OBITUARY: Biyi Bandele, multifaceted filmmaker who won first literary prize at 14

In the lead-up to the release of ‘Blood Sisters’ and hot on the heels of the movie’s Netflix debut, Biyi Bandele, like other executives, was inundated with a series of tasks typical of media rounds. Talks abounded on the ingenuity he and Kenneth Gyang put into directing the crime drama. What no one foresaw was that the filmmaker-cum-novelist would, in two months, be written about in past tense.

Biyi Bandele is dead. He breathed what became his last on Sunday, July 7, in a development that has since plunged his family, friends, associates and acquaintances into mourning with condolences pouring in from well-wishers still trying to come to terms with the fact that the industry has lost yet another prodigious filmmaker. Although the family didn’t divulge much about the circumstances of his death, his daughter Temi described it as “unexpected.”

Bandele was the one who delved into multiple fields, cutting across fiction, theatre, journalism, TV, film and radio.

Bandele was born in Kafanchan, Kaduna state, in 1967. His father Solomon was a veteran of the Burma Campaign, a series of battles fought in the colony of Burma in World War II, while Nigeria was still part of the British Empire. Bandele spent his first 18 years in the north-central part of the country, with a strong ambition to become a writer.

He was only 14 when he won a short-story competition. He would move to Lagos in 1987 and then studied drama at the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife. Bandele won the International Student Playscript competition of 1989 with an unpublished play ‘Rain’ before claiming the 1990 British Council Lagos Award for a collection of poems.

Playwright, filmmaker and novelist — many sides, one storyteller

Bandele moved to London in 1990 at 22 with the manuscripts of two novels. His books were published and he was given a commission by the Royal Court Theatre. Bandele worked with major theatre companies including the Royal Court Theatre and the Royal Shakespeare Company. He as well wrote radio dramas and screenplays for television.

His plays include ‘Marching for Fausa’ (1993); ‘Resurrections in the Season of the Longest Drought’ (1994); ‘Two Horsemen’ (1994); ‘Death Catches the Hunter and Me and the Boys’ (1995); and ‘Oroonoko’, a novel adaptation.

In 1997, Bandele did a successful dramatisation of Chinua Achebe’s ‘Things Fall Apart’. ‘Brixton Stories’, Bandele’s stage adaptation of his own novel ‘The Street’ (1999), premiered in 2001 and was published in one volume with his play ‘Happy Birthday Mister Deka’, which premiered in 1999. He also adapted García Lorca’s plan ‘Yerma’ in 2001.

Bandele was a writer-in-residence with Talawa Theatre Company from 1994 to 1995, resident dramatist with the Royal National Theatre Studio (1996), and a Judith E. Wilson Fellow at Churchill College, University of Cambridge from 2000 to 2001. He acted as a Royal Literary Fund resident playwright at the Bush Theatre from 2002 to 2003.

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