Classic Reel: 'Festival of Fire'
Cast: Regina Askia, Saint Obi, Kanayo O. Kanayo, Chika Anyanwu and Tony Madugba
Year of release: 1999
Director: Chico Ejiro
Plot: The priest of Amadioha clashes with a nun, both unaware of a huge secret linking them.
Side note: This classic reel selection is in loving memory of late veteran actor and producer, Saint Obi (Obinna Nwafor), who passed away on the 7th of May, 2023.
Set during the post colonial period, the film highlighted the clash between pagan worship and the emerging 'white man's' religion. At the time, Christianity posed a threat to the 'old ways'... worshipping idols, sacrificing to the gods and doing away with anything or anyone considered 'an abomination'. The main focus was one of the things deemed an abomination or taboo at the time, twins... who were killed by the priest of Amadioha to cleanse the land. Reluctant parents are forced to give up their ''abnormal children'' or face the wrath of the gods.
Former Miss Nigeria Regina Askia and late Candlelight alum, Saint Obi both played against type. Askia played Sister Mary who, with her fellow nuns and their Mother Superior (the only white person in the film) arrive at a village to being their missionary work but immediately get into a tussle with the son of the village head, Ameachi (Kanayo O. Kanayo) after they stop a woman accused of witchcraft from being killed. At first they are treated as guests after their fright, but raise the villagers' ire after they state their intention to spread the word of the true God. The priest of Amadioha, Ezenwo, (Saint Obi) immediately shuts the holy woman down and to their horror, presides over the killing of twin babies.
In retrospect, the film was uneven and inaccurate. The Mother Superior appears briefly and the nuns don't appear to grief too much over her loss. The material of their habits were of shiny polyester, instead of thick wool, Sister Mary wore a wrist watch (which was not exactly common in those days) and despite the animal skin, nappy hair and face paint, Saint Obi was simply not convincing enough as a pagan priest, probably because such a role needed to be more prepared for. Kanayo O. Kanayo's acting is over the top, we only see him scowl and shout most of the time. His father, who later asked to be baptized at his death bed, didn't seem equipped to control his own son or probe deeply in the acts of infanticide and pagan worship in his land. The language should have been in Igbo, instead the Sister Mary and the other nuns speak in English, while the villagers' English is less refined.
Considering the infanticide of twins was an actual thing so long ago, one would think the rescue of more twins and schooling of the villagers how wrong killing them was would be the main focus, and we see the end of the act. Instead, we see the defenseless nuns being constantly hounded by the priest of Amadioha and his crew in an effort to be rid of them and keep up the village's status quo. It gets so much that even one of the nuns, after one of their own is killed, goes back to their convent in Onitsha. Plus, there was the unnecessary sub plot involving the village beauty being wooed by the nun's helper, to the fury of the hot tempered Prince who wanted her for himself.
The film simply had filler scenes of the nuns with their handful of converts and the priest and his crew plotting against them. The oracle's warning to Ezenwo about Sister Mary... that a powerful force was protecting her (God) and that ''Don't destroy yourself'' tells us there is something that linked them but we don't know what that secret until much later and it definitely changed things. Not just between them, but it also makes Ezenwo soberly challenge his identity and what he has been doing to those innocent twin babies for years. Unfortunately, the big reveal could not save the film from its terrible and abrupt ending.
The late Chico Ejiro was a prolific director but 'Festival of Fire' would have been more of a film if the script was written better.
I recommend a remake.
The killing of twins did happen until the intervention of Scottish missionary, Mary Slessor in Calabar.
Saint Obi and Regina Askia previously played a couple in the political drama, Dirty Game (1998)