Tag Archives: Biafra

Why Nollywood MUST tell our History

 

Nigerian History as a subject,  does not exist, many years ago it was stripped from our school curriculum ; several generations have gone by and know next to nothing about anything that happened in this country.

We know little pre-colonial, colonial or post-colonial history. We know very little about the many coups, parties involved, why, and the effects. Aside from what our parents, uncles and aunts may have told us – which is just their side of the story, could be tainted by prejudice based on what they and their parents lost – there is nothing. This is wrong and dangerous. As the cliché goes, “those who don’t know history are doomed to repeat it.”

So how can this be rectified? How can the younger generation learn these lessons, know these stories and avoid getting their information from hearsay, conjecture and ad hominem.

Movies have always been a way to bridge this gap. Those who don’t like to read or watch documentaries can always get into a well told narrative.  They can get engaged in a story well told while being informed about past events.

Watch the video below and see why these stories need be told.

 

DODAN DAYS – A tale of Nigeria

In 2008 , Steven Soderbergh , released CHE, the two part biopic on revolutionary and cultural icon Che Guevera. It charts the story of a young Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara and a band of Castro-led Cuban exiles mobilize an army to topple the regime of dictator Fulgencio Batista. i wonder if Soderbergh got any grieve from Cubans complaining about a white guy telling “their son’s” story.   

The role of the icon was played by Benicio Del Toro(The Usual Suspects,21 Grams), who collaborated once again with his TRAFFIC director. In preparation for portraying the icon , Del Toro spent 7 years researching the life of Guevera ( beyond the t-shirt looking cool, how many of us know anything about who Che actually was?) .

Why am i talking about CHE. Well, recently for what seems like the umpteenth time(how many is that exactly) i was watching the brilliant documentary on the history of Nigeria, by Jide Olanrewaju , brilliant stuff, i highly recommend.   

It is a well put together piece that charts the country from the colonial days to independence to post military rule. It maps out all the key players , the coups, the Biafran war and how we got to where we are today. Through the movie , one name kept on coming back DODAN BARRACKS. This was where most of the military men that ruled and conducted coups emerged from or where resident.  It then occurred to me, what if there was a Biopic, covering the history of the nation, from the perspective of the men in the Barracks? Charting from the very first coup to the eventual return to civilian rule in 99 where they returned to where they belonged? (hence the title DODAN). It would cover 30+ years of history , following many of these officers from Junior officers, how they rose through the ranks, their inter-relationships, and how it went on to affect their decisions, and where they are in the country today. Right from Ironsi and the first coup, to the Biafran war (a story of it’s own) to Abdusalami handing back in 1999.

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Like the CHE it will take two parts to chart all this, but like Clint Eastwood two part history of the war (Flag of our Fathers/Letters to Iwo Jima) the second part would be seen from a different point of view, from that of the politicians and the civilians. This would enable a broader view and may even change any opinion formed from seeing the first film.

The country would be the the main character, and everyone are just the supporting cast.

But if such a movie got a perfect script and a blank cheque to make it happen, who would play these roles? Who would be cast in the roles of Awolowo, Zik, Ironsi, Murtala Muhammed,Ojukwu , Obasanjo, Gowon, MKO, Babanjida ,Abacha etc.

Alternatively, it could be made into  mini series, and taking a cue from HBO series  THE WIRE, each season would cover a different theme on the history of the country Colonial Days,Biafra, Coups, Birth of corruption , etc

Having said all this, the question rises. Who can direct such as sprawling epic that charts over 60 years of a nation’s history?   With the soon release of Half of a Yellow Sun, and the anticipated release of “76”, two films that dip their toe into the history of the nation, a project like this is not out of the realm of possibilities, and i for one , think that it’s about time the younger generation sees what went on in the past, and start taking the steps to avoid repeating those mistakes.

So, Question of the day. Assuming HBO was ready to finance a project like this, hiring Nigerian writers, producers, directors and actors. Who do you think(Home or Diaspora)  would be perfect for a project like this?  And for whoever you name, you have to state why, and based on what previous work(films,TV) do you think they can write, direct, produce or portray a historical character? Their popularity is not a factor, just their skillset

 

Half of a Yellow Sun – The Adaptation Debacle

The recent news of the adaption of Chimanada Adichie’s Award winning novel “Half of a Yellow Sun” into a motion picture has caused a firestorm.

All over twitter,face book and blog Nigerians have been irate over the casting raising several objections.

1) The movie being made by Westerners and not Nigerians

2)The casting of Thandie Newton and not a Nollywood actress.Arguments being

i- She’s too yellow and skinny(apparently igbo girls aren’t either) and does not look igbo.

ii- She’s boring

3)Even accusations that Chimamanda sold her soul to the West by giving the movie rights to “foreigners”.

4)Why it’s not being directed by a Nollywood director.

I found this whole firestorm interesting cos when I first read the book in 2007 I thought to myself

“Wow,this needs a movie adaptation”.

As a budding director learning film making at that point I was excited about such potential the book held

1)It was a fascinating read

2)With it’s Biafra backdrop it was a relevant story that needed to be told on the big screen.

3) As a compelling story it could be a catalyst for a wave of change across the industry in the types of films we are known for thereby bringing a whole new global respect for Nigerian film.

Months later I would run into a childhood friend who had been in the UK for a while .Only to find out he was also a budding director. Two budding Naija directors in the motherland of Alfred Hitchcock,Pinewood Studios and the James Bond franchise. We were excited.

Though we had not seen each other in over a decade our mutual love for all things cinema made that a moot point. In our numerous discussions about the movies we love and the ones we’d love to make the Nigerian film industry usually manifested.

We’d talk script,stories ,adaptations and being a hot topic at the time HOAYS always entered our discussions.

We’d analyze how it could be adapted,

The relevance of such an adaptation and who would be the first to actually option the book.

Was the Biafra War still too fresh a wound to reopen and place on the big screen?

I guess the questions we asked ouselves as far back as 08/09 have now been answered.

As much as I would have loved it to be a wholly Nigerian opportunity. Let’s put sentiment aside and be pragmatic.

Why all the sudden noise?

With all her critical acclaim and the global literary icon she has become nobody did anything?? No Naija producer saw the success of the book and they international attention it received and thought

“Hey this is a great story from our perspective let’s make a movie”

Nobody!!! Seriously, Nobody!! Why??

Now there’s all this shout of “our story”.

Wasn’t the book not picked up and published by a foreign publisher? (Before being republished here)

Has her career not been promoted by the West more than home? I’m pretty sure there are more Europeans and Americans that have read the book than Nigerians. Why should we let anyone else sing the praises of our heroes louder than us.(Food for thought)

Let’s talk technical terms. The actual practicalities and logistics of getting it made:

It’s a period piece, set in the 60’s against the backdrop of the civil war .

Even if a naija based director optioned it and had a great script that remained faithful to the script

i ) Would the budget he’s given be enough for an accurate recreation of the 1960′s? A mirror recreation of the aesthetics of that time?

ii) Do we have art directors experienced in period pieces ? Those that have proven the capablity to replicate foregone eras? Recreating the 60′s in costume,hairstyle,set design,furniture,location construction?
If we do pls correct me but from what is present in Home Vids I haven’t seen any evidence of such nor does it seem a priority.

‎Another question we should ask.

iii)Which Nollywood producer would be willing to stay 3-5 months shooting 1 film? When they are used to making 8-10 in that same period and getting their money back immediately.

The way the system currently works, has no frame work for such a production. Can it happen, yes. But that’s hypothetical not practical and certainly not the norm.
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There are some Naija based producers,maybe not specifically a part of Nollywood so to speak,but pure cinephiles. Who would take that time but are limited by lack of resources.
———————————————————Even some of the films shot within two weeks, the directors are still under unbelievable pressure to wrap up. Would that be the approach here?

iv)Which producers, if any, tried to option the book and have a track record of making a succesful film of this type?

HOAYS is a deep,complex and compelling story that needs historical accurracy on all levels?. And it can’t just be shot cut and released in under a month. That may be ok for other stories. But for something of this magnitude special care has to be taken. This could be the Cistine chapel of Nigerian stories.

The accusations of Adichie “selling her soul” I find are atrocious and not well thought out.

Let’s remember that it’s a work of fiction and the Biafra war is just the backdrop not the meat of the story.

The characters are fictional, complete creations of her own. So why doesn’t she have the right to option it to whoever she wants?

v) Did any Naija producer approach her for the rights and come back to say she refused?.

How do you know whether they(BFI) begged for the rights and then convinced her with a pitch of their vision on how to they wanted to bring it to life?

Also according to several sites reporting news of the adaptation,it’s stated that part of the financing comes from “Nigerian private equity”. What their own terms and conditions were, if any, remain to be known.So not only are the director and lead actor Nigerian but so are are some of the financers, that’s quite a Nigerian contribution innit!!!

All the claim of “our story”, “she sold her soul” is nonsense. Maybe by not insisting on certain terms and conditions for the inclusion of indigenous cast and crew she was not so strategic, but come on people.Sell Soul. Mr Faust she aint.

What we should start to ask.Are we nuturing the next breed of upcoming writers like her? I know a brilliant UK based Naija born writer I met on twitter she’s like a mix of Stephen King(Suspense/Horror) and Jackie Collin(steamy). Where’s her opportunity? Will a Naija publisher nuture her talent or will we allow Britian and The US also recognize and nurture people like her, then we start to claim them once they are famous and cry foul like now?

Ok, what are producers doing about her other book “Purple Hibiscus”?

What about all the Wole Soyinka and Chinua Achebe, Ben Okri, Chris Abani books? Why haven’t most of them been adapted to the big screen by home based film makers if not all? After all, Soyinka and Achebe’s books have been out for decades?

Let’s face it. If it HOAYS was directed,cast and shot here and they messed it up by shootin in two/three weeks without attention to intricate character,story,location details. All those patriots will cry foul and reign abuses on the actors ,directors and producers.

Shouldn’t the real concern be about who will take the pains and pay attention to the intricate details ,making the film accurate? Make a film that in 30 years time is still talked about and holds relevance in the cinematic community globally?

Won’t it be best to make the film with those who can pull off the characters story and tone rather than casting by who has what DNA?

Yes, there are probably a few unknown home based Nigerian Directors that could pull it off, but where is the backing? Which Naija producer will raise the size of budget the BFI is providing and spend it on one film? And if they do,are the locations and other logistics gonna allow them to do the very best to make it accurate?

Again if I’m wrong please correct me.

The issue was also raised about the British actors (Chiwetel and Thandie)not nailing Nigerian and in particular Igbo accents. Dunno if that was a joke though but will adress it.

Anyone that is well versed in cinema knows the levels many professional actors go to master the roles and characters they are going to play. If not please go research thespians like Daniel Day Lewis,Denzel Washington,Al Pacino,Robert DeNiro.You’d be amazed to see how far they’ve gone to get a character right, I certainly was.

Learning accents,and culture,the mannerisms and psyche of the characters are things they are taught when they received their training and things they do on their own when preparing for roles.

I’m not a Thandie advocate so I’m not really going to go into lengthy justifying of her casting but here are a few reasons I think Chiwetel is brilliant for the role and I’m sure numerous of the “activists” agree with me.

Apart from being a respected actor who has worked under the direction of Spike Lee,Ridley Scott,David Mamet Steven Spielberg and many others Chiwetel is also a consumate professional of the stage and screen.

He has received numerous acting awards and award nominations, including;

The Jack Tinker Award for Most Promising Newcomer at the 2000 Critics’ Circle Theatre Awards.

The 2000 London Evening Standard Theatre Award for Outstanding Newcomer

A 2001 nomination for the Laurence Olivier Theatre Award Best Supporting Actor.

The 2006 BAFTA Awards Rising Star, three Golden Globe Awards’ nominations,

The 2008 Laurence Olivier Award for Best Actor for his performance in Othello.

That’s quite a pedigree for any actor, not to talk of a Black Actor of Nigerian heritage in an industry notorious for institutional racism.

Is trading his thespian capability really worth an accurate accent? (Not that he can’t pull it off) and under the direction of fellow Nigerian and acclaimed writer Biyi Bandele I’m sure they’ll do the necessary research to keep it real.

I do feel one thing REALLY needs to be emphasized.

It’s called “show BUSINESS” people!!!.

The film has to sell all around the world. It’s hard enough for a movie with an all black cast movie of known faces to sell in Hollywood and Europe.

Just ask George Lucas, a phenomenally succesful Producer, who recently mourned the difficulty he faced in finding financing for his most recent film “Red Tails” which has an all Black Lead cast.

He had to use his own money after several studios turned him down. Turned LUCAS down!!!.

They turned down the man who created Star Wars which has penetrated pop culture for close to 40 decades,created a billion dollar franchise that has crossed several generations and virtually invented geek culture.

How do you think they’d react to an African story, with unknown faces ,one about Nigeria in particular. A topic which does not exactly warm the heart of the average Westerner.

Do these “our story activists” really think the producers are going to use unknown Nigerian faces? Who would they market those faces to? Joe Schmoe that has never seen a Home Video or even know of their existence?

Leading man Chiwetal has been in Huge grossing films from “The Inside Man” to Mayan prophesy disaster movie “2012” which made $700million and is the 5th highest grossing film of all time.

He’s made smaller films like “Dirty Pretty Things” for which he won a British Independent Film Award for best actor.

Thandie Newton is a globally known face she has worked with directors ranging from John Woo to Guy Ritchie to Tyler Perry.

Strictly from a marketing perspective like her or hate her she has more global visibility than some indigenous actresses that have been suggested. If the objection is that she’s too skinny she can do what Renee Zelwegger did to prepare for her Bridget Jones role.

The Executive Producers have to make their investment back by selling tickets. Do the “our story” activists(osa) think patriotism will recoup the investment ?

Let’s ask ourselves another question.If it had been made wholly Nigerian like some of the OSA are suggesting.

How many screens worldwide would it be seen on?

Which Naija producer has the same clout as the entire BFI to get it on screens in all around the United Kingdom as well as Texas,Stockholm,Perth, Ottawa etc?

Abi is the story only for Nigerians to see?

No matter how wonderful a film is, if people don’t get to see it,or screening is limited to a handful of places, there is no point. Financially it’s a failed film and does nothing for those involved.

Once again it’s “show BUSINESS” and many Nollywood producers practice the very same thing. They cast a face they believe will put sell DVD’s and for those that go to cinema put bums in seats.
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NB- For the record I would have LOVED for it to have been a Naija outing.With the right Director,Producer,Cast with the budget that a film of such a scale requires, No guerilla film making here.

But as a film maker I have to be practical about the best execution of the script and the marketability of the final product.
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The BFI that put up the money and the team handling it did a pretty
good job with “The Last King of Scotland”.

Would it have been a better film if a Ugandan was cast as Amin? Who knows. But Forrest did a stellar job so it really doesn’t matter what we speculate.

Now I’ve said a lot to defend the choice of the producers ,Let me be fair and take a look at it it from a Pan African point of view ,let’s take a look at some of the things they overlooked.

There are a number of African Directors that could have handled the material.

South African Gavin Hood,who had Oscar success with “Tsotsi” and went on to make X-Men:Wolverine Origins

Also South African Niel Blomkamp that grabbed the attention of Peter Jackson with his short who then produced the stunning feature debut “District 9” that Blomkamp wrote and directed. (Although not sure of how he sees Nigeria).

Abderramane Sissako who made “Bamako” Was a Member of the jury at Berlin International Film Festival in 2003 and the Cannes Film Festival in 2007.

‎​Idrissa Ouedraogo from Burkina Faso who made films like “Samba Traore”. He won the Silver Berlin Bear and was nominated for the Golden Berlin Bear in 1993.

Newton Aduaka,of “Ezra” who In 2001-2002 was Filmmaker in Residence at Festival de Cannes’ Cinéfondation in Paris. He, like Adichie and Chris Abani has been a keynote speaker at TED Talks.

Thomas Ikimi who received critical acclaim for his feature debut “Legacy” starring Idris Elba and Eamonn Walker. He won the Grand Jury Prize at the American Black Film Festival 2010 and was nominated for the Raindance Jury Prize in 2010 for his debut.

And there are several others who may not be household names but are equally capable. From their short films I’ve seen and recalling the discussions I’ve had with several young Nigerian directors I realize that several of them could also handle this material. The passion for both all things cinema and storytelling indicates such.

From an Economic and career prospect perspective; there really should be several roles for Nigerian actors. Roles that can be spring boards for budding talents to make that leap from aspiring to full time thespian.

Getting young actors to be supports in bits roles in movies of this scale and relevance helps their profiles in the industry and it breeds authenticity. Like a part of the book where some of the members of the houseboy’s gang when they go out to fight‎​.Will they not do right by casting some young igbo boys in it? “City of God” managed to cast loads of local kids and it turned out brilliant.

Even a young director like myself and others could learn a lot .Either working on the Directors team,
Producers team,
Director of Photography’s team or as
A member of the 2nd unit.

Imagine what it’d do for the CV of a young professional to be the 2nd Unit director on a film like this. DJ Caruso(Eagle Eye,I Am Number 4) started out as a 2nd unit director and look where he is today.

Set designers,Wardrobe,Make Up,Gaffers,Best Boy, and all those departments could hire and give great experience to young Nigerians. In the process adding to the economy of the Nation that inspired the story.

Maybe THAT’s the real beef those with objections have, and it’s not all about the tribe thing as it seems to come off . Some in that group are annoyed as they see the opportunity forgone.

The potential and opportunity it could have for young Nigerians in the film industry those in front and behind the camera. This could be a chance of a lifetime to see how filmmakers from other parts of the world work. The fully rounded characters and engaging story could be the breakthrough role that changes the career of young actors.

Maybe the producers could find one or two reputable indigenous production outfits who would be technical support. Providing crew for the project in the roles of 1st Assistant Director,2nd Assistant Director 2nd Unit Director. Production Assistant.Focus Pullers and other roles.

Those companies could also coordinate auditions for those non marquee roles to be filled out by young Nigerian talent.

Even some young actors could learn a lot by being “Mr Ejiofors assistant” and things like that. Many now known actors,writers,directors,producers started and got their big break while they were assistants .

The beef or rather, strong objection with Thandie could be thoughts of

“We have equally talented Nigerian actresses, some yet undiscovered, others already well versed in the industry eg Genevieve”. Why not cast her opposite Chiwetel and add more authenticity?.

And that makes some sense ,not only will it draw the Afro Caribean fans of hers in Europe and North America, but it’s a great way of raising the profile of Nigerian talent. After all,she’s igbo,very beautiful,has been profiled on Oprah where she was called Africa’s Julia Roberts.With starring roles in Ije:The Journey and Mirror Boy (which had international outings) and as the face of Lux, she is not a totally strange face to the West.

From cinematic history sometimes casting an “unknown” could just be the answer to creating real movie magic. Look at the then unknown Al Pacino as Michael Corleone in “The Godfather” and how it turned out.

When looking at it from that angle it’s easy to see why people got so upset about the whole situation.

JK Rowling of the Harry Potter books did good by British talent by insisting that a large percentage of the cast and crew be British. Due to that deal Daniel Radcliffe,Emma Watson,Rupert Grint and other young actors now have fledging careers. Also stemming from that a lot of other young professionals behind the camera now have those films on their on CV.

There are loads of massively talented young actors that even with a five minute role, (like Brad Pitt’s stoner in “True Romance”) could make a memorable performance and launch a career.

These guys just need the right avenue to display their talent. Like fireworks their beauty can’t be seen till the fuse is lit and a project like this could a perfect fuse lighter.

Maybe Ms Adichie should have made that part of the deal.Insist that a certain percentage of those involved in the film infront and behind the camera had to be Nigerian.Maybe she did, we’ll have to wait and see cos I’m not even sure if it’s going to be shot in Nigeria or another African country that can pass as Nigeria without the hassle.

Another reason for the outcry maybe a subconcious concern for the sensitivity in which the story is handled. The civil war is still fresh in the minds of many Nigerians. Some of the younger generation have heard the stories from their parents, fathers who were soldiers in the conflict. So they don’t want a Hollywood,generic approach to an African story.(Although BFI is not Hollywood) But those are some of their fears,nobody wants another film about Nigerian that turns out like “Tears of the Sun”. I remember how annoyed the inaccuacies of that film got me.

But I feel certain that Ms Adichie had the conviction that her story would be handled with care. With Biyi Bandele on board as Director, who happens to be a fellow writer,I’m sure he’ll remain as faithful as possible to the material.

The more I think of it as a Pan African Film maker rather than just a film maker the more inclined I am,maybe not to agree with, but at least understand the perspective and concerns of those with objections.

They should be warned though, that a screenplay adaptation can never be 100% replication of the book. Fans of The Bourne Series and The Harry Potter Books can testify to that.

The lesson here to film makers and actors is that we should continue to improve ourselves to that opportunities like this don’t pass us by.

Directors should work with and demand from screen writers compelling stories with rich and engaging fully rounded characters. This in turn gives the actors roles they can fully sink their teeth into. Challenging roles that would make them really go the distance.

Directors should as make films that have their personal stamp on it.Distinct films that add so many more layers to the source material.

Tarantino is known for his stories and dialouge. David Fincher for technical mastery. John Woo for his visual flare. Let the world start identifying Nigerian directors for their own unique styles. Our fingerprint in the world of cinema. That way we impress them so much that they approach us when opportunities like this show up. They consult us and make us offers.

So after all the dust of the outrage settles the lesson is “Don’t Dull”.

There are MANY novels that can be and should adapted. “Things Fall Apart” is RIPE for a movie outing. It has been ripe for many years. Why hasn’t ANYONE adapted it ?

Yes it was made into a TV series many years back, but what about a big screen outing?

Can you imagine what that could be like? Maybe an “Apocalypto” type approach would be the best for that story. All indigeonous faces, shot in igbo with only english subtitles.

Now THAT would be really something. It would make a wonderful epic and there is already an international reader base that would watch it if it’s executed right.

Abi una go wait till another “foreigner” comes to tell “your story”? Chikena

Authors Note-< Now i realize that some people would see this as an anti Nollywood rant, and would take great offense. But this was a response to the insistence that nobody else but Nollywood should have received the movie rights. They made no suggestion as to which producers they felt could handle it, or which directors. They just made blanket statements, most of which were out of tribal sentiment, some just came off as Xenophobic and quite disturbing.

Now, i am not writing off the entire Nollywood. There are hardworking and excellent Producers and Directors out there, but for the reasons i stated such as how productions are run here,budgetary reasons and the whole art design thing. I feel even those talented producers may not have the tools to enable them shine.

The other African Directors mentioned have handled similarly topical and sensitive projects that have gotten them global critical acclaim and some of them commercial success and international awards, that have led to jobs in the US and around Europe and because of those reasons they were mentioned.

As a Nigerian that is a film maker, i will be classified as Nollywood, so i, just like most others want it to work, and pray so . There is so much potential , and the friend i mentioned and i talk about it all the time.
Nigeria ,and other African Film Makers , have the opportunity to build something. Create a niche that even Hollywood will marvel. But we can’t ignore the issues holding us back.

The sooner we face them the sooner, we can sit down and brainstorm to find a solution.