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Winifred Ajakpovi: Sharing Insights into the Movie 4.4.44

Winifred Ajakpovi: Sharing Insights into the Movie 4.4.44

Since her movie 4.4.44 hit cinemas nationwide last November, Winifred Ajakpovi – a lawyer turned filmmaker cum producer – has been basking in the glee of her newly found career in Nollywood. Through her tearjerking and feel-good films, Ajakpovi has been able to tap into the emotionality of movie enthusiasts at home and abroad, serving them with a great literary piece that portrays love as the ultimate. In this virtual interview with REBECCA EJIFOMA, the Cranfield University graduate with over two decades in the corporate world reflects on spreading the love for mental health sufferers and their loved ones. She also shares her journey into expressing her creativity

Could you walk us through your journey of becoming a movie producer/director?  

Passion brought me here. I’ve always had a deep love for the creative arts, which goes as far back as my junior school days when Literature was my best subject. This attachment, I guess, was fuelled by my penchant for poetry and drama.   

And so, despite travelling a different path for many years where I became a lawyer by training and had first practised Law, then veered into the field of Human Resource Management for various multinational organisations, in 2017, I decided to return to my first love through various co-productions.  

I straddled my career and ventured into the world of the film until I was ready to leave one for the other. Yes, at some point, my passion came mainstream and became the real thing for me, so I took the leap of faith. And that journey brought me here today  

What was the last production you worked on as a producer and what is striking about it for you? 

The experience on the set of 4.4.44 was a cocktail of several things: difficult, fun, high emotions and everything in between. We were recreating an era that no longer exists, so attention to detail was vital, and this cost us a lot of time and resources, too. For example, we needed cars present in Nigeria in the era in focus, between the 1940s to 1960s. This search took us to Beirut in Lebanon; what an experience.  

We had diversity on set as we worked with a Lebanese team, German DOP and artistes from various backgrounds, veterans and newbies, among others. This pulled tremendously on my people management skills as the Producer. I believe we all came out from that experience richer in knowledge. 

Movie connoisseurs have described 4.4.44 as star-studded beyond the usual Nollywood love storyline. What was the motivation? 

It is a story whose time was simply right—a love story with one of the themes of mental health. Post the pandemic, there appeared to be a rise in global interest in the topic or issue of MH awareness and wellness.  

When I pitched the story to my Investors, they quickly bought into it. When we eventually told the story and got our first recognition in Los Angeles from a film festival that focuses on films dedicated to social causes, it confirmed that we had picked a good story. Also, it was a bit of a complicated story to tell, so having the right cast to interpret the emotions correctly was critical, and this was what influenced our choice of cast and not just making a star-studded movie for the fun of it. 

We also had a few additions like Teni the entertainer and Broda Shaggi, which provided an outstanding balance in terms of entertainment for a solemn story and the rest in History. 

What is the message behind 4.4.44?

As Africans, we have created a lot of unhealthy myths about mental health issues. The film shows that mental health issues are like any other illness, and we need to know this and demystify it. It also shows that with the proper support, people living with mental health issues can thrive. Those are two key lessons that stand out for me, and I hope they stand out too for everyone who watches the film. 

Of all the movies you have produced, which stands out for you? 

Most of my earlier works were partnerships and collaborations in various forms, one of which includes the Bling Lagosians produced by Bolanle Austen Peters, where I was an Associate Producer. Beyond that role as AP, I got my hands dirty regarding the rudiments of production, as this was one of my early platforms for expression. 

My favourite has got to be 4.4.44. for several reasons. Beyond the awards the movie has received in such a short time, it’s the movie’s theme for me and the epic nature. Mental health, love, family, and societal values, are all themes in the film, and these themes are always relevant and evergreen.    

What do you think is the most challenging task of a producer when planning a production? 

Funding is usually a very “popular” challenge, along with it, distribution opportunities and decisions. A film is a business venture, and it’s essential to keep your eye on the commercial value. I would say unreservedly this is true, but I would like to add that it’s probably deeper than just finding the funding. 

I think the deeper issue is why it is difficult to get funding for the business of film; why do investors find it difficult to invest in the business of film? What is wrong with our business value chain as filmmakers? What is wrong with the quality of our work? Or should I say, what is the perception about the business of film that makes it difficult to attract investors? 

My experience is that the industry value chain is still hazy to some people. Many see it as a passion business; they underrate the film’s seriousness and struggle to see how the value is created or made. This beclouds their willingness to invest in it and thus creates the funding problem we experience. The film business is not considered very bankable, apart from a few banks that sponsor filmmaking in Nigeria.  

While I acknowledge that this is changing, with foreign collaborations and originally sponsored films by the Netflixes of this world and more financial institutions and individuals showing more commitment and interest, this, however, leads to the second issue of the real tasks for the producer, quality.  

The quality you produce influences your ability to attract investment or funding. So for a filmmaker, you are up against the challenge of quality in a global market and then working through the biases to attract funding. 

How would you describe yourself?

I’m easy-going but know how to keep my eyes firmly on the goal. I look forward to working with fellow creatives and wish us all success and impact. I hope I capture the hearts of the audience who watch my films, I hope we change lives through our stories. The strong love and commitment to marriage vows a  true reflection of the phrase: “in sickness and in health” and “till death do us part”. 
I’m creative and looking forward to unfolding all that life holds in that space. When I’m not making films, I’m busy loving my family and friends. I keep a wide circle of friends and love to engage them all individually and as a group. Somehow I found the energy [L.O.L]. I’m at my peak between 4 am and 1 pm. Within this period, every aspect of the five major areas of my life gets attention: spirituality, self-care, socials, career/work/finances, family and friends. In what order depends on many factors, my mood, where I am at in terms of location, other life’s demands etc., but in the end, each must get a measure of attention within this time frame. After that, your guess is as good as mine. Lol.

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