The Critics Who Rule: From the Streets of Kaduna to the World

The African filmmaking scene has been producing a range of exciting talents in recent years, with The Critics Company, a collective of independent filmmakers from Kaduna, being one of the most promising. With a mission to become some of the greatest filmmakers in the world, the group has been officially making short films for the past five years and has been gradually putting the continent’s cinematographic creativity on the global map.

The Critics Company’s story began almost a decade ago when they started making their own films with family members as the cast and crew. However, it wasn’t until five years ago that they officially became a company and started attracting people outside of their family to join the team. Now, the group is a collective of individuals who share a passion for creating captivating films.

The company’s YouTube channel is a testament to their talent and dedication. They have worked on personal projects as well as notable Nollywood films such as CJ Obasi’s Juju Stories and Kemi Adetiba’s King of Boys: The Return of the King. Moreover, the group has collaborated on an international capacity with the likes of Morgan Freeman on the short film “Ogun Ola: War is Coming”. In 2021, Nigerian unicorn startup, Flutterwave, even presented a short film by The Critics titled “We Are Here” at ArtXLagos.

Despite the challenges of working on low budgets and limited resources, The Critics Company continues to produce awe-inspiring work that inspires other creatives to embrace their individuality and create with the resources they have at their disposal.

In the following pages, we sat down with members of the group to discuss their journey as part of this rapidly growing creative collective, their relationship with one other, and their perspective on balancing individuality with group dynamics.

What are you currently reading?

RAYMOND: Hmm. It’s a filmmaking book called Producer to Producer by Maureen A. Ryan. It is in the office.

RONALD: We have just received a book package, the VFX/Design model of the new Avatar. The title is The World of Avatar – A Visual Exploration. That is what I will be reading next.

What are your roles here at The Critics?

RAYMOND: I do everything. I am not the only VFX person, and every team member can do a little bit of everything. There is no ‘this is Raymond’s role”. I do everything—VFX, production, direction, and acting. That’s my identity, so I know how to do everything.

RONALD: I do a bit of everything. (Laughs) Yes. I shoot sometimes, edit sometimes, do the VFX sometimes, and run errands sometimes. I also used to model but not anymore. I didn’t take any modelling gigs last year. That is kind of dormant. The Critics Company is my life altogether now. I have no other interests like that outside my work here.

RICHARD: Yes, I act, I do VFX, I edit, I host, and a lot. Whatever is required for The Critics to function, I’m all in.

The Critics Company is a creative space.

RICHARD: Yes. The cool thing is that we

started in a subtle sense. The more we grew, the more we had to do, so we had to adapt to each role available at the company. Everyone just kept learning more, finding interests and improving, which is one thing that makes us The Critics.

How long did it take you to work on the VFX for Ogun Ola? Did everyone partake?

RAYMOND: Yes, everyone had something to contribute. The entire post-production for “Ogun Ola” started from January 2021 up until February 2022. And then, we did additional post-production shortly before release because we had to change the title.

What’s life like outside of The Critics.

RONALD: Yes, I am a 200-level student at the University of Abuja. I’m studying theatre and performing arts. (Laughs). Yes. Anyways, the semester just started, and I would have to go back, but I am not in a hurry. I don’t like theatre, though. I find it boring—at least Theatre Arts in Abuja.

RONALD: Most of the work I do here is what I use there. I learn much more from The Critics than in in school, but I will only drop out if they start moving somehow and make me stressed. When I get bored here, I’ll go back. My job at school productions is set design. I do the carpentry, design, and drawings needed for the production. But I would not be acting. I just feel better here with my people than acting for scores.

RICHARD: That is very tricky to navigate because I am trying to get into other things, but I have found that shifting focus destabilises me. I am an aspiring documentary photographer. At KIPFEST in 2020, when we visited the palace of the Emir and documented it, for some weird reason, I loved it. I admire spaces like that and expressionist art and find exhibitions very interesting. I would like to work towards it, but shifting focus outside The Critics destabilises me.

Is this because most of your activities revolve around filmmaking?

RICHARD: Exactly, so when I try to do other things, I feel like I am slacking, but I will shift focus.

What other activities are you involved in?

RAYMOND: Most of my work is not on my page. There is a video of me working on the set of King of Boys. You may

not even know that I am a CGI artist. I do 3D modelling, rendering, animation, and compositing. You can’t tell that from my page; it is not even intentional. I just kind of go off from social media. But right now, I am getting back into it because of the mini vlogs. ‘The Everyday Vlog.’ I don’t have any individual projects. I work at The Critics, I am a part of The Critics, and The Critics is a part of me.

RICHARD: Yes, I have been part of the exhibition for ArtX Lagos. It is Art Tech. We collaborated with an organisation called AWCA and set up an exhibition where we immerse people in a world they have never been in. Think Sci-Fi. For example, one of the stuff we did was have people come into our setup, and they stood like they were in a duel, and we took this footage to our workshop and put the volunteers and participants into a world where they were shooting fire beams at themselves. That part of my work is less popular than work with The Critics.

Is your work in the industry more of curation?

RICHARD: Yes, and I want to start showing my art, but I am trying my best not to show it off in a generic sense. There is a set standard way of viewing art. It is on the wall, and people come and look. There is crazy work because everyone has different art forms, but that viewing process is generic. I want people to be immersed in the viewing. The film will make it unique.

RONALD: I am a Car person. I love cars. I’m looking into photography automobiles. I would like to be a mechanic to design, destroy, and pimp rides. I am more interested in the car’s performance levels.

Is there a market for that here?

RONALD: In Kaduna, no. The automotive scene is not budding, but Abuja is where it’s at. I love Car Meets, drifting events, and all. I love learning all I can about cars I like, taking photos and studying the specs. I have done car photography at Car Meets in Abuja for Artng. They organise car meets and all of that.

So, why did you stop modelling? You were on the cover of KAFART’s The Revue Magazine in 2021.

RONALD: I find it boring. I can randomly decide on a nice outfit, take photos and edit them. Also, when I am approached, I can model. But I just don’t go searching for gigs. The Critics is my focus.

How did it feel when you had the preview of “Ogun Ola” at Kudenda?

RONALD: It was good, but I did not have time to develop a feeling about it because I was so busy. I was running errands, and it was tiring to set everything up. I went there almost every day of that week. It is pretty stressful going there.

My favourite scene in the film was the montage shot, where location descriptors hover above River Kaduna. Are those places that close to each other?

RONALD: Yes, but I think now that I am grown, I can’t walk all those locations and gauge the distances because I am not used to walking again, but it’s not so far from each other. We used to walk everywhere, from my house to Godwin’s house, to the River, to my aunt’s house. Now, I am an old man. With any minor stress, my legs will give up.

Any nicknames?

RAYMOND: I don’t have any.

RICHARD: Guy, na lie. Waymond! His nickname is Waymond, with a W and a little accent; Waymond.

Does Ronald have a nickname?

RAYMOND: “Silverton,” From Black Clover.

How did you come about the name, The Critics?

RAYMOND: There were a lot of names, Angel Pictures, Rezario, A FootStep Production, but eventually, it became The Critics, and that stuck because, at the time, we thought what we were doing with films was criticising Craze Clown’s style of comedy video. We used to do that around 2013 – 2014. It was five of us, and we were calling ourselves The Critics Company. The Critics are a collective. Our production company is Comic World LLC.

Are these comedy skits on YouTube?

RAYMOND: No, we wiped some videos off.

Can you take me through a little backstory?

RAYMOND: The name Comic World came from a Facebook page Victor opened in 2016/2017 because he liked comics. And we had our page, The Critics, and it was struggling to get likes and followers, then this page from nowhere has like eight hundred. So, we were like, since there are people here, let us post our stuff on this page and not only on The Critics Page and change the name. I don’t know if the Comic World page is still called The Critics. But if you search for the Comic World, that is where the films are; from 2017.

So, we made Z, The Beginning and posted it on January 21st, 2019, and we thought it would put us out there to the world, but it didn’t. You know this creative whiplash you get when you have wanted something for so long, so much energy invested, and it does not take off as you wish; that hit me. I decided I was worn out and would only make short films to improve my craft.

While we were on timeout, Tecno came up with this One Million Naira challenge, And we shot a short film on a Tecno Mobile device.

We entered our video in 2019, and everything we posted before never got views. It was this video where we were begging to be supported that got views on Twitter. It stacked up to about four thousand to six thousand views, and Kemi Adetiba saw it.

So, it wasn’t any of our films that blew up. It was this random video where all we said was what we do and “If you give us One Million, we will get better equipment.” We were trying to use Kickstarter to raise funds for the Z sequel and get a better camera and lens. Kickstarter is like a Go-Fund Me but for creatives.

So Kemi Adetiba reached out and asked what we needed, and she got busy and forgot she had messaged us. Then Godwin sent a reminder message, and she reached out again asking us to make a video for a fundraiser, and she posted it on her platform, and Reuters reached out and did a feature on us. The CNN guys came and did their feature, and about a month after, Reuter’s piece went live. I had just heard of them when they reached out.

And the interview went live in 2019. I am in the middle of a Physics 101 class, waiting for the lecturer to pull up. Noise everywhere, and I see a notification on my phone. Reuters tagged us, and our video is blowing up. And later that night to the next day, Aljazeera picked it up, BBC picked it up… and it went on from there. Our page with about 200 followers shot up 600, 700…1000.

Olivia Wilde retweeted us, and the Kaduna State government came in with their photo ops. We met the governor. It was crazy stuff. Because of the feature, people checked our YouTube and started watching our work. We got featured on Africa News there on YouTube. That was in 2019.

Fast forward to 2023, we have achieved and experienced a lot. We are trying to get better as a people. We got to work on King of Boys in 2020.

What have you learned so far?

RAYMOND: (Laughs) We are industry people now. Not all film critics are filmmakers. Not all film critics are filmmakers. Filmmakers can be critics. The thing about criticism is that it is just a subjective opinion because we all have varying tastes and varyingexperiences. My preferences have gotten so high that I haven’t seen a film I am thoroughly invested in except Everything Everywhere All At Once (2022). That is one of my favourite films, but my ultimate favourite is children of Men By Alfonso Cuarón (2016), based on the Novel written in 1992.

I like Nightmare Alley.

RAYMOND: Oh yes, I like Nightmare Alley too. I loved the film. It made me feel good. But I was disappointed by the fact that it was a remake. I am sceptical about remakes. Why should we remake people’s work when there’s much more we could work on?

Hmm…

RAYMOND: I don’t see anything I want to remake. If people remake my work, it is disrespectful to me. It’s like it’s cool that people find my work interesting and would like to remake it, but do you think your version will be better than the original version? Like, what is the point? Are you trying to pay homage to the person?”

What if they just want to appeal to a different crowd? Because I did not know it was a remake, and I enjoyed it.

RAYMOND: To each their own Sadia. We will head to the office now, come with me.

Raymond took me to the office where interns were learning about various elements of filmmaking. I joined them for a session on screenwriting led by Raymond. Stephanie, an intern, was particularly enthusiastic about the film being studied. However, before the session began, I was asked a minor question.

RAYMOND: We do this before we start and because you are our guest Sadia, without looking at your phone, tell us today’s date.

17th! no, 18th!

RAYMOND: (laughs at me). Okay, Sadia. While Stephanie checks, let me answer one of your questions. Am I a feminist?

Will I be getting a free course?

RAYMOND: Oh no. ( Laughs) It is not a free course. The word feminism, I don’t know what it means. I know what people say it means but I…

Stephanie pulls out her phone as I cross my arms.

RAYMOND: Are you checking?

STEPHANIE: Yes, I want to read it out to you.

The room fell silent momnetarily as she begins to read.

RAYMOND: I understand, but it is the way you described climate change and that industry Sadia. You can try to change the world, but you can’t save it. You can try to make everyone into feminists, but you cannot. That said, I am a feminist and I respond strongly to the rights of people I care about. It is supposed to be a basic human trait.

Okay.

RAYMOND: Do you want me to go on?

No Raymond, you have said you are. Is that not all that matters?

RAYMOND: That is all that matters. ∎

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