Interview with Olive Nwosu, director of Egúngún [Masquerade]
Saturday 5 February 2022, by
On the day of the Egúngún festival, Salewa returns to Lagos to bury her Mother. At the funeral, she encounters an acquaintance who forces her to confront old wounds. Egungun is a meditation on memory, identity and duty, on the many versions of ourselves that haunt and heal us.
How was Egúngún born?
Egúngún was born from a desire to investigate my own feelings about the idea of “Home”. As a wanderer, who has lived in many identities, this is a question I often grapple with: this sense of different lived lives, and possibilities of lives. How Fate takes us down one road – and what other versions of ourselves that are out there. And really, the injustice, randomness, and beauty of it all. It’s connected to the idea of the Egúngún, the masquerade, ancestors in a subliminal space who come back to remind us of their existence, to confront us with the many subconscious things that we do not quite know – past wounds, present fissures – so that we can confront them. In this way, the film is, I think, a meditation on memory, identity and duty. On the many versions of ourselves that haunt and heal us. And, hopefully, about a kind of acceptance – of Past, of Self, of Ego, after a long time of masquerading.
What did you wish to explore through Salewa’s character, a Nigerian woman who left her country to live in London and is married to another woman?
Salewa embodies the displaced, the Other, in search of a dream that can never be realised. Her whole life, a part of herself has always been hidden. She has always been masquerading. At home in Lagos, her sexual identity was hidden. In London, married to an English woman, her nationality, her Nigerianness, has been erased. She has successfully acclimatised to the UK; she is a successful woman. But she is still hiding. And what is hidden, ultimately, is always other. So, her wound is that she can never fully heal. She can never be fully all of herself.
What does Ladi’s eye problem symbolise?
Ladi’s eye is the embodiment of this wounding – something I think that we all carry. We go many years in our lives hiding from our core wound, dressing it in bandages, but it is still there. And then a moment comes when the wound is ruptured. I’ve had this experience. It can feel like a kind of madness. What we have repressed comes rushing back and it insists on being confronted. It’s as if past, present and future collapse and all that’s left is feeling. There is no logic to it – it assaults you, refusing to be cauterized. I really wanted to have a literal wound burst open, in the moment before Salewa confronts herself.
What directions did you give to Chukwulozie Sheila and Aladese Teniola?
The two actresses were amazing. Sheila is a dancer, and so much of her acting comes from her body. It was all very tactile, based in the sensory – imagining smells and sounds and feelings, and bringing them into her body. With Teni, it was a different process, she has been acting for many years and she had a lot of questions about the motivation for her character – what she wanted from Sheila, and questions about her past. We answered these questions together and that was really all she wanted. I really believe in working with the specific needs of each actor. And then we did the main scene, under the tree, several times. I think we had about 14 takes. It’s a single shot, and it goes on for a long time, and it had to feel organic and raw and real throughout. I think by doing it so many times it really evolved. With each take, the actors were able to find something new and to layer that on top of the last take. By the end, there was a real chemistry, a loss of inhibition and a truthfulness to the scene that I find very moving. I’m very proud of the work we did.
Is there a particular short film that has made a strong impression on you?
Jane Campion’s Peel and Andrea Arnold’s Wasp are two short films I come back to again and again. Peel is so singular and sensory; it really opened my eyes to a different way of image-making. And I’ll never forget the main character in Wasp. I was blown away by her audacity. I love audacious women.
What’s your definition of a good film?
Hmm. For me, a good film is a deeply personal thing. It’s a film that rocks my world. And by that, I mean that I cannot ignore it, I am not in control. The film insists on affecting me in a way that I am incapable of escaping. It can happen for many different reasons, but usually it’s because there is a singularity and boldness of vision, an emotion that feels so true that my body resonates with it on a deeply subconscious level. I think it’s because the maker has transferred something of herself into her creation. It’s movie magic, isn’t it?