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Nigerian film sheds light on refugees’ search for a better life


The refugee crisis might have waning media focus in Europe, but many people from Africa are still prepared to risk often-perilous journeys in search of a better life in the west.

Set in Lagos, “Eyimofe” (“This is My Desire”), by Nigerian filmmakers Arie and Chuko Esiri, shows the grinding poverty that drives people to consider escaping their homelands for Europe.

So is the case with the main characters in “Eyimofe” - Mofe, a factory electrician hoping to flee after losing his family in a tragic accident, and Rosa, a hairdresser with ambitions for a career in fashion, who is also longing for a new start.

“Lagos: it pushes you out,” said Chuko, who wrote the script for the film, which premiered at this year’s Berlin Film Festival.

“The tragedy is why people want to leave,” he said. “They live life on a thread.”

Migration is a theme running through many of the films at this year’s Berlinale, whether it be the early days of settlers in the US, as shown in Kelly Reichardt’s western “First Cow,” or Afghan-German director Burhan Qurbani’s tale of refugee life in modern Germany in “Berlin Alexander Platz.”

But “Eyimofe” also shows the enormous hurdles and hefty costs involved in making a bid in Nigeria to legally emigrate, which leads many to risk it all by setting off in flimsy boats across treacherous waters to Europe.

Nigerian cinema dates back to the late 19th century. However, the industry bounded ahead in the 1960s after Nigeria gained independence from Britain, helping it to emerge as a leading force on the African movie market and for the African diaspora.

By mid-2000 Nigeria was pumping out more films than the United States and was the second-largest movie-producing nation after India, earning the industry the moniker “Nollywood.”

But Arie and Chuko see themselves as part of a new generation of independent Nigerian filmmakers that hopes to fill a gap in the country’s cinema landscape, which tends to the mainstream.

Born just 30 minutes apart, the 34-year-old twin brothers said they wanted show in “Eyimofe” the pressures of life in cities like jam-packed Lagos so that people can understand the motivation to flee.

For the two brothers, the steady disintegration of life in African mega-cities such as Lagos is symbolised by the electrical generator that Mofe is constantly trying to repair and by the disregard shown by his boss for his pleas for new parts.

“There is no escaping the huge social divide” in Lagos, said Arie.

“The divide is geographically not great, but it is financially,” Arie said, noting the often-enormous disparity in wealth in the same neighbourhoods, which also emerges as a theme in the Esiri brothers’ first feature film.

Both Rosa and Mofe find themselves in a higher strata of society, a world away from their normally precarious lives.

While Mofe moonlights as a security guard in a wealthy residential compound, Rosa ends up in a brief relationship with a visiting American businessman. She also has to deal with a rich Nigerian woman, who she hopes will arrange her an exit visa.

As the brothers explained, Nigeria’s mass unemployment and lack of infrastructure mean that people try to turn everything into a business in the hope of emigrating. But an exit visa often remains elusive.

Still, the music selected by Arie and Chuko for “Eyimofe” offers a measure of hope that better times could be ahead. One of the songs is titled: “Happy Survival.”- dpa

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