PAFF Interview: Desmond Ovbiagele

Talks 'The Milkmaid’and Religious Extremism in Nigeria

Though cinema is sometimes dismissed as inessential entertainment, the medium can be used to bring much needed attention and awareness to important societal issues. That’s what filmmaker Desmond Ovbiagele hopes to achieve through his sophomore feature The Milkmaid. Inspired by the seemingly forgotten events of the Islamist insurgency in Nigeria, this harrowing tale centers a pair of sisters whose lives are torn apart after they are abducted and forced to live and marry into an oppressive way of life. In the edited Awards Radar interview below, Ovbiagele explains the film’s social context and the challenges involved in documenting a sensitive true story.

Shane Slater: What was the inspiration for this story?

Desmond Ovbiagele: I was looking for a story that would speak to some of the critical issues going on in my environment. I live in Nigeria. One of the most prevalent issues was the whole insurgency situation that came to a head internationally in 2014, when the Chibok girls were abducted. There was a lot of outrage led by Michelle Obama at that time. But not too long after that, it seemed as if all the attention sort of just died away. The situation certainly hadn’t stopped. People were still getting killed, victims lives were disrupted. But it seemed as if the international community and certainly the local community had moved on. I wanted a story that spoke to that situation.
As I said, the situation was still ongoing, but all you kept hearing about was the statistics. So I thought the situation and the victims deserved to be humanized. For them to have their stories told to the world and spoken about. I thought it would be a good opportunity to use the medium of film to gain some deeper insights into these people, both on the side of the extremists as well as the victims.

SS: Was there a lot of support for the film while you were developing it?

DO:Well, actually no. This is a project that very much took off and continued on its own steam. Based on the resources that were available to me and the people I was able to reach out to, who were good enough to lend their support financially and otherwise. But in terms of structured support locally or internationally, no.

SS: The narrative takes us into this world that is unfamiliar to many of us. Did that require you to do a lot of research to understand the dynamics and atmosphere within that space?