Well, as a Professional, I wouldn’t want to respond to the Saka menace going on in town but then I keep getting emails upon emails from students, clients, fans and friends. People keep asking me several questions; why on earth did Saka port?
Relatedly, I went for a Strategic meeting with the Executive Board Members of a renowned bank, and the story came up again. In fact, they played the commercial and applauded the sheer brilliance of MTN. I actually heard one of the Excos saying ‘I’m going to port immediately.’ So I asked them: what worked for you in the commercial? Majority of them said ‘we just love this Saka man’
There’s nothing as powerful as that cultural connection and that humanness factor we display as brands. As I watch from a distance the recent Saka phenomenon I can only bow to this timeless advertising principle. Culture eats Strategy for breakfast. Hats off.
As the Creative Director who was privileged to have created the iconic Saka for advertising, I watch as this device takes on a life of its own and how it is gradually becoming a major case study in the history of Nigeria’s advertising. However, before I go to major brand lessons this should teach us, I shall quickly correct some insinuations flying round in our ad circle. Ad people can be their own worst enemies. Don’t take my words for it. Go see Mad Men. However, it’s good to have a first person point of view to this saga.
For the record.
First, Saka was not a celebrity used for etisalat. Rather, he was a character we at Centrespread designed for an ad campaign that has come to take on a life of its own. When we did create the character bible, we needed a talent that could act the role and he came in for the casting like any other person. Looking at the screen test later on, we had no doubt that Saka was the man we were looking for. You must give credits to etisalat to have approved of our direction and choice. It really was not their ‘type’ of advertising. So, it was not a case of celebrity endorsement, it was a case of characterization. In Wendy’s ‘where is the beef’, the miniature old lady has become a phenomenon because of her characterization and Wendy wouldn’t dare joke with that.
Secondly, we must also quickly correct the impression that the ‘funny’ man was looking for money, hence porting to MTN. While it is a fact that all of us on this planet would want to be better paid for our talent, I know personally, that Saka gave his very best to us on etisalat’s campaign. He was not signed on a contract. He was paid like any other 3-month model arrangement. He was not paid the proverbial gbem. For the brand then, it was more of a tactical usage. He didn’t fit their typical advertising look and feel. Remember etisalat is the hip, classy and swag brand. Like I said earlier, we must credit them to have approved of the Saka idea in the first place. Although it was beginning to look like this was a devise that etisalat could own, going by the results it generated, Saka was treated like any other cast. I am very sure Banky W got more handsomely paid than our beloved Saka. Far far. But where is Banky W today? He ported also. That is what you can refer to as celebrity usage. Saka was not treated as such.
Quickly onto major brand lessons.
1. Advertising people must realize that people don’t really go all out to watch and listen to what we have to say. People don’t like ads. However, people love characters. Characterization is the holy grail of great storytelling. And if you are lucky to have one working for your brand, you’d better recognize and keep it like gold. My friend Udeme. Mama na Boy.The Malboro man. The Michelin Man. The Morton Salt Girl. Some of these are animated devices, some are real cast. Whatever it is, it is the job of the brand to treat such characters as assets for brand equity. In Africa, our type of storytelling is rarely animated. Hence, the place for human characters. I shall talk about this, another day.
2. We must come down from our high horses as advertisers and start recognizing local nuances and cultural elements in our storytelling. I don’t know where we got the theory that ‘looking good is great advertising’. Great ads may look good but that’s not their intentions. They normally have that verisimilitude to the lives of the people they serve. They are usually humanly populist, interesting and sometimes funny. How professionally done is the Indomee song ‘mama you do good o’? It may be tough selling that to a boardroom of brand people who believe in certain types of music production and musicians. The Indomee song came to the market awash with on-air fake accents and stole the show. It mirrors what our people would do. It mirrors how our children
I was asked by the organizers of I-Rep documentary film festival to speak on the topic: “Documentary Film and African Spirituality and Politics,” but I have taken liberty to slightly alter the topic to read, “Documentary Film and the Projection of African Cultural Identity,” with the hope that I shall cover everything encapsulated in the initial topic given to me.
As a people, Africans have been engaging in social documentation since time immemorial. The form of social documentation has, of course, been oral. This was how our value systems have been passed from one generation to the next. Social documentation was not a subject matter handled by everybody. Only those who have been taught the art of oratory or who have inherited it by virtue of being born into a lineage of master orators, storytellers, or griots, engage in proper and systematic social documentation. Such persons were endowed with the gift of the garb. They were by calling and training the traditional historians, healers, geographers, astrologers, storytellers, thinkers and priests of the people. They documented through specialized oral mnemonic devices, stories related to the origin of the race; its religious beliefs; and its political, social and cultural values. These were then passed on orally from generation to generation. It is important that we should acknowledge what we had, what worked for us for centuries, before colonial conquest changed our outlook as a people forever.
Documentary film is a form of social documentation, a modern artistic form of social documentation which we acquired by virtue of colonial conquest. This paper is divided principally into five sections. In the first section, I will examine the origin of the term “documentary”. This will be followed, in a selective manner, the history of the documentary format, the type of documentary practice bequeathed us by the British colonizers and how the format can be used to propagate African cultural identity in a globalized world, followed by my recommendations and conclusion.
On the Origin of the Term Documentary Film
The term “documentary” has as its root word, “document, which comes from the Latin, docere,” which means, to teach (Ellis and McLane, 2006, p.3). What this means is that the value of documentary lies in teaching. But the term documentary film as we use it today owe its origin to the Scottish filmmaker, John Grierson, who first used the term in his review of Robert Flaherty’s film, Moana, for The New York Sun in February 8, 1926. Grierson had submitted that “Of course, Moana being a visual account of events in the daily life of a Polynesian youth and his family, has documentary value” (as cited in Ellis and McLane, p.3). According to Jack C. Ellis and Betsy A. McLane, when Grierson wrote that Moana, had “documentary value,” he was most probably thinking of the modern meaning of document – which is a record that is tactual and authentic. Ellis and McLane also submit that Grierson could also have been thinking of the French usage of documentaire to distinguish serious travelogues from other types of films, including mere scenic views. Later in life, Grierson would change his use of the term documentary to its original meaning of teaching and propagating through the creative treatment of actuality (Ellis and McLane, pp.3-4).
The film, Moana, was an ethnographic record of life in Somoa in the 1920s as Robert Flaherty saw it and recorded it. In his review of the film, Grierson reportedly remarked: “That’s all very well, but why couldn’t we bring that kind of filmmaking back to the mines and factories, the society and institutions, the problems and shortcomings of modern-day industrialized, urbanized life in Britain” (as cited in Ellis and McLane, p. ix). It is in this respect that John Grierson started “the main line of documentary tradition known today as social documentary,” with the main exceptions being nature, scientific, ethnographic films, educational films and other types of nonfiction form (Ellis and McLane, p. ix). According to Ellis and McLane, the documentary format originated in the 1920s in North America, the Soviet Union, France, Germany and Holland. The productions in these countries inspired the work of John Grierson, who at the end of the 1920s into the 1930s, then set the standards for social documentation for which British documentary has become world famous (Ellis and McLane, p. ix).
One of the key authorities on the documentary format, Bill Nichols, has defined documentary as follow:
Documentary film speaks about situations and events involving real people (social actors) who present themselves in stories that convey a plausible proposal about, or perspective on, the lives, situations, and events portrayed. The distinct point of view of the filmmaker shapes this story into a way of seeing the historical world directly rather than into a fictional allegory (Nichols, 2010, p.14).
He also makes a key distinction between the reproduction of reality and the representation of reality. He argues persuasively that both are not the same:
But documentary is not a reproduction of reality, it is a representation of the world we already occupy. Such films are not documents as much as expressive representations that may be based on documents. Documentary films stand for a particular view of the world, one we may never have encountered before even if the factual aspects of this world are familiar to us. We judge a reproduction by its fidelity to the original – its capacity to reproduce visible features of the original precisely and to serve purposes that require precise reproduction as in police mug shots, passport photos, or medical x-rays (original emphasis) (p.13).
A documentary film usually persuades us to take a stand on a topical issue or to advocate a particular world-view favoured by the filmmaker. In this respect, the success of the work is to be measured in accordance to changes we perceive in our original viewpoint prior to seeing the film which dealt with the subject matter. In the end, we may feel persuaded by the position taken by the filmmaker or feel better educated on the issue as a result of the film.
Documentary Film through History and Classification
The origin of documentary films can be extended to the very birth of the medium. In this respect, works by Louis and Auguste Lumiere such as The Arrival of a Train at the Station, Feeding the Baby, Workers Leaving the Factory, all of which were produced in the 1895s, or the work of George Melies such as Place de L’opera (1896) or Boulevard des Italiens (1896); or travelogues such as Moscow Clad in Snow (Pathe Freres, 1909); or With Scott in the Antarctic (Herbert Ponting, 1913); or In the Land of the Head-Hunters (Edward S. Curtis, 1914), can be considered documentaries (see Ellis and McLane, pp.6-7).
In some respect also, the newsreel tradition could be said to have started with the film, Excursion of the French Photographic Society to Neuville (Louis Lumiere, 1895). Other works in this category included a film on the crowning of the Czar, Coronation of Nicholas II (1896), the burial rites of the British queen, The Funeral of Queen Victoria (1901) and films dealing with warfare such as, The Assassination of a British Sentry (1900), Attack on a China Mission (1900), Attack on a Japanese Convoy (1904), amongst others. The newsreel in a weekly format was reportedly started by Charles Pathe of France in 1910 (Ellis and McLane, p.7). The anthropological tradition in the documentary format was launched by the father of documentary, Robert Flaherty, in his film, Nanook of the North (1922), followed by Moana (1926), and Man of Aran (1934).
After the successful prosecution of the Soviet Revolution in 1917, the Soviets started using film as a tool of propaganda in furtherance of the broad aims of the revolution, through the establishment of a film division within the Department of Education. Three types of Soviet documentaries emerged in the 1920s: the newsreel-indoctrinational series, the compilation film which dealt with the recent of the Russian Empire, and Soviet epics celebrating contemporary Soviet achievements.
The newsreel-indoctrinational genre was pioneered by Denis Arkadievich Kaufman who adopted the screen name Dziga Vertov. In 1922, the year of the release of Nanook of the North, Vertov began the production of the “Kino-Pravda” series of short films which were essentially indoctrinational newsreels. According to Ellis and McLane, Kino Pravda means film truth (Ellis and McLane, p.30). Pravda was of course the name of the Soviet daily newspaper, which was the main media organ of the Communist Party. In this respect, in the “Kino-Pravda,” the newsreel and the propaganda traditions were effectively fused. They took the form of reportage intended to inform and indoctrinate Soviet audiences regarding the necessity, progress and values of the Soviet Revolution. The climax of the Kino Pravda, was Dziga Vertov’s production of The Man with a Movie Camera (1929).
The compilation tradition was pioneered by Esfir (Esther) Shub, who started her career as Film Editor to Dziga Vertov and Sergein Eisenstein. In her work, she drew inspiration from both filmmakers even though she considered herself a pupil of Vertov. In 1922, she drew inspiration from Sergei Eisenstein’s full-blown use of montage in Battleship Potemkin (1925), to begin her work on the compilation films which included, The Fall of the Romanov Dynasty (1927), The Great Road (1927) and The Russia of Nicholas II and Leo Tolstoy (1928). The other great soviet documentarist was Victor Turin, who specialized in epic documentaries. A typical example of this genre is Turksib (1929) which documented the building of the Turkestan-Siberian railway.
The European avant-garde documentary tradition was also a major development in the 1920s. According to Ellis and McLane, the filmic precursor of the avant-garde tradition was George Meliess A Trip to the Moon (1902); in painting, Marcel Duchamp’s Nude Descending a Staircase (1912), offered an abstract stroboscopic view; Pablo Picasso’s The Violin (1913) provided the cubist dimension and in Literature, Marcel Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past (1919-1925), is a typical example. The first of the avant-garde films towed the lines of abstraction and nonobjectivity. The tradition was started by two painter friends living and working in Berlin: Viking Eggeling, a Swede, and Hans Richter, a German. Their preoccupation with picture scrolls led them to moving pictures, beginning with Richter’s Rhythm 21 (1921) and Eggeling’s Diagonal Symphony (1925). Other films in this category included Joris Iven’s The Bridge (1928), Walter Ruttman directed one of the early “city symphonies,” Berlin: Symphony of a Great City (1927), Alberto Cavalcanti’s Rien que les Leures (Only the Honis, 1926), Joris Iven’s Rain (1929), which was about Amsterdam, or Jean Vigo’s A Propos de Nice (1930), a satirical study of the famous French holiday resort town, Nice, or Arne Sucksdorff’s Symphony of a City (1947), which dealt with Stockholm; or John Eldridge’s Waverly Steps (1948), which was about Edinburgh (Ellis and McLane, pp. 44-55).
The next genre of documentary I should like to mention is the social documentary tradition created by John Grierson. Grierson was a World War I veteran who studied at the Universities of Glasgow and Chicago. He entered filmmaking from a social sciences background, with a strong belief that film should be used for the education of the masses, especially the British masses. When John Grierson returned to England in 1927, he teamed up with Stephen Tallents, the Secretary of the Empire Marketing Board (EMB), on how to use film to promote economic ties between Britain and its commonwealth of nations. Stephen Tallents was persuaded by Grierson that the motion picture is a valueable tool for governmental public relations. But in actual fact, Grierson’s primal commitment was to how film can be used to mobilize and educate the masses rather than to promote and burnish government image.
Initially, John Grierson was appointed by Stephen Tallents in an unofficial advisory capacity. In this position, he was able to carry out research on the use of film by governments around the world. He equally set up film screening sessions for the personnel of the EMB to highlight the potentials of film as a medium for social, political and cultural development. Following these screening sessions, Grierson was able to recruit Tallents in the drive to persuade the Department of the Treasury into funding the production of a film by the Empire Marketing Board. Grierson’s opportunistic style of fundraising for film production is highly recommended for socially committed filmmakers. The result of his persuasion of the Treasury was that funds were provided for the production of Drifters (1929), the only documentary that John Grierson wrote, produced, directed and edited. The film dealt with herring fishing in the North Sea. Rather than tow the path of an iconoclastic individualist artist, Grierson’s desire to mentor generations of documentarists took the better part of him. He close a collectivist approach to filmmaking by creating a workshop for the teaching of documentary film. It is in this respect that he helped in establishing the world renowned British documentary movement.
In 1930, the Empire Marketing Board Film Unit was established with Grierson as its head. During the four years of its existence, the EMB’s Film Unit produced over one hundred documentaries. As head of the EMB Film Unit, Grierson reputedly engaged dozens of young upper middle class well-educated (many of them attended Cambridge University) and socially committed aspiring filmmakers who bought into Grierson’s dream of using film to educate the masses. His liberal humanist views were essentially geared towards making the state and society function better through civic education facilitated by the cinema. According to Ellis and McLane, Grierson thought that
Collective effort, cooperation, and understanding could lead to a better world – not only better food and better housing, better teeth and better schools, but a better spirit – a sense of being part of a valuable society with space still left for individual satisfaction and eccentricities (p.61).
Among those who trained in the documentary workshop of the EMB were Basil Wright, Paul Rotha, Arthur Elton, Edgar Anstey and Stuart Legg. They were joined later by Harry Watt, Humphrey Jenning and Alberto Cavalcanti, who was a coproducer and coteacher with John Grierson. Even though they were paid very little amount of money, they were all caught in the excitement of helping to create a socially relevant and committed art. Besides this, they were equally fiercely loyal to John Grierson.
What happened to Grierson’s documentaries was symptomatic of what also happened to government funded documentary film production in colonial Nigeria. I shall return to this issue shortly. Suffice to note that Grierson was not only committed to socially relevant documentary filmmaking, he was equally committed to creating avenues for the distribution and exhibition of the works produced by the film collective of the EMB. Grierson faced a lot of challenges. The film industry resisted government involvement in filmmaking; also, distributors and exhibitors said the public was not interested in documentary films. To solve these problems, Grierson had to resort to a method of nontheatrical distribution and exhibition. Film screening sessions were scheduled for exhibition in government-owned agencies. While the Imperial Institute, London, was used as a venue for film exhibition, the Empire Film Library was used for the free loan of 16mm prints of film through the mailing system. Later, the General Post Office included travelling projection vans to take films to the countryside. Grierson also persuaded the film critics of the major newspapers to highlight the work of the British documentary film movement. He and his colleagues were equally regularly on the lecture circuit to promote their work. Ellis and McLane have submitted that Grierson and his team were instrumental to the founding of journals such as Cinema Quarterly, World Film News and Documentary Newsletter (pp.57-62).
As a result of the 1930s great Depression, the work of the Empire Marketing Board was terminated on grounds of the economic situation. When the Board folded up, Stephen Tallents moved to the General Post Office as its first public relations officer, but he was able to negotiate the movement of the EMB Film Unit and the Empire Film Library to the GPO. The GPO was a much more larger and richer government agency housing the postal mail, the telephone and wireless broadcasting, a savings bank, among other government services. The first set of films produced under the GPO included, Six-Thirty Collection (1934) and Night Mail (1936). After fulfilling its obligations to its new sponsor, the GPO Film Unit then embarked on other productions that fit the general bill of the documentary film movement. They included Song of Ceylon (1934) and Coal Face (1935). The GPO Film Unit also reputedly produced over one hundred films (Ellis and McLane, p.62).
John Grierson also carried the campaign for the sponsorship of the work of the documentary movement to the private sector. In this respect, he was able to persuade Shell International on the potential uses of the documentary film. This resulted in the establishment of the Shell Film Unit, which became highly regard for its films on scientific and technological issues. Grierson’s protégée, Edgar Anstey became the first head of the Shell Film Unit. He was succeeded by Arthur Elton who continued the tradition of producing high quality scientific documentaries.
Grierson also recruited the gas industry into sponsoring the production of documentaries such as, Housing Problems (1935) and Enough to Eat? (1936). Most of these documentaries were directed by members of the film collective. For example, Housing Problem was directed by Arthur Elton, Edgar Anstey, John Taylor and Ruby Grierson, the youngest sister of John Grierson. Other films produced to solve perceived social problems included, The Smoke Menace (1937), which dealt with air pollution and Children at School (1937), which examined the shortcomings of the public school system.
In 1937, Grierson resigned from the GPO Film Unit to establish a central coordinating and advisory agency to link those interested in setting up film units in their companies with members of the British documentary film movement. The services of the Film Centre included overseeing the promotion of documentaries, and planning production and distribution of such films. The Film Centre which Grierson founded in 1938, had Arthur Elton and Stuart Legg as his assistants. Undoubtedly, anybody who is an avid patron of documentary channels such as HBO, the History Channel and the Discovery Channel can attest to the fact that British documentarists dominate many of these channels. Besides, one of Grierson’s protégée, Paul Rotha, became a world renowned scholar in the documentary format, with many books on the subject matter to his credit.
The Colonial Heritage of the Documentary Format in Nigeria
Right from the beginning of the colonial encounter, Nigeria was brought under the influence of the British documentary movement in the formative period of the movement. The sudden outbreak of a plague in Lagos in 1929 prepared the grounds for the intervention of the documentary movement through the activities of a British colonial official who was inspired by the work of the movement. In attempt to explain the real cause of the plague, William Sellers, then the Chief Health Officer of the Department of Health, used the documentary film to educate the people of Lagos on the vectors responsible for the plague. Before his scientific intervention, rumours were rife in the city that migrants from the hinterland brought the plague (Shaka, 2003, p.53). The British Central Office of Information (COI) Bulletin No. R3161, October, 1955, gave the following account of how the documentary film was employed to educate the people of Lagos on the real cause of the plague:
In the late 1920s lantern slides were being used to illustrate lectures on health in Nigeria, and it was in this territory, to combat an outbreak of a plague in Lagos in 1929, that film was employed for the first time in any colonial territory as medium of information and education. In the campaign, the film was used to illustrate to Africans the way in which rats carry the disease and to enlist the co-operation of Africans in killing the plague-bearing rats. The success of the campaign was such that from that time the film was increasingly used in West Africa (as cited in Shaka, 2004, p.157).
From the foregoning, it is clear that Nigeria was in the forefront with respect to the use of film as a medium for educating the masses. Colonial Nigeria equally pioneered the tradition of using free Mobile Film Units as a strategy for reaching people in the countryside who would never have had the opportunity of experiencing this modern medium of storytelling. Historically speaking, Mobile Film Units (MFUs) were first designed and used in Nigeria before the expertise was exported to the rest of the world through the activities in the British Commonwealth. The British Central Office of Information Bulletin No. 3161, October, 1955, also confirms the Nigerian origin of the Mobile Film Units:
the first mobile cinemas – usually in improvised vans – were in use as long ago as 1929. It was in 1931 that the specially designed mobile cinema van was evolved in Nigeria, and since then the design has been steadily improved. Modern vehicles carry their own power-supply, are fitted for the projection of 16mm films, silent or sound, and include film strip projectors, public address equipment and radio. The mobile cinema van is a many purpose vehicle, for according to the composition of its crew and programme, it becomes a mobile health centre, a veterinary centre, or a school for literacy or agricultural improvement campaign (as cited in Shaka, 2004, p.168).
Once the popularity of this form of free cinema was established, itinerant salesmen began to exploit the system by setting up their own MFUs to promote the sale of their merchandise. The salesmen’s film exhibitions were often much more popular than those of the government owned MFUs because they often showed mostly Hollywood movies to promote the sale of their goods. This was how the film viewing culture permeated the Nigerian society.
What I have been doing so far is to demonstrate the fact that the documentary film can be used for the propagation of virtually any idea, so far as the idea concerns persuading the populace to adopt a particular outlook in life. If the colonial masters used it so successfully, there is no reason why we cannot. For instance, in 1927, Han Vischer, the Secretary to the Advisory Committee on Education in the Colonies (ACEC) recommended to the Colonial Office Conference on Education in the Colonies, that the cinema should be used to spread general knowledge about health and economic development in the colonies. In this regard, in 1929, Julian Huxley went to East Africa for ACEC to test African reaction to educational cinema. He concluded after observing the reactions to the pilot programme that the cinema could be used for the education of adults and for propaganda means. It was not surprising therefore that the British colonial government’s Ministry of Information (MOI) established the Colonial Film Unit in 1939, in the heat of the Second World War, to make and distribute war propaganda films in the colonies in aid of the British war efforts. It should not surprise us also that William Sellers who pioneered the use of film for educational purposes in Nigeria was appointed as Producer of CFU while George Pearson became the artistic director of the Unit (Shaka, 2004, pp.156-168).
After the pilot programme which Julian Huxley carried out on behalf of ACEC in 1929, the Colonial Office agreed in principle that the cinematic medium was an invaluable tool for adult education and social development, yet it would not commit itself financially to the implementation of ACEC’s findings. In fact, according to Rosaleen Smyth, this lack of financial commitment by the Colonial Office towards the development of the colonies was the subject of several reports that were very critical of British colonial administration, which appeared just before the outbreak of the war. The consensus was that the British colonial government needed to spend more money on the development of the colonies, hence the enactment of the Colonial Development and Welfare Act of 1940 (as cited in Shaka, 2004, pp.158-159).
By 1944, the total number of films carrying the CFU’s label was 115, even though not all of them were actually produced by the CFU. The war propaganda films produced by the CFU can be classified into three categories: war information films, exhortation and goodwill films, and the projection-of-England films. Most of the war information films carried titles like, This is an Anti-Aircraft Gun (Pearson, 1941), or This is a Barrage Ballon (Pearson, 1941); or they were films highlighting Africans fighting in the war such as, Pilot-Officer Peter Thomas, RAF (Pearson, 1943), which was about a Nigerian, Peter Thomas, who was the first African to qualify as a commissioned combatant officer in the Royal Airforce. Others such as Food from Oil Nuts (Pearson, 1944) and We Want Rubber (Pearson, 1944), exhorted Africans to produce more rubbers to help overcome the critical shortage of the commodity after the fall of Malaysia to the Japanese. Films such as Comfort from Uganda (Pearson, 1942) and Katsina Tanks (Pearson, 1943), were goodwill films made to show British appreciation for contributions made by the colonies towards the war efforts. The projection-of-England films had such titles like, Mr. English at Home (Gordon Hales, 1940) and A British Family in Peace and War (Pearson, 1944) (Shaka, 2004, pp.166-167).
Towards the end of the war, as the agitations for independence grew louder in Africa, British colonial film policy was directed towards ensuring that the colonies stayed within the British Commonwealth. The main objective was to persuade Africans that Western democracy had more to offer them than communism. Also, in keeping with its post-war plans of placing emphasis on the production of educational documentaries, the Colonial Office instructed the CFU to develop film production infrastructures in the colonies for the production of educational films. At the end of the Second World War, most of the CFU films were directed by Lionel Snazelle. They included, Toward True Democracy (Snazelle, 1947), Good Business (Snazelle, 1947), which dealt with cocoa marketing in Nigeria, Village Development (Snazelle, 1948), Better Homes (Snazelle, 1948), Mix Farming (Snazelle, 1948), and Animal Manure (Rollo Gamble, 1950). As the titles indicate, most of the films were geared toward teaching Africans the importance of multi-party democracy, village planning and development and modern methods of farming (Shaka, 2004, p.167).
To demonstrate his sincere concern for the state of development in the colonies, John Grierson, in his crusade for the production of educational films wrote a report for UNESCO in 1949, on the need to set up institutions for the training of filmmakers in Africa. According to Manthia Diawara, this report was instrumental in motivating the CFU to establish the Film Training School in Accra, Gold Coast (Ghana). The Accra Film Training School provided Anglophone West Africans rudimentary training in film production for a period of six months, after which it was closed down and relocated to Kingston, Jamaica, where the CFU provided film training for its colonies in the Caribbean Island for another six months, after which it was closed down and relocated to London where its name was changed to Overseas Film and Television Centre. The Centre was instructed to coordinate the autonomous CFUs in the colonies as well as serve as a Centre for post-production of films, renting of film production equipment and providing training for film and television crews from the British Commonwealth of nations. The strategy was to perpetually make the people of the newly independent countries to be dependent on the British metropole (see Diawara, 1992, p.3; Shaka, 2004, p.167).
As the CFU was transforming itself into the Overseas Film and Television Centre, the GPO Film Unit founded by Stephen Tallents and John Grierson also transformed itself into the Crown Film Unit, intended to provide serves to all the Departments of the British government. It was in this new capacity, possibly in an attempt to ameliorate stringent criticism regarding the apathy of British colonial administration toward the development of the colonies, that the Crown Film Unit sponsored the Oscar Award winning documentary, Daybreak in Udi (Terry Bishop, 1949). This was a prototypical Griersonian documentary dealing with the subject matter of self-help development projects embark upon by the people of Umama village in Old Udi Division, near Enugu, with the support of the local District Officer (DO) E.R. Chadwick. The film deals with adult literacy classes and the building of a Maternity home in the community (Shaka, 2004, pp.170-212).
The first generation filmmakers such as J.A. Otigba, Adamu Halilu, Malam Yakubu Aina and A.A. Fajemisin, were colonial government trained filmmakers who were taught at the Accra, Gold Coast (Ghana) Film Training School. Upon completing their training, they were posted the Nigerian Unit of the CFU which was established in 1946 but had its name changed to the Federal Film Unit in 1947 through an act of parliament. Between 1947 and 1960, the pioneer filmmakers worked under the supervision of N.F. Spur, the Film Officer of the FFU, in the production of the following documentaries: Empire Day Celebrations in Nigeria (1948), Small Pox (1950), Leprosy (1950), Port Harcourt Municipal Council Elections (1950), and Queen Elizabeth II Visit to Nigeria (1956) (Shaka, 2004, 282).
Documentary Film Format and the Projection of African Cultural Identity
The concept of “Africanness” lies at the centre of the pan-Africanist project and the construction of an African identity. It was the issue that preoccupied the mind of the pioneer pan-Africanists like Kwame Nkrumah, Gamal Abdel Nasser, Nnamdi Azikiwe, Sekou Toure, Jomo Kenyatta and Julius Nyerere. The concept of “Africanness” as I see it, is a social secular construct used by the people of the African continent in defining their identity in terms of their belief-systems, their socio-political organizations or institutions, their cultural values, their perception of issues related to race, class, gender, and ethnicity. These issues define us a people. The issue of personal identity is an issue borne out of personal conviction, arising from one’s knowledge of one’s background. People generally construct identities for themselves, and then use such identities in defining themselves. It is in this respect that Ali Mazrui poses the question of who an “African” is:
But what is an “African”? There are two main types – those who are “African” in a continental sense (like Egyptians and Algerians) and those who are “African” in a racial sense (like Nigerians, Ugandans and Senegalese). Egyptians and Algerians are Africa’s children of the soil. sub-Saharan Blacks are Africa’s children of the blood. In reality all those who are natives of Africa are children of the soil (called wana-nchi in Swahili language). But sub-Saharan Blacks are in addition Africa’s children by racial blood (as cited in Shaka, 2005, p.23).
Mazrui’s notion of Africanness which is based on geographical and racial considerations is exclusionist in nature because it does not related to how we should define Asians and Europeans whose great grandparents consider themselves Africans because they migrated to the continent, raced their families here and their children grand children and even great grandchildren know no other home but Africa. This is the candid reality of many Asian and European Kenyans, Zimbabweans, Namibians, South Africans and even Nigerians. In my perception, an African chooses to be so identified either by virtue of personal migration or by birth. It is not something that is forced upon people. That is why you will meet many Europeans or Asians who will proudly tell you they are Africans while the so-called Africans by racial origin would claim to be a Caribbean or African-Americans due to inferiority complex.
To return to the question of how the documentary film can be used to propagate African cultural identity, I should to state that for the better part of this paper, I have been trying to demystify the process of achieving such a project by reviewing how the documentary film has been used by so many countries throughout the course of history to promote issues of social welfare and cultural values of their society. From the anthropological or the ethnographic documentaries, to the newsreel, to Soviet indoctrinational or propaganda documentaries, to the compilation film, avant-garde documentaries, to the social documentaries of the British documentary movement, historical evidences before us show that the documentary format can be utilized in solving any social problem militating against harmonious development of any society. The case of Africa cannot be different.
Though any aspect of our social experience can be exploited as content for documentary production, the institution of the traditional African festival is an unexploited quarry for those interested in culture-related documentaries which will help project traditional African institutions globally. Of course, urban or city contemporary social experience is a fitting subject matter for documentary production, but the urban space is something that is regularly covered by the international broadcast media. The same cannot be said of traditional African institutions which will offer a refreshingly different visual experience to global viewers.
Several aspects of the traditional African festival can provide valuable content for exploitation by the documentarist. First, the festival is a community-wide celebration that involves everybody in the community, from the lowly commoner to the aristocratic leader who may be presiding over an ancient kingdom like the Ague Festival of the Edo people which is precided over by the Oba of Benin, or it may be a small community precided over by a local chief or king. The king and his retinue of chiefs, traditional historians or chief priests provide a colourful scenario for the documentarist.
Second, since such festivals deal with myths and legends related to the origin of the celebrating community, it should provide avenues for members of such a community to be interviewed, to tell the story of how their community was founded. Third, the celebratory atmosphere of the festival which is usually punctuated by ritual ceremonies, masquerade dancers and general feasting, during which time the proverbial traditional African hospitality is put on display, should be interesting to the African Diaspora trying to spiritually reconnect with their ancestral roots. Considering the fact that Nigeria is richly blessed with thousands of traditional African festivals, documentarists shouldn’t really run short of materials for documentary production. Even better known festivals such as the Osun Oshogbo Festival, the Kano Durbar, the Ague Festival or the Arugungun Fishing Festival, which are already on the world tourism maps, are yet to be fully exploited by Nigerian documentarists. What is stopping us! Should we wait for our expatriate friends to exploit them before we begin to complain of misrepresentation of our cultural institutions?
Considering what we have been able to achieve with the Nollywood film culture, with little governmental support, it is surprising that we haven’t been able to harness our vibrant and creative artists to start a serious documentary film movement like the type that John Grierson helped to establish in the UK. Who would be Nigeria’s John Grierson? Who will champion the cause of the promotion of a socially committed and relevant documentary practice in Nigeria, in an age of crass materialism when we celebrate the tradition of kleptocracy and canonize bare-faced thieves fitting for the gallows! Who will do this thankless, financially challenging job for us?
Outside of the tradition of the problem-solving genre of social documentation, there is equally a lot of potentials in the antobiographical documentary, nature-related documentaries, scientific documentaries, and the use of the documentary format in the teaching of school curricular subjects or for specialized professional trade-related instructions. The field is wide open for the creative artist to exploit. All that is required is a dogged spirit to use the documentary format to tackle whatever issue one considers vital at any historical period within our society. There are now high quality miniaturized digital cameras in the electronic market to meet the need of a small crew working on whatever line of documentary. What is perhaps currently lacking is a proper mentorship scheme by experienced documentarists like Femi Odugbemi and others like him who are committed to working in the format, and who may be prepared to take many unemployed youths off the streets and teach them the trade of documentary practice as a means of turning them into responsible and productive citizens.
The owners of the broadcast media also have a role to play in turning the documentary format into the next frontier waiting to be conquered the way we have conquered the turf of commercial film production through the Nollywood film culture. The broadcast media, both radio and television, need to create an alternative market for documentary productions. Luckily, our country’s airspace has been democratized and there are now many television and radio stations which should be hungry to be fed with creatively well-packaged documentaries. This is time for work; this is time to start a line of civic advocacy in the field of documentary production. We hope both Nollywood and non-Nollywood practitioners would give a strong thought to this sector of our national economy.
I have been arguing thus far that the documentary format can be exploited to project a virile African cultural identity to the rest of the world in the same manner that we are currently doing so through the Nollywood film culture. I have undertaken a historiographic excursion into how other countries around the world have harnessed the potentials of the documentary film to advance the social welfare of people of their society. I have equally suggested typical African institutions which have the potentials to provide content for the production of documentaries, to propagate our cultural values in the global market place. What remains for us is to match rhetoric with action so that we can turn the fortunes of the documentary format around in our country.
Diawara, M. (1992). African cinema: Politics and culture. Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press.
Ellis, J.C. and McLane, B.A. (2006). A new history of documentary film. New York: Continuum.
Nichols, B. (2010). Introduction to documentary. (2nd Edition) Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press.
Shaka, F.O. (2004). Modernity and the African cinema: A study in colonialist discourse and modern African identities. Trenton, NJ: Africa World Press.
_____ (2003). History, genres and Nigeria’s emergent video film industry. Black Renaissance/Renaissance Noire. Vol. 5. No. 2 (Summer): 51-64.
Culled from iRep website
Femi Okiremuette Shaka
(Professor of Film Studies)
Film & TV Studies Programme
Department of Theatre Arts, University of Port Harcourt
Choba – Port Harcourt, Rivers State
Cell Phone: 234-806-442-1567 or 234-805-4435
Email: email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org
Just like any other film industries across the globe, Nollywood has her share of intervening variables that militate against the attainment of quality video outputs. These challenges cut across; funding, technical-know-how, legal structure, standard industry practice, lack of infrastructures, low critical audience, and other self inflicted barriers.
This essay will zoom on technical issues with extreme close up on camera angles. Camera angle is the positioning of camera and it is influenced by many factors. Talking about camera angle, I mean the physical relationship between the camera to the person or object that is in focus.
“The camera’s angle not only gives a viewpoint from a physical location, it also gives emotional information to the viewer and guides the viewer’s judgement about the character or object in the shot.”
Camera angles may have different meaning to different people, but for the purpose of this discourse, it is the angle that a camera is placed in relation to the person, people or object in a scene.
The camera angle determines both the audience viewpoint and area covered in the shot. Each time you are to place your camera to a new set up, two questions must be answered i.e.:
(1) What is the best viewpoint for filming this portion?
(2) How much area should be included in the shot?
A creatively selected camera angle can heighten dramatic visualisation of the story, therefore selection of camera angle is a most important factor in constructing of picture of continued interest.
FACTORS THAT DETERMINE CAMERA ANGLE
In his book titled ‘the five Cs of Cinematography- Motion Picture Filming Techniques Simplified’, Joseph V, Mascelli identified the factors that determine camera angle as follow;
This factor requires the creative aspect of a director. Considering this factor, all compositional elements: actors, props, furniture, setting, background, e.t.c should be studied with talents movements and general action of the scene in mind. Objects should be arranged to facilitate suitable staging and pleasing photography. To achieve the desired effect, some items may be removed or added. In a nutshell, the mise-en-scene MUST be a capsule of pleasing art and act to give a fantastic cinematic meaning.
When recording exteriors, advantages of foreground frames such as trees, branches. E.t.c should be considered.
Some technical restrictions are imposed on film maker especially in the studio or location. On the other hand, problems of low budget, lack of trained personnel, poor power supply, transportation, insufficient time, and difficulties of transporting heavy equipment- particularly by air- contribute to the technical problems encountered by movie makers.
For instance, lack of camera dollies restricts filming to fixed tripods. Lighting of a particular scene depends on the availability of the appropriate lights and accessories.
All these technical factors restrict the cameraman in his handling of the subject matter.
The principal psychology purpose of a motion picture is to sway the audience to react in a desired mood. Because it is a direct link to the viewers’ emotions. Psychological camera angling is one of the most powerful story telling weapons available to the cameraman.
This factor emotionally affects the audience by the camera view point.
If disinterest is the affect desired, or the scene is too violent to view at close range, long and medium shots will position the audience at a distance from the event.
Through distorted camera treatment and placement, the viewer may actually experience the intoxicated, frenzied or insane attitude of a talent through whose eyes s/he is looking. Thus psychological reaction of viewers is based to a great extent, on camera angles.
Please note, choice of camera angle may be decided by analysing the purpose of the shot and the desired effect on viewer.
Dramatic factors should be analysed to determine how the Central Dramatic Problems should be best handled.
Ordinarily, the camera should not distort the story- telling, if such story is able to interest the viewer by content alone, inherently dramatic subject matter may not require unusual camera angle.
Issue based or instructional films are best left with simple camera angles in order to ensure better reception, negotiation and process of the film text. Unnecessary stylistic camera angle may distort the drama value(s).
The cameraman should study the event to be filmed along with the script, and decide whether forceful camera participation would be an asset to the story- telling or whether the camera angle should function merely as a detached observer.
Editorial requirement often dictate the preferred camera angles for series of shots.
In some cases, camera angles are already determined by the screenplay (very unprofessional). While some script are written in a standard form with provision for the director’s treatments.
However, the audience should be shown the talents, object or action which they are most interested in seeing at that point.
The cameraman should not be limited to paper work, but he must also not forget the interest of the viewer.
This factor comes into play mostly when the Screenwriter doubles as the Director. The Director cum Screenwriter pays more attention to the script /editorial. S/he follows the script with to the letter and beyond.
In exterior or outdoor production, weather plays a vital role; sun position, terrain, rain, humidity e.t.c influence choice of camera angles on exterior filming.
Exterior filming, particularly in colour depends upon the sun angle. One may think that, with a ‘butterfly’ such challenge could be managed. How many production budgets in Nollywood can take care of such lighting accessory?
Allowance for sun angles, weather and topography are made in construction of outdoor sets, but uncontrollable elements in natural settings often handicap the cameraman, so that he will be forced to compromise camera angles to fit prevailing conditions.
Though, with the help of light meter the temperature could be managed to some extent, it is still advisable that weather maps should be studied to help outdoor filming especially in unfamiliar locations.
However, even most interior shoots in Nollywood are being disrupted by natural factor, i.e. rain, wind, thunderstorm, etc. It is always good to be familiar with the weather forecast before the shooting schedule is designed.
Physical factors hardly come into play in studio work. But in the real film location, the Director of Photography has to work with the physical limitation necessitated by size and shapes of rooms; low ceilinged rooms, poorly painted walls and may be other physical factors beyond his control.
A small room for instance may be difficult to light effectively and impossible to shoot without an extreme wide angle lens which most time distorts the talents.
The choice of camera angle in many movies depends largely on where the camera and light can be squeezed into position, rather than the best angle for telling the story.
SUBJECT SIZE- the size of the shot definition of the image on the film is determined by the distance of the camera from the subject and focal length of the lens used to make the shot. The closer the camera, the larger the image, the longer the lens, the larger the image.
SUBJECT ANGLE- All subject matter has 3 dimensions. Even flat objects such as paper, have thickness. People, furniture, rooms, buildings, streets, all have Height, Width and Depth. 45 degree- 3 quarter angling.
CAMERA HEIGHT- While camera height is as important as camera distance and subject matter, it is often disregarded. Theatrical cameramen are very careful about lens height in relation to subject matter.
In conclusion, filmmakers should endeavour to appreciate these challenges of camera angles that could make or mar the outcome of their film productions. These challenges should be well studied, understood and managed to the advantage of a film.
It should be borne in mind that, there is no provision for footnotes in a film to explain why a camera angle is wrong to the audience. As much as the camera angle helps the audience’s major connection and reception, it is highly essential to get it right regardless of what the challenges are.
Haynes ,J. (1997), Nigerian Video Films, Jos, National Film Institute (NFI)
Kolker, R. P (2006), Film, Form, and culture, New York, McGraw-Hill Companies
Mascelli ,J.V (1976), The Five C’s of Cinematography- Motion Picture Filming Techniques
Simplified, Hollywood, Cine/graphic publications.
Movie lovers should expect another paradigm shift from the conventional story telling techniques with the release of ‘Oyawande’, a traditional story woven in a unique fabrics from the stable of Oyinkansola Elebuibon the daughter of Araba of Osogbo -Yemi Elebuinbon.
‘Oyawande’ is a simple traditional story that treats the old concept of traditional value, romance, strength of the deities and how they affect our day to day lifestyle and issues without any forms of ambiguity and stereotypes .
According to Oyinkansola, popularly known as omo baba onifa, “we neglect our cultural values and norms yet we wonder why things go wrong, some families are spiritually empowered to solve regular human problems, but modern lifestyle and the adoption of foreign beliefs have affected our ability to carry out such functions”.
The TV goddess and a graduate of Federal University of Akure attributed the inspiration for her unique storyline to her father- the Actor, Writer, the Ifa mouthpiece and a master story teller of the Ifa Olokun Asorodayo fame in the 90s.
‘Oyawande’ parades notable Yoruba acts such as; Suara, Sanyeri, Araba Yemi Elebuibon, Muyideen Oladapo and others. The movie is marketed by Almaroof Standard Investment and available in all leading movie stores.
1.My favourite movie till date will be my debut film which is “Sango” The legendary African King by Femi Lasode, reason being that I have not been involved in any other movie that has that passion and strength.
2.Well for me am a child of nature and my environment is of the essence, I tap into everything around me to fuel and enhance my creativity because what comes out of you most times is what goes into you one way or another…….
3.I would have been practising my Law profession I went to the university to study.
4.I will tell my younger version “When that fame comes and I know it will please be better prepared to handle and take advantage of it.
5.Wale Adebayo “the gentle giant” well that explains it all I think.
6.Well the fact that am answering these questions already shows that am alive dispelling the rumour that my enemy had died after shooting the movie sango .Also am not a practising lawyer yet, but am a graduate from the faculty of Law Obafemi Awolowo University ile-ife Osun state Nigeria. Anything else I remember I will forward to you guys (laughs).
- I cope well they are my biggest inspiration and always have good words to make you feel good with yourself or hash criticism that will make you sit up and achieve your set goals so I truly value them a lot and I don’t let them forget it.
8.Mouth closed and I plead the 5th amendment of the American constitution.(check it out yourself)
- Well lets say that it has its perks, some doors that would otherwise be shut against you are opened and stays opened so I must with no equanimity say Its interesting having a celeb status.
- Do I feel fulfilled with where I am right now in the Nigerian Movie Industry? Answer is no I want to continue to play a major active role in the industry and God willing, I will be around for a long time to come. Thanks for having me and My name remains Wale Adebayo: Actor, Director, Filmmaker.
ff on twitter:@sangoorginal
like on fb :wale Adebayo sango the legendary African king
In the recent times, many worries and concerns are raised against the standard practices in the Nigerian film industry. Generally, most of these concerns are tilted towards the survival means of the stakeholders- how and why the art should pay bills.
This development is understandable, especially with the soaring popularity of the Nigerian film experiments across the globe. One would think that, after the twenty years of Nigerian Citizen Cinema, stakeholders should be smiling to the banks, while concentrating and consolidating on building critical audience with special attention to cultural memory, national identity and poverty alleviation. Shall we get there?
But what gives me serious cause for concern, is the puerile sectional agitation by the Yoruba speaking movie makers under the aegis of the Association of Nigeria Theatre Arts Practitioners (ANTP), for parity with their English speaking counterparts, hence, the birth of Yorubawood. I cannot but laugh at this neology. I feel impelled to say that there should not be anything like Yorubawood; the contraption called Nollywood is even debatable. Why should we create another ‘wood’ that does not exist? There are lots of indigenous expressions such as Yoruba, Igbo, Hausa and other languages. Regardless of the languages, they are all under Nollywood.
There are fifteen national languages recognized by the Indian constitution and these are spoken in over 1600 dialects among which are Hindi, Bengali and Telugu. The languages of expression in their films cut across Hindi and English. Whereas, another appellation for Indian film industry is Bollywood. How come they did not classify some group Hindiwood , Bengaliwood, Teluguwood and another Bollywood? Same for China, and other countries across the globe.
And talking about who is making money and who does not or simply put, who is rich and who is poor. To my mind, this is just a reflection of complexities and complicities on the part of the Yoruba movie makers. Complexities? Yes! Most of these people lack the self-worth, while some over believe in their capabilities. In the same vein, most of these people are accomplices in the present state of the industry. How?
First, you can’t compare a film with national outlook and appeal with a regional outlook; they may never record the same box office success. That is not to say that Yoruba movies cannot have national and even international appeal, it all depends on the total package and presentation. Language of expression is never a barrier in filmmaking.
Second, film business is meant for total creative people and not mediocre. It goes beyond shooting a feature length in five days and releasing same twice a month in a DTH format. From packaging, (storyline, shooting style, technicalities, subtitling), media hypes, marketing/distribution and even monitoring/evaluation, every hand must be on deck.
Third, Omotola Jalade- Ekeinde, Joke Silver Jacobs, Olu Jacobs, Jide Kosoko, Bimbo Akintola, Bukky Ajayi, Bukky Wright, and a couple of others are all A-list cross over actors. They are all Yorubas. But do you know why they are doing well? Aside a stroke of luck, they are professionals. Most actors in the Nigerian movie experience are not professionals, especially the Yorubas. They are also rounded business men and women. How? Their English Nollywood counterparts handle their acting careers on strict business ethics known in Nigerian parlance as, ‘money for hand back for ground’. Besides, they have management companies and do not compromise standard. Call it pride if you wish.
This stands in total contrast to the kind of communal filmmaking the Yoruba movie makers are doing. Most of the Yoruba actors and stakeholders need to acquire skills, reskill and upskill. Modern filmmaking has gone beyond ‘alarinjo theatre’ model. Modern filmmaking requires a modicum of creativity, talents, education and technology. There are lots of Yoruba filmmakers who have refused to join the ANTP and are doing great. Me think self assessment is highly needed here.
Communal film making is the art of providing services to every member of a group in turn with little or nothing as mode of remuneration. This is the simplest way I can explain this cankerworm that has eaten deep into the fabric of the Yoruba actors and film makers in the name of caucus and apprenticeship. I have personally taken this up with the leadership of ANTP at a forum, and it was denied. Caucus can only kill creativity, cross fertilisation of ideas and expertise grows it. If Omotola Jalade- Ekeinde, Genevieve Nnaji, Nadia Buhari, Tonto Dike, etc were to be doing communal filmmaking, by now, they will be frying bean cake in their villages.
Also, the modern slavery called apprenticeship in the Yoruba film circle as an offshoot of communal filmmaking must be abolished. It is a pure case of the blind leading the blind. It is really a laughable matter. They exhort, exploit, and even mislead their apprentices. An apprentice has this to say, “…I joined Adekola Tijani film caucus with N5, 000 form fee and N35, 000 training fee…yet we still pay N100 for rehearsals. I pay for my accommodation, transportation and feeding to locations, regardless of the number of days. I may be featured in one scene or nothing in most cases…I paid for the ANTP Identity Card since April 17, 2011, the card has refused to come till now.” Need I say more on this.
Finally, film has only language- good story telling technique. Regardless of the language of expression, a good film is a good film even without sound. We were watching Indian films at cinemas in the 80s without subtitling and we enjoyed them. Same with Chinese films and others. Tsotsi won the Best Foreign Language Film at the coveted Oscar awards. Tsotsi was shot in Afrikaans language. Yoruba filmmakers should learn to do it right and they will get it right. Tunde Kelani, is doing well in that direction. He may not be ‘rich’, but he is happy.
Adesemoye, a TV Content director, Film Theorist and Educator.
At the 100th edition of Committee for Relevant Arts (CORA) discourse, there was a mild drama by the panellists who originally were supposed to discuss the modalities for accessing and disbursing the Federal Government’s $200million grant to the Nigerian entertainment industry.
While a school of thought led by ace cinematographer cum culture advocate, Tunde Kelani, was of the opinion that more cinemas should be built and that cinema culture should be promoted, another school of thought led by a renowned filmmaker, Mahmood Alli- Balogun, believe that such cinema model is elitist by nature, hence DTH is key and should be encouraged while the marketing and distribution process should be fortified.
Technically speaking, these two personalities spoke beautifully and convincingly in support of their models. To my mind, both models are good and practicable, especially with the population of the potential viewers across the nation and beyond. However, as much as I wouldn’t want to pitch my tent against either of the models, I will advise that we should do a critical analysis of sustainable distribution models across the leading film producing nations, and subsequently do a marriage of native intelligence/foreign experiments to our advantage .
First, viewing the cinema model from a business angle alone will be an attempt to strangulate the beauty of film as encapsulated in Sembene Ousmane’s opinion that his films were “the night school” of Africa. In films, audiences could see the source of their alienation and oppression revealed’. A cinema across the globe is the centre of modern urban leisure, and to a great extent a virile tool of stress management. Also, cinema is where social education is administered in a serene ‘classroom’ (cinema), larger than life sized screen, real to life sound, quality picture, etc without the formality of an instructor or text books. This is not to say that we can’t learn socially via home videos, but researches established the fact that, reception and negotiation of film text are determined by where and who you watch the film with. Nothing diminishes a movie so much as shrinking the height of Omotola Jalade Ekeinde into a DVD miniature of Aki and Pawpaw. If you doubt this, try the two.
Second, Connor Ryan in one of his write-ups explained that there are close to 13,000 theatre screens (multiplexes and e-cinemas) in India for different categories of people, and that an average of 15million Indians out of the1.2billion population visits the theatre daily. Which simply translate into an average of one screen per 100,000 people. Meanwhile, National Association of Theatre Owners (NATO) identified 39,580 movie screens (38, 974 indoor and 606 drive-in) in the United States of America. In South Africa of 48 million people, the viewers are hosted to more than 400 screens, while Nigeria of 160 million population can only boast of 50 screens; equivalent of one screen per 3million Nigerians. Considering this simple arithmetic, its a clear indication that the industry is losing huge amount of money and denying the army of unemployed youths the massive employment opportunities.
Be that as it may be, the argument of per capita income of the potential viewers can’t be over looked. But the way out is very simple. Private participation under Build Operate and Transfer (BOT) arrangement should be introduced to promote and sustain community cinemas at different council areas across the federation, and cottage cinemas at each ward to encourage competitive market. The Indians watch movies between 50 to 250 Rupees (N134- N670), and according to Connor, India’s National Film Development Corporation no longer permit a film to stay in cinemas for 25 days- “This is because a film in India can make its cost-of-production investment back in a single weekend.”
Therefore, with niche marketing communication strategies, reorientation of the potential spectators, right attitudes and most importantly people-oriented stories, the poorest Nigerian adult can easily part with at least N100 in a weekend to be at the cinema. This is quite achievable in Nigeria, especially with the massive bandwagon effect that we have experienced in the patronages of GSM phones and eateries. This model will definitely reduce the exorbitant sharing formular in favour of the current cinema owners, and also contain the hydra headed surge of piracy to a commendable level as DTH will be the last resort.
Primarily, the Nigerian audience would enjoy standard films, because filmmakers would need to up their games to meet up with the cinema standards. Mass public education and civic engagement will help in the social restructuring of our country. We are likely going to have critical audience who will not again be subjected to cultural mutilation, idiotic stereotypes, moral erosion, paranormal promotion and materialistic doctrines. Our films, would more than before focus on issues and bring to fore the realistic plane of understanding with respect to cultural memory and national identity.
See you at the cinemas!
Steven Anu’ Adesemoye is a film Theorist and a TV Contents Director.