Meeting Kagho Idhebor, Next-rated Cinematic Legend 

Meeting Kagho Idhebor, Next-rated Cinematic Legend 

From making short films, the multiple award-winning director and two-time Africa Magic Viewers’ Choice Award nominee in the Best Cinematography category, Kagho Idhebor, is currently working on a feature film project, he tells Yinka  Olatunbosun

Perhaps the earliest encounter with his work for the Lagos audience was at the 2019 iREP Documentary Film Festival, where his well-researched music documentary, titled My Father’s Book, was screened. 

Undoubtedly, his attention to details as a cinematographer is a reflection of his strong film educational background. Kagho Idhebor’s journey into filmmaking began at the National Film Institute in Jos, where he obtained a degree in filmmaking. In 2012, he moved on to earn a certificate in advanced cinematography from the prestigious German-funded institute, One Fine Day Films, in Nairobi, Kenya. 

Kagbo’s collaboration with directors and producers has led to various award-winning films and recognition beyond the Nigerian shore. A multiple award-winning director and two-time Africa Magic Viewers’ Choice Award (AMVCA) nominee in the Best Cinematography category, his recent project, King of Boy: The Return of the King, an original Netflix series, is currently streaming on the platform.

At the 2023 Festival Panafricain du Cinema de Ouagadougou (FESPACO), his photo essay documentary film, titled Burkina Babes, was screened. The film documents the independent spirit of the women of Burkina Faso. In a recent interview with Idhebor, he talks about his latest short film, Broken Mask. Troubled by a personal experience, he created a visual story that captures this societal ill and the complicated world of the young victims of sexual abuse.

“Every day on the internet or in the news, you hear cases of innocent children being molested randomly, but there’s never a publicised punishment meted on the offenders, who are mostly close family members or close family friends to the victims,” he laments. “The news goes quiet very quickly, and everybody moves on like nothing happened, leaving the victims to carry the hate for the rest of their lives until they find healing. Sadly, some never find healing. Instead, they extend that punishment to the opposite sexes or other innocent children, and the story continues.  

“I have always said that when such an act happens close to me, I will make sure that the offender pays dearly for it until a day comes when someone close to me (now eight) reports her uncle for touching her private parts. According to her, she resisted and told him, ‘Mummy and Daddy said no one should touch her private part’.”

Without proof and a confession, the matter fizzled out. But it made such an imprint on Kagho’s mind.

“I believed the child because such stories could not be cooked up by a four-year-old, and I was grateful that she dared to speak up early enough before the molestation got to another level,” he argues. “On the other hand, I was traumatised for a long time because the act happened around me, and I felt very guilty that I could not protect her. I also could not do anything about it because of family sentiment.”

This experience, he adds, informed his decision to make a film. In his opinion, there is a need to address such situations, express the need for victims to be courageous enough to speak up when sad situations like this happen, and also explain why families should not be shy about taking action against perpetrators of such acts.

From his research, out of every 10 girls in our society, four to seven are victims of molestation, and a large percentage of them are still living with the aftermath effect.

The 15-minute short film premiered in Lagos at the Surreal 16 short film festival in December 2022, where it picked up the Audience Choice Award. Mixed reactions trailed the screening.

Later, the film had its international premiere at the Luxor African Film Festival in Egypt in February 2023.

“After my Q&A in Luxor, a female filmmaker about my age came and sat close to me and whispered to my ear that this incident happened to her when she was a little girl, and she has never mentioned it to anybody, including her parents. I asked why, to which she replied she had better not talk about it. She gave me a long hug and thanked me for making the film.”

Speaking about the funding for his film projects, he expressed gratitude for his supportive friends. “Eighty percent of the project was financially self-sponsored. I got financial support from friends like Tunwa Aderinokun, CEO of Trino Studios, who has always supported my work. I also got the support of my long-time filmmaker friends Udoka Onyeka and Etim Effiong, who took care of my post-sound fees. Kemi Adetiba supported me with her camera gear for two days, as did my ever-supportive actors and crew, who came on board the project for zero or little pay. 

“I spent two years saving money to make this film. Because I have great taste in cinema, I wanted every element of the film to be the best quality it could be.”

The short film, classified in the Magical Reality genre, demanded a long process of communication, construction, sewing, and experimentation with different masks and costume ideas. Interestingly, the lead character is a skilled painter and sculptor, while his house was the actual film location.

“I used the famous Nigerian painter and sculptor Ben Enwonwu as a model for the main character, played by actor Brutus Richards. I showed Brutus pictures of Ben Enwonwu at work and told him that I wanted this kind of charisma from him when interpreting the character. I also pleaded with him to keep his beard for as long as we would be ready to shoot, and he kept to that promise for almost 6–8 months without a monetary price attached. He was very committed.

“When I started seeing possibilities of infusing the concept of a masquerade into the story structure, my first influence was also Ben Enwonwu’s painting Ogolo 1992. During script adjustment, I looked at that painting for a long time until it began to feel like it was moving.

“As I researched further, I stumbled on the works of multi-talented painter and sculptor Juliet Ezenwa-Pearce. Her works were a representation of everything I envisioned for the film.

“Through the assistance of my friend and veteran filmmaker, Mr. Tam Fiofori, I got introduced to Juliet Ezenwa-Pearce, and she invited me over to her studio. Ezenwa-Pearce gave the film production team her paintings and sculpted mask collections and helped to install the artwork by herself.”

The short film features the voice of Juliet Ezenwa-Pearce in a podcast playing from the speakers, where she makes a profound statement about gender discrimination in Nigerian indigenous art and culture.

“Even the masquerade design on the face of a woman is still won by a man.”

Burkina Babes, screened at the Film Africa festival in London and FESPACO in Ouagadougou, was a product of his 2018 visit to Burkina Faso.

“Immediately I got out of the airport, I noticed there were more bikes than cars on the streets, and the majority of the bike riders were women. I was blown away because I have never seen women drive motorcycles of such magnitude with so much presence and attitude of different kinds. I was deeply fascinated, and immediately I started taking pictures of these women. I took those pictures throughout my stay in Burkina Faso.”

Three years later, he decided to write an essay about each of the photographs and named it Burkina Babes.

“About five months later, after Burkina Babes premiered at the IREP film festival in Lagos, I got an invitation email from Nadia saying Burkina Babes will screen in the next edition of the Film Africa Festival under the BEYOND NOLLYWOOD programme happening at the British Film Institute in October 2022.”

The response and feedback were over the top, and I became an instant celebrity until the festival ended.

A few months later, in late February 2023, Burkina Babes was selected to screen at the just-concluded Pan-African Film and Television Festival of Ouagadougou, FESPACO, a most prestigious film festival in Africa. It was a monumental experience that made up for the challenges of street photography.

 “I have gotten into trouble on several occasions. In 2012, I was arrested in Nairobi for taking pictures on the street, and after several interrogations, I was set free. You see, a clear conscience does not fear accusations. My pictures are mainly for documentation and fun.

“I understand the issue of insecurity in the world today. It may seem like an intrusion, but in the real sense, it’s the preservation of treasures because the only way we can tell people how the world was is through photographs, and the older these photographs get, the more valuable they are.

Inspired by photographers such as Tam Fiofori, Bruce Gilden, and Fan Ho, Kagho admitted that the arrival of Netflix in African cinema is a breakthrough.

“I agree that the presence of Netflix in Nigeria has brought a lot of development to our industry. All that is left now is for us, the players, to take good advantage of the platform and realise that our competitors are now the universal film industry and not amongst ourselves in Nollywood.

While reflecting on what is next on his production plan, he revealed: “On a cruise ship on the river Nile in Esna Egypt, I had a chat with a Rwandan filmmaker, and he asked me, ‘Why do you keep making short films? It’s time you made a feature.’ Even though I had that thought before, I felt an energy that sparked courage in me. So, I’m working on my next film project, which will be a feature film.”

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