Hollywood has for many years told the world their interpretation of Africa and Africans. But to get a true story of who Africans are and their experience is from watching THEIR perspective.
Hollywood has for many years told the world their interpretation of Africa and Africans. But to get a true story of who Africans are and their experience is from watching THEIR perspective.
Here is how he was described in a recent Tribeca article :
Ousmane Sembène is a name that, by all means, should be uttered in the same breath as Kurosawa, Fellini, Bertolucci, and De Sica. Known to most as the “father of African film,” Sembène is almost inarguably the most essential African director of all time and yet his tremendous, groundbreaking legacy is still a foreign entity to even some of the most ardent and highbrow cinephiles, despite vocal admiration from such celluloid titans as Martin Scorsese.
Here is what Martin Scorcese had to say about him
“One night I was watching late-night films on . . . I think it was on Showtime. There was this film called Yeelen . The picture had just started at 2:30 in the morning, and the image was very captivating, and I watched the whole thing. I discovered that it was directed by Souleymane Cissé and came from Mali. I got so excited. I had seen Ousmane Sembène’s films from Senegal-he was the first to put African cinema on the map, in the ‘60s-but I hadn’t seen anything quite like this . . . the poetry of the film. I’ve seen many, many movies over the years, and there are only a few that suddenly inspire you so much that you want to continue to make films. This was one of them”.
Hollywood, Bollywood and Nollywood. Three of the named film industries in the world,three different continents these three being the largest in terms of volume of films produced.
Hollywood (of all the three) has the strongest distribution power to get their films in more countries and cinemas across the continents making sure it’s films dominate and esclipse local films and productions. As a result, many great films from England, Germany, Italy, France , Korea, Japan which are brilliant pieces of work , arent seen or heard of by movie fans and snobbed by those that cant be bothered to read subtitles.
Nollywood does very similar within Africa, with Nigerian films (via Africa Magic and Iroko) dominating screens across the African continent. This makes most people not even remember that there are films from other African nations which are remarkable pieces of cinema. Here are some you should add to your watch list
LA PIROGUE – Senegal – Directed by Moussa Touré
Suspensful drama about being caught at sea.
TIMBUKTU – Mauritania – Directed by Abderrahmane Sissako
This made the Best Foreign Film Nominations at the Academy Awards
NAIROBI HALF LIFE- Kenya – Directed by David ‘Tosh’ Gitonga
This got some buzz when Kenya submitted it as their Official Entry for Best Foreign Film at the Oscars
VIVA RIVA – Democratic Republic of Congo(DRC) -Directed by Djo Munga
Some have called this an African “City of God”
MAN ON GROUND – South Africa- Directed by Akin Omotoso
Directed by Nigerian Born but South African bred director Akin Omotoso, this is definately worth checking out
There are so many more, too numerous to mention. There are a lot of great films made in other African countries who may not have the volume, popularity or reach of Nollywood, but are making films that are worthy of your attention.
Through the history of cinema there have been several revolutionary periods, which left their indelible mark on the motion picture industry, and would be milestones for future generations.
From the cinematic techniques of shot composition and editing in Sergie Eisenstien’s silent movie, Battleship Potemkin(1925) which is still highly influential in the 21st century.
The French New Wave(La Nouvelle Vague) in the late 50 and early 60s started by film critics(Truffat,Goddard, Chabrol,Rohmer,Bazin) who were tired of the same old mould, decided to throw convention to the wind and make their own films by their own rules.
The Film School Brats of Copolla, Speilberg, Lucas, Scorcese who during the 70s in their 20s entered a field dominated and populated by men 30-40 years older than them, and changed the game completely. The formula of films that had worked so well, from the start of talkies to that point, were no longer selling tickets. Younger audiences were bored and uninterested in the kind of films that had previously worked so well.These young filmMakers redefined what a Hollywood film was, inventing the Blockbuster. All those ginormous summer movies you watch now, wouldnt exist without the risks they took doing something new and making films like Jaws, Star Wars, The Godfather, Indiana Jones
The Rebels in the 80s and 90s people like Spike Lee Soderberg, Tarantino, Rodriquez, The Coen Brothers exploded on the scene with amazing independent films and brought, yet another new era to cinema.
There was German Expressionism, Italian Neo Realism, Asian New Wave cinema. All of which have had some level of impact on many of the highly revered filmMakers in the world which is evident in their work, style and
Every era, has offered something new, something remarkable. Entertaining audiences, serving them with something fresh and inspiring filmMakers to take risks and try something different.
In recent times there have been whispers of an African New Wave when films like Congo’s Viva Riva Kenya’s Nairobi Half Life started to get international attention. It seemed, like the indie movement that led to Easy Rider and break from the norm that lead to A Bout De Souffles , A Bande Apart . Young African directors were looking to tell stories in their own visual narrative.
While im not sure there is an African New Wave quite yet , i do know that there is a rise of new voices, who are making gusty and gritty narratives far from what the Godfathers of African Cinema made, which were reflective, seminal, existential in nature. It’s marking a new stride for filmmakers, mixing their foreign influences with an idiosyncratic local flavour that doesn’t lose its own identity in imitation and that is a good thing, which can only get better.
QUESTION OF THE DAY
Do you think there is an African New Wave, a Naija New Wave? If so why? If not , What can lead to one?
If you follow their body of work, you’d notice that Scorsese, Woody Allen, Spike Lee have a love for NewYork and this amorous affair is evident in their movies. For Allen, Manhattan is a clear example, Scorcese titled on of his films New York New York and Spike Lee has Do the Right Thing and The 25th Hour.
Watching those films, if you have never visited the city it kinda make you want to go see it.
They are all very different filmMakers, and show very different elements of the city , through neurotic Jewish eyes, Socially concious African American eyes and Street smart Italian American eyes.
For me i would love to see some filmMakers bring that to Lagos. Now i know what you’re thinking.
“Guy, e no easy to shoot for Lagos”.
“Lagos Ke!!! Is it beans”
Area boys go just obtain you
Ok, now we’ve fired those arrows from the quiver of excuses . Think about it. Would really be cool wouldnt it?
Now, these guys are not Lagos based or even based in Naija, but there are three directors, who based on their work i’ve seen, would like to see how they bring Lagos to the big screen
Akin Omotoso of MAN ON GROUND
His use of sound and visuals as a thematic thread for his narrative was just amazing
Andrew Dosunmu of MOTHER OF GEORGE
The visual palette of MoG, how he captured the party and celebration lifestlye of Nigerians
Thomas Ikimi of LEGACY:BLACK OPS
His psycological and existenstial approach in his films , applied to the city and a character trying to stay sane in it would be very interesting to watch.
These three guys have shown that they can play at a global level and their films are very cinematic. What would make it even more awesome is if Remi Adefarasin did some of the lensing.
Imagine exploring the dark side of Lekki and what goes on behind those “picket fences”. The swimming in the coroporate Shark Tank of Victoria Island or the Lavish life of those in the upcoming Eko Atalantic City. The hustle of Agege and Agegunle , the midlife crisis in Magodo or Ogudu.
Then again, skilled filmMakers based in Eko, can take up the challenge of making a film that is a love letter to the City of Excellence . 🙂
So i recently watched MOTHER OF GEORGE , the Andrew Dosunmu film that won a Cinematography Award at Sundance. Having watched his debut feature RESTLESS CITY a few weeks before seeing MoG, i realize that, like Spike Lee’s penchant for African American stories, Dosunmu has one for the story of Africans in diaspora.
His partnership with Cinematographer Bradford Young produces very rich visuals which are a delight to look at, and i personally love how they shoot Black skin. Dosunmu’s fashion photography background is very clear in his compositions and his art direction, and his love to traditional African music and classic artists is clear and present. Though his films are very arty and sometimes get carried away in their own beauty thereby creating a disconnet, i do think he is an interesting director and i look foward to his next outing, especially if he reteams up with Bradford Young. Like Spike Lee who has a long creative partnership with his DP, Ernest Dickerson, Dosunmu and Young may be another great Nubian duo.
Young is also a rising star in the cinematography world and has also worked with Ava DuVernay and Dee Rees. Now im not one to look at films/people/talent based on shade of Melanin, but i do think that the rise of someone like Young and his collaboration with these directors is a great thing for both Black and African cinema. His available light style and his visual versatilty has won him Cinematography Award, U.S. Dramatic, Sundance Film Festival for lensing “Pariah”,”Mother of George” and “Aint them Bodies Saints”. At age 37 he still has a very long career ahead of him and if he keeps up the momentum, in another 20 years we could speak of him the way we speak of Deakins and Willis now.
Dosunmu was tapped to direct the Fela biopic that Steven McQueen had been previously attached to, and even if that doesnt work out, i hope to see him shoot a film in Lagos one day and see how he brings that delicious visual style of his to the city of excellence.
From a very young age I was an avid reader, this extended to an interest in writing when in Yr5, we were told to write a story as a class assignment. That,was the spark that set my creativity on fire.
From that day i was consumed with the passion to write, It became my number one hobby, and even as young as 11 i had started writing a small novel.
Going into my teen years my passion increased, i dreamed of a future where i would be a novelist, like those i admired, but the Nigeria of the 90’s was not one that supported creative career, least of all one as a writer. So i took all science subjects , so i could be a “professional” in the future, but was miserable and the only thing that kept me going was the writing i did on the side; short stories which got good feedback from fellow book worm friends.
Fast Forward to my Bsc graduation day . I was sitting with a group of friends talking and one of them mentioned changing careers and going to film school to pursue his directing dream.That was when it CLICKED. All the stories i had been writing i always imagined them becoming films. As i’d write i’d see my self on set discussing the scene with actors.
From that moment i was fired up, i started to research on how to write scripts, watching every behind the scenes interview i could find; finding every screen writing article or fiction writing book i could lay my hands on. At one time i had to copy by hand a book on writing that a friend didn’t allow me borrow.
I regularly checked end credits of shows i enjoyed to see if i could send my script in and enter the business. I eventually did make it in as a staff writer on a show called The Station (thank you Lanre Yusuf and Ike Umeadi).
There i met and worked with Kenneth Gyang. We’d have extensive discussions on film and cinema then one day he screened “City of God”. That film was a revelation, it was not a Hollywood movie, and yet, this little film took the world by storm and create a buzz in the film community. We had been inspired by the story of Robert Rodriguez (El Mariachi) and Kevin Smith(Clerks) but this was something else. I felt, if our Brazilian brothers could make a film like that, why cant we?
I resumed my search for a film school and found SAE Institute London. Film School was certainly useful,but aside a documentary most of the work i did i was not happy with. I was depressed, my dreams of directing were becoming like an ice cube on the Sahara
Then one day i ran into a friend Sunny King, who i grew up with back home, but had relocated to the UK since our teens . We had not seen in over a decade, so imagine what it was like discovering we were both pursuing a career in “the pictures”.
We’d have lengthy discussions about movies we liked and where we saw Black,Nigerian and African Cinema going, even dubbing the change of pace as The Naija New Wave .
Our talks revitalized me a little, and by the time he made his short(SIGNS) where i was a Lens Visual Precision Adjuster( ok , i was a focus puller) and it got good reviews, i was determined to do something.
Like Kurosawa said, “With a good script a good director can produce a masterpiece, with a bad script, one can’t possibly make a good film”. Trying to minimize location and cost I wrote a script that was all dialogue and no story, naturally it fell on it’s face. I was beginning to question if i had “the right stuff.”
Two more friends from grad school made nice short films and i was mad at myself for slacking, and determined to try again.
Luckily this time, i had watched an old Hitchcock interview on YouTube and it completely shifted my paradigm, when he said, “tell the story visually and keep the dialogue to a minimum.”
I took that advice literally, wrote another script, and with the last few pounds in my account made a short film called BLISS. Recruiting a course mate from school as producer(Roberto Iacurci) we set a date and God willing the shoot went great.
We released it on FaceBook on vatlentines day, and for the next two months, we had comments coming in, the responses were very encouraging,people enjoyed it.
Too broke at the time (and too late) to enter for many film festivals, we got into the Corona Fastnet Short Film Festival , and got a Special Mention .
This revitalized me, and i realized all those disdained films were my REAL film school.
Like the Edison story about the creation of the light bulb, i didn’t fail, i learned several way how NOT to make a movie. They were my learning curve and made me realize just exactly what indie film makers and the one back home had to go through to get a film made and realize their vision, and how sometimes despite passion and best intentions, it doesn’t work out.
ON THE FUTURE
Nigerian cinema is growing both domestically and in diaspora. With films like Half of a Yellow Sun and Mother of George premiering at TIFF, Confusion Na Wa at Rotterdam , Gone too Far at the BFI and the trailers of historical dramas “October 1st” and “76” have also raised a lot of excitement.
It is very clear that Nigerian Cinema is switching into a whole new era and i’m excited for what the future holds
This is my short film BLISS.
Please check it out, leave a comment (on YouTube) and share. Thanks.
I’m worried, im seriously beginning to get worried. As a huge film fan and as a budding director , bidding his time to a feature length directorial debut, some of the things I see, read and hear have taken the jelly out of my doughnut, or at least threaten to do so. There seems to be this idea about what an African film should be, or what kind of films an African film maker should make. Now I’ve touched on this topic before, but the pot has been stirred again from some articles i recently saw on African Film Making.
It seems the world and the international film community , have certain expectations of what films should come out of the African continent, or even from any film maker that is genetically African, even though they do not reside or have never resided in the continent.
All films have to be about some social issue in the continent. Now these social issues could range from War, Poverty,Tribal issues, homosexuality and the African reaction to it. Forced marriages etc. As for those that live in the west, the central issue seems to be immigration. A story about an African immigrant, who is either hiding, barely adjusting, living below the standard of his education or socio economic background in the new land, due to either immigration issues, or lack of work. Etc .
Now, don’t get me wrong, those are necessary stories to be told. There are thousands of people going through those things, and attention needs to be drawn to them, but does every movie by an African have to be a heavy social message?? Don’t we need a bit more variety and diversification? Movies which are just pure entertainment and a good night at the cinema? Life is hard enough as it is, we don’t need EVERY film reminding us about the difficulties that happen. We certainly don’t need to keep showing the world all out baggage.
Ok, there are several African films that are by no means social or message filled, a simple visit to the video store offers ,various exhibits, however I am referring to those films that make it to the global stage. Those that make it to festivals and sometimes receive some level of distribution in the cinemas are usually the type I am talking about.
Let’s look at African cinema’s closest counterpart, Bollywood. For many years, and even till now, Bollywood and most of indian cinema, was known just for love stories, indian remakes/interpretations of American movies. However in recent years they have started to do a variety of different films. One of them which I came across a short while ago is 3 IDIOTS, which is where the title of this write up comes from.Now, don’t be deceived by the title, this is not some indian take on Dumb&Dumber or The Three Stooges. It’s a brilliant film that charts the life of 3 friends through their university education. I have to say, it has become one of my all time favourite films , and that includes a list that contains; The Godfather, 12 Angry Men, Die Hard, The Matrix, Arsenic and Old Lace,Rear Window and Back to the Future.
It has memorable characters, a great story line , brilliant performance and heart-warming moments. It’s a movie that everyone that I know who has seen it, has only great things to say, even those that never normally watch subtitled movies. 3 Idiots is entertainment at is best and is the highest grossing Indian film of all time, internationally. You know what else is remarkable about 3 Idiots? Even within it’s entertainment, it is highly informative, educative and affirming. It is chock full of life lessons which you learn consciously and unconsciously on the way. If you haven’t seen this film, i whole unabashedly recommend you track it down and see it.
From the film, we learn about Indian attitude towards education, career, financial security, family and marriage .Though not set in a village or with emphasis on tribal issues, or Indian problems, it is highly idiosyncratic about Indian lifestyle and behaviour without being heavy handed. All while discovering all these things, the fun never ends. Throughout the film it’s takes us on a roller coaster ride of laughter, joy, annoyance, fascination, contemplation, admiration and round again. By the end of the film , not only would you have felt a bond with the characters, you would have actually recognized a bit of them in your life.
In 3 Idiots, the entertainment never stops to announce “Hey we are Indian, pay attention to these important things about us” . We learn all those things along the way, even without realizing it. Due to how well it was made, it has won fans of people all over the globe that have never watched a foreign film before, but may even begin to give a chance to films they never would have given a moment’s notice previously.
This is what we need to start aiming for as African born film makers. 90% of the films I hear about and see. Most of those that make it into the festivals are limited to social issues, heavy messages, which may thrill at the festivals , but dull in the cinemas. No one wants to spend a Friday night at the cinema being lectured or slide into depression. We should refuse to be pigeon holed into such types of movies, if we want to take things to the next level.
Director Roman Polanski witnessed people in the Death Camps during World War 2, he’s of Eastern European heritage, but yet you don’t see him making every film about those issues? Some , yes like The Pianist, but he’s forged other classics such as Macbeth, Chinatown and Rosemary’s Baby
Steven Spielberg is of Jewish heritage, and has made a few films about Jews and the war like Shindler’s List and Saving Private Ryan. But he has also made films like E.T, Close Encounters of the Third Kind and produced films like Back to the Future ,Poltergeist and Transformers. Notice how diverse his film making career has been?.
Naturally, there are going to be some film makers, who intend to pass a message with every movie that they do. That is their purpose behind the camera and that is admirable and perfectly fine. Spike Lee did a lot of that early in his career and to an extent still do so, telling stories that he feels need to be heard. The things that appeal to Michael Bay would not appeal to Terrence Malik.
There needs to be a wide range of diversity coming from African film makers. Showing the world that we are not just one trick ponies. We can do different things or any genre as good as any of our western counterparts. As film fans , we have different film makers that we expect different things from we anticipate Woody Allen, Chris Nolan, David Fincher James Cameron and Lars Von Trier films for different reasons, because they do different things for us.
Some because they are going to be profound , some eye opening, some life affirming, and some pure pop corn entertainment. Being more specific and focusing on my own country, I look forward to the time , where like Hollywood had Hitchcock, Wes Craven, John Woo, Peckinpah and comedy etc Nigeria would also have Masters of Suspense, Horror, Action, Comedy on a global stage.
A situation where due to our incredible indigenous features, they would read a script and think, ”let’s give it to Director from Nigeria that made that kick ass film”. A time they’d have such great box office from our films, that they seek to fund and partner on our next projects.
But that’s not happen if all our films are thematically repeating themselves over and over again. A one trick pony can only hold your attention for so long, before you move to something else.
Like the example with 3 IDIOTS, it is very possible to make a very entertaining film, which also throws a spotlight on certain issues that you want to address. Whether it be, intertribal marriage, gender discrimination, brain drain , poverty , corruption etc. I highly recommend the movies of Akira Kurosawa. He had a way of perfectly mixing the action with insight on Japanese culture and idiosyncrasies .His films like Ikiru, Hidden Fortress and 7 Samurai are perfect examples .
Just to be clear ,there are many great film makers in the country that only need that “one shot, one opportunity, to seize everything they ever wanted”. But it seems international partners and some local only want to finance those message films. Either out of “safety” or being caught in the pigeon hole mentality.
Let’s pray such young film makers can find financing that would allow them to make not only entertaining, but ground breaking films that go round the world. I everly remain optimistic, tap my heart and whisper, “Aal iz well”