Emelonye Kicks with ‘The Oratory’


Following a lull in the release plan for his highly anticipated biopic, “Badamasi: Portrait of a General”, prolific filmmaker Obi Emelonye is set to fill the space with yet another interesting story titled, “The Oratory”, writes Ferdinand Ekechukwu

A religious film, The Oratory tells the story of a Black-American Catholic priest sent from Italy to a posh Parish in Lagos, Nigeria. On arrival, he showed more interest in the plights of street children from across the lagoon in Makoko. To reach these boys and empower them, the priest had to step on big toes, stared danger in the face and put everything on the line. The Oratory was conceived by reverend Fr. Cyril Odia (SDB), a Rector of the Salesian seminary at the University of Maynooth, Ireland.

His idea was to use the Don Bosco’s (a youth focused ministry) experience to explore the plights of young street children in the slums of Makoko, Lagos. In an exclusive chat with Thisday, Obi Emelonye stated: “This is the first time I am engaged in a collaboration of this scale with an organisation like the Salesians of Don Bosco which has 15,000 Catholic priests and reverend brothers and about 17,000 reverend sisters worldwide. However, in 2009 I made a film titled Quiet Storm in collaboration with the Catholic Diocese of Orlu (in Imo State, Nigeria).”

The Oratory, which stars Nollywood stalwarts such as Florence Okechukwu, Charles Ukpong Temidayo Akinboro, Lawrence Nwali, Stephen Ogunnote, alongside Enyinna Nwigwe, also features some Italian and American actors like Andrea Ferrara and David Davidson. In the lead role is American musician, actor and filmmaker Rich Lowe. He plays the Black-American Catholic priest.

On the journey of The Oratory, Emelonye revealed that following a lull in the release plan for Badamasi, he discovered that he had some time on his hands and while he waited for the release of that important biopic, he wasn’t going to work on another ‘big’ project.

So in a convergence of convenience, Fr. Cyril and Emelonye proceeded with the film. Although The Oratory has several layers of Christian meaning, Emelonye noted that deliberate attempts were as much as possible made to make it as secular in its rational and as cosmopolitan in its flavour. The result is a story that has a Catholic priest at its core but one that is told with the authenticity of a simple man’s journey in search of his essence in life. Discussions on the movie project started in 2015, and the principal filming between July 2019 and December 2019 in Turin, Rome, Atlanta and Lagos, the Nigerian part, representing 70% of the film.

The movie when released in April, 2020 will be screened in over 130 countries. “Now we are in the final stages of postproduction and sometimes I shudder at what we have managed to produce with very little resources and a good doze of grace, effort and sacrifice,” the UK based cinematographer added. “

Again with the unprecedented support of the highest echelons of the Salesians Order, the film is shaping up for a global tour that will take it to nearly every country in the world with Salesians presence (Over 130 countries). Now, that is enough to excite any filmmaker.”

The Oratory premieres in Dublin in April 2020. Then it will premiere in London in May 2020; before heading to Nigeria, via Italy. At the moment, there’re no plans to have a normal theatrical release in Nigeria. Instead, a planned series of command screenings in cinemas in support of local street children charities across Nigeria and in about 35 other African countries.

This, according to the multiple-award winning producer/director, is uncharted territory in terms of a film release strategy.

“But we have a unique film that would enjoy the combination of devout evangelical support and authentic cinema credibility. My mind boggles thinking about the possibilities and I am most humbled by it,” Emelonye averred.