A pan-African silent tale in A Hotel Called Memory from Akin Omotoso
6 October 2017
In the Silent Era the art of storytelling and cinematography lay in the visual interpretation of the narrative; while a new age and sound have come to replace some of the old filmic elements, the “tone poem” still has a place in modern storytelling, by giving new life to deep-rooted cinematic aesthetics of evoking the senses with poetic imagery.
“I have always liked films with no dialogue, or long passages where you as an audience member are truly enjoying the visual aspects and following the story and filling in the blanks. I always loved those and always wanted to make one.”
“Alain Gomis’ Tey is a good example. Although there is some dialogue in that film there are long passages that are silent and it’s just beautiful,” says Akin Omotoso, director of the first pan-African silent film titled, A Hotel Called Memory.
While media reports have referred to the film as an “experimental project”, Omotoso affirms that it is a tone poem. ”It’s about the mood and the experience. I really wanted the audience to have a lyrical and visual experience,” he says.
The story is based on a divorcee named Lola played by Nigerian actress, Nse Ikpe-Etim. The film takes us on her journey from Lagos, where she separates from her husband, and as she seeks solace through her travels to Zanzibar.
Nigerian actress Kemi Lala Akindoju plays Lola’s friend Tokunbo, while South African actresses, Mmabatho Montsho and Nomzamo Mbatha play Ayanda and Tina respectively. Although Lola never meets Ayanda and Tina, her story is somehow affected by them.
“This all comes back to the story written by Branwen Okpako. She placed the characters in those environments: Zanzibar, Lagos, and Cape Town. And we thought it would be exciting to explore these spaces.”
Nigerian veteran actress and film producer, Ego Boyo had previously worked with Omotoso on a six-year project which never materialised. This however did not deter the filmmakers from wanting to collaborate again in the future. Consequently, A Hotel Called Memory soon became the ideal project and story for them to take on together.
“She trusted the team. Not too many producers would allow a crew of five people and a thirteen page outline to go off and shoot in three different countries,” shares Omotoso.
In 2015 the film crew started shooting and went to Zanzibar for a week. They then took a few months off before heading to Cape Town for two weeks.
“We wanted it to be very organic and natural. With the DP, Rob Wilson, we used natural light so we could get in and out of spaces quickly. People panic when they see big light trucks; we didn’t want that so the production was very mobile. We would put the actors in real environments and we would film, just observing and reacting as they reacted to what was happening around them,” Omotoso explains.