iRep… Reawakening Consciousness Of Documentary Film

IN popular myth, the word documentary was coined by Scottish documentarian John Grierson in his review of Robert Flaherty’s film Moana, published in the New York Sun on February 8, 1926. Written under a pen name, The Moviegoer, Grierson’s principles of documentary were that cinema’s potential for observing life could be exploited in
a new art form. He opined that the original actor and original scene are better guides than their fiction counterparts to interpreting the modern world and that materials taken from the raw can be more real than the acted article.

On his part, American film critic Pare Lorentz defines a documentary film as a factual film, which is dramatic. Others further state that a documentary stands out from the other types of non-fiction films for providing an opinion, and a specific message, along with the facts it presents. It is described a filmmaking practice, a cinematic tradition, and mode of audience reception that is continually evolving and is without clear boundaries. It refers to what people do with media devices, content, form, and production strategies in order to address the creative, ethical, and conceptual problems and choices that arise as they make documentaries.

In Nigeria, the success story of Nollywood has increased the level of filmmaking, with a large number of youths getting involved in the act. While some of them pursue their film career as a passion, others see it purely as a means of livelihood. In this direction, little or no attention is being paid to documentary film, which is seen as ‘unattractive financially.’

Apart from foreign documentary films occasionally shown by some TV stations, Nigeria’s airwave is dominated with feature films. While accusing fingers could be pointed at the programmes department of TV stations for not venturing into documentary film production, the reality is that filmmakers of this era think less of documentary films, thereby forcing the stations to make do with feature films, which are readily available in different languages.

In a bid to reawaken the consciousness of documentary film in Nigeria, a group of film experts and enthusiasts instituted iRepresent International Film Festival (iREP). Since 2011 when the intervention project was launched, documentary filmmaking has greatly improved over the last years, with a number of youngsters showing interests in the genre.

“A typical example is Afrinolly partnering with us for their short film competition. Also, there are now several TV stations that are willing to produce more documentary films. This was not the case two/three years ago. This clearly shows the documentary film genre, with iREP at the helm, is growing and is attracting the right kind of attention from other relevant organisations,” Femi Odugbemi, the IREP director, said.

To Odugbemi, bringing back documentary film to the forefront remains the biggest gains of iREP since inception, adding that the project has provided a viable platform for the appreciation of the genre, especially among young filmmakers.

“They are more aware and have a better understanding of the documentary film genre; the excitement is palpable. We have filmmakers doing documentaries on a much larger scale and they in turn motivate their colleges to do the same. Most importantly, content of the work produced is inspiring; it shows that these filmmakers take away
relevant information from festival subjects/themes and encourages them to create works that attempt to define their world in a conscious, responsible and artistic way.”

However, to get more young filmmakers involved in making documentary films, Odugbemi pointed out the need to give them a clearer understanding of why documentary is important to them as artistes, as Africans, as the generation next of Nigerians.

“The very basic role of creating a film is to tell a story. The rule applies to documentary filmmaking as well. Content is key. Unfortunately, in Africa the manner in which documentary films were introduced to the public –– as a colonial tool for brainwashing –– has left a rather bleak and boring impression of the genre. However, this is changing. At iREP, we strive to emphasise that documentaries can do so much more. And this reflects in our choice of themes and subjects that are discussed in our yearly festivals.”

As for monetising the genre, like their counterparts in the feature film, Odugbemi noted that, “it is important for young people to also be able to monetise their skills. It is becoming more difficult every day for young artistes to do art just for art’s sake and it is rather impractical to expect such. A good example would be the Afrinolly
Short Film Competition; it was a success.

“Filmmakers created shorts films, entered into the competition with the knowledge that there would be a chance to receive some financial gratification for their efforts. Attaching some form of monetary reward will build enthusiasm, nurture healthy competition and give this emerging genre the growth that it needs.”

On the availability of documentary film market in Nigeria, the former ITPAN president observed that, “it is not yet strong enough to be felt economically, but with the rise in interest of young filmmakers, and challenging topics to be discussed, I am sure in the not too distant feature, the documentary genre will become a force to reckon with, economically, politically and socially.”

Now in it’s third edition, this year’s iREP International Film Festival is billed to open on March 21 and runs through March 24, at the Freedom Park, Lagos Island, starting from 9am. With the theme, Africa in self conversation and sub theme Reconnections, the festivals will also feature a cocktail events, which will serve as a platform for filmmakers to mingle and network with international and local filmmakers, who are expected to participate at the event.

“It would look at how Africans at home and in the Diaspora see or think about themselves and their identity and discuss the different impacts of western education; religious and economic value systems on the African socio-cultural life,” Odugbemi, the CEO of DVWorx Studios & Zuri24 Media said.

This year, the keynote speaker is Professor Awam Amkpa, Dean of African Studies at New York University and co-founder of the Reallife Documentary Film Festival, Ghana. Amkpa has directed film documentaries such as Winds Against Our Souls, It’s All About Downtown, National Images and Transnational Desires, and a feature film Wazobia! He is the author of several articles in books and journals on Modernisms in Theatre, Postcolonial theatre, Black Atlantic Issues, and Film Studies. Professor Amkpa will discuss at length the theme Reconnections, and its composites, spirituality, identity and economy.

Also, Prof. Niyi Coker, an E Desmond Lee Professor in the Department of Theatre, Dance and Media Studies at the University of St. Louis, will serve as Co-curator at the festival. Coker has served as Director for several professional theatre companies ranging from the National Theatre of Nigeria, to Malmo Hogskola in Sweden, Copenhagen, Denmark, Ghana and England. His Film writing, directing and producing credits include, Black Studies USA, which won Best Short Documentary at the 2005 Berlin Black Film Festival in Germany, 2007 Silver Remi Award at
Worldfest in Houston, and was Official Selection at the 2007 Hollywood Black Film Festival. Dr. Coker will speak extensively on identity. It is believed that the age-old question of what makes and African, African, will be explored as well as the social, economic and structural relevance outcomes.

The target for iREP this time is to facilitate relevant and productive conversations between local filmmakers and African filmmakers in the Diaspora, who are interested in engaging the African issues in their documentaries.

“We also seek, as part of our training programme, to extensively educate filmmakers on how to overcome primary challenges most of them face in the process of making their films and accessing funds. We will hold a pitching round table and filmmakers will be instructed on how to go about accessing funding from both local and International funding organisations,” he said.

Though challenges abound, for Odugnemi, it has been an interesting journey running iREP. “So far, iREP has successfully established itself as a platform, where emerging documentary filmmakers can find a voice that can be heard in the film industry. We have also created a great way for bringing filmmakers, both emerging and established together and channeling documentary filmmaking in a more positive way. We have trained young filmmakers with transferable skills that can be used for the making of both documentary and feature films. We have also facilitated networking of filmmakers that is international in focus that allows young filmmakers to form beneficial and knowledge enhancing relationships.”

On the other hand, it has also been a journey full of discovery, of trial and error in some parts, growth and satisfaction with the realisation of what the organisation has given back to the society. “We have made it this far and we are thankful, especially to our sponsors and benefactors in the arts and culture scene. Our biggest challenge is funding. The festival is primarily self-funded to date and we would appreciate more sponsors. We strongly believe that documentary films are the way forward in tackling Africa’s political, soci-economic issues and above all, a way to recreate the African identity and retell the African story from our perspective. We encourage filmmakers, producers, writers, and TV producers and students to come learn, experience and answer to the call of creativity.”