The Reset themed 7th edition of the Lights Camera Africa!!! film festival came to an end on October 1 with the screening of the closing film, the migrant documentary, An Opera of the World, directed by Malian academic/filmmaker, Manthia Diawara.
For three days film lovers, critics, artistes and supporters gathered at the Federal Palace Hotel to take in the screenings, discussions and performances on offer. Akin Omotoso, the South African based director of Nigerian descent arrived with a twofer, the opening film, an experimentation with form and structure, titled A Hotel Called Memory, and the more conventional feature length, Vaya, an arresting, if seamless binding of three parallel stories dealing with living in inner city Johannesburg. Both films elicited different responses.
Flying the flag on behalf of Nigeria, was Ifeoma Chukwuogo’s Bariga Sugar, a tragic tale of innocence lost, as well as Afia Attack: Trading Behind Enemy Lines, a collection of stories of women who lived through and survived the civil war. Remi Vaughn- Richards arrived with Omode Meta Nsere, a snippet influenced by Peju Alatise’s Flying Girls art. Bad Market, directed by Paul Gaius considers child trafficking and that oldest of trades, prostitution. Art/culture historian Ed Keazor documents for posterity, the life and times of legendary highlife percussionist, Chief Tony Odili in Akatakpo!!! The Legend of Tony Odili, while spoken word artiste, Wana Udobang is one of four African women navigating love and life in the Burkina Faso road movie, Borders (Frontieres).
Each of these stories presents a snapshot of what it feels like to be Nigerian today and even through their weaknesses, they manage to tell unique tales, not readily accessible on the big screen. This opportunity to showcase diversity in filmmaking is what makes festivals like Lights Camera Africa!!! special. But aside from Omotoso, claimed equally by Nigerians and South Africa, and Ego Boyo who has teased a return to acting in the near future, the big Nollywood names did not do much showcasing at the festival.
For a space that has welcomed event movies such as Kunle Afolayan’s October 1 and Femi Odugbemi’s Gidi Blues, this year’s events felt dialled down with South Africa providing the major excitement. But if Lights Camera Africa!!! can be excused on account of its eclectic tastes and individual preference for independent filmmaking, consider the upcoming Africa International Film Festival (AFRIFF), Nigeria’s biggest film fest, also in its seventh year. The line-up of films for this year, scheduled to run from the 29th of October to the 4th of November is still being adjusted, but from what is available as at press time, only two Nigerian feature lengths, Roti (Kunle Afolayan) and Hakkunde (Asurf Oluseyi) are screening in competition. Neither is strong enough to triumph in above the line categories like Best Feature Film where 76 managed last year. Unless of course, the jury decides otherwise.
But it will be a tall order, as of the fourteen in competition entries, four- The Wound (South Africa), Felicite (Senegal), The Last of Us (Tunisia) and The Train of Salt and Sugar (Mozambique) – are presently on the long list for the Best Foreign Language Film category at the Oscars. In the documentary category, Afia Attack is the sole Nigerian entry.
Clearly, there is a problem with the quality of films churned out in record numbers by the continent’s leading film industry, second worldwide only to Hollywood or India’s Bollywood, depending on the source. Popcorn films like The Wedding Party are great for business but to advance proper filmmaking techniques, producers are going to have to take chances and show some more ambition. For every 93 Days that underperformed at the box office, there is a 76 which did decent business and in any case, with the influx of online streaming and video-on-demand media such as Netflix and Amazon, there are additional means of distributing films beyond box office takings. ‘’Smart’’ films like The Arbitration and Green White Green have been able to recoup investments from online distribution deals. Creators may have to consider looking outwards to form strong collaborations.
Film festivals are a celebration of a country’s culture and film heritage. Nollywood misses out on a lot of film festivals from Toronto to Durban, Cannes to Pune already, and the reason is that films churned out in-house, while suited for purpose, do not pass muster when programmers the world over make their selections. This has to change.
It is bad enough that Nollywood fails to show up at international festivals. To abandon the indigenous ones like AFRIFF and LCA!!! in pursuit of commercial interests will only stagnate the milestones already recorded.