KENIM OBAIGBENA: The Filmmaker Who Deconstructs Nigeria on Filmmaking, Re-inventing and Nation-building

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KENIM OBAIGBENA

Sublime and substantial, the video touches at the core of Nigeria’s socioeconomic and political quagmire. It shows where the flies perch on the empty bowl of the poor and how the rich foul the air with their fart. The brains behind the video – a documentary – titled, ‘This Is Nigeria’ is no other than Kenim Obaigbena, the Founder and Chief Executive Officer of OVG Media. Transcendent in thought and revolutionary in reason, Kenim explores the farce and facts confronting millions of Nigeria as they head to the poll elect new leaders and representatives in the 2019 general elections, Bayo Akinloye reports

In the background you can see the runny nose of a malnourished boy and the buzzing flies menacing his face in a neighbourhood that appears far removed from Lagos so-called civilisation. Here poverty reigns in the shadow of Lagos Island’s opulence that shimmers and towers above the neighbourhood. In this paradoxical coexistence, the young and sublime Kenim Obaigbena emerges to tell a story.

Transcendent in thought and revolutionary in reason, Kenim is taking a different approach to what many media content producers have been busy doing during the political season. While many producers are pitching their tents with one political gladiator or another, she has chosen a different path.

When asked what drives her vision – whether she is producing a film or documentary – Kenim did not hesitate to say: Nigeria. Kenim also attributes her gut and gumption to “God and purpose”.

“I love this country. This is why I left Los Angeles because I couldn’t tell raw and authentic Nigerian stories (in the US),” she acknowledges.

Such a path is telling considering her latest production – a three-part documentary – ‘This Is Nigeria’.
“In Nigeria the poor are invisible. They are neglected, underpaid and mistreated. I wanted to give them a voice,” Kenim says as she talks about why she has decided to do the docu-series.
“I hope that voters will vote for the candidate they believe can fix Nigeria – not who they believe is popular or who they think is going to win. Vote for whoever you believe in.

“I believe that people should make the right decision for themselves. I would never tell anyone who to vote for. But I hope voters can do their research, watch my documentary, and make an independent decision.”
The idea to produce ‘This Is Nigeria’ was thought up sometime in January; a couple of days to the first set of the general elections.

“To be honest the idea came to me a month ago. And so I went all in and have done my best to reach this deadline,” Kenim admits with a sense of satisfaction. “I have hope for Nigeria. And, I’m excited to make more documentaries like this and unearth real Nigerian stories.”

The documentary series are now available on youtube.com/ovgmedia.
Those are not are first and she says they will not be her last.
“I plan to make more documentaries like ‘This is Nigeria’. I want to grow my YouTube channel: www.Youtube.com/OVGMedia. You can like and subscribe. I want to pave my way independently in the digital space. I want to make feature films, dramas, TV shows, etc.,” Kenim discloses her future plans.

For the tenacious and intrepid Kenim, there was a moment in her life that she found quite challenging.
“In the middle of my career, about six years ago,” she recollects. “When I was waiting around for people to give me a chance, yes, it got depressing. I had all this energy and nowhere to release it. I wanted to make multimillion-dollar films and no one wanted to invest in me.”

That moment led Kenim to believe more in herself. “The truth is you have to invest in yourself before others will. Then I decided to make a comedy series, ‘When Will You Marry?’ This was when I still lived in LA. I worked with actors and it was a nightmare because I didn’t have the resources to pay them. I literally made that with no budget. I appreciate them working with me for free.

“But the whole experience allowed me to see that I genuinely had to work by myself in every capacity if I wanted to release all my creative energy. And so I built up the courage to be in front of the camera and I started making YouTube videos. At this point, I am in full control of my destiny. Not only can I write, shoot, produce, edit and host, I can also distribute,” she discloses.

YouTube, Kenim reveals, allows her to take her destiny into her own hand. She adds: “I get to create whatever I want, how and whenever I want and that is the greatest gift to any creative person. Because of this, I get to release stuff like ‘This is Nigeria’ on my YouTube channels.

But how does she make money out of all this?
“Here’s how,” she volunteers, “through OVG Media, I make exclusive content for international buyers and I also own OVG Space – we create commercials and documentaries for local companies and brands. So if you want compelling content for your brand, call us now: 09037694056.”

Her journey into creativity and production did not start today. Kenim has been making films since 2007. She has spent at least 14 years in the media industry.
“It took a while to find my place; I’ve done every type of filmmaking under the sun: from news to music videos, commercials, promos, documentaries, dramas, and even artsy films. You name it,” explains Kenim.
A few years ago, however, she came to the realization that she wants to tell stories that matter –stories that inspire a progressive nature in people. “That could be a documentary, a sci-fi, a drama, whatever it is, I hope to inspire people to be better in their lives,” Kenim tells THISDAY.

The eclectic producer started out young – producing a magazine with her sisters when she was 15. It runs in the family. In high school, she took a keen interest in painting. But she is always pushing for something more.
“It then evolved into photography and Photoshop editing,” Kenim recounts. “But I wanted more; so I moved into film. I started shooting music videos and short films in college. I went to Tufts University. It’s a very academic school. My friends would laugh and say, ‘You’ll never get a job!’ It’s funny because my parents always supported me. But my peers didn’t.

“Either way, I ignored them. I did internships in Hollywood over the summers. I worked for Chris Robinson and Benny Boom. I also worked at Anonymous Content. I continued to follow my dreams. I took one step at a time. Eventually, I was working on $100Million sets with top US directors, and shooting and producing news coverage and interviews with global leaders for ARISE News, in its early days.”

For the sublime soul that she is, Kenim has always kept making her own “side projects”, honing my craft. She knows where her passion lies. “I’ve always known what I want to do, which is to tell compelling stories through audiovisuals.”

Unsparing in approach and pragmatism, Kenim points out: “When it comes to storytelling I am my toughest critic and I push myself to do better. I am also very detail-oriented. I taught myself everything from the ground up: screenwriting, editing, shooting, directing, colour grading, and now presenting. I also always seek advice and critiques from those that are more talented than me in a specific craft.

“I’m not interested in being the most talented person in a room, but in surrounding myself with the most talented people. Whenever I have the budget I will always choose to hire someone better than me in each specific craft and because I know how to do most things necessary for a production, it creates a different level of understanding and communication than if I didn’t.”

Reflecting again on ‘This Is Nigeria’, Kenim acknowledges that in doing such documentaries there were times she was left with more questions than answers – feeling less hope than when she set out for the projects. Yet, with a sublime heart driving substantially by her love for Nigerians Kenim has risen above those feelings.
“But over the years I have truly learned and experienced that failing to plan is planning to fail. And I learned it the hard way – trust me. If you don’t have a plan it can take you 10 years or more to complete a documentary. Now, I don’t go into a documentary without a plan.

“By that, I mean the first thing I do before I start is I structure my documentary. For anyone interested in how to make a documentary, I have a full video on it on my YouTube channel, youtube.com/OVGMedia,” she adds.
The inventive young mind also talks about Nigeria’s film industry, Nollywood. In order for a film to truly be successful, she explains that it must have an amalgamation of strong business structures and craftsmanship.
“The business side of things is probably the hardest. This is why there are so many starving artists in Los Angeles, where I use to live. When it comes to business, Nollywood is growing exceptionally well – especially considering the financial climate in Nigeria. There are many producers that are paving the financial structures for tomorrow’s Nollywood. Like they say, content is king, but distribution is God,” Kenim says.

While she admits that Nollywood has become a money-spinning industry, Kenim expresses concern about its craftsmanship.
“For Nollywood to truly be successful, and break into the international market – which is where the real money is – filmmakers will need to pay close attention to the core areas of filmmaking: storytelling, acting, and editing. Today, there is more than enough resources in the industry and no excuse for the dearth in these key areas,” she explains.

Kenim argues that Nollywood filmmakers only focus on the “glossy side of things” like the cameras, the lenses, having amazing shots etc.
She, however, notes: “While that is all good and great, cameras don’t tell stories, people do. Hollywood has proven time and time again that you can make a blockbuster on a cheap camera.”
She gave the example of Paranormal Activity.

“The production budget for the first film in 2009 was $15,000. Today, the franchise has made hundreds of millions of dollars. Why? Because the story was compelling and engaging, the acting was believable, and the distributor was top-notch. In 2019, $15,000 can go a lot further, especially in Nigeria,” Kenim thinks.
Her advice for filmmakers, actors, screenwriters, and editors is quite simple: she wants them to work on their craft.

“Actors, train every single day. Take acting classes,” Kenim suggests. “I don’t know one working actor in Hollywood –famous or not – that doesn’t train every single day and that doesn’t consistently take acting classes. Even Viola Davis does. If you are an actor, there is no excuse for you not to train.

The US-trained producer believes that Nigerian screenwriters can also up their ante, urging them to “structure” their films “properly”, and learn how to write compelling dialogues.

Kenim believes Nigerian musicians have put Nigeria on the global spotlight thinking such approach of the music industry can help Nollywood to have a global breakthrough.

“They have made music that is high quality and it exports around the world. Sure it takes more resources to make a film than a song and music video. But it is time to stop making excuses. Filmmakers, it is time to do Nigeria justice and export our high-quality stories and culture around the world. Finally, to all filmmakers, if you want any advice on how to improve your craftsmanship, by all means, reach out to me on social media. My Instagram is @Kenimness,” the intuitive Kenim says.

Large-hearted and with undying love for her fatherland, there is one dream that Kenim yearns to fulfil.
She discloses, “By the time I’m 50 I want to feed one million Nigerians every day. I figured I’d just put that out into the universe so it can come true.”