At the TOBI film premiere

Nollywood personalities gathered once more to celebrate their own on Friday, May 18 at the Ozone Cinemas in Yaba. The event was the premiere of Emmanuel Ijeh’s new movie ‘Tobi’. The film, about a young man, who gets head over heels in crime much to his family’s distress, boasts a cast and crew from Nigeria and the US, where the film was shot.

Organised by Wise Insight’s Augusta Okon, the premiere commenced with a Red Carpet.  It was scheduled for 5pm, but as usual, the stars did not start trickling in until more than an hour later. Finally, the show kicked of at almost 9pm. Shuaibu Hussein of The Guardian was MC and he introduced the many celebrities that had graced the evening. For Ijeh, writer and producer of the flick, the idea was to portray the kind of culture young Nigerians are exposed to abroad and to emphasise the need for good education and parental guidance under such circumstances.

Patrick Lee, GM Ozone Cinemas was pleased that the film was premiering at their base. He hailed the cinemas’ relationship with Nollywood at home and abroad as a fantastic event. Also at the premiere were Hakeem Rahman, Yinka Davies, Emem Isong, Fidelis Duker, Benita Nzeribe, Hakeem Rahman, Mandy and Elvis Chuks. Ijeh’s cast members Mark Lavan Williams and Chisom Oz-Lee were also there.

Publicised with the tagline, ‘How far would you go to save a brother?’ the movie TOBI poses the same question once the action begins to unravel.

Mark Lavan Williams plays Tobi, the brash and disillusioned 21-year old, who chooses a life of crime over college. His parents – played by Chet Anekwe and Chisom Oz-Lee – wonder where they went wrong with their first child. Their younger son, Dele (Jimmy Allen) on the other hand is the model child. He covers for his brother’s numerous misdeeds but never joins him in perpetrating such nor does he move with his brother’s street gang. Dele goes on to college, graduating with honours from Law School.

Tobi continues with the fast life, reaching the point where his dad throws him out of the house and he fully embraces a life of crime. His girlfriend, Mel (Elisabeth Ness) raves against his choice of friends and is even more upset when she finds a gun in his possession. She gives him the option of choosing her over his gang of friends. In a moment of lucidity and remorse, Tobi settles for Mel. He tells his gang he wants out and unsurprisingly they convince him to do the ominous last job.

Running parallel to Tobi’s sorry tale is Dele’s success story. The little brother appears fulfilled as he finds love, finishes his degree and gets a job with the firm of his dreams, Lourdes & Myers. But his years of sticking up for Tobi are far from over.

Dele is basking in his new position at Lourdes and is soon introduced to the firm’s major client, the wealthy Mrs. Butler. Tobi’s misdemeanours though are about to shake Dele out of his reverie and bring him back to the real world: a disaster that shakes their relationship to its roots.

Tobi’s deviant ways lands him in court where he is slammed with charges of murder, manslaughter and armed robbery.  Their mother thinks it is Dele’s duty to save Tobi; but their father and Dele’s girlfriend think otherwise. Whether or not Dele risks his life and career for his brother is the crux of Ijeh’s TOBI.

The 90-minute film has an impressive storyline but poor acting skill from some of the cast dilutes the effect the plot might have achieved on the audience. Anekwe, Allen, Ness and Arturo however lift almost every scene they appear in. Their delivery and mannerisms show some effort in characterisation. Williams’ talent seems to fluctuate and sometimes he looks spaced out from the ongoing action, not essentially in character. Perhaps, it is his way of depicting Tobi’s detachment from ‘normal’ society. It is not too convincing.

Bethels Agomuoh’s directing is largely amateur. The tracking scenes all appear to have been shot with a handycam. Perhaps someone forgot the dolly. As the actors walked or ran, the camera also bobbed up and down, creating a jerking motion that did not quite fit. At other times, the camera is focused on some non-important shot in the frame – for no reason. Other technical hitches had to do with sound, which was sometimes uncoordinated. Two actors in the same scene seem to be conversing from different locations, as the background noise changes when each actor speaks.

Another downside is in the courtroom action. Is it possible for a jury to consist purely of people with the same racial background?

Something else that rankles is the tag Nollywood-Hollywood collaboration that producers are quick to slam on any Nigerian film shot in the United States or featuring some unknown American actors. ‘Hollywood’ does not begin to qualify these films and it will be a good thing if the producers stop this desperate need for a claim to fame. They are hardly at par with what is recognised as a Hollywood production that involves at least a substantial budget and/or popular, active actor, director et c.

If Ijeh can overcome the technical hitches from his first feature, there is a possibility of his next film becoming a hit; it might even ease his path into Hollywood.

 ‘TOBI’ is released under Ijeh’s Emani Studios and is distributed by Blue Pictures. The film is currently screening in Nigerian cinemas. 


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