Graduate’s first film hits the Nigerian big screens

MetFilm School BA Practical Filmmaking graduate, Mathew Alajogun, 28, has just seen his first feature film released on the big screen across Nigeria. And, he says; “It’s such a great feeling.”

“You know”, said Mathew. “the hard work doesn’t stop once the film is made, I don’t think it ever stops. You have to work to get the film into cinemas, arrange private viewings and ensure you get the air time – you need to keep going to get people’s attention.”

The Cleanser was an idea that had been percolating around Mathew’s brain for some time, and finally, with support from the staff at MetFilm School and a degree in Practical Filmmaking, which covered everything from script development and cinematography to guidance on how to choose a director, he was finally able to make the film.

The Cleanser is a fast-paced thriller, it’s Mathew’s way of shining a light on the shocking government corruption, murder and regular kidnappings and the poor state of the economy in Nigeria, the country where he was born.

Mathew moved to Manchester in the UK in 2005 when he was 12 years-old. His parents wanted Mathew to have a British education and they hoped that he would become a medical doctor.

Life in Manchester was a culture shock – he’d never seen so much rain. So much so that the family renamed the city, ‘Rainchester’. He also experienced racism for first time.

Mathew said:

“Moving to the UK was exciting, it was an adventure. We moved in the summer and I started high school at the beginning of Year7, I wasn’t well prepared for it.

“Academically, I was the brightest boy in the class – but you get bullied for being bright and enthusiastic and for sticking your hand up all the time. And, there were the racist slurs… you know – I heard phrases like ‘fresh off the boat’, and “I’d hear people trying to parody the way they think Nigerians speak. What can you do, other than go home and tell your mum? In reality there wasn’t much she could do.

“It wasn’t long before I had my first fight. That first fight was important though – it showed me that I had to stand for something, that I had to make it be known to the others that I wouldn’t be bullied and that they needed to leave me alone.”

It was after this fight that Mathew got interested in basketball, he thought that if he became stronger and an athlete, he could show that he wasn’t ‘just a nerd’, he wouldn’t be bullied.

Basketball became a real passion for him, so much so that he let his academic studies slip.

He always knew that he didn’t want to be a doctor, and at that time he wasn’t bothered about going to university. But, it wasn’t something he could share with his parents.

Mathew came from a family where you ‘must’ go to university.

He had always been interested in film, acting, and music but his parents didn’t agree that these were suitable careers.

As Mathew’s academic grades slipped, shockingly he told his school that his family had moved and gave them a fake address and telephone number so they wouldn’t be able to contact his mum about his slipping grades.

After leaving school he went to college and started on a scheme as an ‘NHS Cadet’, because he didn’t have the grades required, this would be the best way to get into working in medical care. During his training, Mathew had several placements. He said: “I was always singing and dancing and performing while on placement – my tutors knew it wasn’t the right environment for me.” He asked the tutors to tell his mother that he wasn’t suited to medical studies at university.

Mathew then went to work at an NHS hospital, he worked supporting an eye theatre –he only lasted around a year, and then told his mother another outrageous lie… he told her that the department was making cutbacks and that he’d lost his job.

Mathew’s mum knew he was unhappy and decided to make a big change – she took him back to Nigeria and both his parents supported his dream to make films.

The Nigerian film industry is now the second largest in the world, nestled between India’s Bollywood and the USA’s Hollywood – it produces over 1000 movies a year, generates over $600m a year and employs more than one million people.

Mathew said:

“When I got back, I made two films, it was very exciting – I just wanted to be on set, but the more time I spent on set, the more I thought this isn’t the way to make films… it’s not meant to be like this.

“Technically I thought that many Nigerian films weren’t great, editing was often poor and sometimes the English and the dialogue was bad – watching them actually gave me a headache. I knew I needed to go to a film school.

“I chose MetFilm School because it was in the UK, and it really felt ‘right’. Although at the interview I thought I’d let myself down – I didn’t have a wide knowledge of the British film industry and much of the discussion was around that. But, once I got to explaining what I’d achieved in Nigeria, and that I’d produced two films, the School could see what I was aiming for.

“I got accepted and I told my parents that I would make them proud. My parents believe that university is a necessity, they just didn’t consider that I could go to university and get a degree in filmmaking.

“I did the three-year degree, but it took me longer because once again basketball turned my head – the University of West London had a team and I got distracted. But MetFilm School supported me and I eventually graduated in 2019.

The Cleanser was released in January 2021, it tells the story of one man’s quest to eradicate bad, Nigerian politicians, to remove them permanently from office by assassination. And, it ends on a cliff-hanger.

Mathew said;

“I’ve watched the film a few times sitting amongst paying audiences, and I’ve heard many people discussing the film as they leave wondering when ‘part 2’ is out, or whether there will be a ‘part 2.’”

It’s an encouraging sign. 

He is really focused on making The Cleanser a success, he said;

“I want people to take notice of this film and I want more Nigerian cinemas to show it – and I want to get the attention of Netflix. If this film is the success I know it can be, then maybe there will be ‘The Cleanser’ part 2.”

Mathew is due back in the UK (Manchester) later this year to start another project in March, as a film producer with global ambitions he says he’s not limiting himself to only making Nigerian movies.

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