Wednesday, April 26, 2006

I had a dream..

last night, after hours of insomnia. I was in Nigeria, in an art-house cinema. I was watching a snazzy film, Nigerian, contemporary, upbeat, gorgeous sound track. Not your usual Sembene stuff, this was more like Lost in Translation-slick naija style. Not the lo-fi Nollywood guff. I was feeling hungry for a flapjack, so went to the cafeteria. As I was buying my coffee, I noticed a bookstand by the till, with all kinds of interesting books - Yoruba songs for children, Contemporary Nigerian fiction etc.

Although Nollywood has its role, just like Hollywood, it irritates me that the dream of an art-house/alternative cinema for Nigeria/Africa is often denounced as African-for-westerners which should remain firmly in its leafy London/New England campus environments. If I was Nigerian, that would really get my back up. Why should Nollywood be valued just because its popular? And why should the value one might give to its popularity drown out the importance of other voices, and other forms of representation? Nollywood (Tunde Kilani and a few other notable exceptions) presents a caricature of Nigerian life, devoid of any subtlety of experience. The dream of alternative Nigerian cinematic realities is worth struggling for.


tobs 11:13 am  

Firsly Jeremy, the best sign of getting well is being restless and bored - as opposite to your clever insight in male sickness behaviour. Your amount of blogging today tells me you are on your way to a speedy recovery.

Then, not only does Nigeria need to develop their cinema culture, but there is a huge potential do develop centrers, co-operations and movements in music, art, literature etc to bring people together and spread the art of Nigeria. It would probably also tie well in with a tourist industry.

The art and culture in Nigeria is one of their greatest assets, if they can manage that then maybe they can start managing their country too.

Nkem 3:57 pm  

What film were you watching? It would be curious to see.

St Antonym 4:02 pm  

Although there is a connection between the "film industry" and the production of great films, it is a vague connection.

I take a stringent view of this.

I'm worried about Naija's filmmaking life not simply because we're not making slick and crisply produced pieces like "Totsi" and "Moolade." That's a question of money and (to a certain extent) culture.

The real worry is that there's something in the society that seems to be stifling auteurism. It's not that our films are materially cheap (they are, but that's OK), it's that they are spiritually cheap. They do not connect with the ground of being. Very few works do, and almost nothing I've seen recently out of Naija.

This might be related to our historical moment. There isn't any reason a brilliant young filmmaker can't take a $1500 digital camera (there are some nice ones on the market), a $10,000 budget, and create something in response to Satyajit Ray's brilliant Bengali films.

I just watched (over the past two weeks, at a film festival) ten films by Kieslowski. Even if films like "Red" and "Blue" are the work of a master at the very top of his game, shorter films like those in the "Dekalog" (each film is about 55 minutes long) show that, with some imagination and with a sensitivity to what's truly interesting in human interactions, astonishing work can emerge.

But, you know the thing about genius? You never know where it's going to spring up. India's film industry is simply massive right now, but it has precious few filmmakers of genius. No one is taking up Ray's gauntlet. The market is dominated by Bollywood, but even the independent filmmakers (with exceptions like Deepa Mehta and, sometimes, Mira Nair) follow well-defined furrows.

One must never make the mistake of thinking that money is the answer. Think also of all the brilliant poets Poland produced in the 20th century. Why Poland? Nobody knows. But Herbert, Milosz, Swir, Szymborska, Zagajewski, and many others, stand as testament to the notion that, circumstances be damned, the universe expresses itself beautiful where and when it chooses. (And in addition to the poets, there were filmmakers like Kieslowski, and composers like Lutoslawski- people for whom the description "genius" is not an exaggeration).

Life was hard in Poland under communism, very hard. Life is hard in Nigeria now: maybe works of universal genius will begin to (re)appear, in various fields, and will give the world something to marvel at.

frieddodo 5:40 pm  

Long live the dream......

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