By Henry Akubuiro
It was a daring move reminiscent of a well wrought, cliffhanging fiction, but it’s a real-life story that tells of ambition, courage, foresight and destiny.
The moment Jane Gam-Dede heard the dare-devil story of how the 21 year old Festus Porbeni braved the raging Nigerian civil war in 1967, and rented a boat, without his parents’ consent, to take him to Lagos from Warri to join his colleagues at the NDA (Nigerian Defence Academy), of which exams he had passed before the outbreak of the war, she knew she had a movie in her hands. But convincing Admiral Festus Porbeni to let her shoot the biopic wasn’t a walk in the park.
Two years after she started the process, her dream, together with that of the co-producer, Darlene Odogbili, has finally become a reality. Entitled Foray, the film will be shown at the Film House, Lekki Phase 1, 4 p.m, today, for the first time to an audience, including Admiral Festus Porbeni (retd) himself and his friends to mark his 75th birthday.
Set in Yenagoa and Ughelli, a sneak preview of the movie shows a careful attempt to localise the ambience to make it reflect the reality of that time, going back to Porbeni’s hometown in Bayelsa and the secondary school he attended in Ughelli, Delta State. The movie producers tried as much as possible to avoid controversial aspects of the civil war, nay, creating traditional Ijaw music and ensembles reminiscent of that era. The diction of the screenplay is enriched with Ijaw language; sea scenes are reenacted where young Porbeni defied his parents and the elements to hog the limelight, thereby creating a deft montage.
Aside from being the Director and Executive Producer, Jane Gam-Dede also wrote the screenplay for Foray. She told Daily Sun, “This film is a real-life story, an adaptation from the biography of Admiral Festus Porbeni. I got inspired to put it into a screenplay because of some of the things his true life story touched, which I feel are a reflection of what is happening in our present day lives.
“Again, I wanted to do a reflection of how people were living in 1967, which was at the outbreak of the Civil War. A lot of young people, like ourselves, will get the chance to experience bits and pieces of what our parents passed through during the war. I also wanted to feel the purse of the people during that time. I am grateful that, after putting pressure on Admiral Porbeni, he agreed, and gave us the right to do this. I am really excited.”
Gam-Dede said the producers decided to go for original elements in the original story since they did not want to shoot it as a documentary. “To give us those true elements, we decided to go to Bayelsa and his original school in Ughelli. Again, because it’s a biopic, we didn’t want to take away some of the facts of the story. We didn’t want to have too much artistic license. We wanted to keep it as original as possible and cast the characters according to the original story.”
To get the cast for the movie, there was a call for an audition. Interestingly, the majority of the cast were acting for the first time, including the lead actor. So the director had so much work to do to bring out the best in them by training them to face the camera and do rehearsals for weeks.
“We found new actors through this film, which is the most interesting thing about this film. Going to Bayelsa, we didn’t find just actors but actors from the most rural of places. Some actors were coming from communities that were paying 2,000 just to get to Yenagoa. That was how far we found actors,” recalled Gam-Dede.
The co-producer, Darlene Odogbili, said she didn’t hesitate to join the team, considering the enticing storyline —that of “a man who had drive and determination, being at the risk of his father disowning him and his family not supporting him. To them, his decision to join the NDA was a disappointment. To him, he knew what he wanted, and he was ready to make such a sacrifice at that time. Could the youths of these days have taken such a bold step at 21? I don’t know. That really fascinated me. So we were determined to tell this story, not just for the Nigerian audience but for the global audience. This remarkable courage has to be seen by all.”
Odogbili has been in Nollywood for six years as an actress, and having the opportunity to coach the new entrants to interpret their roles and get the emotions right delighted her. Speaking about the Friday screening, she said, “Because this film is about a great man who is still alive, we are going to screen it live today to celebrate his birthday, in appreciation of his inspiring story to not only us but many Nigerian youths out there.”
After the first screening, the producers are planning to take the film to a global audience. Odogbili added, “Because the film was made for a global audience in mind, we intend to push it into international film festivals, promoting the Niger Delta culture and promoting Nigeria as a whole, because, regardless of which part of the country you come from, at the end of the day, you are a Nigerian. We want the global audience to say wow!”
Shooting on sea was the scariest part of the movie production, according to her,” Filming in Bayelsa came with a lot of interesting challenges, especially the waterside. Most of us didn’t know how to swim, but we’re brave enough to get on the boat, but it was interesting.”
Gam-Dede spoke in the same vein, “From the moment we were given the go-ahead and we had pre-production meetings, we knew the sea part was going to be a challenge, but there was no going back, because I had really invested in this story. It wasn’t just the risk of us going to Bayelsa to shoot; it was the risk of us as young filmmakers investing everything we got, including our own money. That was how far we trusted the story.”
Foray is a JGD Productions, in collaboration with K2oentertainment. The cast include Doubra Kenneth, Elawerermi Pereke Elaweremi, Jessica Duke, Gift Zibima Geebonz
Tari Etete, John obodougo, among others.