Filming the Netflix hit Citation on the EOS C500 Mark II

To create a cinematic look for his hugely successful Nollywood film Citation, director and filmmaker Kunle Afolayan turned to Cinema EOS cameras and a set of Sumire Prime lenses.
Nollywood director Kunle Afolayan next to a Canon Cinema EOS camera on the set of his film Citation.

Nollywood director, producer and actor Kunle Afolayan poses next to a Canon EOS C500 Mark II camera on the set of his hit Netflix film Citation. "A healthy film market is one in which streaming services and cinema can operate side by side – they have different purposes and can support each other," says Kunle. "Nollywood is still growing within the cinema industry, but it's also gaining more recognition on streaming platforms." © Kunle Afolayan

"A huge goal of mine is to not only tell great Nigerian and African stories but to share them with the rest of the world," says award-winning director Kunle Afolayan. "Stories about people are universal, and if they are produced well, they can be understood by anyone."

With his most recent release, Citation, available on Netflix across the globe, the Nigerian filmmaker is well on his way to achieving this goal. Born and raised in Lagos, Kunle was introduced to the world of film from a young age. "I've always had great appreciation for amazing stories and film because as a child it was all around me," he says. "My father, Adeyemi Josiah Afolayan, was a popular Nollywood theatre and film director and producer, so film is in my blood."

While working in a bank, Kunle realised he wasn't following his true passion and decided to retrain in filmmaking at the New York Film Academy. Since then he's become one of the leading lights of Nollywood – the Nigerian film industry – releasing hits including Mokalik and The Figurine, and has founded Kunle Afolayan Productions Television (KAPTv) and Golden Effects Pictures.

Citation tells the story of a university student who finds herself inadvertently taking on the establishment when she reports a popular professor for attempted rape. The film is based on real events. "Citation is an incredible story that I believe will resonate far and wide," says Kunle. "It is about a young woman in higher education who is being groomed by lecturers in return for better, higher grades – a really topical subject in Nigeria and something I believe happens across the world but isn't discussed."

Here, Kunle and his DoP Jonathan Kovel share how the Canon EOS C500 Mark II and Sumire Prime lenses met their creative demands and enabled Citation to become a Netflix triumph.

Director Kunle Afolayan and his crew filming outdoors in bright sunshine. A large purple umbrella is being used to shade the camera.

Kunle, right, directing the action on Citation. Kunle's production company focuses on making films about Nigeria and, more broadly, Africa, and he's passionate about sharing these stories with a large audience, both globally and closer to home. "Not only are streaming services great for distributing stories around the world, they are also great for sharing content internally within the country in which it is produced," says Kunle. "For example, some cities in West Africa don't have cinemas, so they rely strongly on streaming services as they are their source of entertainment and learning." © Kunle Afolayan

DoP Jonathan Kovel films a tribunal scene on the set of the Nollywood drama Citation.

Jonathan Kovel films a scene on the set of Citation. It was the first time the long-standing DoP had worked with the Canon EOS C500 Mark II. "The full-frame look echoes epic films from the 1950s and 1960s that were shot on 65mm, and that's always a good thing," he says, even though of course 65mm and Full-Frame (35mm) are significantly different formats. © Kunle Afolayan

5.9K full-frame storytelling

"Two things are important to me as a director," says Kunle. "The production needs to have a great story, and the production value must be of a high standard. The latter is the most important because no matter how great the story is, if it is not well produced, you cannot do it justice. Great productions need great camera kit."

Kunle is no stranger to Cinema EOS cameras, having shot his movie Mokalik on a Canon EOS C300 Mark II. But for Citation, he was drawn to a new camera which had caught his attention at 2019's IBC technology show in Amsterdam.

"I was amazed at the Canon EOS C500 Mark II's capabilities," he recalls. "Normally it's not a director's place to say to a DoP what kit to use, but I've always wanted to shoot with a 4K full-frame camera, and I knew that this one would make it to the Netflix approved list – which was important for this production."

DoP Jonathan Kovel had used Canon's C300 series cameras before, but this was his first film with the Canon EOS C500 Mark II. "Having shot hundreds of hours on EOS 5D series cameras, I was used to the full-frame lensing, field of view and depth of field," he says. "We shot 5.9K and RAW. I would never shoot any camera at less than full resolution and RAW. I don't want to mess with the field of view and I always want to deliver footage with maximum latitude for grading."

Jonathan and Kunle paired the full-frame camera with Canon's Sumire Prime lenses. "They gave the footage a lovely soft, cinematic feel and made the subject stand out – perfect for telling strong, focused stories," says Kunle.

Jonathan describes the Sumire look as "soft and sensual, yet crisp and vivid", and says he would recommend them for any full-frame spherical project. "The combination of the camera and these lenses gives a nice organic and naturalistic look – not too much contrast and not too digital feeling," he adds.

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Actor Temi Otedola sits at a canteen table reading a flyer, with a camera crew filming her from behind.

Based on true events, Citation is a drama about university student Moremi, played by Temi Otedola (pictured), who is forced to confront institutions of power when reporting her professor for attempted rape. Tackling big issues of accountability and a culture of sexual assault, it's largely set in the university's tribunal hearing. "It's an incredible story that I believe will resonate far and wide," says Kunle. © Kunle Afolayan

A poster for the Netflix film Citation directed by Nigerian filmmaker Kunle Afolayan.

Citation topped the Netflix charts in Nigeria and is available to stream across Europe. Since its release, Kunle's production company has signed a three-title partnership with Netflix to create three original films. © Netflix

Fresh stories from the continent

Citation has gained praise for tackling the thorny topic of sex-for-grades and offering a more nuanced social commentary than previous Nollywood films. Kunle is committed to spotlighting Nigerian and African stories, which can be seen throughout his back catalogue.

"I try to be as original as possible, telling stories that are close to me and that I truly understand," he explains. "Yes, I am a director and can turn my hand to many different productions, but when it comes to storytelling, I am deeply rooted in my environment and draw a lot of inspiration from my roots. I can tell an amazing, deep-rooted Nigerian/African story – for genuine and meaningful productions this authenticity is important."

A new wave of local production companies are taking ownership of stories and offering fresh approaches to Nollywood filmmaking. "The benefit of independent production companies is that they are less scared to tell hard-hitting stories – so there's lot of grit and emotion to them," says Kunle. Having affordable gear, like the set-up on Citation, is an added bonus, he adds, as budgets are often tight for independent production companies.

Despite his success, Kunle says there's still much work to be done in furthering African narratives globally. "There's still a lack of representation of Nigerian-produced – and more broadly African-produced – film in Europe, both in cinema and at film festivals like Cannes. There are a lot of incredible independent films being made, but they're not getting the recognition they deserve because they haven't been co-commissioned by international production companies with big budgets behind them."

DoP Patrick Smith with a Canon EOS C500 Mark II cinema camera.

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DoP Jonathan Kovel and fellow crew members filming an outdoor scene involving young men confronting one another for the Netflix production Citation.

The Canon EOS C500 Mark II is just one of numerous Canon cameras that have been approved for use by Netflix. "An advantage of this camera is the fact it's quite light," says Kunle. "We used it with a Steadicam and it was easy to manoeuvre. Because the weight was quite minimal, that really helped in terms of flexibility." © Kunle Afolayan

Netflix-approved cameras for the era of streaming

While Nollywood films may not be breaking into European cinemas, they are reaching much wider audiences today through platforms like Netflix. "Streaming services are so important in exposing content from other continents," says Kunle. "If they didn't exist, it would be a real shame for both independent production companies but also for viewers, as they would only see a limited portion of the world."

Netflix has been central to Kunle's personal journey, ever since his first film, October 1, was released on the platform in 2014. "This changed everything for me," he recalls. "I was contacted directly by the streaming service and I knew straight away that it was a step in the right direction – for myself, but also for Nigerian and African independent film companies, because at the time, Netflix didn't have any subscribers in Nigeria. This move told me that Netflix cared about universal appreciation for content."

Since then, Kunle has gone on to dominate the most-watched lists of Netflix Nigeria, with Citation maintaining a position in the top 10 six weeks after its release.

When planning this production, it was vital for him to shoot with a camera on Netflix's approved list, to ensure his film would meet the platform's stringent requirements. A number of Canon's Cinema EOS cameras have been accredited for Netflix productions, including the EOS C500 Mark II, EOS C700 FF, EOS C300 Mark III and EOS C70.

Kunle Afolayan and DoP Jonathan Kovel set up a shot in front of a statue of a man reading, with a Canon EOS C500 Mark II camera mounted on a slider.

Kunle had been eager to test out the Canon EOS C500 Mark II and both he and his DoP Jonathan Kovel were thrilled with the results. "The camera is just in a world of its own. It's so adaptable, so we were able to use it in a number of different scenarios," he says. This included mounting the EOS C500 Mark II on sliders to film smooth-moving shots as seen in this image. © Kunle Afolayan

"With Citation, we decided to go with UHD, keeping the Netflix prerequisites in mind," says Kunle. "The EOS C500 Mark II gave us the opportunity to shoot in 5.9K, and it was pretty easy to edit that footage in proxy and then sync it back and down convert it to the resolution we wanted."

Citation – along with many of Kunle's other productions, including Mokalik, October 1 and The CEO – is available to stream on Netflix throughout Europe. His production company now has a three-title partnership with Netflix, creating three original films, starting with an adaptation of Nigerian-American writer Sefi Atta's third novel, Swallow.

"Platforms like Netflix can raise awareness of issues globally and allow independent filmmakers to gain exposure in different markets," Kunle says. "It's all about getting the right content to the right people around the world. The demand for great stories is everywhere, whether that's on the big screen or at home on the couch."

Lucy Fulford

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