When Nigerian-born scriptwriter and novelist Biyi Bandele suggested that he direct his adaptation of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's bestselling novel, Half of a Yellow Sun, there was a long silence - "Two weeks' silence". The film, shot in the typhoid-infested Calabar delta in war-torn Nigeria, was uninsurable and Biyi watched as the two year schedule over-ran dramatically, his cast and crew fell sick and found himself universally hated after filming a marathon 18 scenes in one day.
Six years later the film was finally completed but his troubles continue: the film's portrayal of the 1967-70 Biafran war means that it faces being banned in Nigeria, where it is feared that it might open old wounds and reignite tribal tensions.
Despite all this, Biyi is rightly proud of the film, which screened to sell-out audiences in its opening week in London. Author Chimamanda, who has already been to see it ten times worldwide, says it accurately portrays her book, but she was glad Biyi forbade her from seeing the script during shooting.
In this post-screening Q&A Bandele talks to Dr Edson Burton and an international Watershed audience about the difficulties of funding an African film featuring black African leads, adapting books to screen, his support of Lenny Henry's campaign for more black content on TV, his hard-working hard-partying crew, borrowing real weapons from the Nigerian army and how he used a mass typhoid outbreak as "an extreme form of method acting".
Biyi Bandele, already a novelist, playwright, scriptwriter and poet has recently added directing to his CV, and Half of a Yellow Sun is his debut as a feature film director.
Dr Edson Burton is a writer, historian and commentator, and regular collaborator with Watershed.
Reflections on Half of a Yellow Sun by Chino Odimba
Posted on Thu 24 April 2014.