With the film Gossip Nation, writer and producer Daniel Okoduwa is putting Blacktown on the cinematic map. After producing three movies that were released on DVD, his latest work is finally up on the big screen, reports Miriam Alveberg.
In the western Sydney suburb of Blacktown, Nigerian-born filmmaker Daniel Okoduwa (pictured) is well known. Seated in a Turkish fast food shop, he talks energetically while he tries to eat his breakfast, smiling and waving to passers-by. He is one of those people whom seems able to befriend anyone.
“I don’t have anything to hide. I don’t have any deep secrets. The only thing I try not to expose is my family. I see it as a private matter.”
The same goes for his age; with a big grin, he refuses to say anything else other than he is more than 30 years old.
He is in a good mood talking about his latest movie, and with reason. It opened the Sydney Indie Gems Festival in Parramatta mid-September and has been shown in cinemas around Australia, as well as back in Nigeria.
“The movie was in cinemas in Nigeria for six weeks, it did very well. The movie is like a window into the African community. Australians know there is an African community here but if they don’t live in Western Sydney, they don’t really know it. The film makes it easier for them to interact. I see the film as a bridge,” he says.
He thanks his own community for the support. “The African community is very encouraging, it’s a big team of community.”
Daniel Okoduwa is also pleased that the Australian community is beginning to recognise his work.
“I got a message today from a guy I know in Perth. He said he went into a movie shop and saw my movie there. That’s very exciting.”
He began his artistic career as a cartoonist, which was a starting point for his love of storytelling. With inspiration from superheroes, he drew for The Nigerian Observer in his teens.
“I grew up reading Spiderman and Superman and drew them at first. Then I also got books from my older cousins when they had finished them and I developed an interest in writing.”
He then decided to travel to Australia to start a new life. He came alone, leaving his mother and six siblings in Nigeria, and started with cleaning jobs and construction work. Eventually he went to TAFE where he studied music and business. As a result, he opened his own store, a music shop/hairdresser/DVD-store located in the centre of Blacktown. It contains hundreds of African movies, his desk and lots of hair extensions popular with African women. The store clearly shows his background with Nigerian posters on the wall and many Nigerian movies on the shelves.
He says that while he misses Nigeria, he has come to love Australia, is happy here and grateful for the support he has received, especially from Titan Review, the movie production company that distributed Gossip Nation.
The idea behind Gossip Nation is reflected in the title.
“Relationships are breaking up because of gossip. Somebody said this and said that and I thought this could be an opportunity to educate the community to be careful. It’s based on a true story from the community here in Blacktown.”
Daniel appears very energetic and that’s probably a good thing since he is a busy man. His shop is open seven days a week, and he also works on his music under the name of Scrim. The story behind that name came about when he was around 11 and living in Nigeria.
“Some guys heard me sing and they said it was so good it would make people scream. And so I took that, mixed it a little and it became Scrim.”
He has a necklace with that name on it and matching bling in his ears.
He thinks Nigeria could be a part of a big film industry like Bollywood and Hollywood, but it is not there yet.
“In terms of quality, they still have a long way to go. The movies are accepted in Africa. They have conquered Africa, even French-speaking Africa, which is good. We need to take it to a higher level. Gossip Nation to me is a step ahead of many Nigerian movies. Hopefully my next movie will be a step ahead of Gossip Nation.”
His next film is already far in the planning process.
“I’ve finished the script and chosen the people I want to work with. I propose to start filming within a year.”
Nelson Mandela, Jesus and Mahatma Gandhi are people he admires for their determination, forgiveness and compassion. They are the role models he considers when wishing for a peaceful Nigeria.
He thinks Nigeria is very important to both Africa and the world.
“It’s the most populated country in Africa, the strongest country in Africa [in terms of economy] with South Africa.”
He knows what he wants for the future.
“To be successful and accepted. The movie is already screening in cinemas. In the future I would like to have it even wider distributed. Scandinavia, Germany and then I’ll go, ‘I made it’.”
Zimbabwean actor Ngwerume Zing’anga, a tall man with a big smile, who is in the film, speaks highly of the filmmaker.
“He’s a man who never gives up. Very determined and focused. He wants to bring the African culture to the Australian country. He wants to tell our stories here in Australia.”
With Gossip Nation the first Afro-Australian movie to be showcased at Hoyts, Daniel Okoduwa is on the right path to do just that.
The film is now available for rent on Vimeo.com