Olufunke Adepuji

Yet again, the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) beams its spotlight on Nigeria. At the festival, which holds from September 7 to 17, the charming, new romantic comedy from EbonyLife Films, The Royal Hibiscus Hotel, will be screened for the very first time.

Besides being the only Nigerian selection, the movie is also one of the three African features in the Contemporary World Cinema category, which spotlights 48 of the best new films worldwide.

Set in Lagos and London, The Royal Hibiscus Hotel tells the story of a disillusioned London chef, Ope, who returns to Nigeria and discovers that homecoming can spring unexpected surprises.

This is director Ishaya Bako’s second feature, which follows on the heels of his debut, The Road to Yesterday. Among the star-studded cast-members are: Zainab Balogun, Kenneth Okolie, Deyemi Okanlawon and O. C. Ukeje as well as veteran actors like Rachel Oniga, Jide Kosoko, Olu Jacobs and Joke Silva, many of whom are expected to join the director in Toronto for the screening.

The soundtrack features a score by award-winning musician, Cobhams Asuquo, and songs by leading Nigerian artistes including, “Romeo and Juliet” by Johnny Drille; “Chemistry” by Falz and Simi; “Skintight” by Mr. Eazi; and “Tonight, Ocean and Radio” by Nonso Amadi.

The movie’s executive producer, Mo Abudu, is thrilled about the upcoming premiere. “The Royal Hibiscus Hotel has been a passion project for me – the chance to tell an intimate story that has heart and soul, and explores romantic love in the older and younger generations,” she disclosed. “The film addresses some of the challenges around communication in relationships, while managing to be funny, warm and entertaining. Many of us have forgotten what it feels like to fall in love – I hope The Royal Hibiscus Hotel re-ignites this feeling in us all.”

This significant honour identifies the movie as a quality title. This would be the second time an EbonyLife film has been chosen for TIFF, the world’s most important publicly attended film festival. The first was for the blockbuster, The Wedding Party, which went on to become the highest-grossing Nigerian movie of all time.

Also, the TIFF premiere of The Royal Hibiscus Hotel is good news for filmmakers in Nigeria and the continent – and further confirms the fact that positive African stories are attaining global recognition, which is indicative of improved scripting and higher production values.

A major Nigerian bank, Fidelity and Guinness Nigeria Plc are keen supporters of the film. According to Guinness Nigeria Plc’s Marketing Director – Guinness, Spirits and Reserve, Adenike Adebola:”Johnnie Walker celebrates the journeys of the Nigerian Film Industry. For us, the selection of The Royal Hibiscus Hotel to screen at TIFF represents even more of the inspiration that abounds within the next generation of storytellers in Nollywood. We are fully vested in our belief that our films have a rightful place on the global stage.”

Fidelity Bank’s Divisional Head, Brands & Communications, Charles Aigbe, was equally pleased with the association. “We are proud to be partnering with EbonyLife Films on changing the Nigerian and African narrative,” he said.
The Royal Hibiscus Hotel , meanwhile, is scheduled for release in February 2018.