This week our Nollywood Spotlight is on director, cinematographer, and writer C.J. ‘Fiery’ Obasi! With his wide range of experience, from short movies and documentaries to feature films and music videos, Obasi is definitely a talent whose name you will want to remember.
Born in the small town of Owerri in 1985, Obasi grew up reading Stephen King books and loved he to watch “Hammer House of Horror” films. As a child, he felt a real affinity with Stephen King’s small-town tales and from the young age of 3, he would watch classic films so that he could recreate them in comic book form. His passion for drawing intensified, prompting him to sketch comics about his favourite superheroes and villains. Once finished, he would sell them to his classmates.
C.J., whose full name is Chukwudi Joseph Obasi, is nicknamed ‘Fiery’ or ‘The Fiery One’ by his friends and family. He earned the moniker as a teenager because of his intense drive and a clear vision for his future.
After attending the Government Secondary School in Owerri, Obasi went on to study Computer Science at the University of Nigeria, but he refused to let go of his creative dreams. He set up his own film company, Fiery Film, in 2012, with his wife, the TV and film producer, Oge Obasi and the late screenwriter Benjamin Stockton.
Fiery Films’ debut feature film was “Jim & Joan”, a surrealist horror which was hailed as the ‘scariest film’ at the Eko International Film Festival in 2012. Not your typical Nollywood horror, “Jim & Joan” was received extremely well by critics and was compared to the expressionist work of Lars Von Trier. However, due to lack of funding and support, “Jim & Joan” was never completed.
Learning from this experience, Obasi pushed on and created the zero-budget, groundbreaking thriller “Ojuju” in 2014. Premiering at the Africa International Film Festival (AFRIFF), where it won Best Nigerian Film, “Ojuju” has earned global critical acclaim since its release. It has screened at film festivals around the world, including the New Voices in Black Film Festival in New York, the Pan African Film Festival in Los Angeles, the Nollywood Week Festival in Montreal and the Shockproof Film Festival in Prague.
Obasi’s next project was “O Town”, which premiered at AFRIFF in 2015. “O Town” is yet another thriller which was semi-autobiographical and set in his hometown of Owerri. The hits kept coming as “O Town” was nominated for Best Nigerian Film and won Achievement in Soundtrack at the Africa Movie Academy Awards in 2015. He went on to win the Trailblazer Award at the 2015 Africa Magic Viewers Choice Awards (the AMVCAs) and Best Director (for “O Town”) at the Lake City Film Festival in 2016.
In addition to feature films, Obasi has earned a strong reputation in the world of short films. A genre which has recently come to the forefront of Nigerian cinema, Obasi has excelled, most notably with “Bruja” (2017). Throughout all of his work runs a strong thread of horror and suspense, as he draws upon his upbringing, using the “small town life” theme as a focal point in his stories.
A self-proclaimed rebel at heart, Obasi has a true passion for film and is often heard speaking up for the underdogs in the industry. While most Nigerian movies are produced in Lagos, Obasi is unique in that most of his movies are written and produced in Owerri. In fact, he still lives in the small town where he grew up and his strong attachment to it is evident in his movies.
In his spare time, he enjoys spending time with his wife and business partner, who he describes as the brains in the relationship.
So, what’s next for this bright, young talent? Already set for a 2018 release is “Mami Wata”, a feature-length thriller and a new short sci-fi called “Hello Rain”. The future looks bright for the Fiery One!
Here are some more fun facts about C.J. Obasi:
- He only completed his degree in Computer Science to please his parents.
- He describes his life when wasn’t filmmaking as torture.
- His hometown, Owerri, inspires him; “Ojuju” is his only film that was not written there.
- Through his work, he wants to recreate the wonder he felt as a child watching movies.
- He is influenced by Lars von Trier, Martin Scorsese, Quentin Tarantino, David Lynch, Alfred Hitchcock, and Sam Raimi.
- He often splices real footage and clips into his movies.
- “Ojuju” was inspired by a visit to his friend and was filmed in that same location.
- He watched the first two “Evil Dead” movies when he was nursery school age.