Saturday, March 29, 2008

For Kelani at 60; Fosudo at 50, a highlife party

By Benson Idonije
(As published in The Guardian Friday March 28, 2008)
COME Sunday, March 30, 2008, the 78th Great Highlife Party also called the Elders’ Forum will be experiencing another milestone in its continuing push for the resurgence of a dying musical culture. On this special occasion, trumpets, saxophones, trombones, guitars, drums and indeed all the instruments of the orchestra will be at their frienziest as the entire art community congregate to celebrate Tunde Kelani and Sola Fosudo, two of its most distinguished artists. The party begins at 5.30 p.m. and terminates at 11 p.m. at the usual venue of OJEZ Entertainment, National Stadium, Surulere, Lagos.
A foremost Nigerian film maker whose creativity matches international standards, Tunde Kelani’s passion for this career is still as profound as ever-even at age 60. He does newsreel work for such reputable stations as BBC World and other international organisations in Nigeria. His passion lies mostly with the documentation of Nigeria’s rich cultural heritage including shorts and features where he turns out works that are resplendent with the creative treatment of actuality as well as the imaginative presentation of concrete facts. He has contributed immensely to most of the films made in Nigeria to date.
T.K. worked as cinematographer on Anikura, Ogun ajaye, Iya ni wura, Taxi Driver, Fopomoyo and Iwa which he also produced. This represents a sizeable segment of the popular Nigerian films made in celluloid medium.
More recently, with funding from South Africa as part of the M-net New Directions initiative, T.K. functioned as cinematographer on Twins of the Rain Forest (16 mm), A Place called Home (16 mm), A Barber’s Wisdom (35 mm) and White Handkerchief) (16 mm), which he also produced and directed.
As a director of photography, T.K. stretches the optical capacity of digital video close to its elastic limit. What he does is use light to create what he sees because light is his main tool. He then uses the camera to record as much of it as technology makes available to him before PHCN (Nigeria’s unreliable power utility company) switches off his light to disrupt his work.
As a director, T.K. is a man of profound imagination who digs deep into the innermost parts of his mind, drawing inspiration from the past and building a bridge across the past and the present. This is because at 60, his age has afforded him the opportunity of being exposed to Nigeria’s cultural past – unlike most of the young folks whose knowledge of the past is vague and so are prone to foreign influences. With the deeply theatrical culture of his Yoruba pedigree, T.K. appears to have perfected the art of conveying Yoruba traditional theatre on the cinema screen without necessarily importing the limitations of the stage to the screen.
One of the attributes of a good producer is the clear identification of his target audience. T.K. understands what the viewing public expects of him and one of the strategies for achieving his objectives is the strong relationship with the traditional Yoruba theatre movement which constitutes a major group from which he draws actors and actresses. And because his casting is in the right direction, they often acknowledge him as a vital link between their history on stage and presence on the cinema screen.
T.K. recognises the popular video work as digital film making and has managed to make no less than seven full length features which represent some of the best offerings of the prolific Nigerian video phenomenon. Some of them include such down to earth productions as Ti Oluwa nile, Ayo ni mofe, Koseegbe, Oleku, Saworoide, Thunder bolt and most recently Agogo Eewo.
T.K. is a firm believer in alternative technology for motion pictures in Africa and says with conviction, “My ancestors used wood, terracotta, bronze and whatever else they could lay their hands on to document their reality. If we do not use whatever we can to document our own present realities, our children will suffer identity crises if they have to resort to archaeology to find out how we lived in the age of multi-media.”
Like last month when the artist, Kola Oshinowo and actor Zack Orji were celebrated for their achievements, Sunday’s party is another double take, featuring in addition to Tunde Kelani, the consumate actor and dramatist, Sola Anthony Fosudo. At 50 he is at the prime of a successful and challenging career. He is also a theatre director, scholar, critic and Head of Department of Theatre Arts, Lagos State University (LASU).
As a versatile artist, Fosudo has registered considerable impression on stage and screen.
He floated Centre stage Productions essentially to discover and nurture budding talents. His exploits on stage speak loud even though he has also made his mark in Nollywood with a participation that has continued to introduce intellect and professional commitment to the home video movement, featuring in such movies as True Confession, Glamour Girls, Rituals, Strange Ordeal, Iyawo Alhaji among several others.
Fosudo’s interest in theatre began from primary through secondary school where he played prominent roles in the end-of-year cultural dramatic activities which snowballed into participation in National Arts Festivals. But the final polish was put to this passion and professional career at the University of Ife. Says he:
“No picture can best paint the serenity that was Ife in those days. It was a campus to behold with its array of lecturers. I was thrilled by the stimulating and challenging academic environment, the structures, the unending rehearsals, the songs, drama and so on. It was indeed a very great experience.”
Explaining how he settled down to the real business, he further says: “The first play I took part in was Ola Rotimi’s Kurumi. After Kurumi, I found myself picking lead roles in most other productions that probably showed that I must have impressed the lecturers in Kurumi. The lecturers in Ife back then were some of the best anyone could ever pray for. We had the likes of the Nobel Laureate, Prof. Wole Soyinka, eminent theatre director, Chuck Mike and a host of others who gave all they had to the theatre. After the training, I was retained by the troupe for another two years.
“While there, I often craved to be like my lecturers, and I realised that the only way I would become a lecturer was to go for further studies. When Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU) refused to allow me into a degree programme with my certificate, a friend advised me to go to the University of Ibadan where I later ran a diploma programme. I followed up with a Bachelor of Arts (BA) and later, a Masters degree.”
However, it was not the paper qualifications that prepared him for what he is today. Rather, it was the natural flair and urge to give vent to and lend expression to his talent that did it. While at Ibadan for instance, he reached out restlessly to the Nigerian Television Authority (NTA) and Broadcasting Corporation of Oyo State (BCOS) to act. He got involved in a number of TV plays and moved from stage to the screen. He produced a dance programme for BCOS, a Disco Jam fashioned after Soul Train. But Koko Close was perhaps the most challenging of them all.
When he came to Lagos, he was invited to join The Village Headmaster, The Third Eye and later Ripples which established him as an actor because it ran for five years, during which period he played several controversial roles.
But today, Fosudo is a master of situations with a level of involvement in theatre that transcends acting. He directs, produces, markets and teaches.
Kelani and Fosudo will be treated to the best of highlife on Sunday from some of the veterans of the music still alive. Headlined by octogenerian Fatai Rolling Dollar whose career began in the 1940s, the party is bound to swing as he reminds you about the past and the present – in live setting.
Singer Tunde Osofisan of Maria fame will be on hand to sing from the highlife era of the 60s. He operates from a wide repertoire that extends beyond Roy Chicago, his mentor and former band leader – to the Tempos Band led by Emmanuel Tetteh Mensah, the king of highlife.
Alaba Pedro whose palm wine guitar strokes evoke the nostalgia of the vibrant highlife of the 60’s will thrill the audience as he doubles on vocals while Maliki showman’s hard- driving sound will generate excitement for dancing – with vocals and saxophone.
In recent times, the scope and dimension of the music have been extended beyond the conventional by musicians who sound rather progressive because they are masters of their instruments. Veteran Eji Oyewole, a multi- instrumentalist will feature on a couple of vintage highlife tunes. Fred Fisher, perhaps the finest trombone player around will lend support to the ensemble sound. Biodun Adebiyi will excite the audience with his exuberant trumpet as he plays with tremendous fire and spirit, soaring off into high note runs with confidence and precision.
And of course, the Highlife Messengers, an aggregation of brilliant musicians will be playing exuberant highlife that speaks for the present even though it has its roots deep in tradition.
The trio of elders headed by Steve Rhodes and supported by Chief Femi Asekun and Ambassador Segun Olusola will be present to initiate the two great artists into elderhood.
The Great Highlife Party is a highlife revival initiative with the active collaboration of the Committee for Relevant Art (CORA).

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Tempers Flare At the 74th Art Stampede

(Culled from ARTSVILLE (16/3/08) by Toyin Akinosho)

JOKE Silva was upset. Mahmoud Balogun bristled and Umar Farouk Jibril was visibly rattled. Everyone was talking at the same time, at a point in the proceedings of the 74th Art Stampede (Packaging The African Cinema For A Global Audience) in Abuja last week. It seemed that the stakeholders had all come with set interpretations of how far Nollywood had come, why it works and why it doesn't, but the opinions were so tight that crossovers were difficult. The hint that the atmosphere was going to be charged came after the lead speaker, Ben Tomoloju, had delivered an hour long cerebral lecture on the road that Filmmaking had taken on the continent, citing references from Frantz Fanon to the Meiji Restoration. When the moderator, Ayo Arigbabu announced that members of the panel, comprising Balogun (a filmmaker), Sylvester Ogbechie (art historian), Francis Onwochei (Fimmaker) and Francis Duru(Actor/director), would respond to the paper, a murmur of protest went up from the audience and a number of hands were raised, including Jimi Johnson's, suggesting that the field should be open for questions. It was thus natural that words started flying all over the place the moment the panelists finished their comments. Clear takeaways from the discourse include that the Nigerian moving pictures industry may have become a phenomenon of sorts, but it requires some structure to take advantage of its potentials, in terms of aesthetics, global appeal, market access, distribution etc. But there are significant internal hurdles in Nigeria to clear. The Comittee For Relevant Art CORA, is finalising a communique form the proceedings, that will soon be published.,


Packaging African Movies For A Global Audience
THIS paper aims at examining contending issues in the motion picture industry. In doing so, it approaches the subject, motion-picture, from the point of view of a realist. Against the counterpane of history and all the standards that have emerged worldwide, it argues for the legitimacy of the African initiative. With a few criticisms of the shortfalls in the production standards of African movies highlighted, it goes ahead to philosophically position African motion pictures as part and parcel of a universal development which the rest of the world should embrace.

Introduction: The Historical Paradox
THE origin of the science of motion pictures is traced back to 1824. From that year, through the rest of the 19th century, series of experiments were carried out by notable western inventors like Eadweard Muybridge, Thomas A. Edison, W. Friese-Green, the Lumiere Brothers and George Eastman who produced the first celluloid film. However, it was the Lumiere Brothers who did the first public-showing of motion-picture in a cinema-theatre in Paris in 1895.
Tracing the history of the motion-picture to the beginning of the cinema in 1895 is significant in evaluation the place and poise of Africa in the movie-world. It helps in determining how far the continent has come in the use of the powerful medium, its profile among contending forces in inter-cultural relations, the challenges faced by African motion picture practitioners past and present as well as the prospects ahead of them in the global setting.
Naturally, the history of the movies sings a different tune from culture to culture. In Africa, it is not different. Using Nigeria as a closest example, the first public showing of the motion picture took place in 1903, eight years after the western world. In fact, the United States of America woke up to the public screening of films just about the same time as in Africa. The difference, according to history, is that commercial screening started in 1905, well ahead of the African continent.
Against this backdrop, it would have been assumed that, in over a century of contact and connection with the movie enterprise, Africa ought to have stood tall in its mobilization and utilization of the medium in the overall interest of the Africa people. But here lies a serious contradiction.
In its history of 100 years, American motion-picture industry accounts for about half of the world’s box-office releases, grossing an annual revenue of over $4.5 billion at the turn of the last century. Nigerian movies, on the other hand, are still battling for global recognition, surviving on paltry budget and cost-cutting improvisation. This comparison is not meant to cast the Nigerian motion-picture industry in a bad light, but to simply show how disadvantaged it has been in the global scheme of things.
Motion picture in Africa did not begin as cultural property of Africans as it did in the Western world. Its utility-value was, therefore, not salutary to the African intelligentsia who identified in the development an attempt by the colonialists to undermine the dignity and integrity of Africans. While the motion-picture as art and science evolved out of the organic creative and inventive essence of western cultures and was utilized for the promotion of their respective national interests, the reality of its advert in Africa is antithetical.
The motion-picture served the purpose of entrenching the control of the colonialists over the colonized peoples of Africa, manipulating them mentally, subjugating them politically, exploiting them economically and denigrating their cultures.
In this connection, an analysis of the problems besetting the motion-picture enterprise in Africa and the proffering of possible solutions must take into account this contradiction. Certainly, modern history has not been fair to Africans who were once referred to by Professor Ali Mazrui as “the most victimised race” in the world.
For the fact that most of this history was documented by the white overlords, it could not have fared better. Nevertheless, this paradoxical chapter of the African story should not be dumped in the backrooms as sheer chronological happenstance. It is part of our reality, even in the travails of the motion-picture in Africa. It must be held under the powerful lens of African movie-makers as an object for historical and cultural reconstruction in consonance with the political, ideological advocacy of Walter Rodney in his famous book How Europe Under-developed Africa and, of course, the literary model of Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart against Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness.
Realistically, history once made can never be unmade. Its consequences can only be accepted as factors challenging the inheritors of its legacy, whether fair or foul.
The legacy of motion-picture, as inherited from the west by Africans, should serve the latter as a catalyst for self-reinvigoration and, ultimately, self-vindication.
African scholars and producers like Nigeria’s Wole Soyinka and Senegal’s Sembene Ousmane, among others, have had the cause to initiate a process of reconstruction in which African film-making reacts against “the western stereotype of the black man and his world” towards an objective which Hyginus Ekwuazi aptly describes as a restitution of the distorted culture” of Africa.
Expressly, the voice of the African movie-maker is calling the rest of the world to meet Africa on its own terms. Its persona is not playing the victim, but taking a principled stand as a thoroughbred in the crafting and interpretation of the complexities of a new, dynamic world order.
Concerning the African film, Ekwuazi states as follows: “in this functionalist view, culture becomes not just what it is at any time, but also its elasticity, its growth potentials. Besides, the dynamics of cultural elasticity makes culture the dialectics of growth by providing the thesis and antithesis out of which is born a synthesis; a richer culture, reaching out towards cultural convergence; a homogenisation which becomes more of a reality in each generation.
The African motion-picture is currently berthed upon the shoreline of a synthesis in the dialectical relationship between the continent and the rest of the world. It casts off the beggarly torso of docile end-user of foreign initiative and positions itself on the path of self-actualization. Such attempts at self-actualisation may not be palatable to the metropolitan mercantilists and their predatory collaborators in Bombay and Hong-Kong. But a fact which cannot be wished away and one with which African movie-makers can arm themselves is that the African motion-picture is a cultural-nationalistic insignia. It is part of our collective struggle against any form of domination. It is part of our struggle against the North-south Information Dichotomy. Though our culture relates to others on the basis of mutual respect and universal solidarity, the movie remains a part of the struggle for economic and political emancipation, a struggle for self-determination.
This, in one’s opinion, is the principle upon which the pedagogy of African movies for the global audience should be anchored. It provides the ideological super-structure upon which the paradoxical image of African motion picture is anatomised and refocused. And it does not fail to acknowledge the need to uphold universal standards which determination should not be the exclusive preserve of the west.

African Movies and the Credibility Hurdle
LET it be made clear that the end-in-view of this paper is to create a healthy environment for mutually beneficial cultural dialogue and partnership between Africa and the rest of the world, based essentially on equity and fair-play. It is not meant to obliterate the shortcomings of movies produced in Africa which have been flayed by critics locally and international.
In fact, packaging African movies for the global audience cannot be discussed without taking into consideration issues bordering on competence and accomplishment and, by extension, the credibility of the practice on the continent. In the past three decades or so, critical salvos have been fired at African movies outputs, most of them coming in this era of home-video releases.
Motion-picture industry in Africa is criticised for the paucity of trained professionals in its stables. Screenplays, in a number of cases, are hackneyed, pedestrian, banal or morally bankrupt. The sub-sector is vulnerable to the activities of pirates and all manners of criminal abuse. Enforcement of the copyright law is in a sorry state. The movie-industry is economically marginalised and this is even worsened by the lack of political will among members of the political class to adequately empower the sector.
In the sense that they are aimed at improves professionalism, enhancing the quality of production, its moral responsibility and economic security, these criticisms are genuine. Certainly, they do not apply to all the practitioners. A number of African movie-makers are distinguished professionals with world-class status in their own rights. But they, too, have to temporarily put aside the aura of individual accomplishment and accept these criticisms as a pointer to the challenges that African motion-picture practitioners have to work together to surmount in the process of a global outreach.
Some of the criticisms are valid. Others raise posers for further rumination. For instance, the two issues on non-release of movies in the cinema-theatre and that on the recourse to the video format serve closer scrutiny.
Releasing movies directly to the public by way of home-video is making its own point in a free-market environment. Bu there can be no adequate protection in home-videos the way a theatre-based network would secure the canned fortune of the movie-maker.
Concerning the preponderance of video over celluloid, its logic ties in directly to the principle of self-actualization as earlier enunciated. What African practitioners are doing with the video is determined by the peculiarities of their situation for which they should have no apologies.
The economic arrangement between the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and some African government which led to austere economic measures like the Structural Adjustment Policy (SAP) was a catalyst for new thinking in the movie world. In Nigeria, which serves as a prime example, SAP was very unpopular and the people had to embark on whole days of anti-SAP riot to express their disapproval of the obnoxious economic measure. As a fall-out of the adoption of SAP, the naira fell against major currencies of the world. Foreign exchange procurement was as difficult as a camel passing through the needle’s eye. The spending power of the average Nigerian was drastically reduced. Several companies folded up leading to capital flight, huge job-losses, near-extermination for the middle-class and brain-drain.
The impact of SAP on the movie industry was stultifying because practitioners, as a matter of necessity, had to process their films abroad. With low spending-power and scare foreign exchange, the survival instinct of Nigerian filmmakers led them to start improvising with the video and making the best of a bad situation. Considering the fact that, like culture, creativity is dynamic, it would be out rightly preposterous to fault the step taken by Nigerian movie-makers in this direction.
Looking around Africa, for instance, in a country like Ghana, foreign-induced economic downturn was so ravaging that it swept some of their best performing artistes like Evans Hunter, Dela Williams and Liz Hammond out as economic exiles seeking their fortunes here in Nigeria.
It was largely a continental bog, and certainly a universal burden caused by the prescriptions of the world’s economic therapists with dire consequences on film productions in Africa.
To make recourse to video should therefore be viewed with sagacity by the cosmopolitan critics as a commercial novelty and nothing less. To state otherwise would seem tendentious.
The truth, as pointed out by African film-scholars, is that modern technology, in accord with the resilience, dynamism and creativity of motion-picture practitioners in Africa, is also narrowing the borderline of the cinematic art generated by the celluloid and video. What is left is to make the best of whatever medium that is chosen.
On this note, the credibility hurdle is scaled, with the understanding that current development in the African motion-picture industry which deviates from the application of established motion-picture technology is a creative response to a problematic universal phenomenon.
Logically, the solution to such a problem is also of universal significance. As a component of the mosaic of universal aesthetic responses, it has a right to the attention of the rest of the world. What is desired now is to evolve strategies and map out actions for a profitable outreach of African movies across the globe.

Consolidating the homefront
INTERESTINGLY, the charity of global outreach begins at home. The way to earn the respect of outsiders is for one to put this own his own house in order. There is the need to firm up the home-front in terms of building a culture of excellence in all departments of the industry, through the standardisation of productions, efficacious distribution network and compliance with relevant laws.
In this respect, also, the local populace, when effectively sensitized and mobilized, are a formidable asset in enhancing the fortunes of the industry. They constitute not only the major consumers of the products, but also help in entrenching a movie culture which translates into a living heritage commanding collective loyalty and pride.
In Nigeria, for instance, such a culture is evolving. At the national level and the level of the African Union, governments should invest in this development to take the industry to greater heights because it has the advantage of mitigating some of the problems of individual nations. Apart from creating employment, the motion-picture is a tool for mass-mobilisation.
Promotional and marketing events such as FESPACO in Burkina Faso, Le Benin Festival International du Film in Benin Republic, Sithengi in South Africa, and the troika of BOB-TV, Zuma Festival and AMAA right here in Nigeria, apart from their numerous roles in the industry, serve to project proudly the image of respective African countries. They also promote tourism while consolidating the cultural calendar of individual nations. For these and other reasons, the support of both the public and private sectors of the economy for these major events is highly desirable.
One other factor to examine which may constitute a spoiler to the noble efforts of stakeholders, patrons, governmental and non-governmental agencies, is an unregulated or at the best over-liberalised distribution network. From personal interactions and experience at the local level, one is convinced that this area is not well supervised and monitored.
Lack of accountability and respect for the rights of creators is quite rampant in the distribution sub-sector. Its general state of indiscipline constitutes a drain on the fortunes of movie-makers and tends to open the entire industry to unbridled roguery by local and international syndicate.
In this connection, one are which serves just as an example is video clubbing. Video Club owners now have an association. On the basis of fundamental human rights, it is their inalienable right to do so.
On the positive side, they account for bulk purchases of movie releases and are, therefore, strategically important in the marketing process. The problem, however, is that the video club association has been turned to a cabal of buccaneers who levy and terrorize their members and make huge sums of money that do not, at the end of the day, translate into fortune for the original creators of the movies.
I think video-club owners association now is nothing short of a bunch of motor-park-tout look-alike exploiting the sweat of movie-makers for personal gain. This is unacceptable. Video-clubbing should be more intensely regulated. Every single club has a right to be or not be a member of the association.
But every single club should register with the Nigerian Copyright (Intellectual Property) Commission even if it is situated in the remotest part of the country. Club owners should pay an annual registration fee or levy, an agreed fraction of which should go to guilds recognized in the Nigerian Film Policy or to the Motion Pictures Practitioners Council of Nigeria (MOPPICON).
A directory of video clubs in Nigeria should be published and revised annually. Any club that is not listed will be deemed illegal. The clubs should also be subjected to periodic inspection to ensure strict compliance with the copyright law.
We can even go a step further. Every video-club operator should keep a register of movies in his/her stock with relevant information on sources and proof of genuine transaction. Ile la ti nko eso rode.
This is a Yoruba proverb which translates as in “Charity begins at home.” To consolidate the home-front in movie marketing and distribution, it cannot be business as usual. Nigerian marketers and their numerous outlets and retailers must respect and even protect the intellectual property rights of movie-makers.
This way, they will not play into the hands of international syndicates and the reciprocity clause in the copyright protocols will be easier to implement.

Standardisation of Movie-outputs
THIS is an imperative relevant to both the local and foreign markets. With regards to the former, members of the African community are now having easy access to the outside world via satellite technology. They are getting increasingly sophisticated and discriminating in their taste for good movies. Thus, it is incumbent on stakeholders to insist on quality in all areas of production – screenwriting, directing, cinematography, acting, designs, among others.
To win the foreign audience who, naturally, are weaned on numerous classics, the real is to present them with credible alternatives from Africa, not only in terms of cinematic craftsmanship, but also the pulsating grip of fascinating and inspiring African stories.
This, I dare day, is an area where a producer such as Tunde Kelani stands distinguished. His partnership with a highly resourceful creative writer such as Professor Akinwunmi Ishola in movies like O le ku and Saworo Ide combines the eloquence of the moving-image with the profundity of well-told African stories.
More of these are recommended. There is the need to search through our epic models, the trails of heroes and heroines, the communal essence of African life and epochal subjects in the contemporary social circumstance of Africans for rich African stories with universal appeal.
The stories of Sundiata, Chaka the Zulu, Mzee Jomo Kenyatta, Haile Sellasie, Kwame Nkrumah, Nelson Mandela, Patrice Lumumba and other freedom fighters, including those in Nigeria, will make a compelling viewing outside the shores of Africa.
Creativity is dynamic. Regardless of what works may have been done on some of these historical personages, as in Eddie Ugbomah’s Death of a Black President, fresh ideas and interpretations can sublimate into new and exciting classics.
Of equal importance in the sourcing of materials for the African movie-story is our creative literature. An outstanding work like Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart deserves to go beyond the adaptation by the Nigerian Television Authority. Kongi’s Harvest by Wole Soyinka has been adapted and produced on celluloid, but, from all indications and with the objections raised by the playwright himself against the director’s intervention, there is certainly another room for a movie excursion into the fictional world of an African dictator. Ngugi wa Thiongo’s The Trial Dedan Kimathi is a gripping story on popular struggles. And, on the comic side, Efua Sutherland’s The Marriage of Anansewa and Femi Osofisan’s Who is Afraid of Tai Solarin are succulent offerings waiting to be explored. In his introduction to an anthology of Best American Screenplays (Volume 2), Sam Thomas presents aptly the interface between literature and motion-picture. On an optimistic note concerning the literacry quality of movie-scripts, he writes: “We look forward to a time in the very near future when screenplays will become common reading, not only in university and high school film course, but in English departments as well, alongside the novel, the stage play and poetry."
The statement is unambiguous. Literature can be very useful to screenwriting. What is important in the case of the African movie is to utilise materials sourced from Africa to make the difference.
One may only add that producers should find a way for mediation between the literary and the cinematic. No doubt, the African motion-picture, in communicating with the rest of the world, will respect the prime position of the moving-image. It should, however, see the literary as an added resource, especially for its condensed sublimity in complementary relationship with the moving-image. Taken straight from Things Fall Apart one could feel the emotional impact visually and verbally when Okonkwo was forewarned concerning Ikemefuna: That child calls you father. Do no have a hand in his death.”
These are the kind of words from the African repertoire that can give the screen a poetic resonance.

Foreign Connections:
ONE of the strategies in audience cultivation is to “use what you have to get what you want.” Another is, “you rub my back, I rub your back.” One has preferred these descriptive simplifications in the popular lingo to illustrate possible outreach strategies in packaging African movies for the global audience because they drive the point home directly.
One of the reasons behind the influx of western movies into Africa was that virtually all the nations in Africa, with the exception of Ethiopia, were colonised. As such, citizens of the new African nations were like anxious brides waiting to be groomed. The metropolis has all things going for them because their unctions were hard to resist. In the case of contemporary Africa, there are no conquered territories to goad.
But one vehicle that we have in projecting our movies to the outside world is the formidable presence of Africans in the diaspora. Already, this factor is being exploited by individual film-marketers.
It, however, needs to be comprehensive. Stronger arguments deriving, for instance, from the leadership position of Nigeria in the black and African world as well as the restoration of cultural links can be put to use in the attempt to cultivate a devoted clientele for African movies in the African Diaspora. For example, one can imagine the kind of reception an epic movie on Emperor Haile Sellasie will have in the Rastafarianism infested countries of the Caribbean. Definitely, as I have had the opportunity to note in a trip to the Caribbean some years ago, our African brothers and sisters whose ancestry were long severed from the mother continent are yearning for this arm of re-union.
Beyond the African Diaspora, other countries in Europe, America, Asia and Oceania have signed one form of cultural agreement or the other with African nations which entail cultural exchange programmes and trade. Recently, during the visit on Nigeria’s President, Alhaji Umar Musa Yar’Adua to China, a Protocol on Cultural Exchange and Education was signed between the two countries.
Already, the Chinese are rushing into Africa, utilising various agreements to project and market their products and skills. It is, therefore, incumbent on movie-makers of Africa just as it is on every professional to utilise these agreements and protocols in marketing their products.
In these documents are enshrined an order of reciprocity — you rub my back, I rub your back. A partner in the bargain who consigns his own prerogative to dormancy can only have himself to blame.
If the Chinese come to Africa flapping their own copy of the protocol, Africans should go to China to flap their own copies. If the British Council moves around Nigeria flaunting the Commonwealth instrument, Nigerians should, without apologies, go to Great Britain flaunting our own commonwealth instrument as it pertains, especially, to cultural relations, trade and education.
If the United States beams its way into our living-rooms via satellite television, and on the basis of globalization, the AIT satellite television should beam into the heart of America branding the globalisation instruments.
This brings us to the “Heart of Africa Project”. Former Minister of Information and National Orientation, Frank Nweke Jnr. Was quite enthusiastic about this project. One is not so sure what the situation is at the moment, whether the momentum is sustained or whether it has dropped.
Whatever, one believe that the Federal Government of Nigeria, for the sake of Nigeria and Africa at large, should sustain the “Heart of Africa Project” as a cardinal initiative in spirit, letters and action.
The interest showed in Nollywood should also be sustained because this will ensure the packaging, promotion and propagation of Nigerian movies abroad, open the door for other African countries, with all the attendant benefits in the promotion of the country’s national interest.

Global Networking and the African Motion-Picture Consortium
GRANTED, African motion-pictures are making an appreciable impact around the world. There is, however, a great room for improvement. More movies have to be produced on an ambitious scale, which should go beyond whatever has been done in The Battle of Musanga, Sango, Sitanda or Amazing Grace. And all the inputs, including distribution and exhibition locally and internationally, have to be correspondingly ambitious.
One is looking at African movies getting the big headlines in the international media, making waves in the big cinema-theatres of the international capitals and attracting huge revenue for their robust artistry technical excellence.
Without doubt, producing such movies of epical dimension entails a lot of capital. Furthermore, it would require deliberate policies and actions on global networking for African motion-picture. It certainly is an onerous task.
But it can be done. In the free-market economy such as is currently being operated in this era of globalization, participation in such global networking can involve individuals, companies or whole consortia.
In view of the liquidity problems in sole-proprietorship and private companies, it seems that a consortium of African motion-picture practitioners would easily carry out this objective.
Already rudiments of this idea exist at certain levels of the production of motion-pictures in Nigeria. One is aware that indigenous practitioners in Yoruba engage in a kind of labour-based co-operative which reduces the financial burden of individual producers. Recently, a group of producers got together and established a marketing outlet in Lagos. Also it is on record that some Nigerian marketers – though in controversial circumstance – stood down the production of movies at a stage when there was a glut in the market. All these are business initiative, which indicate that practitioners can mass together all resources available and embark on gigantic projects for large scale export in their own best interest.
Such ambitions production designed only for the making of quintessential classics with the best possible technical back-up can take off at national or continental level. Guilds of screenwriters, cinematographers, producers, directors, actors, editors, designers and other experts in the field have a vital role to play in this respect.
The Motion Picture Practitioners Council of Nigeria (MOPPICON) or a similar umbrella body in any African country should lend policy weight to it.
In the same vein, governmental agencies, on line of duty and on account of practically implementing existing bilateral and multilateral protocols and agreements are germane to this cause.
By the consortium, one is speaking of total engagement in which production capital is multifariously subsidized in cash or kind from production stages to the establishment of distribution networks and cinema across the globe for African movies.
On the grounds of globalization, a horde of businessmen and women from Asia, Europe, America, Oceania and the Middle East are finding their ways to Africa.
An order of reciprocity as a matter of right has to be brought to bear on contemporary global economic trends so that Africans will also penetrate other limes with equal vigour with their skills and businesses and sell their products under a free-market, non—protectionist arrangement.
Let it be stated unequivocally, therefore, that African movies are a prime-product for export; that Africa boast of a quantum of high-skill in the film industry that can impact positively on the global consciousness.
The flag of this position will be carried by the consortium using all possible international treaties as a launch-pad, re-tying the bonds of kinship in the African Diaspora and winning the solidarity of professional counterparts abroad for safe-landing.
With a vigorous and assiduous pursuit of this objective, alongside other suggestions earlier made, one is certain that a route will be carved for the smooth flow and acceptability of quality movies from Africa to the rest of the world, with the attendant economic and other benefits guaranteed.

In this exercise, one has attempted a general overview of the movie industry in Africa. One would only like to conclude by extracting in a distilled form some of the recommendations for further discussions.
• The pedagogy of the motion-picture industry in Africa should be based on the universal significance of the merits of innovations that African movie-makers have brought into the practice which, in a process of confidence-building, should recommend their works for global recognition and acceptance.
• Standardisation in all departments of the motion-picture industry in Africa should be a sine qua non.
• Internal cohesion, full capacity-utilization and a culture of excellence should be ensured locally to earn the respect of the global community.
• The public and private sectors of the economy should take advantage of numerous benefits of the motion-picture industry by giving it maximum support and empowering its practitioners.
• The general indiscipline and lack of respect for the rights of intellectual property owners in the marketing and distribution of African movies should be checked to avoid pernicious collusion with international syndicates.
• African movie-makers should do more to exploit the African story in their screenplays to make the difference.
• Restoration of cultural links with the African Diaspora should form part of the strategies for cultivating a massive global audience.
• Africa movie-makers, in collaboration with relevant governmental agencies, should be pro-active in putting to use all bilateral and multilateral instruments that can open doors for African movies worldwide.
• The Nigerian government should sustain and pursue more vigorously the “Heart of Africa Project,” especially for the vital role the motion-picture industry can play in the realization of its noble objectives.
• Practitioners at national and continental levels should embark on global networking on an ambitious, massive scale through a consortium to establish viable and thriving outposts for African movies across the globe.

-Being a Paper Presented by Ben Tomoloju, Executive Director, BTC – Media and Creative Consultants, Lagos for BOB – TV 2008, Abuja, Nigeria seminar on Tuesday, March 11, 2008, Co-ordinated by the COMMITTEE FOR RELEVANT ARTS (CORA).

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Oshinowo, Orji dance on highlife stage

IT was double celebration at the Great Highlife Party held last Sunday at the O'jez Restaurant, National Stadium, Surulere, Lagos. The monthly show, also known as Elders' Forum, was used to celebrate the artist, Kolade Oshinowo, and actor Zak Orji, two people who have distinguished themselves in their chosen professions. Oshinowo recently clocked 60 while Orji celebrated his 50th birthday.
Organised by O'jez Entertainment, in collaboration with The Committee for Relevant Art (CORA), the event attracted friends, relatives and professional colleagues of the celebrants.
Elder Steve Rhodes, Pa Femi Asekun and Ambassador Segun Olusola — the three grand fathers of the country's art — who are considered the 'three legs' of highlife party, were present. So, was Richard Bezuidenhout, winner of Big Brother Africa 2.
While paying tribute to the celebrants, the Secretary-General of CORA, Toyin Akinosho, said the contributions of the two to the country's arts was invaluable.

The grand elders of the forum, Rhodes, Asekun and Olusola performed the traditional ritual (prayers).
Veteran highlife musicians such as Fatai Rolling Dollar, Alaba Pedro, Tunde Osofisan and Maliki Showman kept the atmosphere lively with refined highlife tunes that took most of the guests down the memory lane.
Che Chukwumerije was also on stage, belting out his palmgroove beats to the admiration of the crowd.

Since his graduation from the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, where legendary veterans such as Bruce Onobrakpeya, Yusuf Grillo, Demas Nwoko, Uche Okeke and others had their art training, Oshinowo has had a distinguished career, not only as a painter, but also as a teacher. The testimonies of lecturers and students of the Yaba College of Technology where he taught from 1974 before he retired voluntarily after 34 years of meritorious service in February this year, speak volumes of his creative ingenuity, commitment and good sense of administration.

Arguably one of the country's best actors, Orji, the Enugu State native, is one-time president, Actors Guild of Nigeria (AGN). He has been a major act in many Nollywood films. In fact, the actor and musician was voted AGN president due to his ability as an actor, director and producer on one hand, and his good reputation on the other. Through his efforts and creativity in the movie industry, he has helped give Nollywood a recognisable image both at home and abroad.

Monday, March 03, 2008

Tomoloju Leads The Stampede On Film Appreciation At BoBTV


Ben Tomoloju, the creator of the modern newspaper arts segment in Nigeria , will lead the discussion at the 74th quarterly art stampede, dedicated to the cinematic arts, on March 11, in Abuja . The stampede is essentially the colloquium at the Best of the Best TV and Films (BoBTV) Festival, taking place in the Federal capital from March 9-13. Tomoloju will deliver an address on: “Packaging African Cinema for a Global Market", with a particular focus on the rapidly increasing influence of Nollywood around the world. The doyen of Nigerian culture journalism will look at how African homegrown films have featured in the marketplace, and contrast this general reception with Nollywood’s influence on its audience. Critics have argued that whereas Nollywood has worked magic on audiences in Africa , and the African diaspora, the response by others have been limited to scholarly appreciation. There are scholars in America and Europe queueing to do rigorous research into how an informal production millieu has grabbed the imagination of an entire continent, but are Indians, Americans, Englishmen, Germans rooting for Nollywood as Kenyans, South Africans, Congolese and Ugandans do? Mr Tomoloju would be joined on a panel discussion by some of the leading lights of the Nigerian cinema scene, as well as keen observers of the industry. The discussion will take place at the Ladi Kwali Conference Centre, Abuja from 11:00 am - 3.00pm prompt. It would be the first time the art stampede, an award winning discursive forum, will be taking place in Abuja . In all its 17 year history, the stampede has only happened twice outside Lagos ; once in Ibadan in March 1996 and in CapeTown in June 2006.



The 74th Art Stampede of the Committee for Relevant Art (CORA) is scheduled to hold at the Ladi Kwali Conference Center, Abuja on March 11th, 2008 from 11:00 am - 3.00pm prompt. Organized in collaboration with the 5th African Film and Television Programmes Expo: BOBTV 2008 where the stampede will double as The Colloquium on African Cinema, this stampede which will be the first of the quarterly discursive forums on the state of the arts of Nigeria organised by the cultural and art advocacy organisation will be centred on the theme: Packaging African Cinema for a global audience.

In keeping with the stampede tradition, a lead paper will be delivered by Dramatist, Theatre Director, Culture Communicator and Activist, Ben Tomoloju who since 1987 has been involved with international presentations of Nigerian artistic and cultural productions and ideas around Africa, Europe, America and parts of Asia. His presentation will be followed by an interactive session involving a cross section of practitioners in the film industry and sectoral/guild heads in the industry. Questions and reactions will be entertained from the audience to wrap up the exchange and a communiqué will be issued on the resolutions arrived at.

CORA hopes through this stampede to interrogate matters arising on the creation and distribution of African films for global appreciation and patronage against the backdrop of the overwhelming global attention the Nigerian film industry has garnered over the past decade and its recent attempts at self regulation. The stampede will address the theme from two perspectives:

1. The challenges of producing value for the ever increasing viewership all over the globe.
2. The challenges of meeting the growing demand for African films across the globe.

“The March stampede has focused on the film industry for the past decade or so” says Toyin Akinosho, Secretary General of CORA and publisher of Africa Oil and Gas Report, “It is therefore only appropriate that we should collaborate with the organizers of BOBTV to amplify our-now-annual discourse on the 3rd largest film industry in the world through their unique platform. Judging from last year’s Colloquium on African Cinema on which CORA collaborated with BOBTV and which was highly engaging and well attended by practitioners, enthusiasts and students of higher institutions, this year’s edition will aggregate the best minds in the industry and it can only be expected that the outcome of their deliberations will define in clear terms what path the industry should follow in consolidating on its huge global acceptance.”