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
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.”
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.”
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?
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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.
John: It’s true
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.