Behind the Binary Tales

Behind the Binary Tales

*Cover image courtesy of Chief Adeniyi Ayinla Fagbemi

What ever exists without context?

Read this if you’d like to know more about the journey behind the larger project. This story will be released in multiple parts.

With both Afùwàpẹ́ and Sophie released, I’d like to give an insight into the past years of the Binary Tales project. Because this project I once started with Sophie Bọ́sẹ̀dé Olúwọlé in 2017, is still pushing on. And now there is even a spin-off live show called “Sophie on stage”. But let’s start at the beginning…








In 2017 I met Sophie in Amsterdam during her book tour for “Socrates and Ọ̀rúnmìlà”. It had just been released in Dutch, the first foreign translation of the original Nigerian book which was published in 2014. I was allowed to interview her in the lobby of her hotel (the result of which you can see in Sophie). I enjoyed very much listening to her. *Ping* we were only constantly *ping* interrupted by passers by hopping on *ping* and off a lift. Oh, and a photographer wanting to take advantage of the setting I’d created, to take pictures for a newspaper as well. Anyway, the interview went well. When done, I switched off the camera and she returned her clip microphone to me. I thanked her very much, and carefully suggested continuing to work together and create a documentary…
filming in Amsterdam, 2017




It was quite a relief that shortly after spending all money on the flight, I received support from another fund.

As I’d gone through a semi-‘job interview’ the day before I got to do this interview on camera, I was keeping my fingers crossed… “It is a good idea” – She’d said yes! – Only adding: “Could you then put it up on this thing called Facebook? Young people watch that.” Sophie had a strong drive: the record on African intellectual culture had to be set straight. And I was allowed to follow this remarkable person!

She assured me that I had to visit her in Nigeria for a proper research trip. It was important for me to experience Yorùbáland firsthand. Of course I agreed. There was luck involved, because only a few months later I already boarded the plane to Lagos for the first time. I’d been granted some development funding. In fact, the first confirmed grant was quite small. It didn’t cover much more than the ticket really. Yet I figured I had to book immediately. So I phoned Sophie to let her know the good news. She was happy, and let me know she’d proceed making preparations in order to welcome me. It was quite a relief that shortly after spending all money on the flight, I received support from another fund. The costs were covered for now: I could head over and get started properly. But I did not know then, when stepping out of the plane in Lagos, that it would take me 5 years to take that flight for the second time.

The record on African intellectual culture had to be set straight. And I was allowed to follow this remarkable person!






She’d never let an opportunity pass by to confront a young Yorùbá with their heritage.

We went on a road trip through Yorùbáland. You can still experience this journey with me in retrospect, through my journal entries and Binary Tales insta-account. It had been a 10-day journey together. I was astonished by the vigour of this 83-years old philosopher. She’d never let an opportunity pass by to confront a young Yorùbá with their heritage, by asking: “What is your name? – What is the meaning of it? – Do you know its original Yorùbá meaning? – Tell me!” Sophie continued to teach and travel the world for it. I had been in SW Nigeria only for a short amount of time, but I’d seen, learned and experienced a lot.

When back in the Netherlands, I continued to process everything I had recorded, and seen. Also I proceeded the research; spending a lot of time visiting the Africa Studies Center Library at the University of Leiden. (It doesn’t exist as such anymore unfortunately.)

While I was writing treatments and scripts for the project in 2018, we were plotting for my return to continue the work together. On the 24th of December that year I received a phone call: Mama had died. Sophie Bọ́sẹ̀dé Olúwọlé, lovingly referred to as “Mama” by her students had passed away after a relatively short and unexpected sick-bed. A shock moved across the world in all directions, surely.

Sophie talking to young men about their names at Osun grove





I’d decided to just start by myself.

It was not an easy time.
I had been struggling to convince initial funders to proceed supporting this project towards realisation. “Your research is great, the story is great, but we don’t think you can do it”… I was also having a hard time finding partners to work on a Nigeria project. This had already been the case before I traveled to visit Sophie in the first place. Various producers found it too scary to send a girl to Nigeria, to film there. Which is why I’d decided to just start, by myself. The additional sad news made me hit a pretty decent low. She wasn’t there anymore. How could I continue this?

“Your research is great, the story is great, but we don’t think you can do it”








The research led to a great find: an epic philosophical story which explains the Yorùbá concept of destiny

Unexpectedly, though, I gained some headway: support from the experimental side of the Dutch Film Fund… I was greenlit to create “Afùwàpẹ́”…



Initially, after returning from Naija (yup, that means Nigeria), I had been working on adapting real myths from the Ifá corpus for the film. It would become a poetic documentary – true to the nature of its very philosophy. I had envisaged Sophie in it. And I had counted on visiting her again to develop the idea further. But there was no way that was happening anymore.

My research so far had resulted in so many great finds: In one epic philosophical story, which explains the Yorùbá concept of destiny, we meet Afùwàpẹ́ and his friends. Afùwàpẹ́ is the son of Ọ̀rúnmìlà. The young boys want to leave where they are: Ọ̀run, there where you’ll go when you die, and where you’ll be before you are born. They want to leave this place, the only one they’ve known, and travel to Earth.

click the poster to go watch the film

I was interested in combining this journey from the son of the philosopher Sophie talked about – with a contemporary Afùwàpẹ́ who now starts realizing there’s more to his heritage than he had known all his life.

When I got funding to gather a crew and make Afùwàpẹ́, I had adapted my ideas to fit into a short script. It was inspired on the start of the Ifá myth, and set in the Netherlands… So the main character became a diasporic Afùwàpẹ́ in a prologue to a larger film. It really was a cinematic experiment. It gave us the freedom to figure out how we’d translate the basic concepts of Yorùbá thought into cinematography, montage and sound.




on set Afùwàpẹ́


You can read the text message at the beginning of the film


I started scouting Yorùbá kids, recently immigrated to NL, for the roles. But the subject was too sensitive. Mind you, Ọ̀rúnmìlà is largely still seen as some pagan and evil god… the very thing Sophie was working so hard to set straight. I received a message saying they wouldn’t be able to play in the film, because of their religion. By the way, you can read this exact text message at the beginning of the film.

After this initial resistance though, we did find a great, Dutch, cast. Orí is even played by the wonderful Sayọ Cadmus, whose father is Yorùbá. Together, they’d been practicing the pronunciation of some Yorùbá words and names – not easy!

In three packed days we shot Afùwàpẹ́ in Rotterdam in 2019 with a compact, but talented crew. Cinematographer Joris Bulstra used these wonderful lenses to create the atmosphere.

If you pay attention, you can see that the focus range is very specific.

These particular lenses focus over a range of depth, instead of a flat distance like most lenses. The shoot was followed by a few rounds of editing, colour correction in Amsterdam at Post West and the wonderful work of composer Kit Wilmans Fegradoe.

In the end, it would take years and the finalisation of another short documentary before I’d release the film… COVID hit.

Stuck in Lockdown I decided to create a sister-film to the very experimental Afùwàpẹ́. This would become Sophie. Which is mostly based on our first meeting in Amsterdam. *Ping* Remember, me, Sophie and the lift in the hotel lobby? Using some film- and sound design magic we happily cleaned out those pesky *pings*.

I wanted to make a film in which Sophie Olúwọlé could introduce herself and her work. An introduction to the prologue to the film to come.


It would bring me back to Lagos. But this time Sophie was traveling with me…

Juersson and Sayọ waiting in the cold – on set of Afùwàpẹ́



PART 3 to be continued


screening Sophie outside in Lagos



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