“Óbito! Óbito!” a section of the audience cried on Saturday night at an expansive hall at the Victor Uwaifo Creative Hub, in Benin City. This was at the award ceremony marking the end of the sophomore edition of the three-day Edo State International Film Festival, a state-sponsored program that received nearly five hundred submissions from filmmakers across the world. Óbito, a short film written and directed by Fernando Amador, had already won three awards; so the audience’s encore was in mock response to this. They eventually got what they had cried for, as the film won yet another award, bringing its total tally to four prizes, the most on the night: “Best Director,” “Best Sound,” “Best Screenplay,” and “Best International Film.”
The Spanish film claimed the prizes with none of its representatives present at the ceremony; but Ifediche, a film directed by Victor Okwuchukwu, was well represented, its two representatives dancing excitedly as they received the “Best Feature Film” award. Their kinetic joy, perhaps, was also because the award came with a $10,000 prize, which the Edo State governor, Godwin Obaseki, presented as a check to them. As a sidebar, Obaseki informed the audience about the provenance of the plaques awarded to the winners. “These bronze plaques were made by Benin-based craftspeople,” he said, before adding that “I advise the winners to keep them safe because they will be valuable in the future.”
For the duo representing Ifediche, their triumph was all the proof they needed about the jury’s impartiality. “If a film coming out of Enugu can win the Best Feature Film prize at a festival organized by Edo State, then it shows how impartial the process is,” one of them said, breathless with excitement.
The governor was not the only marquee presence in the hall. Also in attendance were the comedian Alibaba, the actor Carol King, and the film director Lancelot Imasuen. Anchored by Nollywood actor Ibrahim Suleiman, the award ceremony was interspersed with some light entertainment. The band Alternative Sound played classic American jams of the aughts, but it was to the puzzlement of the audience’s younger members who did not know most of the songs. However, they found their voice and groove as Precious Sax’s solo saxophone performance riffed on popular Nigerian songs. There were also comedy and magic acts by Porkupyne and Simply Smart respectively. Impressed, the audience gasped as the latter seemingly transformed a stick into pieces of cloth, but seemed skeptically bored during his final act.
Two other films received cash prizes. Alireza Biglari’s I Will Leave You received $5,000 for winning the “Best Documentary Film” award, while ‘Gbovo Eriamiantoe’s Edeleyo took home the same amount of money for winning the “Best International Short Film” award.
The other awards did not come with cash prizes, so winners made do with a loud ovation. The winners: The Book of Martín by Felipe Escalante Anduiza (“Best Editing”), Sleeping Dogs by Barbara Omoregie Jackson (“Best Makeup”), Ek Bhagavad Ek Gita by Jharana Thapa (“Best Costume” and “Best Cinematography”), Josephina Otagbo (“Best Female Actor”; Ósato), and Jinmi Ahmed (“Best Male Actor”; The Delectable Azeezah Sama).
A posthumous award was given to Sam Loco Efewemkiekie, an Edo native and Nollywood actor who died in 2011, but also to Agbonifo Enaruna, also an Edo native, who passed away this May and was known for playing Idemudia in Hotel De Jordan, a popular television show in the 1970s. Both awards were received by the children of the deceased.
The ceremony ended with yet another performance by Alternative Sound, who this time brought it home. The American songs were ditched for Nigerian ones, with the audience bouncing to Shallipopi’s Obapluto, among other popular contemporary tunes. They weren’t chanting “Óbito” this time but rather “Obasi! Obasi!”