Aberrant Maia

INTERVIEW WITH DIJI ADEROGBA

Diji Aderogba is a filmmaker, film director, and writer who lends his voice to social issues through the films and stories he creates. With feature films, short films, and documentaries under his belt, it is no surprise that his documentary, Hidden Euphoria, was nominated for best documentary in Africa at the 2020 Africa Magic Viewer’s Choice Awards. His films are socially conscious, tackling issues such as rape, mental health and child education. He also showcases African cultures and centres his craft on telling African stories. Let us hear more about Diji as he converses with us about himself, his work, and other unique aspects of him. Let’s begin!

Black and white photo of Diji Aderogba

Photo of Diji Aderogba

Ayeyi: Hi Diji! How are you?

Diji: I’m very good. Good morning.

Ayeyi: Great! And how has your week been?

Diji: My week was good. I did one or two projects, and I’m finding time to rest during the weekend before I get back to my next project. I’m just starting my day today, and I’m also looking forward to all the matches to be played.

Ayeyi: Ouu, do you have a favourite team?

Diji: Yes! Yes, I’m a Chelsea fan. I’ve been a Chelsea fan for almost two decades.

Ayeyi: (laughs) Oh wow! I’m actually a Man U fan.

Diji: We’re playing against each other today, now.

Ayeyi: Yeah, so we’ll see who wins today (laughs).

Diji: So, the thing is, I have the right to say I’m not doing this interview anymore because I don’t like Man U fans (laughs).

Ayeyi: (laughs) Okay, for today, I’ll be a Chelsea fan.

Diji: Exactly, so that’s fine (laughs).

Ayeyi: Okay, Diji, for all those reading, how would you describe yourself?

Diji: Diji is a creative, an artist, a filmmaker, sometimes funny, and likes food. But I’m a very shy person. I really don’t like to be around people for too long except when I have to be around people when I’m making films or doing my work. And I like to sleep when I’m not doing anything. I think another thing I like to do, but I’ve really not explored is travelling. But that’s just me. I’m a creative.

Ayeyi: How do you manage being shy and being a creative, and having to interact with people?

Diji: I think I have mastered that over the years. When I’m not working or meant to be anywhere, I’ll rather stay in my house. Being indoors helps with being creative, especially for writing and watching tutorials. Basically, I only go out when I go to church, go to meet a few friends, and when I’m working.

Ayeyi: Now you mentioned that you’re into films, and I’m curious, was there any event or particular movie that made you want to go into the film industry?

Diji: In my environment, when growing up, I used to see a lot of performances like dancing, and jazz performances, and from there, I knew I had a flair for artistic stuff. But everything started for me when I saw Tunde Kelani’s “Saworoide.” Tunde Kelani is one of Africa’s film pioneers, and that film is about culture, beliefs and societal issues. I remember watching that film with a few of my family members, and I told them that I want to make a film like this one day. After that day, I started watching a lot of his films, and studying them. Even though I did not really know what filmmaking was, I knew I wanted to be behind the cameras and create something. Along the line, I also started watching the likes of Kunle Afolayan. These are the people I grew up watching because they make films I want to make a better version of. So I’ll say “Saworoide” really inspired me to be a filmmaker. And I thank God that after a few years, I met Tunde Kelani and had the opportunity to go to his film school. Now, I have a five and six kind of relationship with him. It has given me more opportunity to learn his style of filmmaking and storytelling. I really thank God for that journey.

ÌLÙ GÁNGAN (Talking Drum) – Short film by Diji Aderogba

Ayeyi: Do you remember the first movie you ever made?

Diji: Yes. My first film is “Victim.” It tells the story of a young lady that was violated, treated badly and had relationship wahala, so I told the story of rape and awareness. After university, I knew it was time for me to go into filmmaking fully because I had nothing to deliver to anybody again. I had done my BA, and I had done my NYSC (a corps service we do in Nigeria), so my life was right in front of me. I wrote messages to senior colleagues back then, but nobody replied. But I told myself that regardless of any situation, I had to do something. So, I had to make a decision to lead to a bigger dream. I wrote a one-page script, called a friend, who is an actor, and then called another friend who handled the camera for me; that’s how I started. That film, Victim, made me understand that I’m a big fan of conscious films and films that tell stories of societal issues. From there, I have tried to maintain that catalogue.

Ayeyi: And since that film, Victim, till today, how have you seen yourself progress as a film director?

Diji: After I made Victim, I went to film school and majored in film directing and writing. Since then, I have been trying to tell stories addressing societal issues. That has really helped me to see life, society, and people in a whole different way because it is what you see and what you hear that makes you a creative. As a film director, I have done a few projects that I can say I’ve grown in storytelling, performances, visuals, delivery and all. Even though I’m still progressing, I am not where I used to be. God has given me that grace to up the game.

Ayeyi: That’s great!

Diji: Thank you very much.

“Victim” – Diji Aderogba’s First Film

Ayeyi: Now, when you are creating a film, what is your creative process like?

Diji: Sometimes, I get the idea and go into writing without thinking of character development or the plot. Other times, after an idea, to aid and inspire my writing, I ask: Do I need to speak to people? Do I need to read? Do I need to watch anything? Like when I made “To Be A Child Again,” my second short film, I was having a conversation with a friend, and he mentioned, “To be a child again.” That title struck me, and I was like, this is something I can actually work on. So, I wrote it down. After, when travelling back home, I saw children hawking and saw other students coming back from school. At that moment, I knew that I have to tell the story of the less privileged, the educated, and those who want to go to school but can’t because of their family or how society treats them. So, I called friends and asked if this is something they want to work on. And with their feedback, we bought all our ideas together, and you, as the director, now builds a vision. You create a vision of how you want your film to look like, and how you want people to view it. So, as a creative, sometimes I go from ideas to writing. Sometimes I go from researching to ideas to writing to feedback to production. And when you produce, you have to think of where you want it to go. Festivals? YouTube? TV? Basically, it’s idea, execution and marketing.

Ayeyi: (marvels) That’s actually a lot of factors you consider.

Diji: It is, actually.

To Be A Child Again – A short film by Diji Aderogba

Ayeyi: Diji, I want to congratulate you on being nominated for the 2020 Africa Magic Viewer’s Choice Awards (AMVCA) for your documentary, “Hidden Euphoria.”

Diji: Thank you.

Ayeyi: You’re welcome. Were you expecting that kind of recognition when filming Hidden Euphoria?

Diji: No, I wasn’t. You see, I don’t stay in Lagos, but the first time I went to Lagos, I climbed the Third Mainland Bridge. I could see Makoko (one of the most populated and popular slums in Africa) because it is very close to this place. I saw its congestion and its scents, and I was like, “One day, maybe I’ll go back to this place to tell their stories.” A few years later, a woman on Twitter messaged me and said she’s seen some of my works and wants us to work together on a short film. However, I get many messages like that where nothing happens at the end of the day. So, to send her away, I told her I was going to do a project on Makoko, but it was giving me a headache. And she’s like she knows a lot of people in Makoko and she stayed there for 6 years. I’m like, let’s collaborate! So, I travelled to Lagos to meet her, and she took me to Makoko, and that’s how Hidden Euphoria came about.

Ayeyi: And after it came out, what was the journey like to the AMVCAs?

Diji: For like 5 years, I wanted to make films that would be nominated for AMVCA. When AMVCA came that year, a lot of my friends urged me to submit, but I didn’t think I could submit a project I used a phone to shoot. Due to some issues, the whole of Hidden Euphoria, excluding the interviews, was shot on an iPhone 7+. Anyway, two days to the end of submissions, I summoned courage to submit two projects, my short film and the documentary. However, in my mind, I cancelled the documentary nomination. When the time came to announce the nominees, I was hoping that my short film would be nominated, but it wasn’t. And then the moment I heard best documentary in Africa, the first name they called was my name and project. I just started crying and jumping around the house. Calls and messages started coming in. Within 5 minutes, I had 1000 notifications on Twitter alone because many people have been following my career and want the best for me. So that’s how everything came around. On the day of AMVCA, I was in that hall, and people beside me knew I was crying. I was crying because I’ve been watching this online for 5 years, and that day I was in the same hall, seated with the people I was always seeing. I didn’t win, but a nomination for me was a blessing, and it has really changed a lot of stuff since that time. So, I’m grateful to God.

Ayeyi: That’s honestly such a beautiful and inspiring story. Sometimes, you think this might not cut it, but you’ll be very surprised. I really enjoyed hearing that.

Diji: Yes. Yes. Thank you. Thank you.

Hidden Euphoria – An AMVCA nominated documentary by Diji Aderogba

Ayeyi: With most of your films creating social awareness, what kind of reaction do you want viewers to have when viewing your films?

Diji: As I mentioned earlier, the main filmmaker that made me decide to be a filmmaker makes films that create awareness. For example, when people saw To Be A Child, I got a lot of calls and messages telling me that the video reminded them of their humble beginnings. I even got a testimony from a woman whose son, after watching the film, cried and apologized for not being serious with school and he has now decided to do well in school. You know, that’s the kind of reaction the films create. Another example is Tosin, a true life story of myself and mental health. After I released it, a lot of people called to tell me that people don’t talk about the kind of mental health awareness I created – which was hallucinations. Others said they were going to see a psychologist or a counsellor. I get many reactions, and I always want to make films like these because I want people to be entertained and educated.

Ayeyi: That’s amazing! Now, you mentioned Tosin, a film on mental health, and earlier, you talked about Victim, a film that tackled rape. These are sensitive topics. How do you tackle these films with sensitivity while still creating social awareness or impact?

Diji: That’s where the issue of reading and talking to people comes in. You don’t want people that have been affected to see your film and be like, “Who is this idiot?” When I make such sensitive films, I always like to speak to people that have gone through this phase. They are the ones that can tell me how they felt, what they did, what led to what and all that. You need to be aware that you’re making films for not just yourself but for people. So, when people see it, you don’t want them to remember what has happened to them as bringing back sadness. That’s why I always like to speak to people, read, and watch so that I know where to pick my own story from. I’m actually a very sensitive filmmaker. Regardless of being a creative, I always make sure that I don’t tell stories that go off line.

Ayeyi: Yeah, I think that’s very key.

Tosin – A mental awareness film by Diji Aderogba

Ayeyi: Diji, we’re coming to the end of the interview, but I want to know, do you have any upcoming projects for 2021 that you can share with us?

Diji: Yes! Like I said, I directed two feature films last year, and one is coming on Iroko TV. On the other, I really can’t say anything because my producers are still deciding. But we’ve made the film, a film on mental health, and it’s extremely nice. Those are coming out very soon. I also have two or three feature films lined up, and I am hoping that more doors will open for me. When they come out or are in the production phase, you’ll definitely hear about them.

Ayeyi: I definitely can’t wait to see them!

Diji: I also can’t wait for people to see them.

Ayeyi: If people want to follow you after reading this interview, what social media handles should they use?

Diji: I’m not active on Facebook at all, but I’m active on Twitter and Instagram, and I use the same handle: @directordiji

Kano, Nigeria – A short film by Diji Aderogba

Ayeyi: Do you have any last words for anyone reading this interview?

Diji: I just want to thank everybody for reading, and I hope to connect with more people after this interview. Also, I want to thank everyone for supporting me so far. I’m still growing. I’m still on the journey, and the journey has been so nice. And I want people to watch out for me. Watch out for the stories I tell: African stories. And to everybody dreaming of being somebody, whether as a filmmaker, a banker, a doctor, in whatever you dream of being, remember that there’s always time for everything. You just have to keep praying. You have to keep working and keep hoping that one day you’ll get to where you want to be and even much more. And thank you very much also for the opportunity given to me. This is huge for me, and I can’t wait to read the outcome of the interview. Thank you very much.

Ayeyi: Thank you too for agreeing to do this interview. I am really grateful. When I saw your works, especially your social awareness films, I was like, I want to interview you because I really like your works. More successes your way!

Diji Aderogba

Photo of Diji Aderogba

*This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity and brevity*

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