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Chiwetel Ejiofor visits Seattle for his new film's screening

By The Rainbow
Chiwetel Ejiofor visits Seattle for his new film’s screening
Chiwetel Ejiofor visits Seattle for his new film’s screening
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In the film Ejiofor plays Odenigbo, a radical academic living through the nationwide fight to establish an independent Nigerian Republic. (Image: Britt Thorson / Seattle Refined)

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Chiwetel Ejiofor was in Seattle last night for a screening of his new film, Half of a Yellow Sun , at the Seattle International Film Festival http://myaccount.siff.net/cinema/reserve.aspx?fid=334&id=21119 . Ejiofor has been acting since 1996, but has only recently been catapulted into the spotlight with his lead role in the Oscar-winning film http://www.siff.net/ 12 Years A Slave .

Half of a Yellow Sun premiered at the Toronto Film Festival last month, (although it was filmed before 12 Years A Slave ), and documents the Biafran War (also known as the Nigerian Civil War) in Nigeria in the late 1960s.

This film hit particularly close to home for Ejiofor, as his parents are both Nigerian and fled the country in their earlier years due to this very unrest.

Ejiorfor himself was born in London, but travelled back to Nigeria to visit his extended family. On one of these trips when Ejiofor was 11, he was involved in a head-on crash which killed his father.

'I think it's safe to say I based the character I play in the film off my grandfather,' said Ejiofor. 'He was probably my age now during the Biafran War, and he had so many stories he passed on to me about this time.'

A ten hour conversation between Ejiofor and his 'grandad' several years ago sparked his interest in this dark part of Nigeria's history.

'That conversation really started my true interest,' he said. 'I meant to only ask him for stories about my father, but it turned into fascinating war stories.'

In the film Ejiofor plays Odenigbo, a radical academic living through the nationwide fight to establish an independent Nigerian Republic. He is opposite Thandie Newton, who plays his sophisticated girlfriend Olanna.

'It was a beautiful experience to be in Nigeria, shooting this film,' said Ejiofor. 'And then when I left Calabar to go to New Orleans to shoot 12 Years A Slave - like so many slaves did years ago, it was powerful.'

The film was based on the 2006 bestseller by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, and brought to Ejiofor's attention several years ago by his mother, who encouraged him to read the book.

'I wanted to make an epic-y film about Nigeria,' said Ejiofor. 'And when Biyi [director Biyi Bandele] approached me about turning this book into a film, it felt perfect.'

Half of a Yellow Sun is screening at SIFF again tonight at 4 p.m. at the Egyptian Theatre http://myaccount.siff.net/cinema/reserve.aspx?fid=334&id=21119 .