Category Archives: African cinema

Award-winning documentary Daughters of the Niger Delta screens at upcoming film festivals (plus my review)

Publicity photo courtesy of MIND

A few months ago, I got an email from the NGO MIND (Media Information Narrative Development) associated with the NGO Cordaid asking me if I would be willing to review a documentary The Daughters of the Niger Delta. Not knowing what to expect from a documentary made by an NGO, I was a little reluctant to promise to review it, but I told them to send it to me, and I’d see what I thought. When I watched it, I was blown away. It is an important documentary made by nine woman that tells the story of the Niger Delta (and directed by Ilse van Lamoen-Isoun) as seen through the eyes of the women Hannah, Rebecca, and Naomi. Since I first published my review in Weekly Trust

courtesy of The Daughters of the Niger Delta public Facebook page

on 3 August 2013, which I’ve copied below, it has won awards at two film festivals, the Best Documentary Award at the Abuja International Film Festival and the Best Documentary award at the LA Femme International Film Festival, and has been screened at nine other film festivals, including the United Nations Association Film Festival, The Kansas International Film Festival.

The film will be showing today, 11 November 2013, 2-3pm, and on Friday 15

courtesy of the Eko International Film Festival

November, 1-2pm, at the Africa International Film Festival in Calabar. The venue is Filmhouse Cinema, Tinapa Resort, Calabar, Cross River State, Nigeria.

It will also show at the Eko International Film Festival in Lagos on Friday, 22 November.

It has also received several other rave reviews:

Hauwa Imam’s “Daughters of the Niger Delta” in The Nation on 31 July 2013 and the Weekly Trust on 17 September 2013.

My “The Daughters of the Niger Delta Speak Out Through Film” in the Weekly Trust on 3 August 2013.

Sa’adatu Shuaibu’s “Humanizing Poverty: the Daughters of the Niger Delta” in Leadership on 14 September 2013.

Gimba Kakanda’s “The Blues of the Southern Women” for Blueprint, Sahara Reporters, Premium Times etc on 8 November 2013.

You can read a 13 October 2013 interview with the director Ilse Van Lamoen-Isoun in the Sunday Trust, and watch her TV interview with Kansas City Live, and watch a trailer copied below:

And finally, here is the review I wrote in full. To read it on the Weekly Trust site, click here.

The Daughters of the Niger Delta speak out through film

Category: My thoughts exactly
Published on Saturday, 03 August 2013 06:00
Written by Carmen McCain

 “You suppress all my strategies / You oppress, oh every part of me / What you don’t know, you’re a victim too, Mr. Jailer,” croons musician Asa in her song “Jailor.”

The song can be read as addressing many forms of oppression, but it is used over images of a Niger Delta riverside in the 2012 documentary film Daughters of the Niger Delta to comment specifically on what Molara Ogundipe-Leslie, following Mao-Tse Tung, calls the “mountains” on the African woman’s back. In “African Women, Culture and Another Development,” Ogundipe-Leslie identifies six mountains, which include “oppression from outside”; patriarchal “traditional structures” that devalue women’s work and seek to control her own body; “her own backwardness,” which includes poverty and ignorance; men, who refuse to give up their privileges; and finally race and a woman’s own self-defeating internalization of patriarchal ideologies.

Many of these forms of oppression and structural inequalities become evident in the testimonies of women featured in the documentary Daughters of the Niger Delta (55 mins) made by 9 women from the Niger Delta trained by the Abuja-based NGO Media Information Narrative Development (MIND), directed by Ilse van Lamoen-Isoun  and sponsored by the German Embassy.  The documentary seeks to challenge disparities in media coverage. While the oil spill off the Gulf of Mexico in 2010 was the focus of the global media, there has been far less attention to the much greater oil damage in the Niger Delta region. Even recent accidents, such as the December 2011 off-coast Shell Bonga oil spill or the January 2012 Chevron gas explosion in Finuwa, Bayelsa, barely made a blip on the international news radar. Similarly, as the voiceover at the beginning of the film points out, headlines about the Niger Delta often focus on oil output, kidnappings and violence in the resource-rich Niger Delta.  However, in fact, as we learn by the end of the documentary, the maternal mortality rate in the Niger Delta is the second highest in the world and 65,000 children under the age of five die each year in the region due to lack of adequate health care and related issues such as pollution and nutrition. These numbers far outstrip the number of those killed due to armed conflicts but the poverty that causes these deaths is also one of the causes of the conflict. Such stories are often invisible not only to the world but also to other Nigerians. Yet it is only with the recognition of these stories that change can come.

 The film focuses on three women: Hannah, Rebecca, and Naomi.  Hannah Tende, from Bodo City, Rivers State, is a widow who makes a living collecting

Hannah Tende (courtesy of The Daughters of the Niger Delta)

periwinkles from oily mud and working on other people’s farms. Her own home and the land she once farmed was taken over by her husband’s family when he died in 2005. She wants to send her daughter Uke to university, but does not have the money. In fact, her children now survive on two meals a day instead of the three meals they had when their father was alive. But Hannah has limited possibilities, as remarriage for widows is forbidden and her livelihood is threatened by the pollution of the rivers.

Rebecca Churchill, from Tuomo, Delta State, was married at fifteen to an already married man. She describes how she first learned of the marriage when her husband told her that he had paid her bride price to her father. Now, the

Rebecca Churchill (courtesy of the Daughters of the Niger Delta)

pregnant Rebecca narrates how she has given birth eleven times. Only six of those children are still living. While her husband says it is Ijaw culture for his wife to keep having children, Rebecca herself wants to stop getting pregnant after her baby is born. She says she is not willing to let her daughters marry at fourteen or fifteen. Her dream for her children is for them to go to school and go to university.

The educated Naomi Alaere Ofoni, from Yenagoa, Bayelsa State (also a production assistant on the film), represents the dreams the other two women have for their children. Although Naomi’s father abandoned her mother when Naomi was a small child, her mother went back to school to become a

Naomi Alaere Ofoni (courtesy of The Daughters of the Niger Delta)

community health worker and worked to put Naomi through school. Ironically, although school is seen as the path out of poverty, Naomi faced another obstacle once she reached university. She was harassed by lecturers who demanded sex. She refused to sleep with the course advisor who had changed her B grades to two carryovers, and he finally gave her a third class degree only after she offered him money.  10 years after graduating with a disrespected third class degree in Industrial Mathematics, she was yet to find a job. But, like her mother, who took her future into her own hands, Naomi started her own business making soap.

There is a bitter irony here. In each woman’s story, men stand in the way of advancement by women and their children. “Modern day slavery” and “imprisonment” become motifs that run throughout the documentary, from the opening montage set to  Asa’s song “Jailor,”  to Hannah’s expression of frustration at her life in “bondage” as a widow. The film cleverly juxtaposes

(courtesy of The Daughters of the Niger Delta)

shots of men sitting around drinking—one thirty-five year old man telling of his three wives and the 17 children he hopes to have—with shots of women chopping wood, fetching water, picking periwinkles from oily mud, pounding, grinding, and frying cassava. Patriarchal male culture is behind much of the suffering of women—fathers hand over their teenage daughters to husbands, husbands with multiple wives insist on each wife bearing many children despite not being able to support them, male relatives of a dead man confiscate his widow’s property, male lecturers prey on vulnerable girls in the university.   Yet, as Asa notes, “What you don’t know, you’re a victim too, Mr. Jailer.” Larger neocolonial forces imprison both men and women.

(courtesy of the Daughters of the Niger Delta)

Multi-national oil corporations have so polluted the air and water that even rainwater is dirty and unusable. The fish in the creeks and rivers have died, so that the Niger Delta people, whose lives once revolved around fishing, now eat and trade imported fish. The government neglects healthcare and infrastructure for clean water.

The hope for the future, as Ogundipe-Leslie has argued in other essays, is for men and women to join hands in rebuilding their society. While patriarchal male culture is critiqued here, the film also shows male role models. Naomi’s husband, William Omajuwa Emmanuel, an engineer whom she met in university works together with her on her soap business and helps with the children. The male community worker, Inatimi Odio encourages men in the community to involve women in decision making. The film traces positive developments in postscripts, revealing that Hannah has begun to mobilize other women to protest the marriage prohibition for widows, Rebecca has convinced her husband to try birth control, and Naomi has become a principal at a school.

The documentary is beautifully shot and edited. Despite the pollution, the Niger Delta is still exquisite, and the women’s stories are compelling. Indeed, I thought the best parts of the film were the moments where the women were allowed to speak for themselves.  The most obvious flaw may have been the extensive use of Inatimi Odio, a man, as the one “expert” to explain the problems facing the community. While this was somewhat balanced by Bogofanyo Inengibo’s  female voiceover and a few comments from the teacher Caroline Giadom, the focus on the male expert risks reinforcing the idea of women as uneducated informants and men as the authorities who explain them.  Overall, however, I think the documentary is an important and thought-provoking piece that personalizes our understanding of the Niger Delta. In the same chapter in which she identified the mountains on the backs of African women, Ogundipe-Leslie suggests policies to enable women to benefit and control their own labour, the use of media to educate, and assistance for women artists so that they can express their own stories. This film made by women about women seems an appropriate response to her suggestions, giving subaltern women a platform by which to speak to the world.

Daughters of the Niger Delta was screened and received a special mention at the Pineapple Underground Festival in China on 16 July and the Rwanda Film Festival on 25 July. It will be screened in Nigeria at the Lagos-based Eko International Film festival in November, as well as other venues yet to be arranged.

END

For other documentary (and documentary-esque) reviews I’ve done see:

“There Is Nothing Wrong with my Uncle” on Tarok burial customs produced by Dul Johnson and Sylvie Bringas.

“Equestrian Elegance” about the durbar and parades during the eid sallahs in Kano, produced by Abdalla Uba Adamu and Bala Anas Babinlata.

Duniya Juyi Juyi, a docu-drama about the life of almajirai, scripted and acted by almajirai themselves and produced by Hannah Hoechner.

A Film to Remember: Dul Johnson’s Tarok documentary “There is Nothing Wrong with my Uncle”

Dul Johnson at his 60th birthday celebration with the Association of Nigerian Authors, Jos Chapter, September 2013. (c) Carmen McCain

Dul Johnson at his 60th birthday celebration with the Association of Nigerian Authors, Jos Chapter, September 2013. (c) Carmen McCain

The Plateau International Film Festival, which is scheduled to take place from 24-26 October 2013, will kick off at the National Film Institute, Jos, tomorrow at 9am. There will be film screenings, workshops, seminars, exhibitions etc, and Dul Johnson’s documentary There is Nothing Wrong with My Uncle will screen Thursday at around 11am.

I wrote a review of the documentary last week, which I have copied below:

vlcsnap-2013-10-14-20h44m31s120

still used by permission of Dul Johnson

A Film to Remember: Dul Johnson’s There’s Nothing Wrong with My Uncle

Category: My thoughts exactly
Published on Saturday, 19 October 2013 05:00
Written by Carmen McCain

Dul Johnson, Head of the English Department at Bingham University, author of the feature film Widows Might and two collections of short stories Shadows and Ashes (a review here) and Why Women Won’t Make it to Heaven (another review here), has recently released a documentary on Tarok burial customs via his production company Topshots Productions.

still used by permission of Dul Johnson

still used by permission of Dul Johnson

The 62-minute documentary, There is Nothing Wrong with my Uncle, co-produced with French filmmaker Sylvie Bringas, is the kind I like, one that lets characters speak for themselves without any overbearing voiceover. Dul Johnson’s poetic narration in Tarok, with English subtitles, does not explain, it questions. The documentary is about Tarok burial and reburial practices, but it is also a story about the filmmaker’s quest to find his identity between the Christian tradition he has adopted since childhood and the tradition of his Tarok ancestors.
We see Dul at a desk writing in the middle of a green field, driving to Langtang through the breathtaking hills of the Jos Plateau, drinking kunu as he asks questions of a bereaved family or the old man Domshal Nden, to whom the film is dedicated.

still used by permission of Dul Johnson

still used by permission of Dul Johnson

The film does much to defend and contextualize sometimes misunderstood practices. The Ibyari ceremony, in which the skull of a deceased elder is taken to the mountains to be buried, is performed out of respect. The skull is carefully washed, gently wrapped in white cloth, and placed softly into a clay bowl for burial inside a mound. A chicken and sheep are sacrificed, and the elders pray that the spirit will bless their family left behind.

still used by permission of Dul Johnson

still used by permission of Dul Johnson

The title of the film is a quote from the man who is sponsoring the Ibyari ceremony for his uncle. “There is nothing wrong with my uncle,” he says. “He has made me proud. May God bless the person who will take care of him.” By using these words as the title of the film, the filmmaker makes a similar statement of the Tarok community’s collective pride in their traditions. “There is Nothing Wrong With My Uncle,” becomes a larger assertion that, though it may be denigrated by adherents of other religions, there is nothing wrong with their culture. The spiritual leader of the Gbak, asserts that, although there are some tensions between the two communities, Christians and Tarok traditionalists co-exist peacefully. “Everybody is mine. The church standing there I contributed to building it. I, the Spiritual Leader, I made the gruel for the workers. I am invited to every wedding.” “God is like me,” he says, “he doesn’t reject anybody. […] What we are doing at Ibyari is calling God.”

still used by permission of Dul Johnson

still used by permission of Dul Johnson

The film is formally quite beautiful. While a few of the hymns inserted whenever Christians pray at the funeral sometimes feels a bit abrupt and distracting—perhaps the intention—the soundtrack of the abwa, dinding, and ntali flute at other moments fit the mood perfectly. The sound, recorded by Alfa Vyapbong and mixed by Philippe Ciompi, is crisp and atmospheric. You can hear footsteps on dry grass, a fly buzzing, voices emerging out of the murmur of the crowd. The cinematography is often quite beautiful. The crisp close-up shots during the interview with the elder Domshal Nden draw out the quiet charisma of this old man. And the landscapes alone make the film worth watching: the road winding through misty purple and green hills, the long shots of neat villages on the plains, round houses with thatched roofs under an old Baobab.

vlcsnap-2013-10-14-20h46m34s76

still used by permission of Dul Johnson

Perhaps the only drawback to not having an authoritative voiceover is that the audience is forced to draw connections for themselves, which can sometimes be confusing. The speakers are rarely identified by name.  The entire film, including the voiceover, is in Tarok and occasionally Hausa—the English coming through only in the subtitles. However, the language and the poetic subtitles are among the things I like best about the film. Unlike the exoticizing documentaries of the sort made by National Geographic, this film establishes these traditions firmly in a modern present. By subtitling even off camera remarks, it allows a non-Tarok audience to hear the jokes and debates surrounding the ceremonies. The reburial of a man’s skull is not a silent mysterious ritual, but more like a family picnic, filled with laugher and a patter of commentary from many different voices.

still used by permission of Dul Johnson

still used by permission of Dul Johnson

The subtitles also allow us to hear the opinions of the people being filmed about the filmmaker. As the camera focuses on the mourning widow, a woman off camera remarks, “This woman is grieving, and the man is busy filming her. Lebong, be quiet so that the man will stop filming you.” Elsewhere, the elder Domshal Nden, when telling about burial customs women are normally not allowed to see, looks around and says with a laugh, “I hope there are no women nearby.” His immediate male audience laughs, but of course, the audience of the film (including me and the editor and co-producer Sylvie Bringas), watching and listening to him through the camera, is made up of women.

still used by permission of Dul Johnson

still used by permission of Dul Johnson

Elsewhere during the reburial ceremony, an elder complains, “In the olden days, the Elders did their thing alone. It’s the breakdown in our belief system that causes trouble. You said children should be allowed, so that they learn. Isn’t this asking for trouble? Your heart must be mature. Because this is no child’s play. Now our people have broken the beehive, exposed our secrets.”  This is a dilemma that has long been faced by those who want to preserve traditions but in capturing them divest them of the secrecy that made them sacred, such as Camara Laye who in his autobiographical novel The Dark Child exposes secret manhood rituals.

still used by permission of Dul Johnson

still used by permission of Dul Johnson

Dul Johnson here seems to defend himself to the elder about the presence of the camera, telling him, “I am Tarok. I stayed in this village before, and this is my Uncle here. I would not do anything that would hurt the Tarok. Everything you’ve said can be done in the presence of women. There is nothing you’ve said that is a secret in our culture.” And his argument seems to have prevailed since people, for the most part, good-humouredly participate in the film. Children laugh as they pass by climbing the mountain. “They want to take our picture!” As he’s wrapping the skull with cloth one of the men says, “Damn, this cameraman is not giving me space.” Everyone around laughs, “You brought them here,” says another, “shouldn’t you let them do their work?”

still used by permission of Dul Johnson

still used by permission of Dul Johnson

The film is built around several conflicts, conflict between older and younger generations, conflicts between Christianity and Tarok traditional practices, conflicts over which aspects of culture should be open to which people. These conflicts war within the filmmaker himself. When he attends the Ibyari ceremony, he says, “I felt like a total stranger and a great sense of loss”. His discomfort is related to a larger conflict between the old and young generations. Throughout the film, the elders complain about the inattentiveness of the younger generation. Dul Johnson asks, “I wonder… what will happen to the Traditional man?” Part of the solution he seems to have found is to record it. He asks as many questions as he can on camera. The spiritual leader of the Gbak tells him that a son or nephew performs the Ibyari ceremony, “because he does not want to forget his father’s name.” It is not hidden from women, or small boys, even from Christians. Everybody is welcome to attend.  Dul states that his own Christian head will not go to the mountains, but he has found another way to honour his father and his ancestors, another way to remember their names: through a film, which like the Ibyari ceremony, is welcome to all, and a film, which like the ceremony, keeps the memory alive.

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still used by permission of Dul Johnson

“The death of a person does not mean he’s gone,” says Domshal Nden, “Otherwise we wouldn’t dream about them. But we dream and see people, and we talk to them. You see the shadow that walks with someone? It is the person.”

still used by permission of Dul Johnson

still used by permission of Dul Johnson

A dream, a shadow, a prayer, a film. They help us remember.

still used by permission of Dul Johnson

still used by permission of Dul Johnson

The documentary has previously screened at Brown University and at the 13th RAI International Festival of Ethnographic film in Edinburgh, Scotland. It will be showing at the Plateau International Film Festival in Jos on October 24.

In conversation with four Tiv filmmakers

Tiv filmmakers in Makurdi after a Nollywood conference at Benue State University: (left to right) Director Ralph Ogbaje, Producer John Agbaingya, Producer Kenneth Iornumbe, Producer and scriptwriter Shadrachi Tsokar Dangi, and Director Shadrach Ukuma. (c) Carmen McCain

My Weekly Trust column on May 19, 2012 summarized an interview I did with four Tiv-language filmmakers I met at a conference “Nollywood, Women, and Cultural Identity” hosted at Benue State University in Makurdi. For some reason, the Trust web editor never put it online, so my blog is apparently the only place you will be able to read it. I’m excited about putting this information online because in various google searches, I have not been able to find anything else about Tiv filmmaking.

I first heard that Tiv filmmaking existed at the Society of Nigerian Theatre Artists “Nollywood and Theatre for Development (TFD): Exploring the Bridges of Interaction” conference hosted at Ahmadu Bello University in November 2011. While there, Joel Avaungwa Fanyam of the Department of Theatre Arts, College of Education, Katisna-ala, Benue State, gave a paper “Influencing the Target Audience for TFD and Nollywood’s Practice in Nigeria: the Case of Selected NKST Media Services Home Videos.” In the paper he discussed Tiv films being made by the NKST church in Benue State. I was delighted, therefore, to meet some Tiv filmmakers while I was in Makurdi. They had not been officially invited but found out about the conference online and decided to attend. Several times throughout the conference the Director Ralph Ogbaje and the Producer John Agbaingya stood up and pointed out that actual filmmakers should have been invited to the conference to share their perspectives alongside the academics (who often tend–and this conference was no exception–to point to all the “wrong” things filmmakers are doing. In this instance, many of the papers dealt with how women were being badly represented in the films.) I was glad they had shown up and glad they insisted on the necessity of hearing from filmmakers themselves at conferences of this sort. I had been surprised at the conference hosted at ABU that, although a few southern axis filmmakers, like Mahmud Ali Balogun, had been invited, not a single Hausa filmmaker was invited to take part, even though ABU Zaria is in the heart of Kannywood, centred between the cities of Kano and Kaduna where most Hausa films are made. Although according to National Film and Video Censors Board statistics, Nigerian language films were 88% of the Nigerian films submitted to the board in 2010, these indigenous language industries are often marginalized in academic discourse about “Nollywood.” At many of the conferences I have been to since 2007 (about 9 in all, I think), the research presented often focuses on diaspora, transnationalism, and migration, with less attention paid to “local” discourses. This article was my attempt to help draw a little more attention to films being made in minority languages–which I am becoming more and more interested in. (And at this juncture, it might be appropriate to congratulate Dr. Edward Ossai, who has just defended his PhD dissertation, on the topic of multiple language industries, in the Department of Theatre Arts at the University of Jos.)

I am including, as usual, a hard copy photo of the column, which you can click on to read, and a soft copy that you can read on this blog below. After the article, I will also include a transcript of my conversation with four of the filmmakers and a few of the photos I took, as well as some of the photos that Producer Kenneth Iornumbe sent me later. Happy reading!

In Conversation with Four Tiv filmmakers

(first published by the Weekly Trust, Saturday, May 19, 2012, page 48)

In previous articles, I have written about the large numbers of Nigerian language films that are being made in Nigeria. The National Film and Video Censor’s Board reported that in 2010, of the 1,114 Nigerian films approved by the board, around 55% were in Yoruba, around 30% in Hausa, with only around 12% in English. Around 3% were being made in other languages, including Bini, Igbo, Efik, Ibibio, and others. At a conference “Nollywood and Theatre for Development” hosted at Ahmadu Bello University in November 2011, I heard about film industries in Ebira, Igala, and Tiv. Elsewhere I have heard of films being made in Fulfulde and Nupe.

Last week, therefore, when I went to Makurdi from 9-10 May, for a conference “Nollywood, Women, and Cultural Identity” being hosted at Benue State University (BSU), one of the highlights of the conference for me was meeting several Tiv filmmakers, who had found out about the conference online and decided to attend. By the time the conference ended on 10 May, five members of the Tiv film industry were at the venue: Producer John Agbaingya, Director Ralph Ogbaje, Producer Kenneth Iornumbe, Director Shadrach Ukuma, and Director and scriptwriter Shadrachi Tsokar Dangi. Following the closing session, they agreed to do an impromptu group interview with me about the film industry in Makurdi and their thoughts on the conference at BSU.

The first Tiv-language film, Anchovul (Orphan), the group told me, was made in 2002 by (the now late) Chris Ioryisa. Now, ten years later, while the average Tiv film sells about 10,000 copies, they are beginning to sell more. Nyekaa Solomon’s 2011 film Adanwade Kohoga, a “classic Tiv story,” about a man who travelled on a long journey, returning only to find his wife dead, sold over 30,000 copies. Part 2 of the film was released by Uncle N. Productions this past Saturday on 12 May.

Iornumbe, who owns Mimidoo Production and had been involved with the Tiv industry since near its beginning in 2002, told me that “what made us start” was “to promote our culture.” Agbaingya agreed. A consultant with a Masters degree in Economics, he recently opened his own production outfit, Timeless Wins Entertainment, after years of assisting and sponsoring other producers. He argued that much of the appeal of the films on the market was their cultural specificity. “There are some stories and practices that are particular to Tiv culture. […]We have discovered that those who shoot films

From a poster for a Tiv movie Orfetarga (courtesy Kenneth Iornumbe)

in their local languages tend to get better earnings from the work. The sales are better.”

Ukuma, a lecturer in the Theatre Arts Department at BSU who had directed stage productions before becoming involved in the Makurdi film industry this year, pointed out that local language films “have a heterogeneous audience. The people that don’t understand English, even in the local places, if they have access to electricity and they have an electronic device to watch the movies, they watch them and they are entertained. So you can sell in the urban areas. You can sell in the rural areas.” Making films in Tiv also aided in artistic integrity, he added. “There are some things that are hard to interpret into English. So they lose their originality the moment you attempt to produce them in English. But when you produce them in indigenous languages, people are quick to identify with them and get the true meaning of what you’re saying.”

“People seem to be tired of the conventional English movies, you find around Nollywood,” said Agbaingya. “They are looking for something that has a different flavor, which is our culture really portrayed in it. So they actually look out for these movies. Even beyond the shores of this country.”

The recent move to subtitle in English helped expand the market, he said, telling me of a woman living in the U.S. who had first seen a Tiv film when someone brought it from Nigeria. On a trip to Makurdi, she bought more cds for other people in the U.S. The reach of the film really depends on the producer, he told me. Some producers have a “narrow vision. […] They just want a small market to get their investment back and some little profit. But those who are more visionary, their films sell beyond the shores of Benue State.”

Although so far there are an average of five to six Tiv films released a year, the industry in Benue State is large enough to support a full-time film industry, in part because of the diversity of films being made. “It’s not just Tiv movies” said Agbaingya, “there are Idoma movies coming up strongly.” And “not just the Idoma and Tiv sections,” pitched in Ogbaje, who had worked in Lagos since 1999 as an actor and scriptwriter before becoming a producer/director and returning to Benue State. “We also go into English films.” Crews often overlap on multiple language film sets.

The challenges they face seem to be similar to those faced by other film industries in Nigeria. Agbaingya said, “We have a situation where most of the people making movies are young people. They have challenges of either funds, or ideas, or at times the connections they need. Those who have the finances enough seem not to be sincerely interested in it. […] Then, we still have the battle to fight with piracy.”

As for their opinions on the conference they had just attended, where scholars had largely criticized Nollywood for negative portrayals of women, Ogbaje said “The main thing is that there is this gap between academia and those who are in the field. We need to come together and understand ourselves.” Agbaingya continued, “You don’t solve a problem by focusing on the problem. You solve a problem by focusing on the solution.” He suggested that instead of academics focusing so much on the negative aspects of Nollywood, “why don’t we massively produce films that portray what we want to see in the movies. The major financiers of the industry are people that may not be interested in these kinds of conferences. Those who have the intellectual know-how do not seem to be interested. Some of the professors who present papers have not attempted to produce one movie. [...] There is a serious disconnect.”

He pointed out that the Association of Movie Producers of Nigeria, Benue State Chapter, founded in February 2012, had organized one seminar for filmmakers this year and were hoping to do another one in June, but they needed more assistance. “Government has failed woefully in funding. You see these young men, they are working full time. The increasing challenge they have is equipment. […] We travel outside this state to get the equipment hired. What does it take to get funding so that this equipment is put into place? […]When there is a fusion of ideas between academia and those in the field and the respective ministries of culture and tourism, there will be a better result.”

Ultimately, said Ukuma, the conference had “provided producers an opportunity to get feedback […] We’ve dialogued. We can see that if these kinds of engagements continue, there will be a true success story.”

Agbaingya ended by stressing, “In subsequent conferences, they should not forget to carry these people in the field along. Invite them. If they choose not to come, it’s their business. But I believe they will come.”

END

Below, I reproduce a partial transcript of the impromptu interview following the conference out of which I based this article. (I later clarified some of the details that appear in the article by phone and email). I usually do one on one interviews, so having a conversation with four people at once was a little challenging, but I also liked what the interaction of multiple people added. This is really just a preliminary conversation, and I hope in the future to either do more in depth interviews with Tiv and Idoma filmmakers or encourage someone else (who speaks the language) to do so. I think it is really important to understand what is happening in minority language filmmaking when one is theorizing “Nollywood.”

Tiv filmmakers in Makurdi after a Nollywood conference at Benue State University: (left to right) Producer John Agbaingya, Director Ralph Ogbaje, Producer Kenneth Iornumbe, and Director Shadrach Ukuma. (c) Carmen McCain

Transcript:

Conversation with Producer Kenneth Iornumbe, Producer John Agbaingya, Director Shadrach Ukuma, and Ralph Ogbaje

Could you tell me a little bit about the Tiv film industry? When did you start making films? When was the first Tiv film made? How long has the industry overall  been going?

Tiv Producer and Director Kenneth Iornumbe (Courtesy Kenneth Iornumbe)

Kenneth Iornumbe:  The first film was in 2002: Anchovul (orphan)

Carmen: Do you subtitle?

John: Not all. The initial movies  for some time were not subtitled, but most of the films coming out now are subtitled mostly in English.

Carmen: How big is distribution? Where are they sold? Are they sold mostly in Makurdi or are there other markets?

John: There is this marketing network. There’s a particular guy here who is interested in marketing that takes the movies beyond here. Especially with the subtitling. Recently a woman came from the U.S., that somebody took the films there and was so interested. So she came to buy more cds for other people in the U.S who were interested in the films, so they go beyond here. But it often depends on the producer. Sometimes you find that the vision is so narrow. They have the film, based on the quality and the input. They just want a small market to get their investment back and some little profit. But those who are more visionary, their films sell beyond the shores of Benue State.

Carmen: How many on average does each film sell?

John: Presently, they sell between 150 and 200 naira.

Carmen: The number of copies? How many do you usually print when you’re doing your cd?

John:  It depends. This guy. Prince, Aso Prince.  (CHECK NAME)

Kenneth: He sold more than 10,000 copies.

John: About 10,000. Uncle Win sold over 30,000.

Shadrack:  The initial mass production is 10,000, you  go to Lagos, make 10,000 copies, you come back and sell and there is no further production for the initial 10,000.

Carmen: So you usually do it them in Lagos?

John: The mass production is always done in Lagos. There is this person who sold more than 30,000 copies, Uncle N. (CHECK NAME). Adanwade Kohoga, that’s the name of the film.

Shadrach: It’s a Tiv classic story.

Carmen: What’s the translation in English?

Shadrach: Adanwade is the name of someone. So “Adanwade Kohoga,” which literally means “Adanwade could not reach it.” The story is someone who travelled and left his wife. And so many trips happened, and when he came back, he could not meet his wife again. The wife died. So, he came back and could not meet what he left behind.

Carmen: And who did you say produced that?

John: The production office Uncle N.

Carmen: Are most of you directors?

John: Ralph is a director.

Shadrack: I’m a producer.

John: Kenneth is a producer.

Carmen: You said the first one was made in 2002? Who was it that made that?

John: Kenneth will know that.

Carmen:  When did you become involved? Could you tell me when you became involved and what made you interested?

John: My interest in the movie industry first started with acting. The industry is very broad, and there’s so many avenues through which anybody can participate. When I got closer, I saw the opportunity to become a producer. So I became active in production very recently. I had been involved in supporting some independent producers, I would sponsor them, guide them, hire equipment for them. My own outfit started just a few months back.

Carmen: So you were acting before then?

John: I never really acted but that was my interest. I would always be there on set, I would want to know what was happening. People would want to produce a film, I would fund it.  I’ve been running around with the industry for a while.

Carmen: What is your other business?

John: I’m with more resource consultants. I have a Masters Degree in economics.

Carmen: Kenneth, what made you interested in becoming involved?

Kenneth: To promote our culture. That’s what makes us to start. To show our culture… People should know all about our culture. The duties of the ….

Carmen: When did you become involved?

Kenneth: As early as 2002

Carmen: Did any of you have experiences with any of the other industries? Hausa or English?

Ralph: I was into the industry in 1999. I started as an actor and a scriptwriter, and later developed into a continuity person and went into full time directing. That was in Lagos. Later I went into Producing/directing. Normally we would move around to Lagos, Enugu, Asaba, Owerri, Port Harcourt. I specifically went into English movies. Just as he rightly said, some few months back, we were trying to make sure the industry in Benue State has a stand. That is why some of us are around. I’m from the state also.

Shadrach: I read theatre arts at Benue State University. So, naturally, it has been my interest to practice what I went to school and read. I’ve always had it in mind. I’ve been acting. I majored in directing, actually, in my graduate studies. Since then, well, I haven’t been doing major film productions. I’ve been directing stage productions.  In 2008, I went to Lagos with an outfit. I studied direction and production. From there I came back home, got involved with the department. And there was a movement to see how the industry could be repositioned in the state. I joined and so belonging to the association this year. It’s this year 2012 that I joined, and we’ve been working on some films around.

Carmen: And you’re lecturing in the department?

Shadrack: Yes, in the Theatre Arts department.

Carmen: Before you were telling me before about 10 films a year?

John: We produce 6-10 films a year, the entire industry. We want to ensure we get more now, but more qualitative films.

Carmen: So, you said before they are submitted to NFVCB in Jos?

John: Sure, sure.

Shadrach: you asked before about who produced the first film.

Carmen: Yes, sure? Who produced the first film?

Kenneth: The late Chris Ioryisa produced the first film.

John: And the person who produced the film, Adanwade Kohoga, that we  told you sold over 30,000 copies was Nyekaa Solomon.

Shadrach: Part 2 of the same story will be launched this Saturday.

Carmen: So what happens when you release? Do you have a film show before you release the film or do you just release it into the market.

Ralph: So, far we have not been doing premiering. That’s why we are trying to just make sure all hands are on all deck.

Shadrach: We have not really been doing that. That’s why we have made this board to regulate. And also to make sure there is compliance with professional ethics.

John: And also to encourage people to get good rewards for their efforts. You know there have been a lot of challenges in the industry. We have a situation where most of the people making movies are young people. They have challenges of either funds, or ideas, or at times the connections they need to get these things to work. Those who have the finances enough seem not to be sincerely interested in it. So we put up with a lot of challenges. After then, we still have the battle to fight with piracy.

Shadrach: There is the story. When it was out of the market, after the initial print run, when he was ready to go back and produce. And some guy had already gotten a copy and was already selling it. They would just burn the cd and sell. When they got wind of it and went to his shop he ran away.

Carmen:Is it a supply problem or is it people getting a hold of it before you

Tiv Movie “Tar Taver” (Courtesy of Kenneth Iornumbe)

finish selling the copies?

Shadrach: No, they don’t get a hold of it before you even start selling. It’s when you sell it, they have access to the copy, they buy and reproduce.

John:  The supply problem also comes in. You said something about a supply problem. That also comes in to a certain extent. It’s in order.  In addition to that, at times when they mass produce, they reach places that you didn’t reach with the original copies. So, they take a segment of the market.

Shadrach: Even when you are selling here in Makurdi, they are selling somewhere in Boko. Before you get to Boko, they’re somewhere in….

Carmen: So, if there were some way of legalizing the pirates, you would have a much larger marketing network.

Shadrach and John: Yeah.

Carmen: What is the major difference between Tiv films and others on the market. Is it just language?

John:There are differences, one in the language. 2. Storylines. Some of these storylines are defined along—the difference comes along as cultural difference. There are some stories and practice that are particular to the Tiv

Kenneth Iornumbe on set after shooting (courtesy Kenneth Iornumbe)

culture, you portray in these movies that you can’t get in any other culture. I want to draw your attention to something else. The Association of Movie Producers, for Benue State State chapter. Almost every movie Tiv movie in Benue State, but it’s not just Tiv movies. There are Idoma movies coming up strongly. It’s another part of the industry that is coming up very well.

Carmen: Do Idoma and Tiv moviemakers mix and share on films or are they all on their own?

John: They are all under the Association of Movie Producers, Benue State chapter.

Carmen: So they may share the same crew.

John: Yes, they do. Especially if you are privileged to understand the other language. The only challenge we have is for instance, he may not understand the language in Tiv, so he’s a bit deficient in directing, so you need somebody like Shadrach, who understands the language.

Shadrach:There will be pieces of advice, or technicalities and interpretation of roles that is difficult when you can’t understand what is happening in the language…. The other difference is that there has been concern about saturation of the market from other cultures, like Igbo,  Hausa and Yoruba films. People have been watching the same thing. The Tiv

Tiv actors on set (courtesy Kenneth Iornumbe)

films give people an alternative to watch something new and different, especially the films that come with subtitles, you are able to understand what the story is about and all that.

Carmen: Just because my own area of research is Hausa films, are there a lot of people watching Hausa films in Makurdi?

Shadrack: Not a lot. But if you want to be specific, go to certain areas in Makurdi that are Hausa dominant. The households there are Hausa  households and you can find them watching Hausa movies, part of cultural identity.

Carmen: The industry is it large enough for people to be able to do that alone and make it their career?

Ralph: Yes, because it’s not just the Idoma and the Tiv section. We also go into English films.

John: Yes, we go into English films.

Carmen: So there are people who are fulltime filmmakers? Are any of you fulltime.

(They all talk at once. Three of them are full time.)

Shadrack: We all own production houses.

Carmen: In ending, Number 1, what is your reaction to this conference? What is the relationship with what is happening in academia? Is there any relationship? and 2. What is the overall thing you want other people to know if they read a newspaper article about the industry?

Ralph: the main thing is that there is this gap between academia and those who are into the field. We really need to come together and understand ourselves. That’s one basic factor, and another major factor is the marketers. As long as it has to do with independent sponsorship and the government is not coming in or private agencies are not coming in, it’s really going to be difficult to match them one for one because they have the final say. That is where the finances come in.

John:You don’t solve a problem by focusing on problem. You solve a problem by focusing on the solution. The theme for this conference is “Nollywood, Women and cultural identity.” Instead of focusing so much on that why don’t we massively produce films that portray what we want to see in the movies? The major financiers of the industry are people that may not be interested in these kind of conferences.   Those who have the intellectual know how do not seem to be interested. Some of the professors who present papers have not attempted to produce one movie and they are professors of movie production. There is a serious disconnect. And I have said earlier in the conference, there is this mutual suspicion. When there is a fusion of ideas between academia and those in the field and the respective ministries of culture and tourism, there will be a better result. Government has failed woefully in funding. You see these young men, they are working full time. The  increasing challenge they have is equipment to  equip their ideas. Because we travel outside this state to get the equipment hired, what does it take to get the funding so that this equipment is put into place. I trust these young men so much on directing. I trust the DOPs we have on set. A number of them are doing so well. This man [Shadrachi Tsokar Dangi] is a

Producer John Agbaingya shows off the script for his upcoming Tiv-language film: IMBORIVUNGU, written by Shadrachi Tsokar Dangi. Producer Kenneth Iornumbe (in white shirt) and scriptwriter Shadrachi Tsokar Dangi (in black shirt) look on. (c) Carmen McCain

scriptwriter. That is what he is bringing right now, one of my scripts.  So, if you see the quality. When I came here, he could tell a good story, but he couldn’t write good scripts. We taught him how to write good scripts now, and I’m proud of what he has to offer. But we need to organize seminars to put them through. We organized one seminar already, we want to organize another one in June. We expect that through these fora we will push them through. But there is a challenge of funding. One, this gap should be bridged. The academia should find a way to liaising with those in the field and liaising with the Ministry of Culture and tourism. But it is a very wonderful effort. I liked all the papers presented and issues raised.

Shadrach:  To pursue the matter further. Since they’ve said so much on the other side on the differences between the people in the field and academia. It has provided producers an opportunity to get a feedback from what the audience says about what they have produced. So now the producers, myself included, are aware of the yearning, the direction of things, what the audience expects us to improve upon, what they want to see in subsequent production. We cannot rule out the fact that there needs to be a synergy of ideas from both sides to make sure we come up with what is expected. This conference is a test case.  We  being here and the academia being there. We’ve dialogued. We can see that if these kinds of engagements continue, there will be a true success story.

John:In subsequent conferences, they should not forget to carry these people in the field along. Invite them. If they choose not to come, it’s their

Kenneth Iornumbe on set with actors and actresses. (courtesy Kenneth Iornumbe)

business. But I believe they will come.

Carmen: It’s the same thing that happened at ABU, they didn’t invite all the Kannywood people.

John: Yes!

Carmen: Rough estimate, do you have any idea how many Tiv films there are now?

John: We will have to look at statistics. We will get that across to you.

Recording 2: (On multiple people doing multiple tasks)

John: It is more challenging to stick to one thing, especially financially. If you’re just an actor, you don’t have any other alternative in the industry. It’s challenging. I see many actors go broke. The association is urging people to go beyond just producing, do something else.  He’s [Shadrachi] a producer and screenwriter. Now this script. I’m paying him something for it. Ok, He’s going to earn something. So before his movie comes out he won’t go entirely broke. He’s writing some more, so he can be selling three or four in a month. It is profitable.

We have discovered that those who shoot films in their local languages, tend to get better earnings from the work. The sales are better.

Shadrach: Yes, because they have a heterogeneous audience. The people that don’t understand English, even in the local places. If they have access to electricity and they have an electronic device to watch the movies, they watch them and they are entertained. So you can sell in the urban areas you can sell in the rural areas. The market is broadened

John: And people seem to be tired of the conventional English movies, you find around Nollywood.  They are looking for something that has a different flavor, which is our culture really portrayed in it. So they actually look out for these movies. Even beyond the shores of this country.

Shadrach:  There are some things that are hard to interpret into English, you understand. So they lose their originality the moment you attempt to produce them in English. But when you produce them in indigenous languages, people are quick to identify with them and get the true meaning of what you’re saying.

Carmen: Sometimes I think people act better in their own language as well. Sometimes I look at Hausa actors and the way they act is very natural, whereas you know sometimes in the English ones, it is very stiff.

Shadrach: stiff.

John: It’s true

Producer John Agbaingya shows off the script for his upcoming Tiv-language film: IMBORIVUNGU, written by Shadrachi Tsokar Dangi. (c) Carmen McCain

Carmen: Do you follow scripts very closely? Is there a lot of improvisation or does everyone use scripts?

John: There is a lot of room for improvisation. In fact, before now, most of them would just. […] Yeah, they study them and they just voice them out and giving the message, not really minding the words. They use this as a guide. You mustn’t follow it verbatim. But you want them to know the  standard, having a proper script.

Shadrach: It helps with documentation.

John: Before this, most of them got out into the field without a proper script. They would go put the scene and say, you and you, this is what you should tell this person and this is how you should respond, like that verbally. It leaves a lot of room for mistakes.

Carmen: So this script that you have. Not everyone uses this kind of script?

John: No, but it is a guide. Ideally, everybody partaking has a copy.  You get to understand the story first. Then, you are told your own role. You look at the various scenes. Each scene you look at it, you have an idea of what to say, but you are allowed to say it your own way to convey the message.[…] But everybody goes through the script. He mustn’t quote everything perfect. It’s just conveying the message for that scene. And it has proven to be more effective, because some people perform better when you give them some room to improvise, and you see that more and more.

Tiv filmmakers in Makurdi after a Nollywood conference at Benue State University: (left to right) Director Ralph Ogbaje, Producer John Agbaingya, Producer Kenneth Iornumbe, Producer and scriptwriter Shadrachi Tsokar Dangi, and Director Shadrach Ukuma.

Duniya Juyi Juyi: Life through the eyes of the almajirai

Much has happened over the past few months, and I haven’t had the time I’d like to chronicle it on this blog, though I would like to catch up in the next few weeks.  Bear with me. More will come soon.

Today, though, I did want to quickly post a link to a film that is worth watching, Duniya Juyi Juyi.  I just heard from my friend and colleague Hannah Hoechner, a PhD candidate at the University of Oxford who is doing research in Kano on the almajirai, Qur’anic students who often leave rural areas to study with urban teachers. Because so many of the boys end up begging on the streets with little oversight from their teachers, the almajiri system is often blamed on much of the violence in the north. Hannah, who interacted with many almajirai and their teachers, has a different perspective. She was able to source funds from the Goethe Institut in Kano to help several of the almajiri boys she knows produce a film to tell their stories from their own perspective. Kannywood filmmaker Nasiru B. Muhammad helped them develop their stories about their experiences into a ‘docudrama’ script, and then the boys directed, acted in, and shot the film themselves. Kannywood editor Auwal Kabir Indabawa edited the film and seemed to provide a lot of support to the boys during the process of making the film. The film provides a unique look at the life of an almajiri through the eyes of the almajirai.

Before the screening of Duniya Juyi Juyi at the Goethe Institut on 27 October 2011, (left to right) Hannah Hoechner, Kabiru Idris, Abdullahi Yahaya Sa'ad, Muhammad Naziru Usman, Buhari Murtala, and Auwal Kabir Indabawa. (c) Carmen McCain

The film has now been uploaded and is available for watching on flash here, with this introduction by Hannah. For those in Nigeria, it’s best to pause it and let it download for about 5 minutes before starting to watch. I have had my bitmeter tracking how much bandwidth it takes up, and I didn’t think it had taken up that much (then I checked my MTN credit–and it has used more than I thought… though I do think MTN is actually eating up more credit than it should be recently.)

Below is the column I wrote about the premier of the film at the end of October:

Duniya Juyi Juyi: Life from the eyes of the almajirai

 Written by Carmen McCain Saturday, 05 November 2011 05:00

“I don’t give to them,” a friend told me one of the first times I came to Kano and saw the young children begging with their small plastic bowls in traffic, in front of restaurants, hanging around offices. “I don’t like to encourage the system.”  This was one of the first times I heard an explanation of the almajiri (disciple) system, in which young boys travel from mostly rural areas to attend Qur’anic schools in town, usually depending on contributions from the community or compensation for labour for food and clothing. The seeming incompatibility of the almajiri system and the “modern life” has meant there has been much public denunciation of the system.  The almajirai are seen as the source of urban crime and ready recruits for sectarian violence.  Little attention is paid to the voices of the almajirai themselves.

On Set of Duniya Juyi Juyi (left to right) Ikira Mukhtar, Muhammad Naziru Usman, and Ismail Abdullahi (c) Hannah Hoechner

This lack of representation has been addressed by a new docudrama Duniya Juyi Juyi (How Life Goes), which was directed, shot, and acted in by almajirai themselves. At the beginning the almajiri system is explained in the voice of one of the boys as we see the streets of Kano from their perspective. At the end the nine boys from the three different schools involved in the project, Abdullahi Yahaya Sa’ad (director), Buhari Murtala (assistant director),  Auwalu Mahamud (location manager), Isma’il Abdullahi (welfare), Sadisu Salisu (camera),  Muhammad Naziru Usman (assistant camera), Ikira Mukhtar (lead actor), Kabiru Idris (lighting), and Anas Ali (actor), introduce themselves and speak their messages directly to the audience.

The almajirai crew with Kannywood's Nasir B. Mohammad and Lubabatu Mudaki (c) Hannah Hoechner

The drama enclosed within this documentary frame is a simple linear story about a young boy Aminu’s (Ikira Mukhtar) life from his father’s (Sani Garba S.K.) decision in the village to send him to the city for school because “it is difficult for a boy to study in front of his parents” to his introduction to the malam (Husaini Sule Koki) who will teach him the Qu’ran.

Aminu leaves the village with his father to go to school. (c) Hannah Hoechner

Aminu learns how to survive without the comforts of family, from finding a place to sleep, water for ablutions, the ever-present search for food, and the struggle to study while hungry, to settling into the life at school, being given domestic work by a housewife (Lubabatu Mudaki) and work in a shop by a shopkeeper (Mustapha Musty), and finally the happy completion of his studies. Although their hardships are highlighted here, this is a fairly positive portrayal of the life of an almajiri, presenting arguments about their own worth made by the boys themselves, all of whom are now in their teens but many of whom started their Qur’anic studies as young boys.

Aminu (Ikira Mukhtar) with his malam (Husseini Sule Koki) (c) Hannah Hoechner

The malam is rarely critiqued here. Though he threatens Aminu with a beating should he run away, he is a reasonable and kind man who puts up patiently with the many young boys in his care. The critique the boys make and the message they have are instead for the communities in which they live, to the people who assume they are thieves and rascals, those who sneeringly tell them their parents don’t love them, or those households who think of them only as nearly free labour and not as people.

A housewife (Lubabatu Mudaki) hires Aminu but places more priority on the work he does in her house than on his studies. (c) Hannah Hoechner

What I found most remarkable about the film was that although the boys were trained in filmmaking by Hausa film professionals and several Kannywood actors helped add polish to the film, the preproduction and production of the film was carried out by the almajirai themselves.  The film medium becomes a powerful way to communicate their experiences to a larger audience.

I attended the premier of the film on Thursday, 27 October, held at the Goethe Institut in Kano, the sponsor of the film. Arriving at the Institut around 3pm, I was given food by the almajirai and spoke with producer Hannah Hoechner, a German PhD candidate at Oxford University whose research on almajirai had inspired her to make a film in which almajirai could speak for themselves. The nine boys who worked on the project came from schools in Sharada, Sabuwar Kofa and Albasu. In Albasu, the malam chose from the oldest ones to participate in the project. In Sabuwar Kofa, Hoechner chose those she knew best, and the boys from Sharada were those almajirai she taught English through the NGO, Child Almajiri Empowerment and Support Initiative. She approached Frank Roger of the Goethe Institut to fund the film and spoke warmly of his untiring encouragement. Although there were some fears from parents about the boys appearing in films, the malams were fully supportive of the project, not as a way for the boys to make money (the film was distributed for free rather than sold), but for them to tell their own stories.  In the evening before the film was shown, a bus arrived from Albasu with several malams and dozens of their students. The malams sat on the front row of the crowded outdoor theatre and seemed to fully enjoy the show, laughing and nodding in appreciation as they saw their lives re-enacted on screen.

I was also struck by the presence of Kannywood professionals, who interacted kindly and easily with the almajirai. Nasiru B. Mohammad who had trained the boys in scriptwriting and directing, did not make the screening, but when I arrived at the Goethe Institut, Auwal Kabir Indabawa, the Kannywood cinematographer and editor who taught the boys how to use the camera and had edited the film, was already there. He seemed to have become something of a mentor to the boys, guiding them as they prepared for the screening, listening to their ideas and making suggestions about how to present themselves to the crowd. He stayed with them until the end of the show. He described to me how he would leave their mistakes in and then teach them during the corrective editing process how they could improve next time they make a film.

Director of Duniya Juyi Juyi, Abdullahi Yahaya Sa'ad, and editor, Auwal Kabir Indabawa, share a laugh before the premiere of the film at the Goethe Institut, 27 October 2011. (c) Carmen McCain

Beyond a project for the almajirai to tell their own stories, the training the boys received opened up a potential career in film to them, a possibility the boys I spoke to expressed an interest in.  During the time for feedback after the screening, Mustapha Musty called on the government to support these students for further education in filmmaking.  Among other Kannywood practitioners who came to show their support were Bala Anas Babinlata, Hafizu Bello, Mustapha Indabawa, Lubabatu Mudaki, Maryam Sulaiman, Hajara Usman, and others. Also in attendance was the Commissioner for Information of Kano State and members of the Department of Mass Communication at Bayero University who had done initial training sessions with the boys.

The almajirai with Mustapha Musty. (c) Hannah Hoechner

While this film is groundbreaking in the presentation of the stories of almajirai as told by themselves, there are still voices that are not completely heard in this story. As male-centred as the almajiri system is, almost all of the women in the film were shown in a negative light. The selfish housewives who employ the boys were contrasted with the kind and fair-minded male shopowner who takes Aminu under his wings. In the making of the film itself, the boys most featured were teenagers, rather than the youngest and smallest boys who are often the most vulnerable. However, the representation of women might be explained by the fact that this film actually is from the eyes of these boys and that in work as domestic servants they likely interact with women most often. Similarly, the boys stage a conversation, where they critique the way the littlest boys are sent away from their parents, saying that parents who send small children should come and regularly check on them to make sure of their conditions. The film illustrates that the almajirai can both appreciate the benefits of and be critical of the problems of their system of education.

Little boys in the village draw water from a well under the eyes of politicians in the early part of the film. (c) Hannah Hoechner

Ultimately, the film reminded me of what drew me to the study of Hausa films in the first place, the way the industry gave ordinary people the power to tell their own stories. While Kannywood is a professional industry with a thriving star system, in projects of this sort, you can catch a glimpse of its roots and the exciting potential that a low budget film technology offers to the smallest and most often maligned members of society to tell their own stories and make their voices heard.

At the screening for Duniya Juyi Juyi, (left to right) Kabir Idris (lightner, in yellow), Abdullahi Yahaya Sa'ad (director, in gray), and Buhari Murtala (Assistant Director, in yellow) with supporters (c) Carmen McCain

Interview with Ghanaian-British filmmaker Julius Amedume and review of four of his short films

This year on my way from the Port Harcourt airport to Yenagoa to the Africa Movie Academy Awards, I was lucky enough to get to sit beside thoughtful Ghanaian-British filmmaker Julius Amedume, whose film Precipice (2010) had been nominated for best Diaspora Short. He ended up winning the award.

On 12 November 2011, Weekly Trust published as a feature my email interview with Julius. Because of word limits for publication, we had to edit down a few of his responses, but because I don’t have word limits on my blog, I will include a slightly fuller (though still edited down) version of the interview here. After the interview, you can read my review of Amedume’s four short films made while in film school: “Mary and John” (2009), “Lorraine” (2009), “Mr. Graham” (2010), and “The Precipice” (2010). I have also included the short films within this post, but if you are on a slow internet connection (as I am), please wait for the entire video to download before attempting to watch it, as the jumpy start and stop of the download process will destroy your enjoyment of the film.

First, if you want to get a taste of Amedume’s work, watch his 2010 showreel here:

Second, the interview. If you want to read it as published by the Weekly Trust, click on this link or on the photos of the hard copy below. If you want to read the slightly longer version, which includes descriptions of his short films, read on below:

Julius Amedume: I’d love to tell more African stories in my films

Julius Amedume is a Ghanaian-British filmmaker based in the U.K.. He has over eleven films to his credit and a production company, Amedume Films. He won this year’s Africa Movie Academy Award for best Diaspora short for his film Precipice, Best Feature award at last year’s Pan African Film Festival for his film A Goat’s Tail and other awards at festivals around the world.

Could you tell us about your background?

My parents originated from Ghana but I was born in London, England and grew up Balham, south west London. I am the youngest of four children. Even though we were all raised in England, my parents being first generation Africans, always made it a priority to install western values as well as a strong sense of African values.  This has been fundamental to making me into who I am today.

Tell me about your journey to become a filmmaker. 

I first became engrossed in films when I was around four or five. I didn’t start school until I was seven because of health problems. My mum would work days and my dad would work nights. My dad would come home from work and teach me maths and English until he fell asleep at about 11am. I would be left in front of the TV watching westerns, musicals, war films, black and white movies and film noirs until my mum or my siblings came home in the evening..

My parents, especially my dad, kept abreast of technology and we were lucky to have a Betamax, VHS and even a Laserdisc player. I used to watch anything that came out, from art house movies to B movies. Throughout childhood and my early teens I would watch a film almost every day.

On leaving school at the age of 16, I enrolled into Saint Francis of Xavier College in Clapham and made my first short film as part of a media studies course. I ended up writing, producing, editing and directing it. I was originally working with a group of people, but as the amount of work involved dawned on them, they slowly dropped out, leaving me to finish the film.

The film was about the controversial subject of safe sex: three couples who meet in club and what happens later that evening when they have sex, either with a condom or without. The film then jumps to a year later. One of the couple is still together in a settled, stable relationship. The second couple has broken up and the male has a multitude of baby mothers. The last couple has also broken up, but the man learns he has caught AIDS. There was a big AIDS epidemic at the time scaring the nation and as I started to understand the facts, it made me start to think of different scenarios which people could or might find themselves in within the community.   This is what gave me the idea for the film.

This was my first attempt at a making a short film, it also set up the tone and types of films I would be compelled to make along my career path. Looking at the film now, it’s still entertaining , it still  has narrative, but the production values make it seem like a  low budget mess.

I played around for a year with a camera on a Youth Training Scheme which taught me the basics of different areas along the production route.  I went on to do A-level media studies which gave me another opportunity to mess around with video. I still didn’t know what I wanted to do in film. I just knew I wanted to be around it.

When I hit 19, I needed enough money to go to university, so I took a year out which turned into three. I worked in two sports shops and then spent two years as assistant manager in a shop called PROHIBITIO.  We sold high end designer clothes to celebrities and other characters who walked through the door. There were two things that helped me most on my journey to film when I worked there. The first was when American actor Jack Nicolson walked by and I enticed him into the shop. He came in and hung around for fifteen minutes whilst waiting for a lady friend. I was at a transitional stage when I really wanted to study film but my parents wanted me to follow a different path. Jack told me because he loved acting, it didn’t seem like work and he could put in as many hours as god sends. He told me you shouldn’t do any job that seems like work because it’s not making you happy. If you do a job that makes you happy then it doesn’t seem like work. Those words were what I was looking for.

The second thing was the experience dealing with the different types of customers. Because I constantly interacted with people and had only seconds to try to sell them something, I found the tips, tricks and senses gained later helped me in my career when I approached actors, tried to understand them, and bring out the best of their talent.

When I went to university, I did an intensive BSC Hons degree in Communication and Technology at a broadcasting university called Ravensbourne College of Design and Communication. Their Film/TV module was a calculated plus, but the other courses taught me things which I would later utilize, like webpage design, DVD authoring, marketing, psychology, electronics, engineering, broadcasting, satellite distribution signals, etc. It also gave me a safety net. If film failed, I could get a job as engineer, which gave my parents peace of mind.

Upon graduating I immediately went back to doing what I love. By now I had worked out that I really wanted to direct. It incorporated all the other disciplines whilst overseeing the overall project. I got an unpaid runners position at a commercials company. I had been advised this was the easiest way to work your way up to being a director. I started on a Monday and the company went bankrupt on a Friday. I was back to square one but I read it as a sign. Never being someone to wait around, I threw caution to the wind and remembered ‘WE CREATE OUR OWN DESTINIES AND CALL IT FATE’. I decided to open up a production company. The birth of AMEDUME FILMS came in 2002, though a production company had been in my mind since 1999. I didn’t really have any money, but I also knew I had good contacts and good line of credit from working full time. I used this line of credit to gap fund projects whilst I sought investors.

Through my production company, I made three short films, THE MEETING, THE PHONE CALL and THE VIDEOTAPE.  The Meeting, about an intimate conversation between a baker and teacher as they wait for a train, won a best actor and a cinematography award at the Kent Film Festival in 2002. The Phone Call explores the repercussions when a young man receives a phone call from an old school friend asking for a favor. It was nominated for five awards at the 5th BFM international film festival 2002 and won the Best Screenplay award. It was also nominated for the best short film award at the Pan African Film Festival in Los Angeles. As well as taking it to schools and prisons it also screened on various Satellite television channels and MTV Base.  The Videotape was my first fully corporate funded short film.

The Meeting trailer

The Phone Call trailer

The Video Tape trailer

Tell me about your feature film A Goat’s Tail. How was making a feature film different from making shorts? Were there any major challenges in shooting a film across two continents?  

Making a leap from shorts to feature films is a different kettle of fish. The pressures of the production can be catastrophic, especially if you intend to make a film, shot in two continents, on a micro budget.

I had gone to Ghana for three months with my parents so I could chill out and write a script.  When I arrived I suffered from writers block. Nothing managed to make it onto the page. To take my mind off the block, I started to relax and enjoy Ghana. Taking taxis everywhere, my face, body language and attire signaled to the taxi drivers that I was a foreigner. The majority of them tried to exploit me, by trying to double or sometimes triple the fares, but I showed them I wasn’t a “Johnny just come.” Taxi drivers are like your local newspapers, they know everything and have strong views. In our many conversations, they told me they would love to travel to England. The shared consensus was that that coming from there you must be rich. I tried to tell the cab drivers that compared to cost of living, prices were more or less the same. Living in Ghana actually has more benefits like constant sunshine and fresh food. My information fell on deaf ears, but this turned out to be the key that I was looking for to unlock my writer block. The idea for A Goat’s Tailwas born. I spent the rest of my time in Ghana writing out a treatment. The film was about Kojo, a Ghanian taxi driver, who is hired by a beautiful young British actress, Cynthia, to show her around for the day. The day ends with a sexual encounter and a reluctant promise from Cynthia to invite Kojo to England. Arriving on Cynthia’s doorstep four months later, Kojo soon realizes that the grass might not be greener in England and people are not what they seem.

I wrote the script when I arrived back in London. I gave myself a time limit of two years to make this film. My business plan was based on a lot of high calculated risks. In my passion to make the film, I knew nothing could go wrong, but it did, in more ways than one. First, I never managed to raise all the money I needed, and I decided to gap finance the film on about 10 credit cards, which I had amassed with 0% interest over a year from my good credit. This failed me by the end of the film, leaving me vastly over budget and with huge debts. I also decided that renting equipment would be too expensive so I decided to buy all my own equipment from ebay and then sell it after the shoot, so I could reinvest the money into the post production schedule.  When the shoot got delayed, the depreciating costs of the equipment came back to haunt me. I decided to cast a Ghanaian non-professional actor for the lead role. He had never left Ghana before—talk about life mimicking art! Having flown to Ghana with my crew and equipment to shoot the first part of the film, I had scheduled to return back to England with the actor  to shoot the last part, but his visa was denied, not once, not twice, but three times. I fought to exercise his right to come to England especially since all the required paper work was in order. I even had a letter from the Ghana High Commission endorsing the film. I took the decision to an appeals court and got the case transferred to London.  This delayed my film for just over a year but I did feel victorious when I defended myself in the UK case hearing and won.

I am only really touching the surface of the problems I faced and experienced making that film. It’s true when they say everything that could go wrong will go wrong. Physically, it was the hardest film I have made to date. I spent over three years of my life on it. In the darkest hours of wanting to quit, I realized how much I wanted my career and what I was prepared to do to make it happen. Making this film, I would say, was my film school and I grew more confident and learned how to tell stories better. I also understood the different types of problems I could face in the future on any given production.  Having shot, written, produced and directed the film, it confirmed to me I wanted to be writer-director but also gave me a understanding of the other disciplines. The film went on to be nominated for six awards, and it won best feature at the Pan African film festival.

A Goat’s Tail clip

Tell me about your Masters in Directing Fiction at the National Film and TV School. What were the benefits to going back to school when you were already making films and had a production company?

I was accepted into a scheme called Compass Point, with the National Film School and B3 media. Paul Moody, the organizer of the course, and Nik Powell, a visiting guest speaker, both encouraged me to apply to the film school.  I had tried before and was unsuccessful, so I wasn’t sure if that’s what I wanted to do. I had some successes independently and had set up a production company which I had been running for 5 years. But one day I sat back and asked myself –if being a director is something I wanted to do for the rest of my life, if I was to apply and got in, wouldn’t it be like taking two steps back to go three steps forward? With that attitude I applied and beat 450 other applicants to one of the eight places available on the Directing Fiction masters program. I had never been to film school before. I had done a few technical courses in and around film, but instantly I knew this was it. The National Film and Television School is the best film school in Europe. I felt I had been touched by an angel to have the opportunity to go there. I was still financially hindered from A Goat’s Tail and wasn’t sure how I was going to pay the fees. But I was blessed and received a full scholarship from Toledo Productions.

Just being in an environment surrounded by like-minded individuals who share your passion and knowledge for film was enough. But to be lectured  and have master classes by  some of the greats like Stephen Frears, Pawel Pawlikowski, Roger Michell, Ken Loach, Udayan Prasad, Danny Boyle and  Mike Leigh, I felt like a child in a sweet shop. What I also found confidence building was realizing that some of what I was learning from these directors I already knew and had picked up through making my films. Understanding why I did something instinctively made me stronger in assessing my own strengths and weaknesses and more precise at what I wanted from the course.

The films I made during my course of study each had specific learning objectives. With Mary and John, I wanted the experience of working with old people.  With Lorraine, how do I direct up to seven people at the same time and within limited time create believable group dynamics? With Mr Graham, how do I tell a story honestly when the subject matter is something I feel strongly against, and how do I make the audience care about and understand someone who society tells us not to. In Precipice, how do I make a genre piece on a micro-budget, without having the audience dismiss it if it doesn’t live up to the higher budget aesthetics they are used to? If A Goat’s Tail was my film school, then the National Film School was the polishing and prepping I needed for a life long career. The film school really did change me as a person and as a director.

Tell me more about your film Precipice, which won this year’s AMAA award for best short film from the Diaspora.

Precipice had been with me for a while. I grew up watching film noirs and thrillers, and in terms of subject matter, I was first inspired by the case about the scandals surrounding the American company ENRON in 2001/2002 , and the American stockbroker Bernie Madoff .  But ultimately with the lack of ethnic action heroes on screen, I wanted to create a character that would fill that void whilst being able to tell an entertaining commercial, universal story.  My ideas were originally a lot bigger than the short film could handle, but I took one or two strands and streamlined it into a short film. Working with the actor Jimmy Jean-Louis was the essential key to the short film. He is the person I always envisaged and was best suited to fill this void in mainstream cinema.

What was it like winning the AMAA?  How far have your plans gone for remaking Precipice into a  a full-length feature?

Julius Amedume with his AMAA award for Best Diaspora Short film (photo credit courtesy of Julius Amedume)

Winning the AMMA award was extremely invigorating and truly amazing. It’s something I will remember forever and tell my children about. I honestly never expected to win anything that night and I was just thankful I was nominated. I have a saying that “As a director my job is to serve, to serve the audience.” I believe as along as my audience are engaged, inspired, educated, challenged, entertained and happy with my work, my job is done. Audiences keep you going, Nominations are a great pat on the back, and winning awards is a surreal added bonus. I did enjoy winning. I was grinning from ear to ear. It felt great to be embraced by Africa. The film also won the Pan African Film Festival Board of Directors award.

I have developed the ideas around Precipice into the feature length script.  Some of the script takes place in Africa. Roman’s character has been developed to give insight into how he became who he is and where he is going. The ideas, the scenarios, the characters’ motivation, wants and needs can stretch into a franchise of three films. I want Jimmy Jean-Louis to stay as the lead, and a there are parts for a number of integral supporting characters from the different international territories the film is based in. The script has all the original entertaining set pieces an action thriller should have, but it also has a strong emotional core and social message which, like all my work, will create topics for debate.  I have had a lot of interest in the project, pitched as a Black Jason Bourne. We know this film is going to profitable, but Jimmy and I want to make the film the way we want to make it and with the right people. So building the right team and attracting the right investors is key.

What is your creative process like?

When I was growing up my mother used to tell me to be seen and not heard. That stuck with me and I got used to sitting back and just watching people, watching the world, whilst trying to interpret and understand it.  I have a very selective memory, and I tend to only remember stuff that I feel is important to me. For example, I might meet you and instantly forget your name, but if you make an impression, I will remember when we met, what we spoke about, and even what you were wearing. Instead of your name, I remember your spirit or your energy.  If a story, a person or a situation stays with me, I think about it to the point I become obsessive and need to understand every angle of it, every side. Once I understand, then I can let go.  My brain goes through this process with every film I make. But mostly, I have to find something challenging, mentally or physically, or I won’t do it. I have written and directed most of my films. I am a slow writer and always write at night. But I feel I am more of a director than a writer. Ultimately I would love to direct something I have written every five to six years and direct other people’s work in between. At the moment I am working with a handful of different writers on different projects and reading scripts my agents send through.

What is your philosophy of directing actors? How do you get such profound performances?

I put actors through a process. They might not even know it at the time, but I build them up in layers. I do a lot of research and make it available to them so they can see where my mind is. I am quite a deep thinker and it comes across in my conservations with them, which ultimately reflects in their acting.  Acting is about what you think. Everything else is secondary to me. When I do casting sessions I actually hate when actors come with monologues. Most of the time in castings, I never even make them act or read. I just have a nice chat with them and then make my decision. I have worked with professional and non professional actors, and I always find the right person for the right role.

What are your thoughts on Nollywood and Ghallywood and the popular African film industries?

The Nollywood and Ghallywood market is saturated. There are too many films that have flooded the market making these African movies lack high production values, because producers want to make quick money on as small financial outlay as possible. But now the film industry has reached a stage where films with better quality acting, better storylines and higher production values will rise from the rest and will open the doors for bigger investment in movies and the industry so they can compete on an international level. The African market is the second largest film producing market in the world after Bollywood. It has taken a while but they are getting there.  My only experience of working in the African film industry  was when I shot A Goat’s Tail. I am interested in working in Africa, but it depends on the story.

What projects do you have on your plate right now? What are your hopes for the future?

I am working on five or six projects at the moment but I would like to see PRECIPICE get made and make films that change how we think or view the world.

Do you have any advice for aspiring filmmakers?

Stop talking about making a movie and go and make one.

(End)

Third, here is my review of his four short films made while he was at the National Film and Television school. The review was first published in Weekly Trust on 29 October 2011:

On the Precipice: The short, dark films of Julius Amedume

 Written by Carmen McCain Saturday, 29 October 2011 05:00

This year when I attended the Africa Movie Academy Awards, I rode in the bus from the Port Harcourt airport to Yenagoa seated beside Ghanaian-British filmmaker Julius Amedume. Amedume’s short film “Precipice” had been nominated for the best Diaspora short and his feature film A Goat’s Tail had won the best feature award at the 2010 Pan African Film Festival. He told me about his love of suspense films and how he hoped to remake “Precipice” into a full-length feature.  The next night at the award ceremony, he was called up to receive the award for Best Diaspora Short. When after the festival he sent me a DVD of four short films made as part of his MA in Fiction Directing at the U.K.’s National Film and Television School, I realized why “Precipice” had won.

Julius Amedume wins the AMAA for the Best Diaspora Short Film (c) Carmen McCain

The DVD that he sent me included the short films “Mary and John,” “Lorraine,” “Mr Graham,” and “Precipice” all of which are set in the U.K. but deal with human emotions and failures that resonate with almost any culture. After watching the first film “Mary and John,”I sat back and breathed out. I realized I had been holding my breath for much of the film. Rather than proceeding on to the next one, I turned it back and played it again. I ended up re-watching all four of the films that way. Watching it once holding my breath in suspense and then watching it again to savour the details. In the first film in the collection, “Mary and John” (2009, 6 mins) are an old British couple, apparently played by a married couple in real life (Marlene and Eddie Price). In the absence of any other obvious loved ones, the couple seems to be waiting to die. John sits motionless and expressionless, mouth half open watching TV (staring into the camera so his audience becomes the TV he watches), while Mary vacuums the carpet in front of him. The cord of the vacuum machine tugs around his leg, but it is as if he is made of wood. He doesn’t seem to notice. Mary’s life is taken over with taking care of her husband. She feeds him, bathes him, dresses him. Her life is marked by the clicking open of the pill box which is divided into dosages for each day of the week. Other than a powerful flashback with a texture and sound that makes it the emotional centre of the film, each day is the same. The faces of the old couple are mostly still and emotionless, making the heartbreak on Mary’s face and the expression in John’s eyes in the moments where he lifts his face to her and opens his mouth like a child so that she can feed him, all the more devastating. Yet what initially seems to be a short quiet film about old age, has room in it for an unexpected twist. There are powerful understated performances here as well as a thoughtful use of sound.

Watch “Mary and John”

In the second film, “Lorraine,” (2009, 14 mins) the protagonist after whom the film is named is a new girl at school who desperately wants to be accepted. But the story quickly gets much darker than the typical high school movie about teenage angst. There are moments that feel like William Goldings’ Lord of the Flies here, school girls in uniforms capable of stunning cruelties. This is the film that perhaps stuck with me the most. The actress who plays Lorraine(Lisa Diveney) acts with depth and passion, emotions playing over her face as she contemplates the violence she is complicit in. The other girls, too, reveal more about themselves in their expressions and glances than they do in their words.

Watch “Lorraine”

“Mr Graham” (2010, 14 mins) is the slowest and most brooding of the films but contains perhaps the most hair-raising twist of any of them. Mr Graham (Alexis Rodney) remembers the legacy left by his father who “died when I was too old to forget.”  As he travels home at night watching a train slither over the tracks and into the darkness, his father’s spirit blossoms and grows in him. The next day as he goes about his daily duties, he struggles with a secret obsession that threatens the life he had hoped to build.

Watch “Mr. Graham”

The award winning “Precipice” (2010, 25 mins) is the most ambitious of the films in scope, telling the story of a corrupt London banker Jasper (Martin Turner), who has embezzled money and is on the verge of being discovered.  Roman (Jimmy Jean-Louis, who also played in another AMAA award winning film Sinking Sands) is hired by Jasper’s partners to spirit him away. But, although this was supposed to be a simple job for Roman, it becomes complicated when Jasper asks him to make one stop on their way out of town. The two criminals, the embezzler and the hired gun, discover they have more in common than they could have imagined. This short film certainly has enough emotional punch and complexity to carry the full-length film, Amedume wants to make of it.

Watch “Precipice”

Although these four short films have great emotional power, they are anything but sentimental. Almost all of them have suspense and unexpected twists that lead to chilling discoveries. Amedume directs his actors extraordinarily well, in powerful understated performances.  The dialogue here is on the surface, the real drama happens in the moments of silence, where the horrors lurking within even the most innocent looking characters slither into the open. Many of the short films I’ve seen are clever but without well-developed characters. Here, however, the expressions of the actors, the pacing, the framing, give you insights into character that make you feel like you have watched a feature-length film by the end.

Despite the maturity and polish of the films, there were occasional flaws. The sets sometimes seemed a bit too pristine, not lived in enough. In “Lorraine,” an abandoned house suddenly yields forth bounties of food from the fridge. In “Precipice” there are moments in the dark car scene where the cinematographer seems to have trouble pulling focus on Jasper’s face and, as in some Nigerian films that attempt to project great wealth without having access to it, Jasper’s office seems a little modest for a bank executive. But for me, what is best in a film is in its script and the power of performance, the kind of story that forces you to sit down and be pensive afterwards. Amedume’s films do that.

Read together these four films explore the depths of the human psyche in a way that reminds me of the W.B. Yeat’s poem “The Second Coming” from which Chinua Achebe took the title “Things fall apart.” The films that frame the collection, “Mary and John” and “Precipice” are bitter-sweet. These characters on the precipice of death think back on the moments and people in their lives most precious to them. The two films enclosed within this frame, “Lorraine” and “Mr. Graham” explore young characters, their lives stretching out before them, who struggle with passions, in some ways, more horrible than death. Lorraine’s simple search for friendship turns into betrayal, as “the blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere/the ceremony of innocence is drowned.” In ‘Mr. Graham,’ there is an ugliness welling within him that makes one wonder “what rough beast, its hour come round at last, / Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?”

If you are intrigued enough to want to check out these films, you are in luck. You don’t have to wait for a film festival or travel to the UK to hunt them down. Amedume told me he plans to upload the four films to his website by 1 November 2011. If you plan to watch them online, though, I beg of you to download them in full before you start watching. They are too good to be ruined by the jumpy start and stop of a slow internet connection. Enjoy.

“Equestrian Elegance at Sallah-time”: a review of the documentary by Professor Abdalla Uba Adamu and Bala Anas Babinlata

A little late, but Barka da Sallah! Eid Mubarak. Da fatan an yi sallah lafiya.

In today’s column in Weekly Trust, I reviewed the documentary Equestrian Elegance, written, narrated, and produced by Professor Abdalla Uba Adamu and directed by Bala Anas Babinlata. To read the column on the Trust website, click on the link, to read the hard copy, click on the photo, or if you have slow internet, just read the piece below:

Equestrian Elegance at Sallah-time

 Written by Carmen McCain Saturday, 12 November 2011 05:00

Before I moved to Kano in 2008, I had heard much about the Sallah celebrations as a “tourist attraction.” Expatriate acquaintances both in Nigeria and outside the country told me of travels to Kano to experience the colour and pageantry of the annual event. In 2008, I attended my first “Hawan Sallah” at the emir’s palace and two days later stood with a friend as the parade of horses and riders, hunters on foot and men on stilts, processed past her Fagge house on the outskirts of the old city. At the centre of it all was the magnificent emir Alhaji (Dr) Ado Bayero, who rode under a twirling silk umbrella. He was greeted with cries of blessing from the crowd, their fists upraised in salute. [For photos of the the "Hawan Nassarawa" during Eid el-Fitr I attended in 2010, click to my flickr album here or for the blog post about it, click here]

What most struck me as I stood with crowd on both days was the community feel of the festivities: onlookers calling out the names of the riders, riders shouting down greetings to friends, the genuine affection in the salutes to the emir. This sense of familiarity is captured beautifully in the 2009 documentary film, Equestrian Elegance: the Kano Sallah Pageantry Festival written, produced and narrated by Professor Abdalla Uba Adamu and directed by Bala Anas Babinlata. Professor Abdalla of Bayero University is one of the most grounded and prolific scholars of Hausa popular culture, with dozens of books and articles published both locally and internationally. His most important contributions, however, go beyond academic scholarship to actual interventions into popular culture: among which was his founding and moderation of the Finafinan Hausa and marubuta yahoogroups, important critical forums for dialogue about Hausa popular literature and film;  the organizing of concerts and award shows for Hausa musicians, and his innovative creation of what he calls “Hausa classical music” by recording Hausa traditional instruments being played without singing. Professor Abdalla also spans the world of scholarship and art with the films put out by his production company Visually Ethnographic Productions.

The documentary Equestrian Elegance (1 hour 28 mins), which was shot in 2008 but has not yet been released for commercial distribution, covers the four days of parades through Kano city during Eid al-Fitr: “Hawan Sallah,” “Hawan Daushe,” “Hawan Nassarawa,” and “Hawan Dorayi,” and the additional day of pageantry “Hawan Fanisau” during Eid al-Adha. A narrative voiceover by Professor Abdalla, explains the events and an innovative animation traces along a map the parade route taken each day, but the film mostly celebrates the details of the festivities from the sunrise on the first day of Sallah to the sunset on the last day. Within this symbolic frame, the rhythm of Sallah is measured out by each procession out of and back towards the palace.

While I admittedly grew a bit weary about an hour into the film, I think the attention to detail here is important. Professor Abdalla told me that the unhurried pacing was intentional: he wanted the film to “unfold in very slow motion, so you can absorb the details.” The focus here was on capturing “the pageantry. Every horse is different. Every rider is different. People stay out there three hours watching and don’t get tired.” His goal was to show the “high level of refinement” in the Sallah parades and the “structural elegance of pageantry.”

Such elegance is captured in the beauty of the cinematography: the close-ups of the courtier crouching to perform the morning gun salute and his graceful almost balletic twirl through the gun smoke; the rich texture of both horse and rider being robed in layer after layer of damask in preparation for the parade; the hazy glow of Kano swathed in harmattan during the final day of “Hawan Fanisau.”

But beyond presenting the elegance of the event, Professor Abdalla told me that another goal was to present to a global audience that sense of community surrounding Sallah. Although Kano’s Sallah festivities are probably some of the most photographed annual events in Nigeria, the photographs taken by tourists are often formally beautiful but distancing. There is little knowledge or intimacy in them.  Here, however, as Professor Abdalla points out you “can see the sense of community. It’s like carnival, a street party, with mom and dad and kids.” And it is this sense of community and lived tradition that I like most about the film. Kano is often either romanticized by the national and international media as a place of “timeless tradition,” an ancient exotic city of fairy tale, or denigrated as, what one foreign blogger termed, “an overgrown village,” a backwards northern outpost with a medieval mentality. Equestrian Elegance explodes both stereotypes, presenting the richness of tradition from insider’s perspective. One of the moments that best captures this delightful mix of light-heartedness and ceremony is in a shot where the dignified male space of the emir’s speech at the government house is playfully undermined by the little girl playing with a balloon directly behind him. As opposed to stereotypes about Kano under shari’a, women are not excluded from the celebration. While they may not be a part of the main spectacle, they take part in the larger community event. Girls and women hang off of balconies and push into the crowds to catch a glimpse of the horses and riders. As Professor Abdalla points out, Sallah is a family affair.

Part of what contributes to this “insider’s perspective” comes from the camera operators’ ability to get up close to their subjects, not the flattened close-up of a zoom camera but the intimate close-up of someone who is a part of the celebration. The subjects of the camera’s gaze sometimes seem to recognize the person behind the camera, and the film is often self-referential. While tourist photographs often attempt to capture the “timelessness” of the event, avoiding shots of other photographers or signs that situate their subjects in a particular modern moment, this film cheerfully revels in contemporary local knowledge of the event. The parade, as Professor Abdalla points out in his narrative commentary, is located in a very specific and recent history, including a route which began as part of the current emir’s Sallah visit to his mother.

There are multiple references to the way in which the event is viewed both through foreign and homegrown eyes.  The tourists become part of the spectacle. They are depicted laughing on the palace balcony or lining up in front of the crowd with their zoom lenses. But more significant are the frequent moments of easy familiarity when local photographers and videographers enter the camera’s view. The camera repeatedly captures the parade processing past photography and video shops, a subtle tribute to the many Kano residents who use the camera to tell their own stories. Professor Abdalla himself makes a cameo appearance towards the end of the film.

The cosmopolitan mix that makes up Kano is also found in the soundtrack of the documentary. The most striking piece of music is Babangida Kakadawo’s praise song “Sarkin Kano Ado Bayero” to the accompaniment of the kuntigi, used to great effect in the moments where the emir appears. However, the soundtrack is also sprinkled with Malian musician Ali Farka Toure’s guitar pieces and another song featuring Egyptian musician Hassan Ramzy. (Professor Abdalla argues the inclusion of these tracks follows international standards of fair usage since the looped excerpts are less than one minute.) While I initially thought the use of non-Nigerian music detracted from the “authenticity” of the film, I find convincing Professor Abdalla’s argument that he wanted to expose people to music from other parts of Africa, a goal in keeping with Kano’s history as a cosmopolitan trade centre.

The borrowed music, along with the slow pace, could be an attraction or flaw depending on the taste of the viewer. I was not a fan of the digital effects in the transitions, which I thought distracted more than they added to the film.  But these moments of imperfection are far outweighed by the strength in the completeness of the film, which moved beyond the picturesque palace durbar to cover the entire procession and its connection to the people of the city. Equestrian Elegance is an important historical resource that is valuable to outsiders trying to learn about the culture and traditions of Kano but perhaps even more so to those from Kano, who want to remember the richness of a lived tradition, Sallah as performed in the first decade of the 21st century.

 

Congratulations to Kannywood actress Sakna Gadaza and Musa Bello on their wedding, 9 July 2011

booklet distributed at dinner for Sakna Gadaza and Musa Bello's wedding

First of all, another apology for such a long delay in updating this blog, which had to do 1) with my internet server going on a near 2-3 week near-shut-down, 2) travel to Lagos to present at a “Nollywood in Africa, Africa in Nollywood” conference hosted by Pan-African University, 3) the electricity going out in my neighborhood for 1 week and 1 day (in which case, the battery and inverter I celebrated in my last post, has it’s limitations. There has to be a certain amount of electricity for the thing to charge). 4) A nasty case of food poisoning, which put me out of operation for at least two good days.

So, I am only just now posting this piece of Kannywood news, namely, the wedding of Hausa film actress Sakna Gadaza and Musa Bello on 9 July 2011. I attended two of the wedding events, an “Arabian Night” on 7 July, which I arrived scandalously late to even by “African-time” standards only about 15 minutes before the bride took off, partially because I was out shopping for the appropriate “Arabian” attire. 2) The dinner on 8 July, which I arrived on time for and got lots of photos.

So, congratulations to Sakna and Musa. A few photos below:

Sakna sings to her new husband Musa at the wedding dinner. (c) Carmen McCain

Money sprayed for Sakna, as Musa looks on (c) Carmen McCain

The beautiful bride, Sakna Gadaza (c) Carmen McCain

Camera phones were out in full force and Sakna's friend Kannywood actress Zainab Idris pulled out her best dance moves for the occasion (c) Carmen McCain

Kannywood actress and comedienne Saratu Gidado was a great dinner companion. (c) Carmen McCain

Kannywood actors Umar Gombe and Fati Bararoji trade thoughts before the event begins. (c) Carmen McCain

Hausa novelist and film producer Hajiya Balaraba Ramat Yakubu and a friend at the Arabian Night celebration for Sakna Gadaza and Musa Bello's wedding. (c) Carmen McCain

Baballe Hayatu has a quiet moment before the beginning of the event. (c) Carmen McCain

I have more photos not yet uploaded to flickr that I may add as I have internet time, so stay tuned for more pics.

The ‘second coming’ of Kannywood

Still catching up on posts I am behind on. This feature piece  “The ‘second coming’ of Kannywood” was published over a month ago now in the Weekend Magazine of Weekly Trust on 21 May 2011, but gives a good summary of the challenges faced by the Kano film industry during the tenure of former ANPP Governor Ibrahim Shekarau, and the “director general” of the Kano State Censorship Board he appointed, Abubakar Rabo Abdulkarim. I also interviewed film practitioners about their hopes as PDP’s Rabi’u Musa Kwankwaso, who had been governor of Kano State from 1999-2003, returns to take up another four year term, aided in his political campaign by the Motion Picture Practitioners Association of Nigeria and Kannywood stars like Sani Danja and D’an Ibro. As usual, to read the hard copy of the article, click on the photos below, or scroll down to read the text I’ve copied here.

The ‘second coming’of Kannywood

Saturday, 21 May 2011 01:42 Carmen McCain

Wednesday evening, April 27, 2011, Zoo Road in Kano, the street lined with Kannywood studios, exploded into celebration. Young men pulled dramatic stunts with motorbikes and shouted their congratulations to Hausa filmmakers. “Welcome back home, brothers. Welcome back from Kaduna,” directors Falalu Dorayi and Ahmad Biffa recall them saying. “We embrace you ‘Yan fim.’ We are together with you. We are happy that he has returned.”The win of PDP

Governor Rabi’u Musa Kwankwaso, incoming governor of Kano State, and also governor from 1999 to 2003 (Photo Credit: Nigerian Best Forum)

candidate Dr. Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso as governor of Kano, his second tenure after a four-year term from 1999-2003, had just been announced.  INEC figures listed PDP as winning 46% of the vote with 1,108,345 votes, closely followed by Alhaji Salihu Sagir of ANPP with 43.5% of the vote with 1,048,317 votes.  To anyone familiar with the Hausa film industry, which according to recent National Film and Video Censor’s Board figures makes up over 30% of  the Nigerian film industry, this association of a political win with film was no surprise. Some of the most visible Hausa filmmakers have become increasingly politically active following a crackdown by the Kano State Censor’s Board, during which many practitioners and marketers of Hausa films had been fined, imprisoned, and harassed. While many of those associated with the film industry supported CPC and Buhari for president, the feeling among many filmmakers in Kano was that for governor any of the candidates would be better than ANPP. The two term ANPP governor and presidential candidate Ibrahim Shekarau, who had initially been passionately supported by

CIMG2970

Former Governor Ibrahim Shekarau, governor of Kano State fro 2003-2011, and ANPP presidential candidate in 2011. (I took this photo during his trip to Madison, Wisconsin in 2007)  (Photo credit: talatu-carmen)

at least some of Kano’s writers and artists, was now deeply disliked by most film practitioners, in part, for appointing Abubakar Rabo Abdulkarim former deputy commandant of the shari’a enforcement group hisbah as director general of the Kano State Censor’s Board. Malam Rabo, as he was known, regularly went onto the radio to denounce film practitioners for ostensible moral defects and had overseen a board which often arrested filmmakers.

After surveying candidates in the gubernatorial race for how they would support film, the Motion Pictures Practitioners Association of Nigeria (MOPPAN), as the association’s president Sani Muazu reported, publically campaigned for Kwankwaso. Movie star,

Comedian Klint de Drunk, with Kannywood stars Sani Danja and Baban Chinedu at an Abuja press conference for NAISOD, 2010. (c) Carmen McCain

producer, director, and musician Sani Danja, who founded Nigerian Artists in Support of Democracy (NAISOD), and comedians Rabilu Musa dan Ibro and Baban Chinedu were among those who lent their star power to the new  governor’s campaign. This public support for PDP among some of the most visible film practitioners had put Kano based filmmakers in danger the week before. Angry about the announcement of PDP’s Goodluck Jonathan as winner of the presidential election, area boys hunted for Sani Danja, threatened other recognizable actors and vandalized studios and shops owned by Kannywood stakeholders. (For this reason, while some filmmakers have come out publicly in support of candidates, there are others who are reluctant to speak openly about politics. The Dandalin Finafinan Hausa on Facebook has banned discussion of politics on its wall, requesting members to focus on discussions of film.) By the next week, however, as Falalu Dorayi relates, the same area boys who had been hunting Sani Danja were now celebrating him.

Producer and makeup artist Tahir S. Tahir with Director Falalu Dorayi celebrating Kwankwaso’s win. April 2011 (c) Carmen McCain

While Governor-elect Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso was seen as the champion of the filmmakers during the 2011 election cycle, it was under Kwankwaso, who first served as governor of Kano from 1999-2003, that the first ban on Hausa films was announced and that the Kano State Censor’s Board was created. Abdulkareem Mohammad, the pioneering president of MOPPAN from 2000 to 2007, narrated how in December 2000, the Kano State Government pronounced a prohibition on the sale, production and exhibition of films in Kano state because of the introduction of sharia. MOPPAN  organized and “assembled industry operators in associations like the Kano State Filmmakers association, Kano state artist’s guilds, the musicians and the cinema theatre owners, cassette sellers association” to petition the government to either allow them to continue making films or provide them with new livelihoods. It was the filmmakers themselves under MOPPAN who suggested a local state censorship board, which would ensure that film practitioners were able to continue their careers, while also allowing oversight to ensure that their films did not violate shari’a law. The censorship board was ultimately meant as a protection for the filmmakers to allow them to continue their work.

Outgoing President of MOPPAN, Sani Muazu points out that MOPPAN’s support of Kwankwaso was because he had promised re-establish the original intent for the censorship board, with a Kannywood stakeholder in the position as head of the Kano State Censorship Board, rather than an outsider who did not know the industry. Most Hausa filmmakers speak of the censorship board as a compromise between the film industry, the community and the government. Director Salisu T. Balarabe believes then Governor Kwankwaso was trying to follow the demands of those who voted for him, “If the government wants to have a good relationship with people it has to do what the people want.” Kannywood/Nollywood star Ali Nuhu said, “I won’t forget how in those three or four months [during the ban], they sat with our leaders at the time of Tijjani Ibrahim, Abdulkareem Muhammad, Hajiya Balaraba and the others.  They reached a consensus, they understood the problems that they wanted us to fix and the plan they wanted us to follow.”

Nollywood/Kannywood star Ali Nuhu on set of Armala with Executive Producer Aisha Halilu. April 2011 (c) Carmen McCain

Although the censors board had banned several films, such as Aminu Bala’s 2004 cinema verite style film Bakar Ashana, which explored the moral complexities of the world of prostitution, and enforced rules on censorship

Aminu Bala’s film Bakar Ashana that was banned by the Kano State Censor’s Board in 2004.

before marketing, filmmakers for the most part did not seem to have major problems with censorship until August 2007, when a sex scandal broke out in Kannywood. A privately made phone video of sexual activity between the actress known as Maryam “Hiyana” and a non-film industry lover Usman Bobo was leaked and became one of the most popular downloads in Kano. Alarmed by what some were calling the “first Hausa blue film,” although the clip was a private affair and had nothing to do with other Hausa filmmakers, critics called for serious measures to be taken. A new executive secretary Abubakar Rabo Abdulkarim (his position soon

Maryam Hiyana, who was seen as a victim in the scandel, became an unlikely folk hero with stickers of her likeness on public transport all over Northern Nigeria. (c) Carmen McCain, 2008

inflated to the title of director general) was appointed by Governor Shekarau to head the Kano State Censor’s Board. He required each film practitioner to register individually with the board, an action he defended as being provided for in the original censorship law. Not long after Rabo was appointed, actor and musician Adam Zango was arrested and sentenced to three months in prison for releasing his music video album Bahaushiya without passing it through the Kano State Censor’s Board. He was the first in a series of Hausa filmmakers to spend time in prison. Former Kano state gubernatorial candidate and Kannywood director Hamisu Lamido Iyan-Tama was arrested in May 2008 on his return to Kano from Abuja’s Zuma Film Festival where his film Tsintsiya, an inter-ethnic/religious romance made to promote peace, had won best social issue film. He was accused of releasing the film in Kano without censorship board approval.  Although Iyan-Tama served three months in prison, all charges were recently dropped against the filmmaker and his record cleared. Popular comedians dan Ibro and Lawal Kaura also spent two months in prison after a hasty trial without a lawyer. Lawal Kaura claims that although they had insisted on their innocence, court workers advised them to plead guilty of having a production company not registered with the

FIM Magazine feature on Ibro’s time in prison, November 2008.

censorship board so that the judge “would have mercy” on them. These were only the most popular names. Others who made their livelihoods from the film industry, from editors to singers to marketers, spent the night in jail, paid large fines, and/or had their equipment seized by enforcers attached to the censorship board.

Although Governor Shekarau in a presidential debate organized by DSTV station NN24 had claimed that “the hisbah has nothing to do with censorship,” Director of Photography Felix Ebony of King Zuby International recounted how hisbah had come to a location he was working on and impounded four speakers and one camera, telling them they had not sought permission to shoot. Other filmmakers complained that there was confusion about under what jurisdiction arrests were being made. Although in a February 2009 interview with me, Rabo

Felix Ebony, director of photography with King Zuby International. (c) Carmen Mccain

also claimed that the censorship law was a “purely constitutional and literary law […] on the ground before the shari’a agitations,” the public perception seemed to be that the board was operating under shari’a law, perhaps because of Rabo’s frequent radio appearances where he spoke of the censorship board’s importance in protecting the religious and cultural mores of the society. Director Ahmad Bifa argued, “They were invoking shari’a, arresting under shari’a. If they caught us, we all knew, that they had never taken us to a shari’a court. They would take us to a mobile court [...] But since it was being advertised that we were being caught for an offense against religion, we should be taken to a religious Islamic court, and let us be judged there not at a mobile court.”

The ‘Mobile’ Magistrate Court at the Kano Airport where Censorship Board Cases were tried. This photo was taken in July 2009 during the trial of popular singer Aminu Ala. (c) Carmen McCain

The mobile court Biffa referred to seemed to be attached to the censorship board and was presided over by Justice Mukhtar Ahmed at the Kano airport. After the Iyan-Tama case came under review, the Kano State attourney general found the judge’s ruling to be ““improper”, “incomplete”, a “mistake” and requiring a retrial before a more “competent magistrate.” Justice Ahmed was transferred to Wudil in August 2009; however, censorship cases continued to be taken to him. In January 2011, popular traditional musician Sani dan Indo was arrested and taken to Mukhtar Ahmad’s court, where he was given the option of a six month prison sentence or paying a fine of twenty-thousand naira.  The decisions made by the board and the mobile court often seemed of ambiguous motivation. In 2009, Justice Mukhtar Ahmed banned “listening, sale, and circulation” of eleven Hausa songs, citing obscenity, but obscenity was rarely as easily identified as the cutting political critiques in them.

11 Songs banned by Justice Mukhtar Ahmed. (c) Alex Johnson

The effect of these actions was to relocate the centre of the Hausa film industry away from the flourishing Kano market, to Kaduna. Many filmmakers began to claim their rights as national Nigerian filmmakers, taking their films only to the National Film and Video Censor’s Board, bypassing the Kano State Censorship Board altogether. Such films were often marked “not for sale in Kano” and if found in Kano state were known as “cocaine,” a dangerous product that could, as Iyan-Tama discovered, mean imprisonment for a filmmaker, even if filmmaker had advertised, as Iyan-Tama had, that the film was not for sale in Kano State. Another side effect of these actions was the loss of jobs among Kano youth. Ahmad Bifa pointed out that “the Hausa film industry helped reorient youth from being drug-users and area boys to finding jobs in the film profession. Sometimes if we needed production assistants we would take them and give them money. I can count many that the Hausa film industry helped become relevant people to society. But Abubakar Rabo made us go to Kaduna to do our shooting. So the young people of Kano lost the benefit of film in Kano, […] That’s why there are a lot of kids on Zoo Road who went back to being thugs because of lack of job opportunity.”

Ahmad Bifa, on set of the Aisha Halilu movie Armala, April 2011. (c) Carmen McCain

Although the impact of censorship on film was the most well known, the flourishing Hausa literary scene was also affected, with the director general initially requiring all writers to register individually with the censor’s board. With the intervention of the national president of the Association of Nigerian Authors, writers found some relief when Abubakar Rabo agreed to deal with the writer’s associations rather than with individual writers; however, there still seemed to be a requirement, at times ambiguous, that all Hausa novels sold in the state must be passed through the board. Rabo continued to make often seemingly arbitrary pronouncements about what he considered acceptable literature. In December 2009, for example, at a conference on indigenous literature in Damagaram, Niger, Rabo proclaimed that the board would not look at any more romantic novels for a year.

Abubakar Rabo Abdulkarim, DG of the Kano State Censor’s Board 2007-2011, proclaimed that he would not accept romantic novels for a year. International Conference on Authors and Researchers in Indigenous Languages, Damagaram, Niger, December 2009. (c) Carmen McCain

Those who protest the actions of the board do not have a problem with censorship so much as how censorship has been carried out. The original MOPPAN president Abdulkareem Mohammad argued that the intention of creating the censorship board had been one that would allow filmmakers to continue doing their work, “We really were doing things in good faith to ensure that things do work and eventually it is for the betterment of the majority.” He acknowledged wryly that there were flaws in the law that allowed for it to be abused, “I think that on insight, I would have done it differently.” Current president Sani Muazu continued in this vein saying that although the board had been meant to protect artists it had “become a weapon against artists.”  Director Salisu T. Balarabe says, “There was nothing wrong with making the censorship board but those put in charge of directing the board, sometimes put a personal interest into it.” Novelist and scriptwriter Nazir Adam Salih acknowledged “We have our faults. This is true. But the censor’s board was much harsher than it

Novelist and script writer Nazir Adam Salih passionately responds to Abubakar Rabo Abdulkarim, at the conference in Damagaram, Niger. December 2009. (c) Carmen McCain

needed to be. They put someone in power who didn’t know anything about the film industry, Malam Abubakar Rabo, who slandered and disrespected us.” It was this disrespect and the accompanying arrests that most seemed to upset film practitioners. Danjuma Salisu, who is involved in acting, lighting, and assisting production argued that Rabo’s actions were insulting to those whose careers in film “feed our children and parents and families.” Makeup artist Husseini Tupac argued passionately, “Film is a profession. It is a career.  In the same way a normal person will go to the office everyday, we will go the office, we do our work and get paid. When the honourable Dr. Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso was governor nobody ever came out on the radio and said that actresses were prostitutes, that we were making blue films, that we were rogues. No one came and arrested us.” Producer and director Salisu Umar Santa shared a similar sentiment, saying that he and other

Director Salisu Umar Santa with Dawwayya Productions, April 2011. (c) Carmen McCain

professionals he worked with, like Rukkaya Dawayya and Sadiyya Gyale, had registered and done everything the board required for working in Kano State and yet Abubakar Rabo continued to say that filmmakers were not decent members of society. Producer and Director of Photography Umar Gotip said that he felt like a refugee having to leave Kano. “You are practicing your profession, to the extent that some people even have a degree in it, but they say you are just rogues and rascals. We had no human rights.” Director Falalu Dorayi, claiming that the Kano State Censorship board regularly demanded bribes, asked “How can the one who collects a bribe say he will reform culture.” Cameraman, editor, and director Ahmad Gulu put it this way: “You should fix the leaky roof before you try to repair the floor.”

Despite his ostensible position as enforcer of public morality, Rabo himself came under suspicion of wrongdoing on several occasions. In August 2009, he was taken before a shari’a court by the Kano State Filmmakers Association and accused of slander for statements he had made about the film community on the radio. In May 2010, he was also sued in by Kaduna Filmmakers Association for accusations he had made on radio and television in Kaduna.  In a strange twist, he accused twelve filmmakers, several of whom were involved the lawsuit, of sending him death threats by text message. Police from Kano came to Kaduna, arresting the one person on the list they could locate—Aliyu Gora II, the editor

Editor of Fim Magazine, Aliyu Gora II, and Filmmaker Iyan-Tama, both former inmates of Goron Dutse Prison, after a hearing in Iyan-Tama’s lawsuit against the Abubakar Rabo Abdulkarim, 22 July 2010. (c) Carmen McCain

of Fim Magazine, who was held for a week without trial at Goron Dutse Prison in Kano.  In an even more bizarre twist, in September 2010, Trust and other papers reported that Rabo, after being observed late at night by police in suspicious circumstances with a young girl in his car, fled from police. In the car chase he was also reportedly involved in a hit and run incident with a motorcyclist. After he was eventually arrested and released by the police, Governor Shekarau promised to open an inquiry into the

Filmmakers on location in Northern Nigeria on Sunday, 29 August 2009, read the breaking news Sunday Trust article: “Rabo arrested for alleged sex related offence” (c) Carmen McCain

case [as requested by MOPPAN], but Rabo continued as director general of the censor’s board and filmmakers heard nothing more of the inquiry.

The treatment of filmmakers had the perhaps unintentional effect of politicizing the artists and those close to them. Sani Danja told me he had never been interested in politics until he saw the need to challenge what was going on in Kano State. A musician told me his mother never voted in elections but that she had gone out to stand in line for Kwankwaso as a protest at how her children were being treated. Filmmakers used fulsome praises to describe their delight at Kwankwaso’s

Kannywood star Sani Danja prepares for his the first press conference of his organization: Nigerian Artists in Support of Democracy (c) Carmen McCain

return. Director Falalu Dorayi said “It is as if your mother or father went on a journey and has returned with a gift for you.” Producer and director of photography Umar Gotip said Kwankwaso’s coming was “like that of an angel, bringing blessing for all those who love film.” Even those who are not fans of PDP told me they wished Kwankwaso well, were optimistic about change, and expected him to fulfill his promises in several areas: First, most of them expected that he would relieve Rabo of his post and replace him an actual filmmaker, who as Falalu Dorayi put it “knows what film is.” Secondly, several of them anticipated actual investments into the film industry “like Fashola has done for Lagos filmmakers,” as director and producer Salisu Umar Santa put it, possibly in the form of a film village. And most Kano-based filmmakers I spoke to mentioned their hopes that others who had gone into exile would come back home to Kano. Producer Zainab Ahmed Gusau, who is currently based in Abuja wrote that, “My thought is to go back to Kano, knowing there will be justice for all.We thank God for bringing Kwankwaso back to lead us.”

Hausa film producer Zainab Ahmad Gusai at the Savannah International Movie Awards, Abuja, 2010. (c) Carmen McCain

Other filmmakers saw it as a time for reflection on how they can improve the field. Director Salisu T. Balarabe mused “If you keep obsessing over what happened, the time will come and pass and you won’t have accomplished

Hausa film Director Salisu T. Balarabe on Zoo Road in the days following Kwankwaso’s win. April 2011. (c) Carmen McCain

anything. We should put aside what happened before and look for a way to move forward.”  Hamisu Lamido Iyan-Tama, the politician and filmmaker who was imprisoned for three months, focused on the positive, calling on filmmakers to continue making films that would have meaning and would build up the community.

Many also looked beyond the own interests of film to the entire community.

Ahmad Gulu, Kannywood cameraman, editor, and director, on Zoo Road in the days following Kwankwaso’s win. April 2011. (c) Carmen McCain

Ahmad Gulu, cameraman, editor, and director said “The change has not come to film practitioners alone. It has come to the whole state of Kano. Back then people would accept politicians who would put something in their pockets but now things have been exposed.” Star actor, director, and producer Ali Nuhu similarly pointed out that progress was not receiving money from politicians, saying that one of the most important changes Kwankwaso could bring would be a focus on electricity, drinking water, and children’s education. Writer Nazir Adam Salih said that if Kwankwaso could simply fulfill the promises politicians and leaders had been making for the past thirty years to provide electricity and water, he will have done his job. And finally two directors of photography Umar Gotip and Felix Ebony pointed to the need for peace and unity in the state. “He should try to bring people together,” said Umar Gotip. “This kind of fighting that has arisen between Muslims and Christians is not right. We should live together as one.”

Producer Bello A. Baffancy shows off his Kwankwaso support, Zoo Road, April 2011. (c) Carmen McCain

‘Yan Fim on Zoo Road following Kwankwaso’s win, April 2011. (c) Carmen McCain

I left banking job to direct movies – Kunle Afolayan (Weekly Trust Feature Interview)

Kunle Afolayan at FESPACO filmmaker hangout, Independance Hotel, Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, 2 March 2011. (c) Carmen McCain

I usually post the edited versions of my articles that are published in Weekly Trust. This week, however, I’m going to post the original version of my interview with Kunle Afolayan as submitted before publication in the Weekend Magazine feature of the Weekly Trust last Saturday.

While I agree with some of the editorial cuts made for tightening purposes and take a few of them here, some of the questions I was personally the most interested in got cut in publication. I was also a little dismayed that the published version mentioned that The Figurine got ten African Movie Academy Award nominations but not that it actually won five of those. If you would like to read the published version (with the edits made), here is the link to the interview on  the Weekly Trust site. You can also click on the photos below to be taken to a large copy of each page on my flickr site. Here are the other posts I’ve written on Kunle Afolayan’s film The Figurine:

FESPACO: Politics of video and Afolayan’s The Figurine, posted on 13 March 2011

Champions of Our Time, The Figurine, and Nigeria’s Rebranding Project at FESPACO, posted on 19 March 2011

I conducted this interview the day after I met Afolayan at his first screening of The Figurine at FESPACO. Having since had more conversations with him, seen both of his feature-length films and read a lot more about the production of both, I now have deeper questions on language-use and philosophy, but this is a start. I saw Afolayan’s first feature film Irapada last night. It wasn’t as technically polished or tight as The Figurine, and I missed some of what was going on because the subtitles were too small and fast, but it was just as thought-provoking and rooted in Yoruba theatre/literature as The Figurine, if not more so. Although I disliked the synthesizer piano track, I loved the rest of the sound track which fit the mood of the film and included songs in Yoruba and Hausa, which (at least the one in Hausa) contributed ironic commentary on the story. While it may not necessarily work for a popular audience who don’t like reading subtitles, I’m a big fan of what Afolayan does with language in his films. He unapologetically switches between multiple Nigerian languages, subtitling each in English. The Figurine included Yoruba, pidgen, and standard Nigerian English. Irapada was even more ambitious in this regard with conversation in Yoruba, standard Nigerian English, Hausa, pidgen, and a short segment in Igbo. Some of this may be an influence of Afolayan’s mentor, filmmaker Tunde Kelani, whose films also make brilliant use of codeswitching. In Magun (Thunderbolt), for example, the Igbo father of Ngozi, the woman struck with the curse of magun curse, converses in Igbo with her in front of the Yoruba babalawo. (If I’m remembering correctly), Her landlady also hides her own conversation with her nephew from Ngozi by using Yoruba. There’s a dramatic irony that comes with the revelation to the audience via subtitles what is hidden through language from other characters. In Afolayan’s films, language flows in the way Nigerians actually use it. In The Figurine, Sola and Femi switch to Yoruba for intimate conversations; youth corpers use pidgen in informal situations at their NYSC camp; Sola and Mona use English at home in their mixed-ethnic marriage but make a point of teaching their son greetings in both languages. In Irapada, comic relief comes when the Yoruba-speaking mother of the main character Dewunmi attempts to communicate with a Hausa-speaking porter at a train station; or when the Igbo-speaking Amaka, Dewunmi’s wife’s best friend, overhears some mechanics planning to cheat her Hausa-speaking friend, Shehu. (See the trailer below for a clip of each). In addition to the use of language, you can also see Kelani’s  influence in other aspects of Afolayan’s of films (although some of this could be the influence of Yoruba theatre and film in general) in the questions about destiny vs independent human choices and the nods to the many cultures that make up Nigeria.

Before I paste the interview, here are trailers for Irapada and The Figurine. Enjoy.

IRAPADA (for a review from NEXT click here)

THE FIGURINE

‘Think of Nigeria First': Kunle Afolayan on The Figurine, filmmaking, and Nollywood

Interview by Carmen McCain

Actor, producer, and director Kunle Afolayan grew up in the richly creative environment surrounding the Yoruba travelling theatre and early Nigerian cinema, of which his father, Ade Love, was one of the pioneers; however, it wasn’t until later in life, while working as a banker, that he became interested in making films himself. Mentored by one of Nigeria’s foremost filmmakers Tunde Kelani as he moved into an acting career and with training from the New York Film Academy, in 2010, Kunle Afolayan released his second film The Figurine, which earned him ten 2010 Africa Movie Academy Award nominations and five awards, including AMAA Best Picture Award, Heart of Africa Award for best film in Nigeria, Award for best actor in a leading role for Ramsey Nouah, Best Cinematography, and Best Achievement in Visual Effects. Carmen McCain spoke with him for the Weekly Trust on 2 March at FESPACO film festival.

How and when did you become interested in film-making?

I developed interest in filmmaking right from before I was an actor. All I wanted to do then was write my own story. I just felt there was a need for change in the Nigerian film industry, and I’m talking as far back as 1995. But there was no way I could achieve it because I was not a writer, I was not in any aspect of filmmaking. So, I went to Tunde Kelani, because I used to see him around when my father used to shoot film. I went to him to let my feelings be known. He said to me, “Instead of you wanting to start filming, why not start by being an actor? That might really work better.” So I said, ok, and I told him that I would like to be invited for audition, whenever they have any film. I got invited when they were going to shoot Saworoide in 1998, and I got selected to play the role. Saworoide was a blockbuster, and even up today is relevant in the Nigerian film circle. That was how I started acting.

Kunle Afolayan examines a toy camera at Independance Hotel, FESPACO. (c) Carmen McCain

Could you tell me a little bit about your father’s films? Were you ever involved in those?

I was never involved in the production. My father started as a theatre person, travelling theatre all around Nigeria and West Africa. His full name was Adeyemi Afolayan, also known as Ade Love. They started travelling theatre. He got invited to be part of a film project by Dr. Ola Balogun, who started commercial filmmaking in Nigeria in 1976. They shot a film titled Ajani Ogun, which featured my father. And thereafter, my father decided to go into filmmaking fully. So he shot his own first film, right after Ajani Ogun in 1978 or thereabout. That was how he started. He had eight celluloid films to his credit, and most of these films travelled to film festivals all over the world, especially Ajani Ogun, Ija Ominira, Kadara, and the rest of them.

Do you remember being at home and having other filmmakers around?

Well that was the memory. Cause, I grew up—sometimes I found myself on their sets. Myself and some of my sisters and brothers. We’d just go there to make noise and see how they do their things, and after some time, they’d be like ok, go home, you guys are disturbing us. I was familiar with some of the cast and crew, at that time, but I didn’t learn nothing. It was just children messing about at their father’s workplace. That was just it. So I didn’t start aspiring until the man was late.

So you started acting in 1998. How many films were you in?

They are not up to 15. Saworoide by Tunde Kelani and Agogo Eewo, which is a sequel to Saworoide, Dark Days, which is English, and some other films, but it’s not such a large number like some of my colleagues who have featured in about 1000 films. I resigned my appointment from the bank in 2005, and went to film school at New York Film Academy, studied digital filmmaking, came back, and set up Golden Effects, which is a production house.

How many films have you directed?

I’ve done two short films and two feature films. The first short film was a project in film school, and the second one was a collaboration with an American producer by the name of Catherine Sullivan. We shot with an all white cast and crew project, and I directed it. I co-directed Irapada, which is my first feature film, and soley directed The Figurine, which is the second.

Could you tell me a little bit about The Figurine, how you came up with the idea for it, and the process of producing, directing, and acting?

Ok, well, the idea came about in 2005, right after film school. For me, I think most Africans, most Nigerians, an average African is superstitious. So, I was looking around doing something that would not totally demystify the power of the gods but at the same time reveal human participation in our predicament and what happens in our lives. So that was what brought about the idea. I narrated my idea to a guy called Jovie Babs, who came up with the first draft, which we titled The Shrine, you know for like two years. We got the script ready, then Kemi Adesoye wrote this version of The Figurine. We had a script conference and did a lot of work and then we came and did the treatment and final script.

What was your biggest challenge in shooting?

One of my biggest challenges was getting the funding for the film, which took a while, but eventually we were able to. Then another major challenge was the location. Because of the time difference in the film, we had to do seven years, the first seven years, then the next seven years. There had to be a lot of make up differences, location differences. All those kind of things delayed, so we couldn’t move on to the next phase until we finished with the first seven years. So if any time we paint any scene, any shoot, it just keeps piling up, and that really slows it down. I had a bit of sound issue, because our 50K generator fell into the sea when we were trying to move to the location. So the shoot had to stop. A whole lot of things got messed up. When we eventually got smaller generators to power our stuff, the thing got burnt. I don’t know what happened. There was a spark and everything plugged to it got burnt. That set us back again. The lights, the laptop, the camera charger. The camera was pretty new, so we had to wait to order another charger.

What was the most rewarding thing for you?

The most rewarding thing for me so far is the acceptance. The film has really set a new standard, not only in Nigeria, but among the other filmmakers from other regions. Don’t forget that the film got ten nominations at the most prestigious African Movie Academy Awards and won five. And the dream of an average filmmaker is to win Best Picture category in any awards. I’m glad that the film has really travelled around to so many film festivals. And as a matter of fact, it was in competition, official selection and competition in some of them like FESPACO, Pan African Film festival, etc. Any time a festival is doing a retrospective on Nollywood, they are always inviting the film to be able to differentiate between the normal Nollywood style, and the New Nollywood, that is what I call it.

Kunle Afolayan at the 'Reading and Producing Nollywood' conference held at University of Lagos, 24 March 2011. (c) Carmen McCain

What kind of feedback have you gotten at other film festivals?

I realized after the screening, a lot of people want to wait for question and answer, to find out how we were able to do the film. Most of them seem surprised that such a high quality film could come out of Nigeria. An example is [Kenyan author] Ngugi [wa Thiong’o] when we were in Pan-African film festival. He came with his wife, and they stayed and watched the whole film and they stayed for the question and answer. And he stood up to commend the film by saying that he feels so proud to be an African, and he wrote me a letter, recommending the film to another film festival, saying he has not seen such in a long time, even as a writer, he feels so impressed. And that is like the review from every festival we’ve been. Amakula, Rotterdam,  the talent contest at Berlin, New York Africa Film Festival, Tarifa in Spain and the other ones. The same thing at FESPACO, a lot of people stayed and wanted to find out, so it has been good.

So, right now, we are actually at FESPACO, and you were put in the video category rather than the main competition. Would you like to talk about that?

Well, that’s like strange, because all the festivals we’ve been to, the film has always in the same category with every film, even films from Hollywood. Even big budget films worth 50 million dollars fall into the same category with this film. So it’s going to be the first time that there will be a segment for video and for 35 mm.  I mean, in this age and time, a lot of people would rather shoot on cheaper format but still achieve the same high quality. A good film is a good film regardless on what format it is being shot. If it looks good, it looks good. If it sounds good, it sounds good. There are no two ways to it. So I don’t think that is fair, and I don’t think that should continue. A lot of people were bitter about this, not just me. I met with other filmmakers, and a lot of them seemed to have a bit of issue with such decision.

You had also earlier talked about distribution of the film. Are you planning to release it anytime soon on video.

Yeah, we are now working on dvd release. We are discussing with the distribution company. Already we are in the middle of signing the agreement, and hopefully it should be out by April. Every copy will be encrypted, and it’s going to be well circulated. We have regional distributors, national distributors in the north, south, east, west part of Nigeria. It’s going to be all over Africa, UK, and it’s going to be online as well. So, I mean, we can rest assured that an average Nigerian will have access to the film.

To you, what are the major challenges of Nollywood, what does Nollywood need to do to go to the next level?

I think there is a lot of training [needed] within the industry, because a lot of people would rather say, we need infrastructure, we need sets and studios, and stuff like that. But what is the essence of building all those things if we don’t have people who will run them? Aside from training, there is need for a lot of support on government side. And that is why I’m glad that the president just channeled some money, two hundred million dollars toward the entertainment industry because that will help people who’ve really gotten trained and a good business plan to really benefit from such a gesture. I believe strongly that will take the industry to the next level. Especially if the money is given to the right people who can utilize it. Like, let’s say distribution, for example. There are quite a number of people who are trying to set up a proper distribution framework, from cinema to dvd and pay-tv, and all of it. So, if all those people can benefit, then content-providers as well, if they can benefit from this, I think it can change the industry. Distribution, I believe, is our major, major challenge. If we have all these benefits in place, I believe it will help change the industry.

So you suggest government set up structures that would allow people to make use of that?

The government doesn’t necessarily have to set up structures. But I mentioned the two hundred and fifty million dollars which the president has put in entertainment for people to apply for a loan. It’s not a grant, it’s a loan, but it’s only going to be subject to single-figure interest rates. So, instead of going to a bank where you have to pay 20-30 percent, this one will really help the industry.

Is there any major thing that you would like to tell other Nollywood filmmakers or young filmmakers starting out if they want to get to the place you are now.

Well, I think they should first consider starting at home. Because their primary audience are Nigerians. They should start by thinking of stories that will appeal to the average Nigerian before they start thinking of the outside audience, the international audience. When you think of Nigeria, then you think of Africa, because we reason alike, and the distribution channel that the likes of Silverbird is trying to put in place, will definitely cut across Africa. So you have platforms to distribute your films, all within Africa. And also there is need for them to really study whatever area of filmmaking that they may want to specialize. Be it scripting, be it lighting, hands-on-camera, sound, makeup, and you know the other departments, set design and all that. It’s better to get trained, so that, even if you’re getting people to do stuff for you, you’ll have a basic understanding of how things run. And also they should try to attend film festivals, even if they don’t have films there, at least, to see how things are run, to see what are the parameters for getting your film into festivals. You have opportunities like AMAA awards in Nigeria. You can explore such options. So majorly, story and production value. Those are the two major things that make them have a film that will be successful commercially and will be international.

Kunle Afolayan and Ghanaian actor Majid Michel on the red carpet at the 2011 AMAA awards. (c) Carmen McCain

So, when you say “get training,” do you mean on set or going to school for it?

I mean going to school for it. If you can do both, it will be nice because experience really counts. But if you go on set in Nigeria, you’ll only know—the capacity of the people you are working with is where your knowledge will end. But if you get others, even like short courses, workshops outside Nigeria in whatever area you want to specialize, it will broaden your thinking, broaden your mind.

You said that Tunde Kelani suggested that you act first before you made films. Do you feel like the acting experience helps you as a director?

Yes, and the fact that I watch a lot of films, even before going to film school. And I’m always conscious of the area that I want to specialize. I picked a few directors, I look out for films that are in that genre, and I watch them, do a case study on them, so that has really helped me.

Are there any particular films that are your favourites?

Apocalypto is one of my favourite films and Forest Gump. I love Forest Gump. The last Tarantino film, Inglourious Basterds. Films like that.

What about Nigerian films?

Hostages by Tade Ogidan, most of Tunde Kelani’s films, Owo Blow by Tade Ogidan, as well, and some of the films that were shot in the 70s and 80s and Ogunde’s films, Ade Love films.

Along with that are there particular directors? You mentioned Tunde Kelani, what about Hollywood directors?

Like I said, Tarantino, Mel Gibson, Spielberg. I like Spike Lee as well because he’s very experimental. I watch a lot of Indian films, as well.

There’s a lot of criticism of Nigerian films. People say they are all about rituals, they’re corrupting the youth, they’re bad quality etc, even the idea of relegating your film to a video category, how do you respond to people who look down on Nigerian films?

Well every industry has got their style, and if that is the style Nollywood has adopted right now, and it is working for them, then so be it. They’ve been able to create a market for their films, and if there is anyone who wants to do otherwise, like something not in that direction, then of course the industry is very, very big. But I just think that we all can’t continue to do the same thing. Most of those people who are criticizing. In Burkina Faso, I know that they used to do about ten films before, but now I’m sure they don’t do more than two films a year. Is that a growing industry or a deteriorating one?

The Nigerian industry is a phenomenon, because we are moving from one phase to another. There was a time that it was strictly celluloid, then people moved to video because it was cheaper to shoot, and now people are moving back to higher formats, higher definition. Mahmood Ali-Balogun just shot on 35 mm, and the film was actually submitted to FESPACO, but it wasn’t selected.  So, if it was all about format, then what are we talking about? Then, when you say story—an average Indian film portrays their police as being corrupt. So would you say that is affecting their economy or the Indian film industry? No. So, they should look inward and look at the best way to have a pan-African film industry, instead of condemning a growing industry from Nigeria.

If people say Nigerian film are giving Nigeria a bad image, how do you respond?

I don’t think it is giving Nigeria a bad image. If it was giving Nigeria a bad image, all those actors would not be celebrated all over Africa. Wherever it is they go… people are stuck on those films. That is where the Caribbeans, that is the only way they see that we actually have big houses and big cars. Those films might not be doing well in the world film circle, but commercially they are doing great. I’m not into such films but I think they are playing their own mark in the world film circle.

In conclusion, is there anything you would tell an audience, anything you think they should know about Nollywood or their films.

Keep supporting Nollywood, and you can get details of The Figurine from figurinemovie.com. Keep supporting Nigerian films.

Kunle Afolayan presents an award at the 2011 AMAA awards. (c) Carmen McCain

Africa Movie Academy Awards: Celebrating Africa’s film industries, building pan-African cinema

I realized with dismay, when I emerged from my house yesterday afternoon to go find a copy of the Weekly Trust, that I had done several near-all-nighters this week working on articles for a paper that would probably be one of the least read this year. Because of the election (that was not), there were very few people on the streets and I had to ride for about 15 minutes on an acaba to find a vender selling a newspaper. Here is this week’s column that I wrote on my experience at the Africa Movie Academy Awards (AMAA) in Yenagoa, Bayelsa. I’ve included a few extra photos below. To read at the Trust site, click here. To read in the original version, click on the photo below, which will take you to a large readable copy. To read on my site, scroll down below the photo. I will upload the interview I did with The Figurine director, producer, and actor Kunle Afolayan later in the day. For another excellent post on AMAA, written by my travel buddy Fulbright scholar Bic Leu, check out her blog.

Celebrating Africa’s film industries, building of pan- African cinema

Saturday, 02 April 2011 00:00 Carmen McCain

As my readers may have noticed from recent columns, this month for me has been a mad dash from one film event to another, from the FESPACO Pan-African film festival in Ouagadougou from February 26 to March 5, to a presentation at the “Reading and Producing Nollywood” symposium hosted at University of Lagos from March 23 to 25, to, finally, a rather unexpected but delightful invitation to attend the Africa Movie Academy Awards (AMAA) held in Yenagoa, Bayelsa, on 27 March.

Nollywood scholars Onookome Okome, Jonathan Haynes and Carmela Garritano trade laughs at the “Reading and Producing Nollywood” conference held at the University of Lagos, 23-25 March 2011. (c) Carmen McCain

AMAA was a bizarre mix of the humble and glamorous that seems inherent to Nollywood. The flight from Lagos to Port Harcourt was filled with filmmakers, many of them from the diaspora, and we continued on to Yenagoa by bus. I sat at the back of a 12-seater between Ghanaian-British filmmaker Julius Amedume, who won best Diaspora short for his film Precipice, and British filmmaker Wayne Saunders, who received a double nomination for Best Diaspora Feature for two feature films, Nothing Less and The Village. The next seat up, Nigerian Hollywood actor Hakeem Kae-Kazim (Hotel Rwanda, Wolverine), who most recently starred in Jeta Amata’s musical Inale [which later won the AMAA for best soundtrack] and the yet to be released Black Gold, was jammed in between Nollywood star Olu Jacobs and Aspire Magazine publisher Celine Loader. The cramped bus made it felt rather like a university outing, only with movie stars and filmmakers rather than students, and the three hour trip, through Port Harcourt traffic and over pot-holed roads, was long but jolly, with much loud debating about Malcom X, Martin Luther King Jr, global inequalities, black consciousness, and quiet sharing of plans for future films. We ended up at the Bayelsa State Tourism Development & Publicity Bureau, where hundreds of filmmakers milled about, eating food from buffet lines and trying to find places to sit before finally being transported to their hotels. The bureau became the defacto meeting and eating spot. The next day, I ran into Kannywood stars Ali Nuhu, Lawal Ahmad, and Rahama Hassan there.

RFI journalist, Kannywood actress Rahama Hassan, Radio France International journalist Salisu Hamisou, and actors Ali Nuhu and Lawal Ahmad at the AMAA press conference. (c) Carmen McCain

At a press conference on the afternoon of 27 March, AMAA jury members pointed out the purpose of the awards to unite Africa. AMAA CEO Peace Anyiam-Osigwe said, “AMAA is about everybody that is a filmmaker in Africa…It’s about you. We are Africans. We have no borders.” In this pan-African vision, the body seems to be following in the footsteps of earlier African cinema movements such as FEPACI (Federation of African filmmakers) and FESPACO Film festival. However, unlike these earlier, mostly Francophone, African initiatives, AMAA does not merely promote art films made by African filmmakers and often funded by Europe, but emphasizes the importance of actual film industries.

AMAA CEO Peace Anyiam-Osigwe speaks about the pan-African vision of the AMAA awards at a press conference, 27 March 2011. (c) Carmen McCain

Beirut-based Zimbabwean juror Keith Shiri pointed out, “I think people who are familiar with FESPACO are also familiar with other infrastructures, which are really suffering because of the negative attitude which we have about ourselves.” Shiri said it was important to recognize AMAA as “the only platform in the whole continent, which is, in my view, celebrating African cinema, and trying to build an infrastructure which enables us to begin to evaluate and consider the importance of this industry.”

Film curator and AMAA juror Keith Shiri speaks at the AMAA press conference, 27 March 2011. (c) Carmen McCain

The atmosphere of university outing transitioned to full-fledged Nollywood glamour by the time we arrived on the red carpet, Sunday night, where TV presenters hung out looking for interviews and camera flashes were constant. Outside, fans pressed their faces to the gaps in the wall. You could tell whenever a big star arrived by the volume of the roar outside.

American Fulbright Scholar Bic Leu, Best short film nominee Kenyan filmmaker Zipporah Nyaruri, Nigerian Hollywood actor Hakeem Kae-Kazim, American winner of the Best Diaspora feature LaQuita Cleare, and Nigerian-American Best short Diaspora film nominee Temi Ojo on the red carpet at the AMAA awards. (c) Carmen McCain

Best short film nominee Kenyan filmmaker Zipporah Nyaruri being interviewed on the red carpet. (c) Carmen McCain

Ghanaian star Majid Michel being interviewed on the red carpet. (c) Carmen McCain

The awards ceremony was hosted by Jim Iyke and Nse Ikpe-Etim, with other appearances by Rita Dominic, Kate Henshaw-Nuttal, Kunle Afolayan, Ali Nuhu, Olu Jacobs, and performances by Dr Sid, Wande Coal, Tee Mac, Ebisan, South African group Malaika, among others. It went from around 8:30pm to 2:30am, and was followed by a middle-of-the-night dinner at the Yenagoa government house. Compared to FESPACO, which was arty, elitist, and seemed irrelevant to the tastes of a popular African audience, the glamour of the AMAA awards was generated by beloved Nollywood stars, who arrived in fancy dress, gave interviews on the red carpet, presented awards, and took photos with their fans. As Keith Shiri had pointed out at the press conference, this was an event that celebrated and promoted film industry infrastructure, not just film. Peace Anyiam-Osigwe reinforced this point at the ceremony, “We should celebrate ourselves year in and year out… but I’d also like to see our filmmakers make money from what we are doing. So wherever you are in the next few years, Nigeria, Kenya, South Africa, I’m sure all over Africa, you’re going to have the chance to say I need you to realize the input I am making to my industry and to my country.”

Nollywood stars Jim Iyke and Nse Ikpe-Etim host the AMAA awards 2011 (c) Carmen McCain

AMAA awards adorn the table at the late night dinner, while the winners relax. (c) Carmen McCain

Perhaps because of this focus on commercially-viable films, the films nominated also seemed quite different from those on offer at FESPACO. Out of the over 56 films I counted from the AMAA nomination list and the 187 films in the FESPACO catalogue index, I could only find seven films that overlapped and only one overlap in prizes: South African film Hopeville won best film in the TV/Video category at FESPACO; At AMAA the film received nine nominations and one award for Themba Ndaba’s performance as Best Actor in a Leading Role. AMAA was much more Anglophone-focused than FESPACO, with fewer submissions from North and Francophone Africa.

Yet, it was a film from a Francophone country, Congo-Kinshasa, the edgy Viva Riva! that ended up sweeping the Awards, surpassing the five AMAAs won by Nigeria’s The Figurine by Kunle Afolayan last year, with six AMAAs for Best Film, Best Actor in a Supporting Role (Hoji Fortuna), Best Actress in a Supporting Role (Marlene Longage), Best Cinematography, Best Production Design, and Best Director (Djo Tunda Wa Munga). According to producer Boris Vanglis as he jubilantly accepted the “Best Film” award, Viva Riva, which had been absent from FESPACO, is “the first film in Congo-Kinshasa in 20 years in Lingala.”

Although Nollywood glamour dominated the evening and though there was a much larger presence of Nigerian and Ghanaian films nominated for the awards, only three Nigerian films won awards:  Niji Akanni’s Aramotu won Best Costume Design and Best Nigerian film. Jeta Amata’s Inale won Best Soundtrack, and Obi Emelonye’s Mirror Boy won Best Young Actor for the performance by Ugandan actor Edward Kagutuzi. Ghana was represented by three awards for Sinking Sands, directed by Leila Djansi, which won awards for Best Screenplay, Best Make-Up, and Best Actress in Leading role for actress Ama K. Abebrese.

Unfortunately, the nature of the event, as an awards ceremony rather than a festival, meant that I had seen none of the films that were awarded, and it seemed somewhat problematic that despite the appeal to a popular audience in the glamour of Nollywood and celebration of industry, the films awarded, much like those at FESPACO, seemed inaccessible to an African audience beyond their own regions. AMAA selection committee chairman Shaibu Husseini noted this predicament, pointing out the difficulties of an award based on popularity since films released in one part of the continent are not always seen in others. “By the time you put it to popularity test, the text messages will come from the countries where these films have been produced. And by the time, you award the films, it will not be representational.”

AMAA Selection committee Chairman Shuaibu Husseini speaks at the press conference, 27 March 2011. (c) Carmen McCain

Yet, despite the difficulties of such structures, I came away from the AMAA awards with a more positive feeling than I had from FESPACO. FESPACO felt like a tired old legend moving into its last days. AMAA, even with its moments of disorganization, felt vibrant and full of promise, like its Nollywood base. Even though the films awarded are still unavailable to most of their African audiences, perhaps the popular focus of the African Movie Academy Awards, will work towards building a canon of African films made by African film industries, not just by cineastes. And hopefully some wise distributer with pan-African connections will seize the opportunity and make these films available all over the continent, giving accessibility and a public face to a truly popular African cinema.

More Photos of the Event:

To see my whole Flickr album of AMAA, click here.

Best short film nominee Zipporah Nyaruri with Best Diaspora short film nominee Temi Ojo. (c) Carmen McCain


Rahama Hassan laughs as Ali Nuhu makes a point. (c) Carmen McCain

Kannywood star Lawal Ahmad. (c) Carmen McCain

Kannywood star Rahama Hassan. (c) Carmen McCain

Best Diaspora feature double nominee, Wayne Saunders being interviewed. (c) Carmen McCain

Best Young Actor winner Edward Kagutuzi and ‘Inale’ actor Hakeem Kae-Kazim. (c) Carmen McCain

Hakeem Kae-Kazim photographs Zipporah Nyaruri pre-award ceremony. (c) Carmen McCain

Best Diaspora feature film winner LaQuita Cleare and Best Short film nominee Zipporah Nyaruri pre-AMAA ceremony. (c) Carmen McCain

Me, Bic Leu, Zipporah Nyaruri, Temi Ojo, and LaQuita Cleare.

Hollywood Nigerian actor Razaaq Adoti on the red carpet. (c) Carmen McCain

Best Diaspora short film nominee, Sowande Tichawonna, on the red carpet. (c) Carmen McCain

Fulbright scholar Bic Leu, Best Diaspora short film nominee Temi Ojo, and Best short film nominee Zipporah Nyaruri. (c) Carmen McCain

Best Diaspora short film nominee Temi Ojo on the red carpet. (c) Carmen McCain

Best Diaspora Short film nominee Sowande Tichawonna, Actor Razaaq Adoti, and Best Short Film nominee Zipporah Nyaruri. (c) Carmen McCain

Best Diaspora feature winner LaQuita Cleare is interviewed on the red carpet pre-ceremony (before she knew she won). (c)Carmen McCain

Best Short Film nominee Kenyan filmmaker Zipporah Nyaruri with Freedom Express reporter. (c) Carmen McCain

Bayelsa State Cultural group performs at the beginning of the Award Ceremony (c) Carmen McCain

Kannywood crossover actor Ali Nuhu helps present the best award for Best African language film. (c)Carmen McCain

Nollywood star Olu Jacobs was mobbed by fans wanting a photograph with him, and he patiently put up with them for about 30 minutes. He poses here with L.A. based Best Diaspora Feature award winner LaQuita Cleare. (c) Carmen McCain

Kannywood/Nollywood star Ali Nuhu at the late night AMAA dinner. (c) Carmen McCain

A late night dinner at the Bayelsa State government house after the AMAA awards (c) Carmen McCain

L.A. based actor Hakeem Kae-Kazim with Fulbright scholar Bic Leu at the late night. (c) Carmen McCain