A pan-African silent tale in A Hotel Called Memory


In the Silent Era the art of storytelling and cinematography lay in the visual interpretation of the narrative; while a new age and sound have come to replace some of the old filmic elements, the “tone poem’ still has a place in modern storytelling, by giving new life to deep-rooted cinematic aesthetics of evoking the senses with poetic imagery.

“I have always liked films with no dialogue, or long passages where you as an audience member are truly enjoying the visual aspects and following the story and filling in the blanks. I always loved those and always wanted to make one.’

“Alain Gomis’ Tey is a good example. Although there is some dialogue in that film there are long passages that are silent and it’s just beautiful,’ says Akin Omotoso, director of the first pan-African silent film titled, A Hotel Called Memory.

While media reports have referred to the film as an “experimental project’, Omotoso affirms that it is a tone poem. ‘It’s about the mood and the experience. I really wanted the audience to have a lyrical and visual experience,’ he says.

The story is based on a divorcee named Lola played by Nigerian actress, Nse Ikpe-Etim. The film takes us on her journey from Lagos, where she separates from her husband, and as she seeks solace through her travels to Zanzibar.

Nigerian actress Kemi Lala Akindoju plays Lola’s friend Tokunbo, while South African actresses, Mmabatho Montsho and Nomzamo Mbatha play Ayanda and Tina respectively. Although Lola never meets Ayanda and Tina, her story is somehow affected by them.

“This all comes back to the story written by Branwen Okpako. She placed the characters in those environments: Zanzibar, Lagos, and Cape Town. And we thought it would be exciting to explore these spaces.’

Nigerian veteran actress and film producer, Ego Boyo had previously worked with Omotoso on a six-year project which never materialised. This however did not deter the filmmakers from wanting to collaborate again in the future. Consequently, A Hotel Called Memory soon became the ideal project and story for them to take on together.

“She trusted the team. Not too many producers would allow a crew of five people and a thirteen page outline to go off and shoot in three different countries,’ shares Omotoso.

In 2015 the film crew started shooting and went to Zanzibar for a week. They then took a few months off before heading to Cape Town for two weeks.

“We wanted it to be very organic and natural. With the DP, Rob Wilson, we used natural light so we could get in and out of spaces quickly. People panic when they see big light trucks; we didn’t want that so the production was very mobile. We would put the actors in real environments and we would film, just observing and reacting as they reacted to what was happening around them,’ Omotoso explains.

After the Cape Town shoot, Omotoso asked for a few months off to complete his film Vaya, before they could go on and do their final shoot in Lagos.

The film was shot using a Sony A7S camera on a 45mm swing shift with tilt lenses. “To achieve what we wanted Rob used the Sony A7S because of how it reacts to natural light and also it’s excellent in low light conditions,’ remarks Omotoso.
Post-production was done by Ladies and Gentlemen Film with Marc Baleiza as post-production supervisor and Kimberly Hobbs as the colourist.

“The film is 60 minutes long. The sound design took a while because we had to find the right tone for the film, so it’s a combination of reality – the sounds of the different countries – and great expressionist sounds and lots of silence,’ says Omotoso.

A Hotel Called Memory
has since had its international premiere at the 6th Annual Blackstar Film Festival, which only Boyo attended. After the film was showcased at the festival, there was a discussion session whereby the audience could ask Omotoso questions via Skype.

“The response was positive. People remarked how beautiful the film looked, the feeling of experiencing the story, lots of questions about the process. How the actors were directed, how the story came to be shot in the different countries,’ shares Omotoso.

The film also won an Audience Award at the festival for Favourite Experimental Film which Omotoso views as a great affirmation for the film.

A Hotel Called Memory will have its African premiere at the 7th Lights, Camera, Africa Film Festival which runs from 29 September to 1 October 2017 at the Federal Palace Hotel in Victoria Island, Lagos.


• Camera: Sony AS7

“To achieve what we wanted Rob used the Sony A7S because of how it reacts to natural light and also it’s excellent in low light conditions.’ – Akin Omotoso


Director: Akin Omotoso
Producer: Ego Boyo
Writer and editor: Branwen Okpako
Director of photography: Rob Wilson
Sound design: Guy Steer
Music: Joel Assaizky

by Gezzy S. Sibisi


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