makama, and Michael Omonua, inspired by the Dogme 95 movement, sought an avenue to make a different kind of Nigerian narrative.

From left to right: Michael Omonua Gouken, C.J. Obasi and Abba T. Makama

At the African International Film Festival in 2017, during a panel moderated by the festival’s Artistic director, Newton Aduaka, the Surreal16 Collective announced their manifesto; sixteen guidelines for making films as members of the collective.

They have, in the years since that landmark announcement, made films that have experimented with form and narrative, staying true to their pledge in 2017, and the films they’ve made have gone on to inspire a new generation of filmmakers seeking to make films in ways that they see fit, to push the norms and boundaries of what a Nigerian film should be.

These filmmakers were on show at the third edition of the Surreal 16 Film Festival, which was held from the 7th to the 10th of December, 2023.

The festival was tagged “To God Be The Glory”, a reference to the 13th rule in the manifesto, which states “No to God be the Glory at the end of films” and which was revised in the runup to the festival and now reads “To God Be The Glory encouraged after the end credits.”

The festival opened on Thursday, 7th December with Banel and Adama, a film by French-Malian-Senegalese screenwriter Ramata-Toulaye Sy in her feature directorial debut, which had competed for the Palme d’Or and the Camera d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival in May. A mesmerizing film, it was a sign of things to come as the festival progressed.

The second day of the festival was dedicated to short films curated by the team at the festival, with two programming blocks, one dedicated to spellbinding narratives concocted by the next generation of filmmakers, and the other dedicated to some truly incredible experimental short film offerings.

In the narrative block, viewers were treated to short films like Dika Ofoma’s A Quiet Monday, which followed the relationship between two siblings set within the tense political landscape of the South-East and the psychological thriller, Doctor Who? by Jenrola Lawore that turned a seemingly harmless court-mandated therapy session into one of danger-induced catharsis.

Besida, a short film exploring a fragile sibling relationship and its consequences by Chuko Esiri was also shown before Abba T. Makama sat with him in conversation about Eyimofe, the feature film made with his brother (Arie Esiri), and the trailblazing paths walked by the film before becoming the first Nigerian feature film in the Criterion Collection.

In the experimental film block, viewers were also treated to magical short films like You Matter to Me by Immaculata Abba, which is a striking portrait of two generations of the filmmaker’s family, and Lorem Ipsum by Sasha Agbontaen and Retepoki, which was a film that played with the ideas of what narrative could be in search of answers to questions about The Self and our responsibilities to it, drawing influence from the Carl Jung’s four major archetypes and the Ingmar Bergman masterpiece, Persona.

On the third day, there was a retrospective screening of the Eddie Ugbomah film, Death of a Black President, and a filmmaker’s live podcast hosted by TMT, which was geared towards hearing in detail from the filmmakers who had screened short films the day before.

To wrap up the third day, there were two back-to-back screenings of the Official Nigerian Submission to the 2024 Oscars, Mami Wata.

Stills from the film Mami Wata shown on Saturday

A landmark Nigerian film, being the first indigenous Nigerian feature film to premiere and win at Sundance Film Festival (World Cinema Dramatic Special Jury Award: Cinematography); it is also the first Nigerian film to be nominated in the Best International Film category at the Independent Spirit Awards.

Festival goers were also able to attend a sit-down with the film’s director, C.J. Obasi, as he chronicled the journey of the film from 2016 till now, taking questions from the audience and sharing critical advice for young filmmakers looking to chart the path he and his film had laid.

On the fourth and final day of the festival, the closing film, Augure (Omen) was shown to a captivated audience, as the director, Baloji astounded onlookers with thought-provoking sequences and images.This film, like the opening film, had also premiered at the Cannes Film Festival (this one premiered in the category, Un Certain Regard, where it won the New Voice Prize).

One award was handed out this year; the Rising Star Award, and it was won by Immaculata Abba for her film, You Matter to Me. A deserved conferment, in my opinion, as it was one of the standout films among critics and film enthusiasts who graced the four days of the festival.

Budding filmmakers also took the opportunity to interact with talented, potential collaborators forthe future, sharing ideas and garnering critical advice, which of course is key to the evolution of any film industry.

The Surreal16 collective logo

The Collective has always made facilitation of such opportunities in varying forms a key part of what they do, as expressed in their curation of a New Nigerian Wave Program at the Internationale Kurzfilmtage Winterthur this year, which showed 17 Nigerian short films by 19 Nigerian filmmakers.This was brought about by Michael Omonua’s award-winning presence at the festival in 2021 (with his short film, Rehearsal), and it is a mark of the Collective’s commitment to giving a global platform to new diverse voices in Nigerian Cinema.

The experience curated at the Surreal16 film festival this year also afforded interactivity for willing parties, with attendees also asked to complete an interactive storyboard experience for a film titled; To God Be the Glory. Needless to say, the attendees rose to the task, also challenging cinematic norms, and contributions replete with humor, pathos, and memorable exchanges.

Who knows?It could be the next film out of the Collective’s surrealist locker.

As we await the next edition and the next set of films and events lined up by the Surreal16 collective, we can only hope that the filmmakers present at the four-day festival are inspired to keep dreaming up incredible narratives, and when they do, the end credits rolling, with To God Be the Glory displayed as encouraged, we’ll be there to champion their incredible vision and achievements.

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