Tag Archives: African Cinema

USING SHADOW AND LIGHT IN CINEMATIC STORYTELLING

In filmmaking, cinematography is as much a storytelling tools as the words on a script and actor performance, after all, it has the word CINEMA in it.  The use of shadows and light to create the world, mood, tone and atmosphere is essential in engaging the audience, pulling them into the story, letting them know what to expecting and making them feel how you want them to feel.

Certain genres like noir,thrillers and horror use shadow and light more than others but they work in any genre depending on the aims of the storyteller.

Proper use of shadow and light will elevate your cinematic storytelling.

Naija FilmMakers in diaspora telling their story

Representation in recent years has gotten the attention it’s long been denied, with more demands for diversity on-screen and behind the camera being taken seriously; Wonder Woman getting a female director, Black Panther getting a Black Director, Queen Sugar having all female directors, Donald Glover on Atlanta as; star, writer and Executive Producer. Issa Rae doing the same on Insecure. The idea being creators, directors of the same gender/race of the character are in the best place to tell that story best.

I think this applies to nationality/ethnicity and how they’re portrayed. Hollywood and Western media in general don’t have a good track record of portraying other nationalities. Nigerians in American have always gotten the short end of the stick, as television shows have a certain way of portraying them as criminals, drug mules, voodoo practitioners or goofy comedic stereotype of a naïve or clueless African, when in reality; many are College graduates and highly qualified professionals in Engineering, Law, Medical and other professions.

There’s a growing number of filmmakers of Nigerian heritage, some who immigrated and naturalized and others born in the diaspora (North America & Europe) . These storytellers identity with both worlds, one rooted in their culture/heritage the other in an often contrasting environment they live. They know both sides of the coin and are able to tell stories in a way only they can.  Stories of the immigrant, culture clash, identity, racial politics and much more, with characters who are more than a punchline or token in somebody else’s story.

Nigerian Americans, Yvonne Orji(Insecure) and  Damilare Sonoiki(Black-ish) created First Generation and  African Time respectively, webseries on growing up with immigrant parents and the expectations which come with that. Rick Famuyiwa (Brown Sugar) wrote his lead character in DOPE as the son of a Nigerian Immigrant. British Nigerian Destiny Ekaragha directed Gone Too Far adapted from the Bola Agbaje play about a London born Boy who meets his Lagos born brother and the hijinks which ensue when they hit the streets of South London. South Africa based Akin Omotoso(VAYA) tells the story of a Nigerian man in S.A investigating the death of his brother who death was a Xenophobic attack.  Andrew Dosunmu’s Mother of George follows a young wife new in the States and under pressure to have a child by any means necessary. All stories requiring that unique worldview.

A proportion of the bad reputations’ deserved, every country has its bad eggs, just as guests on Jerry Springer or Maury aren’t representative of all Americans that’s not the entire story. That’s why in a world where most of the West’s only exposure to Nigerians are email/Nigerian Prince jokes in sitcoms and adverts,  self-narrative is essential .

#ICONS – Ousmane-Sembene

Ousmane-Sembene

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.

#ICONS Souleymane Cisse

Souleymane_Cissé_with_film_reel

KEY FILMS
Yeelen(1987)
The Wind(1982)
The Girl(1975)

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 [1987]. 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”.

I nor know say, no be only Nollywood dey make correct feem for Africa

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.

Surfing the New Wave and African Cinema

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?

Lagos on the Silver Screen? Who can bring it?

Marina-at-Dusk

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 . 🙂

Black & African Cinema is in good hands

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.

Bradford Young

My Story

image

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.