INTERVIEWS

An Interview with Dami Orimogunje, the director of For Maria: Ebun Pataki

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Dami Orimogunje’s feature debut, For Maria: Ebun Pataki, which was released on Netflix on January 16th 2022, has resonated with a lot of Nigerians, critics and general audiences alike.

Originally filmed in 2019, For Maria explores post-partum depression in first-time mother Derin played by Meg Otanwa. She is supported by her husband (Gabriel Afolayan) while her Mother-in-law (Tina Mba), completely unsympathetic to her condition, berates her for not doing her duties.

For Maria shines a light on a serious issue in our society, one that is not talked about nearly enough. Film Rats Club sits down with Dami Orimogunje in an interview conducted by Taiwo Egunjobi. In this interview, the director discusses his influences, filmmaking philosophy, his experiences during the production of his debut, the title of his next feature and a lot more.

You’re no stranger here and I can say, albeit arguably that you’re a founding member-at-Large of the Film Rats Club, true?

Well, I was one of the four or five people in the first film screening of the group. I think Martin Chukwu mentioned the name of the group for the first time that day.

Welcome back home. Let’s get to it! With For Maria, you seemed to arrive as a filmmaker with a distinct and fully formed aesthetic and style. For those who don’t know, can you tell us a bit about how you got started as a filmmaker and crafted your taste?

I started making films professionally in 2016. Prior to that time, I wrote scripts commercially and produced for a TV station. Basically, I did everything production related before I shot my first short.

How did you develop your taste for cinema and eventually your style?

My craft has heavily been influenced by several films & filmmakers have been opportune to experience. Also, practice. PRACTICE! Started off enjoying commercial films, action, Asian martial arts cinema. Gosh, I couldn’t stand anything called drama talk less of art-house then I grew up. My taste and style started forming when I got introduced to foreign films.

I’m sure you’ve answered this question over and over, where did the idea for For Maria come from and how did you research it as you developed the story?

It came from me seeing Michael Haneke’s Amour the seventh time, maybe, and also at the point where I couldn’t raise the funds to make my original debut feature script. Amour inspired me to make something intimate, personal and low-budget.

Postpartum came after a random conversation with a friend followed by a thread on Twitter on the same subject. I did some research online and spoke to real life victims as well as medical experts. I did this with my co-writer. It was a tedious and exhilarating process.

Amazing to learn that it was Haneke’s Amour that moved you to inspiration. Clearly, you favour art house cinema, but For Maria is quite accessible to lay audiences as well as hardcore Cinephiles, how did you create this experience, from script to screen?

To be honest, I wasn’t setting out to make an art house film. I just wanted to make a good film in the best way I could. I think it’s accessible to lay audiences because of the relatability of the story and setting. And to cinephiles because of the cinematic choices which are well understood.

Nice, a lot has been discussed about the performances of the leads, Gabriel Afolayan and Meg Otanwa, but I must say the most important performance was from Maria, the baby. How did you find her and direct her sequences?

You know, we did a couple of auditions and baby Mary impressed us during the audition. She read the script and internalized the character. It was all her doings.

Oscar incoming, eh?

Who am I to say no to that?

But really, how did you pull it off, tell us something about that process?

To be honest, I was scared cos how do you direct a baby. We used three babies in the film by the way.

Now, this is next level wizardry.

A newborn, Maria, came home with the family and dark-skinned Maria who appeared when Derin got back from the hospital the second time.

Meg Otanwa loves babies; however, she was banned from being close to the Marias on set except while we were filming. Meanwhile Gabby and Aunty Tina were mandated to be the babies’ favorite so the babies were just being natural in their reactions. That’s the trick of how they all carried the babies

These relationships were crafted intelligently. This may be related to the question I asked before but were there any scenes that were the most challenging to shoot?

With the babies or generally?

Generally.

Perhaps the hospital scenes because the staff stressed my life.

Oh, you shot those on location?

The particular space I rented to film was being used by a real-life mother who was about to deliver a baby in there and they asked us to film in another section I didn’t like. I was livid. Fun fact, 60 percent of the scenes shot in the hospital were deleted in post.

Interesting, logistical challenges are the bread and butter in this line of work. Moving on.

Yes. The original script had a Roma-esque delivery sequence.

That would have been something, but what you eventually have does work excellently. This brings me to my next question. Was there anything you gave the actors to help them get into the mood of the film? Film, music, books, photos etc. How did you prepare them?

Yes.  I always do. Especially for Meg. Couple of films, articles. It seemed like we were both learning filmmaking over again. One of the important films I recommended for her performance was The Headless Woman.

The Headless woman
Mother of George

Lucretia Martell’s thriller, interesting choice. Like For Maria, The Headless Woman also focuses its narrative on a woman going through “things”, did you have a similar experience with Gabriel Afolayan?

Yes. But shared with him a different film like Isaac de Bankole in Mother of George.

Beautiful choice, and I can see how it works. Just like Mother of George, The apartment in For Maria has a certain quality, can’t find the word for, honest? I’d love to know more about the role of this space in illustrating the life of the couple and their baby and what you used it to achieve?

Right from the scripting phase, I knew I wanted to set it in a low-middle class home and a lived-in apartment of course.

One of the things I loved when I got this apartment was the bathroom which essentially influenced Derin’s sanctuary in the house. There was an eerie feeling when I got seeing it for the first time. I wanted their home to feel so natural and realistic.

And it worked exactly

I think it did.

Since you control so many of the visual elements of your films, I’m curious how you and your cinematographer get on the same page stylistically

My cinematographer’s name is David Wyte and we’ve always worked together from my first short. Also worked with my production designer several times before For Maria. So, they were kind of used to my stylistic preferences. And yes, we watch my visual references before shooting any film.

With For Maria, we saw Wong Kar Wai’s Mood for Love (the 100th time), Mother of George, Ida, Amour, Barry’s Beale Street as well as other film excerpts.

Wong Kar Wai

Your love for Wong Kai Wai’s Cinema is very well known, but I couldn’t help but catch references to Yasujuro Ozu’s work in For Maria. Did you draw visual inspiration from his work, or is it just a mix of several influences?

What if I told you I have never completed a film by Ozu? And yes, it’s a mix of several influences.

Speaking broadly now, your films (shorts and feature) are similar in that they explore human stories through a kind of honest realism. What’s your interest in these types of stories?

I think as an artist, that’s my cause and course. To make films like these. I’m a preacher using film mediums. I love less-talked-about social issues and very human stories. It’s in my DNA.

Thanks for your answers thus far. I would like to open up the session to a couple of questions from club members. I already have two here. 

Alright

 Is this film going to have a follow up to resolve the conflict, what are the statistics? The topic is too deep to be treated without statistics so tell us if there are follow-up awareness plans.

Yes. The purpose of the film is to build awareness that propagates conversations about postpartum depression. We have a social campaign in the works that deals strategically with solutions unlike the film community screenings of the film (followed by) expert conversations as it concerns new moms and families dealing with mental health generally.

Also, create more therapy opportunities during post-natal for new moms—this is outrageously rare in reality and we make a reference to that in the film. These things are a lot but we’ve taken the first step with the film. I’m particularly anticipating the next phase of actually making a change in our own way.

Thanks for the answer. Here’s the next question. Why did For Maria avoid or not get a cinema release and what are the Plans for a Sequel, to resolve the end?

A sequel is not likely but I will probably reference Derin in my next feature. Watch out.

The third question goes thus. How did you handle pacing both in the script and on screen? Did it worry you, at any point, that viewers were going to have to be patient? Were you tempted to speed things up? Or you were deliberate about the slow burning nature and chose to go ahead with it?

Thank you. So, the slow burn nature was the only way to tell this story to me. Essentially because of the tenderness of the mood & emotions I was trying to convey.

I don’t think I ever got tempted to speed it up which surprised me a bit when a lot of Nigerians loved it. I thought only cinephiles would enjoy it but I am wrong and I have been shamed.

Thanks for the answer. The next question: “I recently recommended the film to a friend and she totally enjoyed it too but then we are just curious, is there a reason why Derin’s family didn’t help out in any way?”

Thank you. Absolutely no deep reason. Just quite convenient for this narrative. However, there’s a message where most people (families) don’t understand PPD or mental illness and the ignorance is already portrayed in the loving Mother-in-law. Another family side would rather be repetitive.

We’ll take one more question before we round up this session: “You mentioned that you have learnt from production before you ever made your first short. Now that you have made your first feature, which I think was shot in 2019 or 2020, what would you have improved on if you were making this film in 2022 in terms of story and execution?

I think I have been able to show my style in my shorts but solidified it in For Maria. In 2022, I’m more informed on my artistic direction and more intelligent as a person so, yes, the growth would be very evident in my next works. I think I’m more in tune to bigger complexities in the story now. However, I thought the 2019 Dami was perfect to make For Maria. Might have ruined it with too much knowledge now.

On a final note, what are you working on next?

My next feature is titled Dear Ajayi and it is not slated to go into production anytime soon. However, I produced a film late last year titled All the Colors of The World are Between Black & White. I can’t wait for everyone to see the beautiful art we made.

Great. We’ve come to the end of this event, it’s been such a great session, thanks for the superb answers, and being educative. Looking forward to your next work.

Thank you. Good evening everyone.

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