Tag Archives: documentary film

Nowhere to Run Wins Best Documentary Short at The African Film Festival (TAFF) Dallas and screens 6 more times this week in Abuja, DC, and Linden, NJ

Nowhere to Run, the documentary shot, directed, and edited by my brother Dan McCain at Core Productions, Lagos, narrated by Ken Saro Wiwa Jr., and featuring Nigeria’s leading environmentalist Nnimo Bassey of Mother Earth Foundation,  (with a script written by Louis Rheeder and myself) just won the award for best short documentary at The African Film Festival (TAFF), Dallas. It had been nominated for three awards, Best Short Documentary, Best Director, and Best Cinematography. So I got up this morning and searched twitter for it. Amara Nwankpa, representing the ‘Yar Adua Centre (which produced the film) at the festival, tweeted the news.

It has been gratifying to see the film get so much attention. Back in April, it won the Grand Jury prize at the Green Me film festival in Lagos, and it has had a pretty steady stream of screenings in Nigeria and an increasing number abroad since it premiered in November 2015. There are five more screenings this week in Abuja; Washington, DC; and Linden, NJ. See this link or the bottom of this post for more details.

 

In the past month I have also been a part of two other screenings in Nigeria, one at Kwara State University, Malete, as part of the 2016 convocation events and the other at the American Corner in Jos.

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Nnimmo Bassey on screen, at the Kwara State University, Malete, screening of Nowhere to Run, 3 June 2016.

At the Kwara State University, Malete, screening on 3 June, there were about fifty students and faculty represented, including playwright Femi Osofisan, poet Tanure Ojaide, feminist critic Mary Kolawole, and ecocritic Saeedat Aliyu.

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Nowhere to Run screening at Kwara State University, Malete, on 3 June 2016.

Professor Osofisan spoke after the screening, pointing to the long history of environmental abuse and activism against it in Nigeria. Osofisan’s contemporary Ken Saro Wiwa was one of Nigeria’s most outspoken activists and critics of the degradation of the Niger Delta and was executed on trumped up charges under the military regime of Sani Abacha. Now his son continues the struggle.

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Playwright Femi Osofisan speaks after the Kwara State University screening of Nowhere to Run.

Tanure Ojaide, the author of multiple volumes of poetry which speak to the environment, also spoke to the importance of environmental issues in Nigeria.

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Poet Tanure Ojaide spoke after the Kwara State University screening of Nowhere to Run.

Saeedat Aliyu pointed to the litter on the university campus as a major problem that the university should strive to correct.

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Saeedat Aliyu speaks about rampant littering on university campuses after the Kwara State University screening of Nowhere to Run.

Sadly, the university buildings are also contributing to some of the issues spoken about in the documentary. In the film Michael Egbebike points out that erosion is caused by blocking off water ways and as I walked to my office after the screening, I saw how the new walls built all over the KWASU campus were built without proper drainage and were creating small ponds next to buildings.

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Drainage issues caused by poorly planned walls at KWASU, 3 June 2016.

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Drainage issues caused by poorly planned walls at KWASU, 3 June 2016.

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Drainage issues at KWASU, 3 June 2016.

While this is a relatively small problem that affects only one institution, it illustrates how poor planning and bad construction practices all over the country are contributing to much larger environmental issues.

In Jos, on 28 June, there were over 35 people crammed into the screening room at The American Corner.

Screening of #nowheretorun at American Corner Jos #environmentalfilm #climate change #nigerianenvironment

A post shared by Carmen McCain (@carmenmccain) on

Many of them were young people involved with community organizations, and some of them were people who had simply heard about the film and wanted to come. The audience discussed the complexities of bringing about change to how humans affect the environment. One of the most striking comments came from a man who owns a wood selling business. He spoke movingly about how he was terrified about what was happening to Nigeria and he did not want to contribute to deforestation, and yet his family business and income depends upon wood. The family bought a piece of land in a swamp to try to farm trees for use in their business, but he said the people in the neighbouring village would come at night and cut down their trees.

Voice of America journalist Ilyasu Kasim spoke about a recent story he had done about coal production. Coal production destroys a large number of trees and is dirty energy, and yet some of the poorest people in Nigeria are dependent on this industry and it provides necessary heating for people in Jos, who would otherwise freeze during harmattan. What do these people do in an increasingly devastated economy when people are already having trouble eating? Perhaps fast-growing bamboo could be used in some instances where wood is used. Furthermore, steady electricity would likely help with the problem of heating in Jos and in creating job opportunities. This led to questions of government responsibility  versus the responsibility of individuals. Obviously, the government needs to do more in enforcing laws already on the books and in improving power supply, but if individuals do not get involved then there is no hope at all.

Upcoming screenings in Nigeria this week include two screenings at the One Environment conference in Abuja, which is holding at Thought Pyramid Arts Centre, 18 Libreville Street, Wuse II, Abuja. It will be shown (tomorrow), Tuesday, 5 July, at 3:30-5pm, and on Thursday, 7th July, at 2:30-4:30pm.

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This week it will also be screened in the United States in Washington, DC, first on 6 July, Wednesday, at the International Republican Institute, 1225 Eye Street NW, Suite 800, Washington DC, at 2-4pm. To register for the event, click here.

Then a few hours later, on 6 July,  John Hopkins University-SAIS (in partnership with American University) will screen the film at 1619 Masssachusetts Avenue, NW, Rome-806, Washington, DC 20036. 5-7pm. If you want to attend, please RSVP to African Studies, saisafrica (at) jhu.edu or 202-663-5676.

It will also be screened at the Nigerian Embassy in Washington, DC, at 3519 International Ct. NW, Washington, DC 20008, on Thursday, 7 July at 6pm. To RSVP please respond at this link.

For those in New Jersey, it will screen at  Rodo African Cuisine, 1600 East Saint Georges Avenue, Linden, New Jersey, Friday, 8 July, 8-10pm. For more information, call 347-200-2509.

Next week, on 11 July, the film will be showing at 12 noon, at the University of Ibadan, Draper Hall, as part of the IFRA-Nigeria Post Cop21 Conference “Ecological Crises in Nigeria.”

Ifra nowhere to run poster

The film will be playing at other film festivals around the world and continuing to screen in both Nigeria and abroad in the next year.

To stay updated on upcoming screenings, check back regularly on my screening schedule post. And to watch the trailer, check it out here:

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Nowhere to Run to be screened as part of the convocation events at Kwara State University, Malete

Nowhere to Run poster-logo's added
The Centre for Nollywood and New Media in Africa (CiNNeMA) at Kwara State University, Malete, invites the university community and any interested guests to a special screening of the award-winning documentary film Nowhere to Run: Nigeria’s Climate and Environmental Crisis to be held Thursday, 12 noon prompt, in the University Auditorium, immediately before the 2pm convocation play: Professor Femi Osofisan’s Aringidin and the Night Watchmen.

 

The film, shot on Epic, produced by the ‘Yar Adua Centre and Core Productions, Lagos, and directed by Dan McCain, is narrated and presented by Ken Saro Wiwa Jr. and features Nnimo Bassey, in addition to many other Nigerian environmental activists. It introduces some of the most pressing environmental concerns facing Nigeria today: from the link between desertification and Boko Haram, to the threat rising oceans pose to Lagos, to the connection between the devastation in the Niger Delta and global climate change.

 

The film is not yet available on video or public release, so please come and invite a friend, and prepare for a double feature of film and play.

 

Thus reads my press release to the Kwara State University community. To read the other blog posts I’ve written about this film, its making, and its screening schedule, see the links below:
To see a trailer of the film, see below:

Premiere (and screening schedule) of Nowhere to Run: Nigeria’s Climate and Environmental Crisis

Here is the screening schedule (to the best of my knowledge) for Nowhere to Run: Nigeria’s Climate and Environmental Crisis by location. Most recent date listed first with earlier screenings in descending order.  Check the ‘Yar Adua Centre  Facebook page for more details. Scroll down for the original post about the film and its premiere:

On 3 April 2016, Nowhere to Run won the Grand Jury Prize at the Green Me Film Festival, Lagos.

On 3 July 2016, Nowhere to Run won the award for the Best Documentary Short at The African Film Festival (TAFF), Dallas.

Nigeria

Abuja:

7 July 2016 – One Environment Conference, Thought Pyramid Art Centre, 18 Libreville Street, Wuse II, Abuja. 2:30-4:30pm. Screening and Panel Discussion.

5 July 2016 – One Environment Conference, Thought Pyramid Art Centre, 18 Libreville Street, Wuse II, Abuja. 3:30-5pm. Screening and Panel Discussion.

6 June 2016 – ‘Yar Adua Centre  (in partnership with the National Gallery of the Arts) to commemorate UN World Environment Day.

22 April 2016 – Ekiti Hall, U.S. Embassy (Earth Day)

22 April 2016 – Canadian High Commission, Abuja

1 March, 2016 – Justice Development and Peace Commission, Catholic Secretariat

28 November 2015, 6pm – Institut Francaise

17 November 2015 – Green Carpet Premiere, Yar Adu’a Centre

Adamawa:

16 March 2016 – Library Auditorium, American University of Nigeria (AUN), Yola (Leadership report, This Day Report)

Bauchi:

18 April 2016 – American Corner, Bauchi

Kaduna:

Between 21 March -15 April 2016 – Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria

28 April 2016 – Conference Hall A, Gusau Institute, Kaduna

Kano:

18 April 2016 – American Corner, Kano

7 March, 2016 – Bayero University, Kano

Kwara:

2 June 2016 – Kwara State University, Malete, Auditorium, 12 noon (before convocation play)

Lagos:

7 June 2016 – PEFTI Film Institute, 5/7 Joy Avenue, By UBA Bank, Off Isolo Way, Ajao Estate, Isolo, Lagos. 1pm

2-3 April 2016 – Green Me Film Festival, Silverbird Galleria, Victoria Island, Ahmadu Bellow Way, 5pm, Saturday and Sunday. WON Grand Jury Prize.

Ogun:

29 March 2016 – Covenant University Chapel, Ota

15-19 November 2015 – Ake Arts and Book Festival, Arts and Culture Centre, Kuto, Abeokuta

Oyo:

11 July 2016 -IFRA-Nigeria Post Cop21 Conference “Ecological Crises in Nigeria.” Draper’s Hall, University of Ibadan, 12 noon.

21 April 2016 – American Corner, Ibadan

Plateau:

28 June 2016 – American Corner, Jos, 11 Murtala Mohammad Way (UniJos Consultancy Building) 10am prompt. RSVP: 0803-718-4414.

2 April 2016 – RURCON Conference Hall, Nigerian Bible Translation Trust

27 March 2016 – Miango Rest Home, Miango

Rivers:

28 April – Alliance Francaise, Port Harcourt, 12 noon

Overseas

France:

9-12 December 2015 – Africa Pavilian, COP21, Paris

 

United States:

California

11 February 2016 – Blum Centre for Developing Economies, University of California, Berkeley

22 February 2017 – Westmont College, Santa Barbara, CA. Adams 216, 7pm

Illinois

31 August 2016- The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and the Chicago Council on Global Affairs sponsor a screening to be held at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, 5pm check in, 5:30 film screening, 6:30pm Conversation with Ken Saro-Wiwa Jr., Jackie Farris, and Kole Shettima, 7pm reception. To attend sign up online.

New Jersey

8 July 2016 – Rodo African Cuisine, Linden, New Jersey. The film will screen at Rodo African Cuisine, 1600 East Saint Georges Avenue, Linden, New Jersey, Friday, 8 July, 8-10pm. Free Entry. For more information, call 347-200-2509.

Texas

2 July 2016 – The African Film Festival (TAFF), Dallas. Nowhere to Run will screen at the Angelika Film centre, Dallas, Theatre A, on Saturday, 2 July around 8:45pm. The VOA article on TAFF featured Nowhere to Run. To buy a ticket and vote on the trailer, see this site. On 3 July, Nowhere to Run won the TAFF award for best documentary short.

Washington, D.C.

7 July 2016 – Nigerian Embassy, Washington DC.Nowhere to Run will screen at the the Nigerian Embassy, 3519 International Ct. NW, Washington, DC 20008, Thursday, 5 July, 6pm. To RSVP please respond at this link.

6 July 2016 – John Hopkins University in partnership with American University, Washington DC. Nowhere to Run will screen at John Hopkins University-SAIS, 1619 Masssachusetts Avenue, NW, Rome-806, Washington, DC 20036. 5-7pm. Please RSVP to African Studies, saisafrica (at) jhu.edu or 202-663-5676

6 July 2016 –  International Republican Institute, 1225 Eye Street NW, Suite 800, Washington DC, will screen the film at 2-4pm. To register for the event, click here.

 

Original Post:

At 6pm in Abuja at the Yar’Adua Centre today, 17 November, there will be a “green carpet” premiere of the documentary film Nowhere to Run: Nigeria’s Climate and Environmental crisis. Watch the trailer here:

 

The film was sponsored by the Shehu Musa Yar’Adua Foundation, narrated by Ken Saro Wiwa Jr., and directed (shot, partially edited, etc) by my brother Dan McCain, who is the Managing Director of the Lagos-based Core Productions. I have also worked with Dan last year and this year on the project and came up with the first part of the title “nowhere to run,” which is a sentiment we heard over and over again in the interviews of people who talked about the effects of environmental degradation on their communities. Dan and his production team travelled all over Nigeria gathering stories about the environmental devastation in Nigeria and interviews with Nigeria-based experts and professionals such as Nnimmo Bassey, Ken Wiwa, Liza Gadsby and Peter Jenkins, Muhammad Kabir Isa, Paul Adeogun, Hannah Kabir, Saleh B. Momale, Michael Egbebike, Fatima Akilu, Joseph Hurst Croft, Alagoa Morris, Inemo Samiama, Ekaette Ukobong, Michael Uwemedimo, Godknows Boladei Igali, and others. What we came to find over the process of making the documentary is that as climate change creates global changes in the environment, many of the natural defense mechanisms that could alleviate some of the harm done by the changing environment are being destroyed through human activity.

For example, flaring is a major contributor of greenhouse gases that are contributing to global warming. Although flaring is illegal in Nigeria, oil companies continue to flare because the fines are lower than the cost of capping off the flares and redirecting the gas (and if the gas were captured, it could do a lot to contribute to Nigeria’s massive need for electricity).  The mangroves and rain forests that absorb the greenhouse gases that cause global warming are being destroyed through oil pollution, logging and construction. These same mangroves and wetlands could also help absorb and manage the sea level rise that is occurring as polar ice caps melt, and yet they are shrinking every year. So, there is ocean encroachment along the coast, massive erosion in the southeast related to heavy rains and forest clearing, and desertification in the north. Environmental crises also contribute to conflict. For example, as Mohammad Kabir Isa of Ahmadu Bello University points out in the film and in this interview, the shrinking of Lake Chad (caused both by human interventions that remove massive amounts of water for irrigation and changing rainfall patterns that no longer fill the lake as they used to) has caused massive migration into Maiduguri in the past 20 years. Once people get to Maiduguri, there were few jobs available so the social welfare provided by Boko Haram attracted members. Desertification is also pushing people further south, and the expansion of farming into migration routes formerly used by pastoralists is behind some of the conflict we are seeing between pastoralists and farmers.

This is not a simple story, but instead one of multiple diverse complications both on a global and local level that are contributing to much of the environmental and political crises in Nigeria today. We made a point of making this a “Nigerian” documentary, and the interviews in the documentary are all with people based in Nigeria.

There are some things being done to reduce dependence on oil and to better use the land, such as wind energy project in Katsina and cook stoves and ovens that reduce dependence on firewood. But much more needs to be done.

You need a ticket to get into the premiere, but you can get them for free at this link. Unfortunately, because of a family emergency, I am unable to be there, but I hope it goes well and does some work to raise awareness among those who have the power to make the kinds of infrastructural changes in Nigeria that are needed to reduce the pressure on Nigeria’s environment. Another reason to go is to see my brother’s gorgeous cinematography, which captures the environmental devastation in Nigeria as well as the great beauty that still remains. If you miss the premiere, the Yar’Adua Centre is planning to sponsor a series of screenings around the country, and I will try to post updates here.

Some Core Productions images taken during the shooting for the documentary:

 

 

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

Publicity photo courtesy of MIND

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

courtesy of The Daughters of the Niger Delta public Facebook page

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

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

courtesy of the Eko International Film Festival

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

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

It has also received several other rave reviews:

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Daughters of the Niger Delta speak out through film

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(courtesy of The Daughters of the Niger Delta)

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

(courtesy of the Daughters of the Niger Delta)

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

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

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

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

END

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

vlcsnap-2013-10-14-20h44m31s120

still used by permission of Dul Johnson

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

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

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

still used by permission of Dul Johnson

still used by permission of Dul Johnson

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

still used by permission of Dul Johnson

still used by permission of Dul Johnson

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

still used by permission of Dul Johnson

still used by permission of Dul Johnson

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

still used by permission of Dul Johnson

still used by permission of Dul Johnson

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

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still used by permission of Dul Johnson

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

still used by permission of Dul Johnson

still used by permission of Dul Johnson

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

still used by permission of Dul Johnson

still used by permission of Dul Johnson

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

still used by permission of Dul Johnson

still used by permission of Dul Johnson

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

still used by permission of Dul Johnson

still used by permission of Dul Johnson

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

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still used by permission of Dul Johnson

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

still used by permission of Dul Johnson

still used by permission of Dul Johnson

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

still used by permission of Dul Johnson

still used by permission of Dul Johnson

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