Water and Garri Banks On Cinematography To Tell A Story With No Depth

Water and Garri Banks On Cinematography To Tell A Story With No Depth
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‘Water is to Garri as love is to pain’ was the opening text of Tiwa Savage’s film, ‘Water and Garri.’ It was intriguing. The question that hovered at the back of my mind was how well can the storytelling connect the complementary nature of water and garri to love and pain and what sort of pain are we looking to see. 

Tiwa Savage as Aisha in Water and Garri
Tiwa Savage as Aisha in Water and Garri. Photo: Instagram/Tiwasavage

Water and Garri tells the story of Aisha, a fashion designer whose grief pushes her to connect with her roots after being away from her hometown for ten years. Upon return to her hometown, Eastside, she confronts past demons and embarks on a journey of self-discovery.

Directed by Meji Alabi and co-produced by Everything Savage and Unbound Studios, Water and Garri, showcases stunning shots, shining in cinematography and boasts of a stellar lineup including Jemima Osunde, Mike Afolarin, and Tiwa Savage. However, the film fails to deliver storytelling and comes off more like a collection of music videos. 

In an interview with Variety, Tiwa Savage revealed that after her ‘Water and Garri’ EP came out, she had an idea to make a visual album inspired by Beyonce’s ‘Black Is King,’ but later on decided to make a feature film because she got ‘bored of doing music videos.’

Did she successfully do enough to turn her idea of a visual album into a full-feature film? Let’s break it down.

Cinematography

Stephany (Jemima Osunde) and Aisha (Tiwa Savage) in Water and Garri The Film.
Stephany (Jemima Osunde) and Aisha (Tiwa Savage) in Water and Garri The Film. Photo: Twitter/MejiAlabi

Taking a note from Beyonce’s visual album, Tiwa Savage works with Meji Alabi, the video producer responsible for the Nigerian footage of the ‘Black Is King’ visual project, executively produced by Beyonce. For the Black Is King project, he also worked alongside Ibra Ake and Jenn Nkiru to execute the Grammy Award-winning ‘Brown Skin Girl’ music video for which he was credited as co-director.

In true Meji Alabi fashion, the video producer makes use of vivid shots, close-ups and tracking shots to captivate the audience in a visual story as he has done over the years in the world of music videos with creations such as Tiwa savage ‘49-99;’ Wizkid ft Burna Boy ‘Ginger;’ Rema ‘Trouble Maker;’ and Davido ‘Assurance.’ 

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However, there was something off with the pacing of the scenes. Before viewers fully immerse themselves in the set-up scenes, the next scene appears almost immediately. In some parts, the rhythm was off and it automatically altered the emotions felt during the scene. For instance, in the beginning, we do not get to see much of Aisha in her element, there’s barely any shot of her designing outfits or showcasing the collection she has made. 

There’s barely a set-up for the main character, not to talk of the supporting characters. Aisha comes back to her hometown to help console her cousin but there’s barely any sign of Stephany grieving and little focus on her story or why her brother was killed. Was he part of a gang or was he a victim? We are told none of that, instead, we are shown a story that revolves around Aisha’s love life with specs into why she has so much pent-up pain. 

Acting

Andrew Bunting in Water and Garri
Andrew Bunting in Water and Garri

Surprisingly, aside from the main actor, the actors in the film all do an okay job of portraying their characters. Tiwa Savage showcases pain and happiness in ways that almost pull at viewers’ heartstrings, but there’s still a stoic, almost careful way in which she delivers her lines, especially with the narrations. Jemima Osunde, on the other hand, delivered. 

Andrew Bunting (Kay), the main actor, was not convincing enough. His accent switches were not as smooth for someone they wanted us to believe was from the streets. The pidgin sounded foreign, and the accent was unplaceable, which brings us to another confusing part of the story, where was this film set?

Language & Setting

Andrew Bunting in Water and Garri
Photo: Twitter/MejiAlabi

Based on their names, one would deduce they were Yoruba but the characters were speaking Ghanaian’s Fente and other times Pidgin English, which was confusing. Which culture were they representing or drawing inspiration from? What society is the film mirroring? 

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Although, Aisha narrated in the film that Eastside had a ‘unique blend of cultures, accents, languages, all in one place.’ That did nothing to clear the confusion. In an interview, Tiwa Savage shared that they were trying to portray ‘West African unity,’ but there was not enough storytelling to make the community they tried to create believable.

Soundtrack

Andrew Bunting and Tiwa Savage on set for Water and Garri
Photo: Twitter/MejiAlabi

On the first watch, Water and Garri seemed more like a collection of music videos rather than a feature film. The use of the soundtrack to match the scenes was beautiful to watch as the multi-genre album set the mood for a visual experience.

However, the incredible soundtrack did not help the overall storytelling.

Storytelling 

Mike Afolarin and young Andrew Bunting in Water and Garri
Photo: Twitter/MejiAlabi

Throughout the film, Aisha speaks of a town that’s ‘dangerous,’ but there’s nothing storytelling-wise that shows us that the town is indeed dangerous except word of mouth. We move from a shooting scene to Aisha at her fashion show in Los Angeles, where we neither get to see her showcase the collection nor figure out how well she’s doing in LA. In the same scene, she gets a call that her cousin was killed. Without a moment to show emotions or fully see the effect this news has on the lead, the next sequence is a shot three months later. What happened in those three months?

There were also points where key cultural nuances were missed. If an extended family member reaches out that her brother passed and her revelation influenced your decision to come back to your hometown after ten years, are you not supposed to be visiting? Aisha didn’t do this. Instead, Stephany visited her, and they ended up going out for a ‘fun time’ while the family was supposed to be grieving. 

‘These are not the ones you should be afraid of?’ Those were the words Stephany (Jemima) told Aisha on their first outing together, but the story never established who anyone should be afraid of. Why was Stephany egging Aisha on to date Kay when she knew of his shady business dealings? If he was not the one to be afraid of, who then? 

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What was Kay, Mide and Aisha’s relationship like when they were children? Were they drug dealers? Who were they working under? Did Kay become a street urchin due to circumstances? What happened to him? Where’s the background to his story? What happened after Aisha lost her mother? How did she get enough money to move to the UK when they were poor? 

Tiwa Savage and Andrew Bunting in Water and Garri

We did not see much interaction between Aisha, Kay and Mide (Mike Afolarin), her deceased brother, to determine what was so special about their bonds or the lengths the trio went to survive in the supposed ‘dangerous’ town. There are too many questions left unanswered, which raises one question: What was the purpose of this film?

According to the producers, Water and Garri was created to portray cultural shifts and how Aisha navigates life amidst pain, but it barely explores any of these themes to the fullest. There were no compelling characters, unnecessary conflict, dialogue that lacked depth, barely any tension and a confusing resolution. In what world would the love of your life die, and there’s barely any pain or reaction, and you just accept your faith?

Tiwa Savage’s ‘Water and Garri’ does a subpar job in establishing a premise and uses flashbacks without actually establishing context, but tells a visually pleasing story as it focuses more on aesthetics and the shots rather than the depth of the story.

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