Thank you both for speaking to us today. First things first, congrats on being Best Voice Over category winner at CWFF! Thank you for this gripping short film in the form of a political platform, albeit apolitical. What is the story behind it? This is a question for Toyin.
I follow global politics, am an avid reader of the news and a student of politics. I'm not a politician or interested in being one. The background story to this film was shaped by my viewpoint of a people from my country of birth, Nigeria, that has got such massive potential by all accounts but has come short in fulfilling them for all sorts of reasons. And it seems that 2023 will be an inflection point that could shape the future of Nigeria and Africa writ large. That is the message this short film/documentary tries to communicate through a personal and historical perspective. I was pleasantly surprised and happy for all those who worked on it as it has now won three awards: the Grand Jury Award at the New York International Film Awards for Best Director, Best Voice-over at the Cannes World Film Festival and Best Actor at the Berlin Indie Film Festival. The film was nominated finalist at the Boden International Film Festival in Sweden and The Lisbon Film Rendezvous in Lisbon, Portugal.
David Symmons, how do Toyin Elebe’s beautiful words: a “Heartwarming, honest, reflection of a country’s history, challenges, dreams and its quest to find its true place in the world” resonate with you as director? And how did you decide to get behind the camera for this short?
From the moment I first spoke with Toyin, I was completely engaged. The script was compelling and emotionally engaging, and Toyin’s enthusiasm and passion for his craft were infectious. We discussed different ideas, fine-tuned the script, and had a similar vision. It needed to be simple and impactful, and the visuals needed to enhance the script and not distract the viewer from the power of the words.
Toyin, “the independence of Nigeria started with a promise (in 1960). And then it became like this (…)”, “our stories are stories of ordinary people doing extraordinary things against great odds (…)” In your view, what would “changing direction” involve? Will the leader of the Alliance for Democracy achieve this and break the cycle of autocratic regimes?
Let's start with the last part of your question. Nigeria has not had autocratic regimes but a fully-fledged democratic system of government since 1999. The Alliance for Democracy Party you referred to has evolved over the years and morphed into a much larger party called the All Progressive Congress, under its visionary leader and now duly elected Nigeria president Asiwaju Bola Tinubu. The changing direction message at the film's end is a call to action for Nigerians to stand up and try to fulfil their full potential.
The country has enormous human ingenuity, natural resources and brilliant people. It is not hyperbole that Nigeria should be on par with most EU countries in GDP terms and quality of living. Unfortunately, as with most African countries, people focus on short-term gains rather than long-term benefits. The film speaks to that mentality because lasting change comes from the bottom up, not the top down. These issues are now being appropriately addressed under the newly elected president, in my opinion. Perhaps he had seen the film.
David, this piece is so well put together it has an Orwellian grandeur to it. Were you at any time inspired by legendary orators and speeches?
Toyin and I spent many hours going through the script. Every word's pronunciation, timing, pacing and inflection had to be scrutinised. The delivery was honest and sincere and was connected to thoughts and truths. There was no room for empty words. The Script builds in intensity and, like all good speeches, has a beginning to draw in the audience and transition in the middle section, taking the audience along on a historic journey and with an ending that speaks to the future of hope and aspiration. All these compressed into a film that is less than 3 minutes is an outstanding effort from everyone involved.
“Who am I? I am you. And we are 70 million-strong.” This is such a powerful statement. What is the objective you are hoping to achieve? Toyin, do you feel you might have a secret agenda beyond awareness-raising and conscientisation?!
Well….that is an excellent question. I think every time I watch this film again and again, I have more appreciation for how we’ve successfully been able to weave a powerful message with a human story into a politically engaging message and yet make it an apolitical one. It’s a film to start with, so drama and climax are needed at the end, and we have that with this statement. Most importantly, it is based on the fact that the population of ages between twenty-five to fifty-five years old in Nigeria are estimated to be between seventy to one hundred million people or even more. Interestingly, viewers also get to draw different conclusions as to the goal of that statement, just like your question had done here. It is beautiful. I can cross out the secret agenda part from that list of conclusions and confirm for the first time here that there is none.
Let us digress a little if we may. Is being part of the Commonwealth a bane or a boon for Nigeria, notably as a bulwark against the intrusion of powers such as China and Russia? However, is it not a cultural problem that Nigeria’s neighbouring countries are all French-speaking countries and thus not part of the Commonwealth? Does signing the Blue Charter and becoming a member of the Commonwealth Clean Ocean Alliance and Mangrove Ecosystems and Livelihoods Action Groups turn the tide for Nigeria. David, care to comment?
I am certainly less knowledgeable than others about international relationships. However, I am aware that the Commonwealth Blue Ocean Charter is a commitment by Commonwealth countries to ocean protection, which falls into sustainability and making our planet more habitable. That is only a good thing in my view. Of course, as expected, there will be political implications with such commitment. Still, it can only be a boon for Nigeria, the largest economy in Africa and one of the largest emerging markets in the world.
Any forthcoming projects you would like to share, both of you? Are they interrelated?
TE: We've all been really encouraged by the success of Vote True. We are working on a few projects through our production company, Telefectiv Productions, on a tent-pole film franchise, documentaries and TV content.
David, what is your vision of post-Covid cinema. A short statement. And Toyin, what is your vision as a producer?
DS: I don't think Covid can define the future of cinema. And as terrible as the pandemic was, it has made people realise how important it is to make the most of every opportunity, continue to tell stories, and embrace the creative freedoms and opportunities we have as filmmakers.
TE: The goal is to produce movies that help shape the culture's narrative and bring untold stories to global audiences. Movies that will equip us for the next frontier, a world of unlimited possibilities.
Toyin Elebe, Writer, Producer & Keycast
and David Symmons, Director (from left to right)
Toyin Elebe is a writer, producer & keycast.
David is a highly motivated and creatively driven series director who is passionate, extremely meticulous, and has a proven track record for delivering quality content.
"I was drawn to the project by the simple honesty of the message in the script and one man's passion behind the story"
Vote True (2023)
© ITV 2023 Isabelle Rouault-Röhlich