Camera rolling, sound rolling…! It’s festival time again and this means that it is time again for the iREP newsletter, an initiative by Goethe-Institut Nigeria, iREP International Documentary Film Festival and some very talented young film critics. I am very happy that this newsletter is coming out again, not only because it gives us an insight into the filmmaker’s perspectives, but also because it offers a platform for a rather rare species of art critics: the film critic. There are not many opportunities in the Nigerian cultural journalism scene to write and publish on films; this opportunity does not only offer some practical experience to the journalists, but also gives the festival a physical and tangible product that can be used for archiving and documenting purposes.
I have to thank the team around Aderinsola Ajao for putting up and continuing this initiative and what remains to be said now is:
Institutsleiter / Director
German Cultural Center
‘Quality Content is Paramount’
The 5th edition of the iREPRESENT International Documentary Film Festival started on Thursday, 19th March, 2015 with the screening of UNFORGIVEN, a Rwandan-German documentary by Lucas Augustin. The opening screening of Chameleon, a Ryan Mullins’ 2014 documentary film was deferred owing to technical hitches.
The opening ceremony commenced with a welcome address by Femi Odugbemi, the Executive Director of iREP, who thanked the festival’s staff, volunteers, partners, sponsors and individuals who had supported the festival from inception five years ago. His welcome address was followed by the keynote speech.
In his speech, captioned ‘New Values for Audience Development in a Digital Space’, the Managing Director of Multichoice Nigeria Limited, Mr. John Ugbe, observed that the response to the right content is no longer subject to a 6-month research or survey, but is now immediate because two screens are available to the audience in the digital age – one for watching content and the other for giving feedback to the content provider on social media: Twitter, Facebook, etc. This second screen, he remarked, is usually a phone.
Ugbeasserted that quality content was paramount in the digital space, stating that it did not matter where content was produced: a bad story remains a bad story. He added that even with top-notch technical quality, if a story was not compelling, it would not make the desired impact.
In his own remarks, Marc-André Schmachtel, the Director of the Goethe-Institut Lagos, expressed his happiness that iREP offered the opportunity for German documentaries to be screened and was delighted by the privilege offered by non-fictional films, which he believes promotes a people’s history and culture.
Wendy Mitchell, Film Programme Manager, British Council, London, delivered a short speech from OjomaOchai, Director, British Council, Lagos, who was unavoidably absent. Ochaistressed that, “we need to tell our own stories better.”Mitchell also informed the audience of about 15 new programmes and grants initiated by the British Council.
The Creative Intent of a Single Story
By Ettobe David Meres
Thanks to ChimamandaNgoziAdichie, we are alert to the danger of a single story about Africa. But what is the danger of not telling that single story about Africa, especially, when it may be true?
Mr. WehinmiAtigbi, CEO of M2DC, in a keynote address, ‘Creative Intentions in the Age of Digital Mass Media’, delivered at the 5th edition of the iRepresent International Documentary Festival, believes ‘’we cannot tell our stories based on a lie.’’ This is all the more important in the documentary film genre that seeks to ‘’capture the world in its naked splendour.’’
Whereas the audience for films in the fiction genre is expected to suspend belief, to believe in the story, documentary filmmakers have to tell verifiable true stories about reality. And because filmmakers are not free of bias, the intention behind the telling of a story is important.
According to Atigbi, the digital mass media has created a new kind of audience. An audience that tends to spend their waking life poring over screens on mobile devices; building alternate lives on Facebook or Twitter, and sharing the next cool video on Youtube. This makes them impatient, sufferers of a short attention span.
The danger for documentary filmmakers is that in bid to hold the attention of this new audience they would, as Mr. Atigbi said, engage in ‘’pseudo-reality shows’’ like Big Brother Africa that are only ‘’frivolous reflections of reality.’’ The role of film makers in this digital age, he said, is to ‘’remind us that there is life outside the digital space’’ by telling true stories that are challenging, informative, and which open our minds.
When asked if African filmmakers should always tell the truth about Africa, even if it means washing their dirty linen in the public view of Western media, he said it should depend on the filmmaker’s conviction. For Africa to be taken seriously however we must evolve to the stage where we can tell ourselves the truth, he said. In the digital world of CGIs, special effects, and Photoshop, we would continually question what is real. Documentary filmmakers can only meet this need by offering stories that are true about Africa however difficult these are to swallow.
To Forgive Or Not to Forgive?
By Adefoyeke Ajao
German filmmaker Lukas Augustin delivers a touching narrative of the aftermath of the Rwandan genocide through UNFORGIVEN. The 75-minute documentary tells the story of reconciliation through an diverse group of victims. They include Ananias, imprisoned for seven years for his role in the genocide, and Brigitte, who is taken captive alongside her sister after their grandfather is slaughtered. The consequence of the rape she suffers is her daughter Liliane, who suffers PTSD.
Also sharing their experience in the documentary are Claudine, whose siblings were reportedly murdered by Ananias, and Innocent, a disfigured young man who has chosen to forgive his attackers. Christophe is the agent of change whose organisation Christian Action for Reconciliation and Social Assistance (CARSA) seeks to reconcile the victims with the perpetrators.
Samson is CARSA’s intermediary and rounding up the cast is Wellars, Innocent’s childhood friend who led the attack that left him disfigured.
UNFORGIVEN focuses on the path to forgiveness and the emotional trauma both the offender and offended are subjected to while finding closure. Can the perpetrators of the Rwandan genocide be pardoned by their victims?
The film boasts numerous powerful scenes. At a point, Claudine confronts Ananias, during a meeting facilitated and moderated by CARSA. Watching Ananias seek forgiveness without revealing the whole truth showed his motive was not to be free from internal guilt but to avoid another jail term.
In another touching scene, Innocent and Claudine return to the church, where both were maimed and 30,000 Tutsis slaughtered.
Innocent and his attacker Wellars however best represent the idea of reconciliation that the film addresses: a message that is occasionally a hard-sell for Claudine.
Augustin does a good job of letting his dramatis personae tell their stories. The audience not only has the opportunity to witness the whirlwind of emotions and scars harboured by eyewitnesses of the Rwandan genocide, but also has the chance to empathise with them. Their gestures and tears reveal pain that is too heavy for words to describe. Augustinemphasises this. He downplays sound and speech, while highlighting action conveyed via the victims’ physical expressions.
UNFORGIVEN sets out to convict by asking if indeed we are willing to practise what we preach. Whether or not we can forgive those who have harmed us is a hard question put forward by Augustin.
POVERTY INC.,directed by Michael Matheson Miller, is set against the backdrop of the Haitian earthquake of 12th January, 2010, which was followed by aid agencies, governments, NGOs and social entrepreneurs making a lot of donations in cash and kind to help the victims of the disaster. In the end, it turned out that the aid crippled the prices of locally-produced goods: a common consequence wherever foreign aid is the main source of survival for victims of natural or man-made disasters.
The documentary features a series of talking heads including Timothy Schwatz, a Haitian writer and researcher; Andrea Widmer, co-founder Seven Fund, and author ofThe Pope and The CEO.
There were also interviews from Joel Salatin, a US farmer; Kenneth Michel, CEO dloHaiti; Theodore Dalrymple, author/psychologist; Herman Chinery-Herse, Founder BSL Ghana; Alex George, co-founder, Enersa. These experts, among others, give insight as to how foreign aid under-develops and impoverishes a people. The point is resoundingly made that it is trade, innovation and business that develop countries; no nation has ever developed on aid.
Aid, it is said, has given birth to the global poverty industry. As one of the intervieweesproclaims, “the earthquake became a short-term natural disaster that turned into a long-term unnatural disaster.”Another interviewee declared that there were more than 10,000 NGOs in post-earthquake Haiti, with more NGOs per capita than anywhere in the world. It was also pointed out that charity has become an unfashionable word that has now been replaced with social entrepreneurship.
In the end, POVERTY INC. advocates that instead of giving a poor population fish, the people should be taught how to fish. Director Miller’s effort results in a well-researched story, told captivatingly.
“We have rekindled awareness of the power and possibilities of documentary film.”
Interview with Femi Odugbemi, executive director, IREP Film Festival
By Isabella Akinseye
Why are documentaries so important?
Documentary filmmaking is a sober genre fostering reflections on culture, politics, ethics, philosophy, society, science, spirituality and addressing questions of day-to-day life. It is also a cultural practice and every form of its interpretation enriches a culture. And because ‘culture’ is an evolving definition, documentaries represent important interpretations of these evolving shared experiences. The dimensions of documentary as a tool for deepening human experiences by bringing perspectives to history is a vital and urgent need to foster needed development and grow the nascent democratic experiments in our continent.
What is the vision of IREP?
At IREP, we strongly believe that documentary can help to recreate the African identity and re-tell the narrative of the “African experience” in the voice of those living the experience. That is why our festival’s thematic framework from inception – five years ago – has been built around the phrase “Africa in Self-Conversation.” It’s about self-realization and identity. In this emerging global environment, cultural distinctions and dissection aid understanding as well as preserve and protect diversity. Documentaries are important in helping us all to express our “individualities” within the blurred boundaries of the global community.
Can you shed more light on “Documentaries and the digital space”?
Documentaries are also personal and too important to be left in the hands of institutions. It should be in the hands of the population. Today, everything happens at the speed of light – fast foods, fast cars, fast communication, fast marriages. All human experiences – social political and economic – are moving at a rapid pace, requiring not only perspectives but individual interpretations of their meaning and impact.
Thankfully, the ‘accessibility’ of the digital space has created the opportunity and tools for individuals to not only document their ‘reality’ as it happens but to broadcast and distribute their story globally within minutes.
It has already been five years. What has IREP achieved in this period?
Well, for starters, we have rekindled awareness of the power and possibilities of documentary to provoke debate; highlight issues; explicate human experiences, and explore history and cultures. We have over the past five years screened more than 500 films of diverse styles, languages and themes from over 40 countries of the world. We have built an audience for documentaries that are entertaining, impactful, penetrating and enlightening. We have formed strategic international alliances and partnerships with the Africa World Documentary Film Festival at the University of Missouri, USA, to access contemporary films and filmmakers from across the world.
Our partners have also included the Goethe-Institut, with whom we began five years ago; the British Council; the Ford Foundation; Freedom Park, and many others who have supported our vision. We have provided training opportunities for emerging young filmmakers through our Festival Workshops, documentaries, and international networking platforms for experienced producers. We have achieved a lot in just five years because more than ever before, documentary films from Nigeria, and even more documentary filmmakers, are emerging to participate at the IREP Documentary Film Festival every year.
How have you managed to keep going despite the challenges?
We have retained our passion for the genre and focused on building on our strategic plans year on year. Of course, our yearly challenge has always been finding support but we are growing stronger by the year. The IREP brand is known across the continent and beyond. It is trusted for its quality and is still creating impact. We have made it this far and we are thankful, especially to all our friends and our supporters who continue to believe in the importance of our vision.
What can we expect this year – anything new?
This landmark fifth anniversary festival will explore the theme “Reinventing Documentary Filmmaking in a Digital Space” and it will form the overriding concern that our screenings, presentations and conversations will explore. Though conceived on the traditional IREP thematic framework of ‘Africa in Self-conversation’, the theme is premised on the reality that digital media technology is expanding narrative possibilities and shaping audiences’ experiences of how realities are articulated.
Documentary filmmaking is coming to terms with these new realities and continuously finding hybrid strategies to navigate the blurred lines crisscrossing verité and satisfying the ever-changing temperament of the digital world that is hip, fun-seeking, chaotic, multi-tasking, and attention-sapping.
For documentary filmmaking, digital technology presents a challenge and an opportunity that would either remarkably transform and redefine what passes as a documentary film or bury the art in its past. More than ever before there is a need to reinvent the art of documentary filmmaking within the space of the new elements that are dictating the trend of media consumption and experience globally. We are also conscious of the inevitable movement of television broadcasting and services into full digital era as envisaged by the Nigeria Broadcasting Commission and that quite a lot of African nations have set [the] same 2015 as deadline for their full embrace of digital broadcasting on the continent.
What are the other highlights of this year’s festival?
Highlights of the festival will include film screenings, keynote speeches, panel discussions, producers’ roundtable, awards presentation, and training/workshops. This festival will screen over 40 films curated around themes and issues in Africa. It has become a tradition for the festival to engage Africa and Africans in self-conversation and create talking points that can bring insights on developmental issues in Africa.
This edition of the festival has deliberately allowed an eclectic selection of films addressing different subject matters, and selected widely from different parts of the world, including USA, South Africa, Uganda, Ghana, Germany, Nigeria, and many more.
Tell us about the Producers’ Roundtable.
The Producers’ Roundtable is a forum that brings international filmmakers and producers together in an extensive discussion that covers areas such as international collaborations and co-productions; film distributions; publicity and marketing; international best practices, and prevailing industry trends. This edition of the Producers’ Roundtable will explore the opportunities that technology brings to film distribution using case studies from very successful campaigns.
The migration to digital broadcast by many countries in Africa will also be a cogent point of discussion, particularly on how documentary filmmaking can take advantage of the policy.
And will awards be given out this year?
Every edition of the iREPRESENT International Documentary Film Festival, we recognize the industry and commitment of those who have made immense contributions to the discipline of documentary filmmaking in Nigeria. These cut across different areas that facilitate the filmmaking process. Recipients of the iREP Festival Awards from past festivals include ChikeMaduegbuna, Emeka Mba, Sandra Obiago, BiolaAlabi, and AdegboyegaArulogun. Deserving personalities will also be presented with the award this year.
Tell us about the trainings and workshops.
In the last four years, iREP has trained close to 200 young, up-and-coming filmmakers in the art of documentary filmmaking. This edition of the festival will expand on what has been done in the past. The training will run for four days, offering intensive hands-on knowledge of filmmaking. The training is a two-tier documentary filmmaking course on “Telling Your Story in the Digital Space” and “Distributing Your Story in the Digital Space.”
Our goal is to prepare the participants for the opportunities of digital filmmaking in a broad sense. We believe that documentary filmmakers must become more flexible and invent new ways of telling stories across multiple platforms and immersive formats. The thrust for a post-modernist, self-aware documentary film culture must find a space for itself in the digital agenda and marry creative storytelling with timelessness of issues that are yearning to be told. This fifth edition of iREP will interrogate how the documentary filmmaker is engaging his art within the digital space – can documentaries remain verité, or like beauty, will the truth be in the eyes of the beholder? We look forward to the activities and interactions of the 2015 festival with great excitement, and we hope strongly that as many people as possible would be a part of it.