AiW Guest: Dare Dan
1998: An Onitsha man arrives in Lagos at the Surulere offices of Zeb Ejiro, a movie producer. He offers cash to make an instant movie named Scores to Settle (1998), directed by Nigerian auteur Chico Ejiro and featuring Richard-Mofe Damijo and Regina Askia, two highly sought-after actors at the time. The stranger’s motive is simple—to make a profit. The director and actors must drop their other engagements and follow the Onitsha man, who pays them up front. In one week, the film is out and selling like hotcakes.
This scenario is illustrative of the current state of film in Nigeria and shows the profit motive driving film production in the country. Rarely do modern directors offer socio-political interpretations of major events, and so, cinema exists mostly independently of critical social discourse. The plots in many Nigerian films are sentimental; the acting, raw; the editing, badly done; the production values, deplorable; the special effects leave little to be admired; and the suspense is almost never thought through–indeed, if a film’s plot is coherently organized, it is almost always with an eye to a future sequel.
These unfortunate developments in the mainstream–which are still very evident in modern Nollywood films–are what have inspired the rise of alternative Nigerian cinema. Groups like the Lagos Film Society, the Women’s Film Club in White Space, Lagos, and several others–usually comprised of young people with a hunger for creativity and eagerness to bring about social, economic and political change–have deemed it apt to organize private screenings of documentaries and feature films. Most of these films are set in post-independent African states and grapple with pertinent socio-political issues such as racism, feminism, civil rights, war, child abuse, poverty, politics, gender inequality and social class systems. In this way, such groups promote a film culture that challenges the status quo and which, beyond just entertainment, educates and politically engages Nigerians.
The Lagos Film Society, in particular, was founded in 2014 by a small group of filmmakers, critics and enthusiasts. Their ongoing aim is to establish the first art-house cinema or cinematheque in the country by finding, nurturing and celebrating African filmmaking; offering filmmakers and film-lovers a platform to survey a range of works from across and beyond the continent; and building a film hub where filmmakers, film experts, film critics and filmgoers can interact. With support from the Goethe-Institut Lagos, the British Council Nigeria, the Nigerian Film Corporation and Africine critics, society members screen and discuss recent works, retrospectives and alternative auteur films, which are not represented in the main commercial market in Nigeria.
On 29th and 30th April 2016, a symposium was held in Lagos as part of a two-day conference on film archives. The event, entitled “Reclaiming History, Unveiling Memory,” was the result of a discovery in the Nigerian Film Corporation building. Some members of the Society one afternoon, while preparing for a screening at the Ikoyi branch of the Corporation, accidentally stumbled across a stash of forgotten film reels rotting away in a “ghost room.” The state of the reels, which numbered in the hundreds, immediately raised several questions: Could this encounter be a metaphor for how we relate with memory as Nigerians? Why have we never really consciously engaged with history? Is this negligence an unintended oversight or did we, as a nation, over the years, decide it unnecessary to espouse the past?
Local and international experts were invited to share archival experiences with interested audience members via panels, presentations, film screenings and workshops. The Indonesian film collective Lab Labalaba presented their approach to film archives in Jakarta, while the London-based German film curator Nikolaus Perneczky (Filmkollektiv Frankfurt) spoke about working with African film archives in a European context. Beninois filmmaker, Idrissou Mora-Kpai, presented his film Indochine, and the iconic Nigerian filmmaker, Dr. Ola Balogun, screened and discussed some of his early films. There also was a special session curated by the Nsibidi Institute and the Royal African Society on engaging archival footages in contemporary filmmaking.
Also, the society, with the support of the Arsenal Institute for Film and Video Art in Berlin, is presently taking steps to recover and digitize some of the found film reels. To this end, there are hopes of reviving cinema culture in Nigeria, and more importantly, putting film to its most potent use: a tool for societal change.
Dare Dan is a freelance writer and a spoken-word poet. He is a member of the Lagos Film Society and writes for the Lagos Film Review. His writings have appeared on Naij.com, olisa.tv and musicinafrica.net. He lives in Lagos, Nigeria. Twitter handle: @damilaredan121.