In 2010 he was listed by the popular Nigerian youth culture magazine Y! as one of 50 people under the age of 35 that will change Nigeria.
This is what Gyang has to say about the film, and his career.
What was the inspiration behind your film, Confusion Na Wa?
I am from the multi-cultural city of Jos, which was very peaceful until the politicians got us into a phase of divide and rule. Jos became a melting pot of violence where the Hausa ‘settlers’ and ‘indigenes’ started fighting each other. We decided to make a film about a multi-cultural city with characters from different ethnic backgrounds making decisions and how those decisions affect other people around them, knowingly or unknowingly. I have also been a huge fan of films from Latin America so in telling the story, I wanted it to be different like Amores Perros and City of God.
The film is quite exceptional in my view. I found it stark in its simplicity, yet it dealt with issues of “good” vs “bad” and “morality” vs “immorality” against the background of corruption and other apparent societal ills, in a way that was quite multi-layered and complex. What is your response to this, without giving too much of the film away?
Yes I agree because those are the issues we deal with in most third world countries. The film first of all was set against the backdrop of a religious riot where a curfew has been imposed on the city. Those religious riots are borne out of the corrupt practices of politicians. It was always like that for us in Jos. We were always in one curfew or the other. When we were about to shoot the film, we thought about shooting it in Jos then of course an outbreak of religious riot made us to move it to Kaduna. On the first day of our shoot, there was a huge bomb blast in our capital city Abuja which was two hours away from Kaduna, and we shot the film under fear and curfew.
The film basically takes up the issue of morality and tears it apart, ending it up looking at the unfairness of life. The Censors in Nigeria thought the issue of unfairness was too strong that they said I should consider re-shooting the ending that has to do with Bello and his wife. I laughed at them because that is what Nigeria is all about.
How has the film been distributed in Nigeria and in other parts of Africa, and what has been the general reaction to it?
The film has been well received everywhere. In 2013, it ended up as one of the top ten films from Africa on the list of some critics. It also won Best Film at the biggest film event in Africa, the Africa Movie Academy Awards. Confusion Na Wa was at the BETX pre-awards program and also was the Jury Prize winner at the Pan African Film Festival in LA. One of the best things to happen to us is that the film opened the 2014 New York African Film Festival and on its second showing, the Mayor of New York, Bill de Blasio and his wife, came to watch the film at the Lincoln Center. It was massive!
When it was released in Nigeria, we wanted to do a day and time release. It was supposed to be in Cinemas and Online at the same time. Online was supposed to be for people in other parts of Africa and beyond but the cinemas yanked it out in a few days as a result of that. With cinemas and rights we have sold elsewhere, the film has made back its production cost and it is yet to come out on DVD which is our biggest market. It will very soon.
What inspired you to start making films?
I don’t know really. As kids, we always used to play with ‘shadow cinema’, which was something local we created by cutting off characters from papers and cutting of a carton to look like a TV set and covering it with white cloth and letting the shadow from the characters fall on the white clothe with kids watching in front in awe of the characters fighting. Growing up, I think I have always wanted to be a broadcaster but I accidentally ended up in a film school and even then, I was concentrating on writing until an unimaginative interpretation of one of the scripts I wrote pushed me into directing.
Whose work (film maker, producer, writer, etc.) would you say you are most influenced by?
I am greatly influenced by the works of Quentin Tarantino. He is the filmmaker I always make reference to. Later on, I got into Latino cinema and Alejandro Gonzalez Innaritu and Fernando Meireles were people whose work I studied very carefully.