Improving Africa’s image with documentaries

It is a week to the commencement of the second i-Represent International Documentary Film Festival and its executive director, Femi Odugbemi is upbeat about its success.

“We are very excited about this second edition because for us the success of the maiden edition last year was a humbling challenge. We had an audience of more than 200 people in total and they enjoyed watching the films, they enjoyed the conversation. And more than anything else, they were excited about the possibility of documentary as a platform of cultural interaction, a platform of identity, a weapon of self-expression,” Odugbemi begins on the event with ‘Democracy and Culture-The Documentary Film Intervention’ as its theme.

Continuing, he notes that, “Documentary is about experiences and what we found is that our ambition to create awareness and understanding for the power of documentaries actually can get an audience and a following. Since last year, we have tried to sustain the energy with our monthly film screening programme in partnership with Freedom Park and Goethe Institut and the Nigerian Film Corporation. We have found that the audience is building; in fact we have had consistent crowds who have come to our screenings. We have also since then held a very successful training programme on Script Writing for Non-Fiction and Fictional films in partnership with the Public Affairs section of the US Embassy.

“That was with a view of proving to practitioners, especially storytellers that the documentary form is not much different from fiction feature films because it can be written to be as entertaining, interesting and eclectic as any other film forms. So for us this second edition of the festival has built up an audience and it is in fact the aggregate of one year’s effort in creating the right understanding and appreciation for documentaries within and outside the industry especially amongst emerging filmmakers. We hope this festival will be a great opportunity to learn and network and view some very important documentaries relevant to the theme we have chosen.

The power of images
Odugbemi also explains why the sub-theme ‘Is Nollywood Documentary?’ would be discussed during the festival which runs from March 22 to 25 at Terra Kulture, Victoria Island and Freedom Park, Lagos Island. The sub-theme, he says, was chosen for a specific reason. “It is meant to interrogate an important proposition which avers that an African filmmaker has unusual responsibility in his imagery. Beyond mere entertainment, he has the responsibility of the “cultural representation” in his work – irrespective of whether that film is fiction or non-fiction, because the representation of the African experience has always suffered from the fact that it has been subjected to interpretations by people outside of the experience. It has become imperative for African filmmakers to understand that the images in their narrative have much more power than that of entertainment. Nollywood is powerful today – it has become much more than a film industry for entertainment, it has become more or less the representation of the African experience in many parts of the world and it is becoming the image template for defining what Africa looks like, how we speak, dress and the values that we uphold.

“So we feel filmmakers in Nigeria, especially in Nollywood need that conversation and that understanding that will allow them to begin to take that responsibility seriously. For us, it is not about IRep trying to recruit Nollywood filmmakers to do documentaries, though we feel with better understanding more of that will happen, it is about creating a timely conversation on how powerful images are in a world that is globalised. If we say we want to change the narrative of Africa, if we say we want Africa to be empowered economically and politically, it is critical for us to begin to manage the images of Africa that subsist in the global information order, from that of poverty and pain and disease and war to one that begins to speak and showcase inspirational breakthroughs, inspirational people and achievements. Africa has a lot to teach the world. The cultural and spiritual values of Africa are important to the world, in spirituality, in community, values of integrity and honesty that are embedded in our culture. The only way we can do that, our biggest weapon of cultural mobilization is film. This is empowering Nollywood filmmakers to create more powerful films that will hopefully also create a wider audience across the world.”

Platform for collaboration and mentorship
About 15 international filmmakers will present films and conduct workshops during the festival Odugbemi explains is holding in two venues to enable participants experience the formal environment inside Terra Kulture and also the informal environment at Freedom Park. Happily, the response from the target audience has been heartwarming and justifies the elaborate preparation.

“The workshops planned for the edition have already been oversubscribed,” discloses Odugbemi, managing director of DVWorx Studios. The producer of documentaries ‘Oriki’ and ‘Bariga Boy’ adds, “We have a database and we have continued to engage our audience and trainees from the last festival and the workshops via social media platforms – face book, twitter blackberry groups etc and so we have a base of people that are going to attend this and then many more have already

registered. We want to afford opportunity for training to as many people as possible and that is why the training will hold at Freedom Park where we will be able to take up to 200 participants for the training. We believe that the more people we can get into the training, the more people we can empower to be hands-on in creating the kind of documentary movement that we envisage because the more documentary that are made the more we will begin to come to that understanding of how this as a art-form defines the personal and community experiences of our people. The filmmakers that are coming as our guests are filmmakers that are very excited about impacting knowledge and information. They are not just filmmakers, they are very good teachers. We are hoping that with the two-day workshop they are able to impact a lot in the formal training session and in the networking opportunities that our participants will have. We hope this is a platform to create collaboration and mentorship that will sustain and help those who are interested in making documentaries in Nigeria.”

Co-productions and collaborations
A producers’ roundtable featuring ‘Strategies for International Co-Production’ is on the menu and Odugbemi reiterates the importance of co-productions. “For us in documentary, it is almost imperative that we begin to look at co-productions and collaborations as opportunities to expand the market for documentary films as well as acquire the technical know-how and skills that we can share and finally as opportunity access funding from different sources across the world.
For us and our colleagues from Cameroon, South Africa and Ghana who will be at this round-table, it is a critical thing that we collaborate because our perspectives of the African experience need to be deepened and it requires collaboration.

This session will be moderated by Kathrina Hedren who is one of the major promoters of Documentary Network Africa (D.N.A.). Documentary Network Africa was born in South Africa by over 50 documentary filmmakers from across Africa with the exact intent of ensuring that African documentary filmmakers collaborate, co-operate, have the same understandings and are aware of the urgency to begin to speak the African experience from an African perspective.”

Continuous engagement
On efforts to ensure that iRep doesn’t end up as mere talkshop and that the goal of the festival dedicated to promoting awareness about the power of documentary films are achieved, Odugbemi says, “We are trying to ensure that we remain engaged with filmmakers who attend this event. We remain engaged through our monthly screening, through our training programme and we have also remained engaged by doing training at institutions. We are doing documentary workshops in the schools. We are partnering with PEFTI and NFI to also ensure that documentary is also embedded in their curricula in a way that it is interesting, exciting and knowledgeable. We are trying to make sure that everything we do in iREP has practical outcomes and already, quite a few of those who attended last year are screening films this year.

That is the idea that the more people come to the festival, the more they are excited about creating works that showcase their own individual experience and perspective which is really the goal. It is about the empowerment of the mind of a filmmaker.”

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