A CHEESY CONVERSATION with CHRIS IHIDERO
By Seyi Isaac
True to its mandate of fostering conversations intended to progress Nollywood, the Film Rats Club has held sessions with various players in the industry ranging from writers, directors, cinematographers and more. The guest this time was Chris Ihidero, veteran Nigerian Filmmaker known most recently for his work as a producer on acclaimed TV show Shuga Season 4.
The interview kicked off with a quick rundown on his history and path to the present before the focus was directed solely on his prolific career in television. Mr. Ihidero, when asked for the abiding principles that have helped him stay relevant in a field known to be unpredictable, was quick to point out that discipline and focus, not just the mere reliance on talent, have kept him afloat. A look at the various channels his career has progressed through before finally settling at the pinnacle of Television suggests a man that has had to bide his time and work his way up.
Further insight was gained into his stance in the industry when his media platform True Nollywood Stories (TNS) was mentioned and questions seeking his thoughts on film criticism in Nollywood followed. The filmmaker was quick to point out, quite controversially, the total absence of film critics in the industry. “I’m sure anyone hasn’t paid enough attention to the industry in a way that qualifies the person as a critic.” He mused as he warmed into a wholehearted tirade that quickly followed.
“The best way to deal with a film that you consider not to be up to par is not to see it. It’s the best critique a producer can get. If the film fails, well he/she won’t make that kind of film again, right?” How true would this thought be? “Caution” he continued “Critics are not filmmakers. Critics need to come down from their high horses from where they talk down on filmmakers. I’m not saying don’t have an opinion but when criticism begins to enter the realm of “this is how you should have told this story because in Hollywood this is how they do it” such a critic should be kicked to the curb.”
“I’m not sure we have a film critic in Nigeria. We have reviewers. I’m not sure anyone has paid enough attention to the industry in a way that qualifies the person as a critic. Too many people masquerading as critics themselves need to go learn the first thing about criticism.
You truly can’t critique an industry that you have disdain for. True criticism comes from a place of love”
Two things stood out from his stance on film criticism: the truly baffling disengagement between those parading themselves as film critics and the history of the industry they claim to critique, and the apparent disdain that paints their submissions on films and the general state of the industry. But TNS, his platform, he believes, live Nollywood, so they are soapbox about gaffes in our movies without sounding phony or unnecessarily projecting them against the western standards of what makes a decent movie.
“How do you determine the need to meet global standards for my writing to be on par? How do you use Hollywood standards to judge my writing? Do you use our modes of storytelling to judge Hollywood?” He rattled when posed with the question of if there are shared notions of excellence and competence in filmmaking globally. He insisted the concept of a global standard is a myth and that, like the Indians, the Nigerian Film Industry should be focused more on etching an identity and seeking improvements independent of the western gaze.
“Standards are subjective.
That a film shoukd have good sound, great pictures, a story well told and believable acting performances has nothing to do with global standards. Those are bare necessities of filmmaking. Calling stuff like that global standards is akin to saying a man needs to be able to contort and erection to have penetrative sex. Well, how the hell was he thinking he was going to have penetrative sex without an erection in the first place!”
He went on to talk about the need to train not just directors or producers but specialties considered smaller: assistant directors, script supervisors and other production office personnel. It is until things are put in that growth stops being assuming the nebulous feature it does today, he thought.
A brief question and answer segment followed and the filmmaker again reiterated the need for intending filmmakers to be patient, to treat the game like a marathon not a dash and be open to learning new things. Like his mentor, late Amaka Igwe, he portrays himself as an unapologetic commercial filmmaker and is in the industry not just because of a longstanding predilection to telling stories with pictures but the fact that filmmaking was the only way that he could be able to live the lifestyle he’s always wanted to lead.
The best moment of the session was saved for the last when a cinematographer in the house wondered why Nigerian DOPs are constantly being sidelined in big projects, like the last season of Shuga and Chris responded that the limited skill of most Nigeria DOPs is the major reason for the seeming disregard. An attempt to question that claim by suggesting that good DOPs are indeed available and, perhaps, a fairer and thorough search was needed to identify them was met with a reply that concluded the session: “Nobody that good can hide. Trust me.”
Overall, it was an enjoyable session filled with the good, the bitter-to-swallow and the controversial. Mr. Ihidero’s stance might not align with beliefs of majority of the members of the club but the smooth assurance that swathed most of his responses was indicative of a man who knows his onions and isn’t afraid to communicate his convictions . Plans are underway to hold a physical session with the veteran filmmaker who thinks there are no critics in the industry.