‘Man on Ground’ raised about $30,000 via crowd funding


The South Africa-based actor and producer Akin Omotoso talks about his latest film, ‘Man on Ground’, set to be released across Africa this year.

Akin Omotoso is a chip off the old block. Like his father, he is a bundle of talent combining writing with acting, producing and directing. His acting credits include ‘Blood Diamond’, ‘Shake Hands with the Devil’, ‘Lord of War’ and ‘A Reasonable Man’.

His latest effort, ‘Man on Ground’, co-produced with ‘Afropack brothers’, Nigerians Fabian Adeoye Lojede and Hakeem Kae-Kazeem and some South Africans, premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival last year. The movie also had its first screening in Africa at the 2011 Africa International Film Festival in Lagos last December where it was well received. Omotoso answered questions about the film focusing on xenophobia from the audience after the screening at Genesis Deluxe Cinemas, The Palms, Oniru, Victoria Island.

One thing about how we made the film, and I think it is important to say how we did it. We went for crowd funding. I’m saying it here because when we tried to raise money in Nigeria we were not getting much love; perhaps because people here don’t understand the concept of crowd funding. What it is: we wrote emails to friends and family to give us donations for the film. Some Nigerians gave us money but it was a very difficult concept to sell—the idea that you give a little donation for something that is bigger than just a financial return. Everybody was like ‘what do I get?’

The film was crowd-funded, which is why when you look at the credits there are like 40 people as associate producers. People gave us as little as $100, $500 and we put it together over three months to raise the money that allowed us to make the film. It was really great, more people said no but that way we were able to make the film. Without those people giving us the money and the support, we would not have been able to make the film.

In three months we raised about $30,000. That was what we got but what you see on the screen is people who committed to doing the film by understanding why we had to make it. So, the actual amount of money we spent, I would say it was more emotional. It is people’s strength that allowed us do the film. We started shooting on the basis that somebody would give us part of their money but like five days into the film we felt we were stuck because those guys weren’t returning our calls. I started phoning a friend of mine trying to get him to give us some money, a Nigerian guy. He invited us to his house, myself, Akeem and Fabian in Johannesburg. He prepared pounded yam and we ate. He told us he would get back to us.

Then I was phoning another friend of mine who is South African, who has a business with the Nigerian man trying to find out about the Nigerian guy in a roundabout way. He told me ‘Akin, what are you asking?’ I said one of our investors hasn’t put in the money and this is the amount of money we are looking for. He said okay, send me the proposal. I sent it to him and four hours later he said I will give you the money. This is a South African guy who has a business with the Nigerian guy. I’m just trying to say that we need to think about how we fund our films so that we can tell stories in a way that reflects us, like characters we want to see. We want to see ourselves on the screen without any complications. If you go for Western funding they always tell you that you can only say these kinds of things. Or you only get the money if you talk about that. For me crowd funding is a way of breaking through that and telling the story that you want to tell. We did get support from Nigerians just to be clear and some of those who supported the project tremendously are here in the hall. And we do continue to enjoy their support.

Are the xenophobic feelings still prevalent in South Africa or do you think it is something that is changing?

I think South Africa is just a place in terms of that is the place. But if we look around, what happened in the world this year was happening everywhere. It’s not about South Africa, it’s about how do we treat each other here at home in Nigeria? What are we doing on the continent? What are the images that we have been bombarded with this year? So for me it is not just about South Africa, it’s really about the bigger picture. There is a problem in the world, never mind South Africa. For me it’s not about just South Africa. It’s about how we treat ourselves as people and how we respond to each other.

Why don’t we look at the bigger picture? Like what’s happening in Jos? In South Africa I think there is a problem about xenophobia, there is a problem of housing and delivery, which is quite complex. But the issue is, is that why you should chase people away? In South Africa it is particular to them, in our country Nigeria there is ethnic tension that we hardly ever talk about. We need to start talking about those things. Get around a table and drink some Jameson and the other thing and get talking. I don’t know how they would react to the film in South Africa, I have no idea. All I know is that we should try as much as possible to put the topic that is quite close to our hearts in our country that I live in. it’s a beautiful country like any other country that has problems. This film is about that problem.

I think it starts with the man in the mirror to quote Michael Jackson. For me, my own process of understanding the problem that faces us in the continent that I love is by making a film. I want the film to reach the pinnacle of success that I think it can.

Man On Ground premiered at the first annual Jozi Film Festival. Written and directed by Akin Omotoso, Man On Ground is a gritty unflinching account of one man’s search for his brother.

Following political persecution in Nigeria, Femi (Fabian Adeoye Lojede) has fled his homeland for South Africa and goes missing during an outbreak of xenophobic violence in Johannesburg. Man On Ground is the story of his estranged brother Ade’s (Hakeem Kae-Kazim) search for answers.

The title of the film refers to a photograph that inspired Omotoso to make this film. In May 2008, Mozambican immigrant Ernesto Nhamnuave was burned alive in an informal settlement outside Jo'burg while bystanders watched and laughed.

The film was shot over 19 days in June last year but took three years, and extensive research into the nature of xenophobic violence, to come to fruition. Fact and fiction blur in this movie - dialogue from real people interviewed by Omotoso's researcher found their way into the screenplay. In one scene, an immigrant shopkeeper tells local heavies who are intimidating him, "Only the president can make me leave this country." A direct quote, says Omotoso who is currently in the US - Man On Ground opened The African Art House Film Festival in Washington last week and will premiere in the US, at the LA Film Festival on the same night as it receives its South African premiere.

Speaking from Washington about Jozi Film Festival, Omotoso said "It's time Johannesburg had something like this. I'm excited about the festival and hope it grows in the coming years. I love Jo'burg and I feel, as filmmakers, we haven't yet managed to fully capture its essence". Without doubt, Man On Ground makes headway into cinematically epitomizing the City of Gold on film, with moody aerial shots of Jo'burg after dark and picturesque shots of the city's iconic skyline. Omotoso love affair with his adoptive city is obvious - "I love the regeneration I'm seeing" – and it's this energy and creative passion that JFF hopes to promote and foster.

Next stop on the film festival circuit for Man On Ground will be the Berlin International Film Festival later in the month. Man On Ground had its worldwide premiere at The Toronto International Film Festival last year and has been shown at both the Dubai International Film Festival and The African International Film Festival in Nigeria.

Next in the pipeline for Omotoso and his creative team is a love story, to be shot later this year. "It's been a heavy few years, dealing with this kind of subject matter. We needed to do something light."

For more information on the Jozi Film festival as well as the full list of films, venues, screening times and contact persons, please visit Jozi Film Festival