Commentaries in films about mental health can never be enough, especially now, with the increased awareness of how debilitating ignoring it could be to the society at large. While doubts remain over the storytelling of most of these films, thanks to the utilization of overt soapboxes and the refusal to accept that education and cinema are not mutually exclusive, the noble intentions guiding their production and release must not go unappreciated.
With Ifa Therapy, Moses Ipadeola subverts the expectations of the mental health commentaries we are used to. Here, the therapist charged with salvation is different; the investigations veer from what have come to be the standard into much more homegrown routes; the solution proffered is a journey back into what the director effusively refers to as the reason or essence beingness. But the problem remains the same: Disillusionment, confusion and a stream of unanswered questions about self.
Read, here, the interview with Moses Ipadeola:
Abiodun: To start with, outside your name, how would you describe yourself?
Director Mo: I am a graduate of University of Ibadan, Theatre Arts, where I had my first degree with Directing and Stage Management as a Major focus. I had my Master’s degree at the University of Lagos where I further majored in Directing. I remain a student, however, driven by curiosity.
Abiodun: Amazing background I must note. Can you please hint briefly about projects you may have conceptualized, directed or created for film in the past outside “Ifa Therapy?”
Director Mo: For the screen, I started out by directing about 13 Episodes of the first season of Awon Aladun De (A Yoruba Sitcom) in 2015. I then moved on to direct about 15 Episodes of the first season of Sisi Clara (A Yoruba Sitcom) in 2016. Then there was Girls Hostel, also a series, after which I moved into Content Creation for Nigerian Breweries.
Abiodun: So, this is the very first film (short) you will be working on? Between the sitcoms and film, which would you rather consider challenging and why?
Director Mo: I had directed my first short film for Mike Adejonwo (Old Man) shortly after the completion of my first degree in the University of Ibadan. And I had worked on Feature Length films with Bogunmbe Abiola Paul as Assistant Director for some of his projects like “Same Day” amongst others. It must be said here that during this fresh start out of the University where I didn’t learn directing for the screen but for the stage, Bogunmbe was the first person to show me the way in film directing (even though I was learning this unconsciously in school). But to answer your question, yes, Ifa Therapy is my first official short film.
Abiodun: Looking into your background, you were trained on stage, particularly in stage directing. Would you consider directing for stage a necessary skill for directing film using your experience on “Ifa Therapy”?
Director Mo: Directing for stage isn’t a necessary skill for directing film. But it’s a big addition for some of us who studied directing for the stage. For “Ifa Therapy”, some techniques I had learnt from Directing for the stage helped me a lot. For example, the way we look for inner meanings, metaphors, interpret scripts and uplift them into theatrical pieces for the stage is slightly evident in the way I approached the film. Some things were in the film that you can’t find in the script. I must also add that having studied theatre directing for my first degree, I was already equipped with the basic skills I need as a storyteller so approaching the idea from the dynamic angle I planned to utilize was quite seamless.
Abiodun: It was evident that some directorial metaphors were projected. Do you think the visual representation was explorative enough? Is it unlikely that some interpretive beats of the experimental piece may have been more visually engaging than ‘wordy’?
Director Mo: The visual representation could still be better explored, definitely. At the same time, I was trying to satisfy my sentiments for both visual storytelling and dialogue. Maybe on a feature, I would be more liberal with exploration.
Abiodun: So your interpretation may have tilted more to the aesthetics of dialogue and sound possibly?
Director Mo: No. We set out to make a film that would be both visually and acoustically appealing. But, more importantly, the personal message I wanted to communicate was the bigger priority.
Abiodun: Lets journey into your mind for evolving that hybrid i.e. “ifa” and “therapy”. What was or were your intentions? Why the name or title?
Director Mo: First, I wanted to do something “Anti-Eurocentric”. I got inspired by reading some piece in Mama Sophie Bosede Oluwole’s “Socrates vs Orunmila”. I discovered that there are so many things embedded in the Ifa Corpus or the Ifa Literary World that are beyond the inanities Nollywood feeds us (Medicine and Witchcraft or so) very generously. I realized Orunmila had cured not just health problems, or financial problems but also psychological problems as well. In a period that came way before the advent of the Western “Therapy Sessions”. So the story of suicide and varied hereditary implications came to mind and I just wanted to show the world that there were and are solutions rooted here in Africa, in the Yoruba culture. “Ifa Therapy” was just a working title at the time. But it stuck over time. I liked it. My fellow Masquerades liked it too and that was it. I also believe that in this New World where Euro-centrism has eaten the Black man and the solution is for the Man to go back to his root and find his reason for beingness.
Abiodun: What is the genre of this ‘experiment’, if you will permit the tag? Do you think films like this will have their voice amongst numerous others that will rather align with Eurocentrism as core content perhaps for commercialization sake or merely to trend?
Director Mo: It’s Drama. But I have also carefully tied it to my newly developed African genre – Trado-Fiction. Subsequent content from me and the Masquerades will appropriately sit into the Trado-Fiction genre.
Abiodun: So while playing with drama, you situated this around “Trado-Fiction”, another hybrid. How do you categorize this, a theory, movement or a filmic directorial style?
Director Mo: It is an anti-pop movement I hope we push into a theory. Is it a directorial style? No, it’s more appreciated from the writing process. Because it’s a movement that involves the hybrid of popular literature characters with myths, folklores, histories without the boundaries of total accuracy in terms of the history and so on. It’s fiction, traditional fiction.
Abiodun: What is Trado-fiction as evident in Ifa Therapy?
Director Mo: Ifa Therapy is just a foretaste of what Trado-fiction is all about. What it is, here, is simply a medley of slices from the Traditional Religion of the Yoruba people and the fictitious world of Akanni’s community (depicted via the backdrop of a War Zone). But subsequent content from me and the Masquerades will further explain Trado-Fiction. Even from the title of one of the upcoming projects, “The Masquerades and the Elesin Oba”, the Elesin Oba personage is borrowed from Wole Soyinka’s Death and the King’s Horseman. That’s one of many signatures you should expect from the Trado- Fiction movement. Expressions and experiments within the very roomy confines of our rich culture and tradition.
Abiodun: Your core, in terms of style, almost qualifies you as a conceptualist director and not an aesthetician. The dilemma I anticipate is how to play within a lean market of deep thinkers, intellectuals, cultural advocates and seemingly academic film lovers and consumers away from the director who would rather shoot the trends using a pool of contemporary codes and artifices. Against this backdrop, do you not think this experiment may be less commercial in a feature if broadened?
Director Mo: The Experiment will do fine commercially as we are not solely interested in time travelling into ancient times. We have an upcoming project situated under Trado-Fiction that depicts the very familiar dynamics of a modern family. It’s the kind of movie we are used to, but it is more deliberate, philosophical and academic. So with this, we would be able to satisfy the various consumers that you have mentioned. We still have the Igbo culture to explore in upcoming projects too. There’s so much to dabble into and we are only just getting started.
Abiodun: You speak so much of ‘masquerade(s)’ and one may wonder if you are working with some ancestors (ara orun). What or who are the masquerades (s)?
Director Mo: (laughs) Masquerade is a group of like minds who have the same artistic goal. We are 8 and fortunately the 8 of us are members of the Film Rats Club. They are Demilade Meduoye, Temi Fosudo, ‘Chukwu Martin, Chris Anyanya, Ojewale Ojediran, Solanke Adeleke, and Opeyemi Dada. Ifa Therapy was produced under the canopy of Masquerades, MedHouse and Oriki Films.
Abiodun: Your view on collaborative filmmaking, which seems to be the way to go now in our industry?
Director Mo: Artistically, collaboration with the ‘right people’ and ‘like minds’ have always produced greater and stronger results, especially in a country like ours. Economically, I think the sharing of profits and wealth would always be the trouble in this part of the world and mostly anywhere else, hence there must be a legal backing.
Abiodun: Did you go the legal way to accommodate partners’ interest (s) in this collaboration?
Director Mo: Yes, I have started doing that recently. But before now, I have never had to collaborate on scales that required legal force. But it’s something I’m looking to take serious henceforth.
Abiodun: Let us talk about casting. What more would you feel the three Ifa scholars represent. Why three? Their engagement with Akanni aside from the emphasis on ‘Suuru’ (Patience) may also be repetitive. Do you think you could have reworked that beat to gain more film time instead of going with the idea that the shorter, sharper, the better?
Director Mo: The three Scholars are symbolic. Three (3) is symbolic. And also, the choice of ages was deliberate as well. I decided to use young scholars because of my knowledge of the ages at which scholars join the Ifa School. Ifa scholars have about 500,000 non written verses to memorize and pass down orally from one generation to another. That kind of sustained mental work requires the malleability of young minds.
It takes Suuru (patience) to get through to the end of that first period of the film, a deliberate attempt to let us follow the parables and messages. I believe meanings in a movie should be subjected to different meanings. But when I looked at it critically after cutting out a lot from that scene before we even got that final screen time, I realized that the shorter the better. So I agree, it could be shorter sharper and better for real, I totally agree.
Abiodun: Between when the short film dropped and now, the numbers of viewers/views have been alarmingly impressive. Do you mind sharing your PR Strategies?
Director Mo: Truthfully, there was no PR strategy. You good people of Film Rats and other friends who know friends who know friends of friends shared the links and got us where we are.
Abiodun: Mister Moses Ipadeola (Director ‘Mo’), I will have to thank you for your time and your amazing experimental piece. I consider you a brave filmmaker, path-finding a style that will eventually be your directorial signature.
We have no doubt that you will make more amazing films going forward. To our colleagues following the discourse so far, thank you for your time. Ire o!
Check out Ifa Therapy here