What’s it like creating a movie out of a TV show? We asked Buhari Yesufu, a 25-year-old director who teamed up with a bunch of creatives to create Sub-Sahara, an exhilarating and experimental TV show and then Sub-Sahara, the movie, to tell us.
Tell me about the movie.
Subsahara is a live-action play. It started as a TV show that airs every Tuesday. Sometime last year, Chinedu Uguru, the producer, and I and a few people came together and thought, “There’s Corona, and we can’t shoot anymore — we should create a play.” Around that period, we were watching the 2019 Dolemite, and it was fascinating watching Eddie Murphy explore how Black people got involved in cinema in America. I did some research, and I found some beautiful old Nigerian sitcoms like Bassey and Company. These shows depicted the average Nigerian, but they didn’t make it the typical village scenes. They made basic jokes, intelligent conversations, and had nice set designs. I was like, wow, a lot of us don’t have access or know of movies like these. When people think of Old Nollywood, it’s the 90s and movies starring Genevieve and Omotola.
Why did you decide to make Sub-Sahara into a TV show first?
We wanted the everyday Nigerian with a TV to see it. Right now, the people who are seeing Sub-Sahara are average Nigerians. It’s not on Netflix or any streaming service, so the more well-off Nigerians can’t see it. Normally, it’s the other way around — iit shows in the cinema, and then it moves to TV maybe a year later. We didn’t want that.
How has moving from TV to theatre been?
Both formats are very different. We had issues with sound, editing, the format and had to correct them. Normally, editing an episode for TV takes like two or three days. We’ve been editing the movie since October last year. We are lucky because we were already using cinema-standard equipment for the show, so shooting it was easier.
How would you sell Sub-Sahara to me if you wanted me to go see it?
I would call it the first live-action play film. Why I would say it like this is because if you watch it, it is a play. From the narrator, the audience, the red curtains, the way we shoot it, the angles we are shooting from. I’ll call it the first-ever live-action play in Nigeria. I don’t know if anyone has done it ever, and that’s exciting.
What was casting like for Sub-Sahara?
The first person I cast was Darasimi Ogbetah. She plays a main character, Mama Kenny. Before Sub-Sahara, I went to America, California last year. After a while, I was tired of feeling whitewashed, Americanised. I thought, ”Why does glamour have to be white or American?”
So when I was going through people, I saw Darasimi, and there was this party picture of her that just took me to 80s Nollywood. It was in black and white. She was wearing a big hair and really bright makeup. The picture spoke glamour to me. I was like, this is perfect.
She was the first person I cast and Papa Kenny was next. Papa Kenny was very simple because he is a funny, animated guy. When I saw him, I told him, “I want you to play this role.”
There were a few people who turned us down. People who came on the set and at first didn’t understand what we were doing. But we pushed on, and you know, did some cast callings and came out with the best people.
What has been your favourite and worst part of making Sub-Sahara?
Well, my favourite part has been just creating, creating with people; being out there and doing what we like and want. The moment where we achieved what we wanted, where we were like, “Wow, we got this shot.” That was the best part.
The difficult part was working together. Our casts were like 12. There were a lot of new faces and some well-known faces like Sophie Alakija, Steve Chuks, but the majority of the cast were new. And so everyone had different opinions of what the movie should look like.
Listening to people’s opinions and working together was quite — I won’t say it difficult — but it was challenging to make sure everyone was happy.
When all is said and done, what do you hope people take away from Sub-Sahara?’
I hope they laugh, I hope they enjoy it, I hope they have fun. There is nothing like Sub-Sahara. I hope it makes them see things differently. We had a media screening, and some media people were taken aback — they were confused. Even the confusion, I encourage it. There are a lot of topics we touched on in Sub-Sahara that I feel like the average Nigerian would not like. We spoke about the LGBTQ+ community, police brutality. There are a lot of things that you don’t exactly see in Nigerian films. I hope they laugh first because it is a comedy, but I hope it is intriguing.