Tag Archives: Nollywood

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.

STOP INTERNET CENSORSHIP: Protesting SOPA/PIPA bills currently before the U.S. Congress

 

sopa-blacout-wired

sopa-blacout-wired (Photo credit: Search Influence)

For those of you who have been waiting for my reaction (and I have a lot!) to the fuel subsidy removal in Nigeria and the #Occupy Nigeria protests (sorry, if you are trying to access that wikipedia link on 18 July 2012, it is blacked out), I am hoping to post something by the end of today/early morning tomorrow. But for now, I am writing a quick post about another protest, related to the blacking out of the wikipedia article I posted.

Wikipedia censored Jan 18 2012

Wikipedia censored Jan 18 2012 (Photo credit: PhylG)

If you are accessing this blog between 18-24 January 2012, you may notice the black ribbon that says “Stop Censorship” across the top right hand corner of the page. I am participating in a general wordpress “strike”, which is joining many other internet sites in a strike,  to protest the SOPA/PIPA bills currently before the U.S. Congress.

 

 

According to CBS:

 

There are already laws that protect copyrighted material, including the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). But while the DMCA focuses on removing specific, unauthorized content from the Internet, SOPA and PIPA instead target the platform — that is, the site hosting the unauthorized content.

The bills would give the Justice Department the power to go after foreign websites willfully committing or facilitating intellectual property theft — “rogue” sites like The Pirate Bay. The government would be able to force U.S.-based companies, like Internet service providers, credit card companies and online advertisers, to cut off ties with those sites.

College Candy adds that

 

The proposed SOPA bill would allow copyright holders and the Department of Justice to file a court order against websites that enable or facilitate copyright infringement. Now, that’s a broad statement. Basically, “the court order could include barring online advertising networks and payment facilitators such as PayPal from doing business with the allegedly infringing website, barring search engines from linking to such sites, and requiring Internet service providers to block access to such sites.” This could potentially shut down sites like Tumblr, Flickr, and more. We certainly don’t want people pirating, but this bill will seriously cripple the internet and our First Amendment right to freedom of speech.

PIPA will also be just as damaging. It could lead to the removal of online resources and YouTubebecause any type of file sharing could be prohibited by the law. The main goal of PIPA is pretty much to protect Hollywood and the music industry. People download music, movies, and TV shows for free and “The Man” is getting angry. Most of the sites are from outside the United States, so this bill would block IP addresses from accessing those sites and allow courts to sue search engines for presenting links to those sites. Google is opposed. The bill is so vague that you could ultimately get sued for posting a video to YouTube with a song in the background. It will destroy the internet the way we use it and make it less secure in the process.

Although the Motion Pictures Practitioners Association of America and other content providers are understandably concerned about online piracy and are pushing the bills, such an act risks suppressing creative new forms of distribution and expression.

 

In one of the better explanations of how these bills could affect the ordinary internet user, 1stwebdesigner.com argues that

 

These acts are stopping developers from coming up with the next big thing in the online market that could change how we use the internet. Let’s say that these acts were around back when the internet was started, how many of the most popular sites would still have come into fruition. There would be no Facebook, YouTube, MediaFire, SoundCloud, Twitter, DropBox, or any other site that can be targeted as a place where online piracy could take place. Is it even possible to think about what the internet would be like without sites like this?

As a blogger on multiple sites including this personal blog and a blog for the Hausa Home Video Resource Centre, Flickr where I upload my own photos, and Youtube which I use for research and also upload trailers and excerpts of Hausa films that help give them publicity, I am personally concerned about how this would affect my own usage, but as a “Nollywood” scholar I am also concerned about the repercussions this could have 1) on innovative development and distribution of creative content outside of the U.S, and 2) access to content for scholars and other non-commercial users. In his chapter “Degraded Images, Distorted Sounds: Nigerian video and the Infrastructure of Piracy” in Signal and Noise, Brian Larkin has pointed out that the reason the Nigerian film industry was able to spread and become popular so rapidly was that piracy networks were able to spread the films into areas legal distributers had no acess to. When I interviewed Brooklyn-based legal distributor Sal Jide Thomas, he affirmed that many of the legal distributers of Nollywood in the U.S. were once pirates, saying that though he was never a pirate, Nollywood is

 

lucky that they have a market that they didn’t create. Their product created it. So we can’t complain too much about bootlegging in the US anyway. As I tell my fellow marketers, they are responsible for the market that we have. What we can do is actually find a way of incorporating it, because first of all, they have the distribution channel. They still have more people than we do. So, if we can work with them, it’s a win-win situation. The reason that there are bootleggers is if you haven’t done your distribution properly. In the U.S., I don’t think we have a bootleg problem. We have a supply problem.

It may be that harnessing piracy websites for legal distribution is the best way to go, rather than trying to suppress them.  The Nollywoodlove site for example is bringing in legitimate funds for filmmakers through youtube advertising, while viewers watch for free–a business model the founder of the brilliant Hausafilms.tv site Mahmud Fagge is trying, with the consent of some Hausa filmmakers, to reproduce for Hausa films on his youtube channel. While concerns over piracy are legitimate, it would be much better to encourage these sorts of creative approaches than in trying to suppress them. And, come on, seriously, computer programmers/hackers/pirates are much more versatile and fast-moving than government  or laws can be, as can be seen in the hacking of the Nigerian Ministry of Transportation Site by “hactivists” on January 6. As of today, January 18, the site was still down, though the hackers message had been removed. The point is that internet technology must be harnessed for legal distribution and pirates must be fought (or attracted to the “light side”) on an individual basis. Banning sites is not going to help anyone.

 

If you would like to add your own website to the strike, find out more about it here and here.  As my blog content and so many of my readers are based outside of the U.S., I decided not to participate in the general black-out of my content, but I do urge my readers to click on the black ribbon and sign the petition to protest the bill. In addition to the petition U.S. citizens can sign to go to their elected representatives, there is also a petition for non-U.S. citizens to join the protest. This U.S. initiative could have global repercussions on how we all experience the internet.

 

(And for other news on outrageous American censorship, check out this insane ban by the Tucson Unified School District in Arizona State on “Mexican-American” studies. Among the books removed are Paolo Friere’s Pedagogy of the Opressed and William Shakespeare’s play The Tempest!)

 

Anchor Baby and the dark underbelly of the American Dream

I’m behind at posting my old columns, but I was reminded of this article that I wrote a month and a half ago, while briefly sitting beside Omoni Oboli at the dinner after the AMAA award ceremony. Omoni Oboli was nominated for Best Actress for her portrayal of the pregnant Joyce in Lonzo Nzekwe’s film Anchor Baby. She didn’t win the award, but she certainly deserved it. Her admirable acting in The Figurine and Anchor Baby puts her on my favourite Nigerian actress list. To read the article, which was published on 12 February, on the Weekly Trust site, click here. To read the hard copy of the article, click on the photo below, which will take you to a readable version of the article on flickr. To read it on this site, just scroll down past the photo.

Anchor Baby and the dark underbelly of the American Dream

Saturday, 12 February 2011 00:00 -

When anyone asks me what my favourite Nigerian movie is, I tell them it’s The Figurine, which was directed, produced, and acted in by Kunle Afolayan.

The film has a tight and continuously gripping storyline that polishes and refines Nollywood genres of spiritual thriller and family drama. But if I’m asked to recommend films, I’ll closely follow my recommendation of The Figurine with the film I went to see last week in Abuja’s Silverbird cinema: Anchor Baby, written, directed, and produced by the debut filmmaker Lonzo Nzekwe, who claims he taught himself filmmaking by reading books and watching “making of” documentaries. In Anchor Baby, which won Best film at the Harlem International Film festival among other awards, Figurine actress Omoni Oboli is compelling in her role as a pregnant Nigerian woman on the run from the American Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Anchor Baby, the title referring to the derogatory American term for babies born as citizens in the U.S. to non-citizens, is a cautionary tale about the dark side of the American dream. The disillusion of emigrants from Nigeria is a theme that has been dealt with in short stories by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, EC Osondu, Helon Habila, and others, and is becoming a genre of Nigerian films produced in America as well. The yet to be released film Unwanted Guest directed by Daniel Ademinokan and set in New York, for example, explores the domestic complications an already married Nigerian man faces when he marries an American woman for a green card. The 2008 Hausa film Kano to Saudiyya directed and acted by the late Ziklifu Mohammed deals with similar immigration themes of disillusion with life in Saudi Arabia.

The United States doesn’t come across in a very flattering light in Anchor Baby, but it is an America I recognize, even though it was shot entirely in Ontario, Canada. I walked into the cinema five minutes late just as we see the character, Paul Unonga (Sam Sarpong), run across a parking lot and down the grassy incline of an industrial park, chased by American Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials. The film is shot on the film-quality digital RED camera, but the lush colours the RED is capable of capturing are toned down here into dreary grays and browns. It is winter, and the grass is dead. Paul runs past rows of dirty semi-trucks. This is the ugly side of America, not often seen in glamorous Hollywood films. ICE officials eventually catch him at home in the bleak white hallway of his low-income housing flat. Paul’s pregnant wife Joyce (Omoni Oboli) luckily misses the immigration sweep because she has gone out for an early morning walk. The rest of the film follows the trials of Joyce, as she tries to fulfill the couple’s dream of staying in the U.S. until her baby is born, so that the baby, the “anchor” of the title, will be granted U.S. citizenship.

The celebrated comforts of American life, the film points out, are available only when one is linked into an organized system of legal identity. Once her husband is deported, Joyce finds herself in an almost impossible situation. To escape the immigration officials, she is forced to leave their apartment. The isolation of American life means she knows no one well enough to ask for assistance. She can’t get a job because she has no work papers. Staying at cheap motels becomes too expensive for the small savings she has left, but she is unable to rent a new apartment without government issued id. Similarly, she is unable to receive pre-natal checkups at the clinic, because she has neither health insurance, government id, or the large sum of cash needed to see to the doctor. Eventually, Joyce becomes dependent on the kindness of strangers, the sympathetic free lance writer Susan, brilliantly acted by Terri Oliver, and her interior designer husband, Tim (Colin Paradise). But while she appreciates their kindness, Joyce becomes increasingly uncomfortable by her benefactors’ marriage problems. Her loneliness is portrayed best as she stands on the verandah of a cheap hotel, staring out over the dead winter landscape, an American flag flapping on the railing beneath her.

Although the focus of the film is on Joyce’s experiences, there is also a brief portrayal of the coping mechanism other illegal immigrants face, in the pathos of a Mexican family who make a living out of forging government documents. The film ultimately shows the price of the anchor baby, and the ironies lurking behind the American dream.

I would show this film anywhere, to Nigerians wanting to move to the often idealized U.S., and to Americans who don’t understand the challenges immigrants face. However, there are certain moments that, to my American eye, seem off. When Joyce stays in a basement apartment, the windows should be high, submerged in the ground at eye-level, yet there are points at which we see low sitting window sills and a light source that seem more appropriate for a first floor room. When Paul calls Joyce from the immigration detention centre and tells her to move out of their apartment, it seems strange that this phone call, placed from prison, is not tapped by the police and that Joyce is not picked up by immigration officials before she moves out of the apartment.

My own encounters with American immigration and customs have been few compared to what immigrants face. When I attended university in the U.S., I volunteered with Amnesty International to interview illegal immigrants being held in a prison for deportation to see if there was any way we could assist them with legal help. On a recent trip to the U.S. I wore an abaya and veil to see if I would be profiled by immigration officials at the airport. I was. The only person dressed like a Muslim in the line at a security checkpoint waiting to exit passport control into America, I was also the only one chosen for a pat-down body search. In both instances, the immigration officers I observed displayed more of a bored and unthoughtful officiousness, an institutionalized bias, than deliberate brutality, more like what is seen in the film where Joyce Unanga is denied an apartment and health care because she doesn’t have insurance card or government id. The kind but condescending and bureaucratic immigration officer in the airport, who calls up his boss and says he has an “illegal” for him, is likely more usual in America than the trigger-happy immigration officer Mark Castello (Michael Scratch), who drops racial slurs and blows cigarette smoke into Paul Unonga’s face. But the over-the-top villain works well for dramatic effect, and there are certainly many documented cases of police brutality from the assault against Haitian Abner Louima in a New York jail and the shooting of Guinean Amadou Diallo in the Bronx, New York, in the 1990s, to more recent acts of discrimination, torture, and secret extradition following Patriot Act laws of the 2000s. This is the dark underbelly of the American dream.

In terms of world cinema, Anchor Baby reminds me of the Indian film, My Name is Khan, released last year. In the film, an autistic Indian immigrant living in California is discriminated against by his neighborhood and by airport officials because of his Muslim name. Seemingly made for a non-American audience, My Name is Khan sometimes fudges geographical detail and stereotypes non-Indian characters (I think particularly of the way African American characters are portrayed) but tells a compelling story of how differences strengthen, rather than weaken, American culture. And, to be fair, the exaggeration of detail that you find in My Name is Khan or Anchor Baby are nothing so extreme as the stereotyping of other cultures and countries found in Hollywood films. There is something quite satisfying about these non-American interventions into representations of America, which like the Al Jazeera coverage of the U.S., as opposed to the glossy portrayals of Hollywood and CNN, focus on the poor and downtrodden of “God’s own country.” In a time in which the film industries of an established Bollywood and a rising Nollywood have relegated America’s celebrated industry to number three, and where an economically depressed America seems to be struggling increasingly with xenophobia against non-citizens, we can expect more of the same. I eagerly await Lonzo Nzekwe’s next film.

UPDATE: 25 March 2012.  You can rent, buy, or watch a preview of Anchor Baby, in the embedded video here (Anchor Baby).

 

“Nollywood: A National Cinema” Call for papers for an international workshop in Illorin, 7-10 July, and updated bibliography on Hausa film scholarship

An international workshop on the theme, “Nollywood: A National Cinema” will be held at the Kwara Hotel/Kwara State University, Malete, Ilorin, Nigeria, from 7-10 July, 2010. The deadline for registration is 15 June 2010.

Contributors are required to send e-copies of their abstracts to the guest-convener at onookome.okome@kwasu.edu.ng or ookome@ualberta.ca. Selected and refereed papers will be published in two books to be co-edited by Abiola Irele, Awam Amkpa, Onookome Okome and Abdul-Rasheed Na’Allah. Confirmed guest speakers include Prof. John McCall, University of Illinois; Professor Jon Haynes, Long Island University, New York; Mr. Afolabi Adesanyan (NFC), Mr. Emeka Mba (NFVCB); Barclays Oyakoroma(NICO);Prof. Manthia Diawara, NYU, New York, and Professor Jane Bryce, University of the West Indies, Cave Hill, Barbados.

For more details on the theme, submission of abstracts, and registration see the call for papers, posted on the Hausa Home Video Resource Centre blog.

In other academic news, I recently spent a week at Ahmadu Bello University looking through PhD and MA Theses in several departments looking for work being done on Hausa film, and I have updated the working bibliography on Hausa film scholarship also at the Hausa Home Video Resource Centre blog. If there are readers of this blog who have done academic work and would like to be listed in the bibliography or know of works that I haven’t yet listed (it is very much a work in progress and quite incomplete), please send me the details. One thing that struck me as I was looking through a lot of hand-written lists of theses in various departmental libraries (and even the main library in the Africana PhD and Ma Thesis section) was that there is some incredibly interesting work being done that is very difficult for people in other locations (whether in Nigeria or outside) to access because the bibliographic lists have not yet been digitized for online access or even typed. I hope this bibliography I’ve compiled will help make researchers aware of other work that has been done on Hausa films. So, far I have added lists from Bayero University and Ahmadu Bello University and hope to travel to other northern Nigerian universities in the near future. If anyone at other universities would like to help me compile records at their universities for posting on the website of the Hausa Home Video Resource Centre, I’d be very grateful!

Thanks.

The latest on the Iyan-Tama case from Nigerian News Service, plus new fees from the National Film and Video Censor’s Board

In a 29 September 2009 article “Iyan Tama: Matters Arising” on the Nigerian News Service, Bolaji Oluwaseun reports that when Iyan-Tama’s counsel went to the Federal High Court of Appeal in Kaduna “to file a motion to stop the retrial”:

The judge assigned to the case ordered Iyan-tama’s counsel to go back to Kano to the magistrate that was assigned the case initially to file the motion to stop the retrial (the same court that sent him to jail for over 3months over false allegations), and that if they refuse to grant the motion then they should then come back to Federal High Court of Appeal in Kaduna to re-file the motion to stop the re-trial.

For those not familiar with the case Oluwaseun gives a summary of the case, pointing out:

After spending over 3 months in jail, Iyan-Tama was granted bail  and a retrial was ordered following a review of the case by the Kano State Attorney-General and Commissioner of Justice. According to the Attorney-General, Barrister Aliyu Umar, the first trial was besmirched by irregularities. Due process was not followed in the trial that led to the conviction, he said. He used very uncomplimentary terms to describe the trial conducted by a senior magistrate, Alhaji Mukhtari Ahmed, such as “improper,” “incomplete,” “a mistake,” summing up by insisting that a “more competent magistrate” should be given the case to try again.

But yet after having committed an injustice that can be successfully argued even by a baby lawyer to be a travesty of justice, the said senior magistrate, Alhaji Mukhtari Ahmed still works in the court houses of Kano State.

And after all Iyan-Tama went through he was not compensated for his illegal imprisonment by the Kano State Government.

Olawuseun continues with more opinions about the case and provides about 6 scanned in copies of documentation that allegedly support Iyan-Tama’s case at the end of the article. To read the entire article, see this link. [UPDATE 13 Oct 09. For more recent news about how Iyan-Tama was invited to the Toronto Film festival, and a clip from his banned film Tsintsiya, see this 23 September article from the Nigerian News Service.]

In more general news concerning the National Film and Video Censor’s Board of Nigeria (not the same body as the Kano State Censorship Board), Al-Amin Ciroma in today’s Leadership (“Censor’s Board increases Fees”) writes that the NFVCB is increasing their fees for previewing a film by 30%:

The review, the board said in a release signed by the corporations Assistant Director, Corporate Affairs, Yunusa Mohammed Tanko, is in line with its efforts to offer premium service to its stakeholders.

With the acquisition and installation of modern cinema style preview theatres at our Lagos office, which is capable of handling 35mm celluloid video, as well as a digital lounge for clients, the present fees charged for preview of films and movies, musical videos and others are no more realistic. The sustainability of this heavy resource base is a prerequisite in the effort to offer global best practices in the Nigerian movie industry.

He said the new equipment would enhance and facilitate online preview of films and movies within the minimum time possible. It will also afford owners of the movies the opportunity to follow and track the progress of the preview in a seamless manner without being present physically.

New costs will be as follows:

The review, The corporation’s Assistant Director, Corporate Affairs, Yunusa Mohammed Tanko, said for local films made in Nigerian languages (of 0-15 minutes) will be N10,000, while a Nigerian film in foreign language such as English language will be charged N20,00, while a film meant for exhibition will be charged N25,000.00. In a general perspective, NFVCB has made 30% increment of the applicable fees.

To read the rest of the article, see Al-Amin Ciroma’s blog.

Image of the letter from the NFVCB to Iyan Tama from Nigerian News Service:

Iyan Tamas letter from the National Film and Video Censors Board--see link for more images

Iyan Tama’s letter from the National Film and Video Censor’s Board–see link for more images

Helon Habila speaks on censorship in Kano

Helon Habila liest, P02

Helon Habila liest, P02 (Photo credit: lutzland)

(a post in which I meditate on my research obsessions and recommend a recent opinion piece on “Art and Censorship in Kano” by multiple award-winning Nigerian novelist Helon Habila)

In Helon Habila’s first novel Waiting for an Angel, which was the subject of my MA thesis, he blurs the boundaries between his characters’ fictions and the reality of the world they live in. Originally self-published as a collection of short stories Prison Stories, the novel is fractured into stories told from multiple perspectives about “ordinary” people living out their lives in the “prison state” of Nigeria under the Abacha regime. The artist, Habila implies, provides a challenge to oppressive structures by gathering up the voices of poor ordinary people, so often lost in official propaganda, and putting them into print. The novel is not merely a litany of hopelessness, although the hardship of poverty is illustrated, but also captures the loud irreverent conversations in a Lagos “Mama Put” joint on Morgan street, which has been re-named “Poverty Street” by its inhabitants and the vivid dreams of ordinary people for a better life.

One striking scene shows the main character Lomba, a journalist and aspiring novelist, watch a fictional scene he had written for his paper come to life. Lomba’s characters reflect what his editor James tells him to capture: the “general disillusionment, the lethargy” of being trapped into a story where “One general goes, another one comes, but the people remain stuck in the same vicious groove. Nothing ever changes for them except the particular details of their wretchedness. They’ve lost all faith in the government’s unending transition programmes. Write on that”  (113). The story that Lomba writes is filled with “ubiquitous gun and whip-toting soldiers,”  “potbellied, glaucomatous kids” playing in gutters alongside the carcasses of “mongrel dogs worried by vultures” (118). This story does, indeed, seem to reflect the despair of life in a prison until the end of the story where he writes of “the kerosene-starved house-wives of Morgan Street. I make them rampage the streets, tearing down wooden signboards and billboards and hauling them away to their kitchens to use as firewood” (118). This moment suggests both the extremity of the environment, which has forced the people of Morgan street against the wall, as well as the agency of the women who take their futures into their own hands. And although James removes the celebratory conclusion before publication, telling Lomba he is “laying it on a bit too thick,” on his way home, Lomba sees an angry mob of women who “set to hacking and sawing” at a large billboard advertising condoms. It is Lomba’s knowledge of the script that allows him to tell the man next to him that “‘They are not crazy. They are just gathering firewood’ I explained to him. It was my writing acting itself out. And James thought I had had laid it on too thick. I wish he were here to see reality mocking his words.”

Although Lomba’s first reaction is one of hopelessness that “we are only characters in a story and our horizon is so narrow and so dark[,]” this episode is a revolutionary moment in the text (119). While Lomba, as well as the women outside the window of the Molue, may be characters in a story, this moment marks a remarkable departure from the prophecies of prison and death foretold by a marabout in another “story” in the novel. The porous borders between Lomba’s fiction and his reality that allow his writing to act itself out indicate the possibilities of the imagination—the possibility that while caught in a the literary metaphor of a prison, the “prisoners” might turn around and revolt. Lomba, and subsequently the mob of women, take the text into their own hands and appropriate the property of the state to sustain their own needs

In recently thinking about my research interests on Nigerian films and  “meta-fictions,” I realize that what obsessed me about Waiting for an Angel is also what obsesses me about Nigerian and particularly Hausa films, both in the reflection of the stories of “ordinary people” so often seen in these films and in a projective imagination that often (although certainly not always) challenges injustices by acting as what Kenyan novelist Ngugi wa Thiong’o mentions as a crucial aspect of art, that of a mirror, which “reflects whatever is before it—beauty spots, warts, and all” (1998, 21). People are rarely passive in these films. Beloved comedians like ‘dan Ibro often skewer the rich and powerful in their satirical stories.

I’ve heard people complain that there is too much “shouting” in Nigerian films, yet to me this “shouting” becomes a powerful metaphor for what Nigerian films have done for the “voiceless.” Gayatri Spivak has asked if the “subaltern can speak”? While I want to be over-cautious about over-romanticizing Nigerian films, which often do reproduce Nigerian society’s worst stereotypes of women and offer alarmingly unhealthy “solutions” to problems, I think one of the reasons I love the films so much is because they do seem to allow the “subaltern” to speak, both literally (in that so many of the film participants come from poor backgrounds) and metaphorically.

Attempts to suppress these films, therefore, seem like the attempts of the prison superintendent in Waiting for an Angel to suppress and co-opt the voice of the writer Lomba. The writer is imprisoned, seemingly muzzled, but attempts to suppress his voice ultimately prove to be impossible. Lomba smuggles stories about his “life in prison” through metaphoric language in his “love poems” commissioned by the prison superintendent for the woman he is woo-ing.

Hausa films are often dismissed for being “just love stories.” But stories of love can be powerful. There is often more going on than the reader of surfaces will find.

I was thrilled, therefore, this morning to find that Helon Habila has recently brought together my two research obsessions in a recent article in one of my favourite new publications, NEXT: “Art and Censorship in Kano.”  In the article, he both challenges simplistic critiques of Nigerian films and meditates on the “politics” of censorship. As Habila points out, while Nigerian films are not always polished “cinema” pieces, they have “made movie making a grass roots experience.”

[UPDATE: 19 October 2013. While I was doing a little blog maintenance, I was afraid I had lost access to this article because NEXT went out of business a few years ago and took all their content with them. Fortunately, Sola at Naija Rules had copied the article over on her site. I've previously been irked when Nigerianfilms.com and other such sites have copied my blog content without permission, but I am beginning to be grateful for these sites that make articles available long after the original sites have gone down. I am re-copying Helon Habila's article here for archival purposes.]

Art and censorship in Kano

By Helon Habila

It is so easy to underestimate the achievement of the Nigerian film industry, and this is because we always measure such achievements using false parameters—we compare Nollywood to Bollywood and Hollywood.

Whenever we do that, Nollywood will always come short of our unreasonable expectations. How long has it been in existence? Ten, maybe 20 years? What of Hollywood, over a hundred years? And Bollywood, when was Sholay made, 1960?

The extent of what our film makers have achieved in the short time they have been here was pointed out to me by a Nigerian/South African director friend.

When I asked him to compare the two film industries, he said, South Africa has all the right tools and techniques, they make movies on celluloid and with multiple cameras and have the right post-production requirements, but Nigeria doesn’t have all that, yet South Africans can’t get people to watch their movies whereas the Nigerian movies are practically jumping off the shelves.

It is true South Africa makes great movies, like Tsotsi, every once in a long while, but Nigeria has made movie making a grass roots experience. That is the paradox: whereas movie making in Nollywood is nondemocratic and cliquey, yet the consciousness towards it, and the patronage, is widespread.

This mass patronage and consciousness is indispensable if any nation is going to have a viable film industry. And we are achieving all this without government participation, or should I say, in spite of government participation.

And government participation is what brings me to Kano. The industry here is called Kannywood (what else?) Most people outside the Hausa speaking world aren’t really aware of it, but it has been going on for a while. Just as Nollywood’s progenitors are the early Nigerian soap operas like “Behind the Clouds”, “After the Storm”, etc, Kannywood also grew on the back of popular Hausa TV ‘dramas’ like “Samanja”, “Karkuzu”, and of course “Kasimu Yero’s Gagarau”.

Other unmistakable influences are Bollywood movies. The Indian influence on Hausa films can at best be described as odd, at worst weird—here I am not only talking about the excessively romantic nature of Hausa movies, the love theme could easily have come from Hausa literature, but I am talking about the song and dance numbers. It seems each film has about three songs and dances.

I remember the first time I saw a Hausa film, nobody had warned me that there was going to be singing and dancing, and so when it came I was taken totally unawares, and yes, I was disconcerted to watch these Nigerians singing and dancing on the streets of Kano.

That was the first impression. The second impression was: Well, the songs are really not that bad, if you are a song and dance kind of person. All in all one wished the songs would end quickly so the movie would resume.

But this piece is not really about aesthetics, it is about art and politics.

These actors would have gone on singing and dancing in peace, and mostly unnoticed by most Nigerians outside the Hausa speaking world if not for what has come to be dubbed the “Hausa Film Porn Scandal”. It seems in August 2007, a popular Hausa film actress, Maryam Hiyana, was filmed making love to her boyfriend, by the said boyfriend. In their defence they said it wasn’t for commercial purposes, so that technically means it is not porn, but somehow the eight-minute clip was leaked to the public and this began a series of what can only be described as a siege on the film industry by the Kano State government. And to quote a source, “So far, according to Ahmed Alkanawy, director of the Centre for Hausa Cultural Studies, over 1000 youth involved in the film industry and related entertainment industries ‘have been arrested in the name of shari’ah and sanitization.’ … However, although shari’ah law is invoked, most ‘censorship’-related cases are being tried in a state magistrate court, a mobile court on Airport Road presided over by magistrate Mukhtar Ahmed.

Defendants are often arrested and convicted within an hour, without the benefit of legal representation. Some are given prison sentences while others are given the option of paying a fine.”

A popular actor, Rabilu Musa (Dan Ibro), was arrested for “indecent dancing”!

What I find most chilling is a book-burning ceremony staged in a girls’ school. Book burning, in a school! The government may as well close down the school, for by burning books in front of students, the whole aim of educating them is defeated.

Even individual writers were required to register before writing!

The most recent case is the arrest of a former gubernatorial candidate Hamisu Lamido Iyan Tama—a film maker whose film, “Tsintsiya”, is an adaptation of the Hollywood classic, “Westside Story”. He was first arrested in May 2008 for three months and fined 2,500 naira, then in January 2009 he was sentenced to 15 months with a fine of N300,000. It seems in the movie, he acted the role of a governor and carried out an investigation into the causes of sectarian violence.

Here, at last, the government is showing its hand. Whenever an art form begins to go beyond entertainment and to appeal to people’s political consciousness, the people in power become scared. That seems to be the case with Kano.

The question to ask is, are the censors working in the interest of the people, or are they using religion for political ends as we have seen so often in the shari’ah states? Any society that seeks to silence the artist is attacking the people, for often it is only the artist that can articulate the secret hopes and yearnings of the people.

NEXT

 

Updates on the Iyan-Tama case and other articles on the crisis in Kannywood

I’m sorry I have been scarce on this blog lately. I’ve been working at home, where I do not have internet, and then travelling (BOB TV in Abuja) so have had scanty internet access. The best place to find an overview of the latest events in the Iyan-Tama case are on the blog of my friend Abdulaziz A. Abdulaziz, where he posts the articles he writes for Leadership.

Leading up to the hearing that took place on Wednesday, March 11, (later than initially planned), one of the houses associated with Iyan-Tama was attacked. According to Abdulaziz, at the state high court hearing, the attorney general of Kano State challenged the  original ruling in the Iyan-Tama case given by magistrate Mukhtar Ahmad, the judge at the mobile court attached to the Censorship Board.

He said the trial was “improper”, “incomplete”, a “mistake” and requires retrial before a more “competent magistrate”.

“I am not in support of the conviction in this trial”, said the attorney-general, “It is obvious that the trial was not completed before judgement was delivered but there and then the presiding magistrate went ahead and delivered a judgement”, he added.

On March 16, the high court will rule on the appeal.

In other news, here is an article on the Kannywood crisis  and featuring my friend Sulaiman Abubakar published by last Sunday’s NEXT, and interviews I carried out with Sulaiman Abubakar and an edited down version of the interview I carried out with the Director General of the Censorship Board, the entire transcript of which can be found on this blog.

And finally here is an interview Abdulaziz A. Abdulaziz carried out with chairman of the actor’s guild of Nigeria, Kano chapter (this group being separate from MOPPAN) for Leadership