“Currently, over three million Nigerians are displaced due to the activities of terrorist group Boko Haram, and almost half a million Nigerians – mostly children – have been killed,” said AKONI writer/director/producer/actor Genna Chanelle Hayes about the real-world relevance of her feature debut, which premieres at CinefestOZ in the Margaret River region of Western Australia.
“The Boko Conflict in West Africa is just one of many violent conflicts destabilising nations around the world, and as the number of internationally displaced peoples soars toward 100 million, it is my hope that the story of AKONI can enhance global understanding of the circumstances refugees and asylum seekers face, and contribute to the creation of global immigration policies that uphold the human rights of all peoples.”
AKONI is the story of the titular Nigerian refugee (played by British-born Nigerian actor Kit Esuruoso), who has difficulty assimilating in Australia after escaping Boko Haram. When he meets Violet (played by Genna Chanelle Hayes), his plight offers a contrasting point of view to the party girl. The film also stars Nigerian actress Jemima Osunde and Australian actors Mark Coles Smith, Pippa Grandison and Simon Elrahi.
“I am very proud to present our World Premiere at CinefestOz which is such an important celebration of independent Australian cinema,” Genna says. “It’s been a long journey – three years in the making plus a global pandemic, but I am excited and incredibly appreciative that we get to debut the film in cinema at CinefestOz. I’m very grateful to be able to be here and share the experience. “
Genna was raised on a sheep farm in country Victoria, moving to the US for high school. Moving back to Australia for tertiary studies at University of Queensland, she then travelled around the world before returning to Australia again to pursue her passion for filmmaking, with her short films Wurinyan, Displaced and Surviving Bug screening internationally, including Cannes. She shot the film in Sydney and in Ghana and produced it across Australia, Ghana, Nigeria and the United Kingdom.