Tag Archives: interview

Interview with Award-winning filmmaker Kenneth Gyang at the African Studies Association Conference, 2014

poster courtesy of Shadow and Act

At the African Studies Association conference in Indianapolis last November (2014), Nollywood scholar Connor Ryan asked me if I’d like to collaborate with him on an interview with filmmaker Kenneth Gyang, one of the founders of Cinema Kpatakpata. Kenneth’s film Confusion Na Wa won the awards for Best film and Best Nigerian film at the 9th Africa Movie Academy Awards in 2013. (It was nominated for four)

Kenneth is a friend, whom I have known since the set of his Blood and Henna in 2011, which was also nominated for six AMAA Awards (and eventually won Best Costume Design).

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Kenneth Gyang on the set of his film Blood and Henna in Kaduna, November 5, 2011. (c) Carmen McCain

 

At the time we interviewed him (directly before the screening), I had not yet seen Confusion Na Wa! and I really wish I had, as I would have had even more questions. It is a brilliant film that, within a fractured tragi-comic plot, captures well the kinds of daily life and conversations Nigerians have. I need to see it one more time before I write a review.

In the meantime, if you are in Nigeria, Confusion Na Wa is currently back in cinemas via Filmhouse Cinemas, which has locations in Kano, Lagos, Ibadan Calabar, Port Harcourt, and Asaba. If you are in Kano, it is playing now at 10:10am Friday through Thursday. Go see it. If you are in the U.S., Kenneth Gyang has been on a tour, and I believe Confusion Na Wa will be screening at the University of Georgia on February 28, this Saturday, although I wasn’t able to find it on the UGA calender.

I didn’t project my questions very well in the video interview (only Kenneth was mic-ed), so some of my contributions got cut in the editing, but I loved Connor’s questions (he wrote one of the first and probably one of the best reviews of the film when it first came out in 2013) and Kenneth’s answers. Here is a link to some of Kenneth’s transcribed answers, and below is the video of the interview. Enjoy.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Could you tell us about your background?

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

Tell me about your journey to become a filmmaker. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Meeting trailer

The Phone Call trailer

The Video Tape trailer

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

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

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

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

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

A Goat’s Tail clip

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What is your creative process like?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Do you have any advice for aspiring filmmakers?

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

(End)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Watch “Mary and John”

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

Watch “Lorraine”

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

Watch “Mr. Graham”

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

Watch “Precipice”

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

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

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

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

Interview with me in last week’s Aminiya

Here is an interview Bashir Yahuza Malumfashi of the Hausa language weekly Aminiya did with me in December while at the Indigenous Language Literature conference in Damagaram, Niger, December 2009. It was published in last week’s Aminiya, 5-11 February, on pages 20-21. Despite the awful pictures of me, I was quite pleased with how the interview turned out (and pleased with how he edited and corrected my Hausa!). To read the interview, you will probably have to download the photos and open them at 100%. (If the photos are showing up too big to read, try clicking on my home page link. It should allow you to access beyond the margins. UPDATE: 13 February 2010: Actually probably the best way to read the article(as pointed out by Desertgills) is to click on the photos–that should take you to my flickr page. After that click on the All sizes icon at the top of the photo and pick “original size”–that should make it big enough to read… UPDATE 7 April 2010, I actually just found an online version of the interview, so no need to go to all the trouble clicking on photos.)

There were several funny things I thought I should note. First of all, the headline on the front page of Aminiya is “Ta Karya Hannun Mijinta kan Kud’in Cefane”/”She broke her husband’s arm over cooking money.” Aminiya typically features sensational tabloid-style headlines to human interest stories like this. I laughed when I saw it though, because of all the photos on the front of the paper, mine is the only one of a woman. So, naturally, the reader might think that there is this crazy baturiya who broke her husband’s arm….

from Aminiya 5-11 February 2010, pages 20-21

The second cringe moment comes on the second page (page 21) when I am talking about 19th century writers who were writing about “love” in addition to other social issues. I was making a point about the dangers of judging novels as “merely” romance novels because they include elements of romance, and also pointing out that Jane Austen, the Bronte sisters, and other literary icons of the early 19th century were writing in a reading culture that was filled with the popular “Gothic romances,”  often called “trash” in their day. Jane Austen mocked these novels in her satirical Northanger Abbey, while Charlotte and Emily Bronte took the tropes of the Gothic Romance to the next level in Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights. My point was that these writers were reacting to and building on this popular literature and a reading culture that is necessary for the emergence of any literature. I remember in the interview, talking about “Jane Austen” and the “Charlotte Bronte.” Unfortunately, that somehow got transcribed as “Jeane Austin” and “Sheldon.” Please note, that while Sidney Sheldon is a popular writer, he was not writing in the 1800s, and he was not whom I was referring to…

Here is a summary of the interview in English.

Malam Bashir asks me how I started to become interested in Hausa.

I tell him that I grew up in Jos, where my father is a professor at the University of Jos, and I started learning Hausa there. But when I started my MA degree at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, I was required to learn an African language and decided to continue with Hausa. I went to Sokoto, where my teacher Dr. Malami Buba brought me Hausa novels and films.  I had been planning to base my research on English language Nigerian literature, but when I started watching Hausa films and reading Hausa novels, I realized that there were a lot of people outside of Hausa speaking areas who had no idea it existed, even to the point where people often complain about the lack of reading culture in Nigeria. But I saw it was not the case in the North where people were reading Hausa.

He asked me what I could say about Hausa writers and filmmakers.

I said that they really impressed me. I said I had always been interested in writer’s movements and the history of literature [such as the Romantic poets etc]. When I came to Hausaland, I realized that the sort of literary/art movement I had always been interested in was happening here in Hausa. I said that I was impressed by how writers and filmmakers and singers often worked together. I mentioned Ibrahim Sheme’s novel ‘Yar Tsana as particularly impressive and said I also loved the novels of Balaraba Ramat Yakubu, Ado Ahmad Gidan Dabino, Nazir Adam Salih, etc.

He asked me about which films most impressed me. This was the most embarrassing part of the interview because there were films I wanted to talk about but I couldn’t remember their names. I mentioned Sani Mu’azu’s film Hafsat and the film Zazzab’i.

He asked me about the importance of the Hausa language in the world.

I said it was one of the most important languages in Africa, that some statistics show it has more speakers than Swahili, which means it is the largest language spoken in Africa after perhaps Arabic. I also thought that the proliferation of Hausa films and novels was helping the development of Hausa. I gave the example of those who were not of Hausa ethnicity but who enjoyed the films. I mentioned also that when visiting the office of VOA-Hausa earlier that year, one of the reporters showed me some Ghanaian Hausa films made in Accra.  I further mentioned the writer Ngugi wa Thiong’o who is always talking about the importance of writing in African languages. Also if we look at the history of literature in English, if writers like Shakespeare [Chaucer] etc had not chosen to write in their own languages, although English was not yet the language of power at the time, English would be a much poorer language and we would not have these great literary works with us.

He asked me if I was thinking about writing a book in Hausa.

I said that there were certainly writers who wrote in languages of their adopted countries, like the Polish-British writer Joseph Conrad and the Russian-American writer [Vladimir Nabokov]. However, I said that my Hausa was not strong enough to write a book yet, but maybe if I lived in Northern Nigeria for the next fifty years, my Hausa would be good enough to write creatively in it. Right now I write in English.

I’ll skip the next question and move on to the first question on page 21, where he asked me what I think about what happened between filmmakers, writers, and the Kano State Censorship Board.

I said that I had much to say about this but I would focus my comments on my own area of expertise. Since I know about literature and the history of literature in English, I would talk about the parallels between what I saw here and what happened then. I said that Jane Austen and the Bronte sisters [which somehow got transcribed as “Jean Austin and Sheldon”] were writing in England during the 1800s, and they were writing about love. They were writing during a time when there were lots of books floating around [Gothic romances etc] that people said were not great literature, that these novels were spoiling the upbringing of young girls etc (the same things that are being said now about Hausa literature). But I said that though the novels of Austin and the Brontes talked about love, they also talked about other social issues of the time, poverty, and class and injustice.  I said that we could draw a parallel between this English literature and contemporary Hausa literature. Although there are films and novels that focus on love, there are also a lot of other social issues that are caught up in these stories. During the conference in Niger, Malam Rabo (the head of the Kano State Censorship board) proclaimed that he would not read any more love stories for a year [he said that writers should focus on more “important” social problems like declaiming drug use, etc]. But I would ask him, if he says he will ban love stories, what will that do to Hausa literature and films? There is danger if there is someone sitting in the government saying that writers and filmmakers must write or make films about certain prescribed issues and not about others. There should be some amount of distance between creative artists and the government, because the writers and filmmakers are the voice of the ordinary people. They have the power to present problems that ordinary people suffer, so they shouldn’t be prevented from bringing these things out. Also, if Malam Rabo says that for a year he will refuse to read love stories at the censorship board, this is a way of suppressing the voice of women, because many of the stories classified as “littattafan soyayya”/love stories are those novels written by women. Also, these books might deal with romantic love but they are also about problems of the household and the relationships between husbands and wives. If you say that writers must write about the problems of drugs etc., it seems that you are saying that the problems on the street are more important than the problems of the household or the family. I believe it is very dangerous to say you are going to ban an entire theme in literature and only allow the themes you are interested in. Each writer should be allowed to write on those things that he or she wants to write about. If you want to send a message to the readers, then you can write your own book. If the readers like it, then they can read your book and leave behind the love stories, but one mustn’t prevent writers from writing about their lives. There are a lot of complaints about writers writing on adult themes that spoil the upbringing of children, but there are other avenues to address this beside issuing bans. For example, there could be a law passed [like that of the National Film and Video Censors Board] that books with adult themes cannot be sold to children–there can be a differentiation between books written for children and those written for adults.

Bashir Yahuza Malumfashi asks me about what I think about Malam Rabo’s statement at the writer’s conference about how the foreigners and Europeans who said they were interested in Hausa language and culture were not really interested  in it–that they were just tricking and deceiving people for ulterior motives.

I say that I can only talk about myself–that there is no way that I can know about the motivations of every other European or foreigner who comes here. But I said that I truly do love Hausa language, literature, and culture. I came here to this country to do research and I would love to stay and live here and continue to raise the interest of those outside in Hausa language and culture. I am certainly not lying about this. I truly love Hausa and Hausa people.

He finally asks me about my marital status and whether I could marry a Hausa man and live here.

I said that marriage is according to God’s will, and that I will follow whatever God has prepared for me.

Temporarily removing interviews with Kano Censor’s Board DG Alhaji Rabo and MOPPAN VP Dr. Sarari

I am temporarily removing portions of the interview with the Kano State Censor’s Board Director General Alhaji Abubakar Rabo Abdulkarim and the Vice President of MOPPAN Ahmad Sarari, because I’m writing an article for a publication that will not pay me if the quotes are published elsewhere. Check back next week. I will restore  parts of the interview I haven’t quoted in the publication, and will provide a link to the article.

I would also take down the interview with Sani Mu’azu, but (alas) NigerianFilms.com reprinted it without my permission, so it is out of my control….

(UPDATE 14 March 2009: The entire transcript of the interview  with the director general of the censorship board is back up. A very edited version of the interview can be found at Next. The entire transcript of the interview with Dr. Sarari, VP of MOPPAN, is also back up.

Come back later for details of my interview with Iyan-Tama’s brother and the Director General of the Censorship Board yesterday

I am currently busily transcribing interviews for a couple of articles that are due (elsewhere) soon, but wanted to write a quite note to alert readers to come back later in the day for details of my interviews yesterday with Dr. Ahmad Sarari, the Vice President of MOPPAN and also the blood brother of Iyan-Tama, and with Alhaji Abubakar Rabo Abdulkarim, Director General of the Kano State Censorship Board.

Both interviews were quite informative about the ongoing Iyan-Tama case, and Dr. Sarari gave more details on the intimidation of Iyan-Tama’s family the night before the court case last week.

After the articles I’m working on are published, I hope to publish the full transcripts of the interviews here (including a brief interview with President of MOPPAN Sani Mu’azu).

(For more background information about the censorship crisis in Kano, see this report.)