You don’t know me. You probably never will. But I’m here to help. All I need you to do henceforth is read whatever I send to you, meditate like David Lynch and get to work because your life depends on it. So, here’s to the beginning of a long parasitic relationship. I had completed this letter in my head weeks ago and trust me, shimmering positivity was the plan. But I am here now, still brimming with positivity, but with cracks, lots of them.
It’s been great for the Nigerian film industry for the past three to five months. The players with new narratives have realized the best way to change the narrative isn’t just to post diatribes. They have gotten their hands dirty, done stuff; and stuff, good global stuff, have been happening. First, there was CJ Obasi’s representation by the highly revered Creative Artist’s Agency, a further proof that the Fiery one isn’t allowing the creative shackles of the industry prevent him from telling his stories; then there was Wilfried Okichie’s catapult to international recognition as a proper film critic; and then the big one, Abba T Makama’s sophomore effort, The Lost Okoroshi, meandering its way across the Atlantic, skedaddling into the hearts of many in Toronto before yelling its brilliance back home for us to appreciate or grow green with envy.
The intention was to wax lyrical about all these and then provide some context for people like you: hopeful filmmakers with visions different from what has been presented as standard, disenfranchised film lovers and the few people remaining optimistic about the future of the industry. My belief was that the North-Star to guide people like you was (it still is) available and that there was no longer an excuse for you not to make good work and shamelessly position it where it will be received respectfully.
Then the 18th of September happened. It tempered, not changed, my intended message. It caused a bit of reflection.
I don’t know how immersed you are in social media but on said date the African Movie Academy Awards (AMAA) released their nominees list. The reactions trailing this release ranged from the positive through the negative to the outright inflammatory. Lara and the Beats, a comedy drama released last year, has attracted most of the heat. Up North, a flamboyant travelogue about the north, appreciated by most but certainly not expected to assume a lot of critical importance, also figures heavily on the list. Take all this and compare with the representatives from other African countries. Are you angry? Most likely, no. Frustrated? Underwhelmed? Yes. Why is this happening? What were your expectations?
AMAA’s social aloofness and attempts at nuancing their status in the continent in spite of the poor branding and publicity means it remains one of the most veritable award systems for cinema in Africa. In contrast to the much more colourful and chic African Magic Viewer’s Choice Award System (AMVCA), continental filmmakers and devotees hold the belief that films recognized by AMAA are truly the best in the continent. The presence of a jury and the absence of the debatable public voting system help with this glorification. Submitted entries are not left to the mercy of clicks and campaigns; they are sifted through, sounded and studied before grading and subsequent release. This explains the shock and the questions fired with disbelief: Is Lara and the Beat the best from Nigeria? What is Up North doing on the list? Do the jury members have any clue what a good script looks like? Should AMAA be taken seriously again?
There’s a perspective to all this. This is not to suggest that I think that all is perfectly well with the list but contexts deserve attention in all forms of arguments, a fact many conveniently choose to sidestep for selfish reasons. Submissions for consideration had been made months earlier and it was from this trough of entries that the selections people got to see, got to pontificate and foam about had been made by a jury. So, what’s to say that from Lara and the beats and Up North and every other supposedly undeserving nominee weren’t the best from the lot of Nigerian submissions. Shouldn’t their presence on the list give you an idea of the degree of the storytelling deficit afflicting our industry? You are an ardent follower of the industry. I know you. Or maybe I should temper my assuredness and stick to hoping that you care enough to follow the industry. The nomination could be all the proof you need to see where we are headed as an industry, with respect to storytelling, in comparison to the other African countries.
There’s another theory being propounded to explain the underwhelming Nigerian representation. It is valid, plausible and coherent. It’s seated on my laps, grinning demurely, outstretched hands ordering me to pick it up and assimilate it as the truth. But I have refused. I have chosen to stare at it and find comfort in the decision not to know what to do with it. A friend of repute in the industry suggested that, perhaps, Nigerian filmmakers with superior films valid for submission simply refused to submit; that—whispers this if you must speak this if you don’t want to be accused of blasphemy— AMAA simply doesn’t have the appeal it used to. Is this true? Is this wrong? I don’t know. I don’t even care. I am choosing to ignore the plausibility and validity of the statement. But what is certain is this: Do good work. Work hard doing good work. And there could be a platform for you. Could, because it’s not a given that things will turn out well eventually or ever; that hunger won’t eventually make you sell your soul to the Nigerian cinematic devil and churn out watery comedies. But you can only give yourself a chance at winning by actually attempting stuff.
Chibuzor, it’s only right that I leave you feeling better than I met you. So, I’m going to tell you a story. Once upon a time, there was a security guard who spent his entire day mocking the trivialities of everyday life. It’s boring nonsense to you, the viewer or reader. But to this man it’s far from it; he must do this to stay sane, for when he gets home he is sure to have dreams of masquerades chasing him. He wakes up scared, confused, like he should. This tarries for a while until he comes across a traditional, palm wine drinking OG who suggests he stops running from the masquerades. Face them, he commands. Our security guard does this the next time he has the dream; he waits, faces up to the masquerade, like a total bad guy. He wakes up again, scared, like he always does. No difference. The palm wine drinker’s just an old loon blabbing nonsense. But here comes the twist. His wife, a pretty woman with impeccable grammar, wakes up and upon seeing her husband, seated up, she screams. Why? Our security guard is now garbed in the masquerade’s outfit. What next? You’d have to wait like I’ve been waiting since I came upon all this. We should thank Abba T. Makama for this evil premise. I hear there’s a festival screening of his movie before the end of the month.
So long Chibuzor. Keep making magic.
Yours whether you like it or not,
A film rat.