Thursday, September 13, 2007

Frank Family Talk With Dancers

That the dancer may be fulfilled
*Being a talk delivered by Jahman Anikulapo at the World Dance Day 2005 on the theme Dance: A Hobby or Profession, organised by the Guild of Nigerian Dancers, GOND

INTRODUCTION:
Documentation
I SHOULD like to begin this talk by paying tribute to our senior colleagues in the various disciplines of the arts, who have devoted aspects of their career to documentation of our artistic and cultural productions and experiences. This for me is as important as the performance or production of the creative work itself. Without their work we will be like a ship without an anchor. We will know neither where we are coming from nor where we should head.
Documentation is one vital venture in our profession, which we artists have neglected; and this has affected the quality of our production as well as discourse on our artistic and cultural experiences.
The Nigerian artists, no doubt, have been very productive, perhaps sometimes hyper-productive. But we have not spared the time to put down in written form materials that the coming generation can share from. This is dangerous. And it explains why we seem to be so perennially impoverished in terms of ideas; and why we seem to operate as professionals without antecedents of accomplishments.
I am passionate about the documentation of our practices, because almost every time one tries to do a write up about some aspects of our artistic practices, one runs into this huge gulf of empty library or resource pools. I faced it in the course of doing this piece.
Particularly, for us as dance artists whose production could be ephemeral – even when momentous -- except captured in electronic mediums, documentation is very important.
As a professional artist -- whether you are a dancer, musician, actor, director, whatever your vocation -- documentation is essential.
In this light, I should like to pay tribute to some efforts in that direction. Particularly for this talk, I recognise Professor (Mrs) Ebun Clark, who did that wonderful book on the icon of our theatre, Chief Hubert Ogunde.
Professor Clark's ‘Hubert Ogunde, The Making of Nigerian Theatre’ has been of tremendous help to many of us theatre students and scholars just as Dr Yemi Ogunbiyi's ‘Drama and Theatre in Nigeria’. There are also the many editions of Nigeria Magazine, particularly those focusing on theatre.
We always make reference to the exploits of Peter Badejo because even in his advanced age, he is still the quintessential dancer. He is still dancing, creating new works. He is even doing more than dance as we have been told.
He has been frequenting the country trying to do some research into traditional dances... that was the point I was making when I said we are sort of under-developing our own profession, our own practice by not paying enough attention to documentation.
Should it be the lot of Badejo -- after having arrived on the international stage -- to come home again and document our traditional dances? Whatever happens to dance students in the various schools? What manner of themes or subjects do dance teachers counsel their students to undertake? In their long essays, thesis and dissertations? Whatever happens to the tens of dancers and troupes operating in the country today?
In the past two to three years, Professor Femi Osofisan, Dr. Ahmed Yerima, Dr. Ayo Akinwale, Dr. Duro Oni, Dr Gbemisola Remi-Adeoti and others -- well past the fortyish mark -- have released a number of books that have enriched theatre scholarship. There are the various editions of Dapo Adelugba's classic materials, ‘Lace Occasional Publications’, which remain evergreen...
What is my generation doing?

DANCE AS HOBBY OR PROFESSION?
If you think that to be a dancer is just to have the talent and then acquire the skill and then go on the Airport tarmac and dance, may be you are thinking of dance as a 'hobby'.
But if you are thinking of dance as a profession, you must look into much of what Dr. Ahmed Yerima has told us about the commitment and the willingness to read and to learn and to see yourself as an intellectual of a certain cadre. You must always be conscious of the fact that you can apply your intellect into your dance and make statements that would make your dance relevant to the experience of your audience or the society in which you operate.
To me, the way a dancer pursues his dance career either as a profession or hobby depends on the way he himself encountered dance; whether you encountered dance while you were growing up or in your adult life. It is the way you encountered dance that will instruct the way you practise your dance -- as a profession or as a hobby.
We all know the story of Chief Hubert Ogunde very well. He said that his grandfather was like the spiritual head of his childhood community, so he actually grew up in an atmosphere in which dance was performing certain ritualistic or communal roles. This means that dance was a cultural instrument through which certain societal functions were being accomplished. Ogunde encountered dance as a functional art form. He did not encounter dance at the ' Owanbe' parties.
This has been one basic problem this generation is facing. You have to ask yourself: 'how did I encounter dance -- at ‘Owanbe', the Ogunde way, or on the professional stage?
This is why I tend to sympathise with many of our colleagues when they devote their career to dancing on the Airport tarmac. When they are not dancing on the tarmac, they are waiting for some companies to invite them for a 10-minute shot at annual general meetings. And these come with in-built insults... after the show the pittance they pay cannot even take you home.
And your frustration gets worse when you see those you have given the pleasure of your talent and skill enter their air-conditioned cars and drive home while you wait at the bus stop thinking of how to drag your drums and wearied body and soul home.

THE PROFESSIONAL DANCER
IF you want to be a professional dancer, then you must see yourself as a functional member of the society. You must ensure that you have a mission as a dancer. If you set out as a dancer without a mission then you are not a dancer, you are just dancing; just expressing your hobby.
If you have no mission at the time you are setting out to go and dance or to launch a troupe, then you will dance alright but you will never have a sense of fulfillment.
As dancers, we also have to change our attitude to our vocation. This is one area in which the Guild of Nigerian Dancers really has to work hard. I said earlier that the thread between a dancer dancing for hobby and dancing as a professional is very thin, and if you are not careful, you are likely to just be crisscrossing the lines without you knowing it. So we have to sit down, and really address ourselves. What do you want to be? If you want to be 'hobby dancer', let us know so that we can create in the Guild of Nigerian Dancers, a department of 'hobby dancers', so that we don't mix you up with the professionals.
We must never make the mistake of lumping those two categories together. When we continue to mix them up, we will never get the proper definition for the professional dancer.

LEARNING AND TRAINING
I think the first thing we should do apart from the documentation we've talked about is for the young dancer to come down from whatever height they think they have attained, and go back to study the basics, which the unruly atmosphere of dance practice environment in this country had denied them.
I am not saying you should necessarily go back to school to study dance -- (and why not if it would help your career?) -- I am actually saying you should go back and say 'okay, my career is successful; now, I want to learn one or two tricks more'.
And then you go and ask: 'where can I get that tape of Ogunde's dance? I just want to watch the way the evergreen artiste went about it'.
Apart from Chief Ogunde, Peter Badejo is still very much around us. How many of us have asked to see his portfolio? He brought Itan Kahani (the Nigerian–Indian dance constructions) here some years ago, and it opened the eyes of many of us to the limitless possibilities of our so-called indigenous dance as a contemporary art form that can stand shoulder to shoulder with the Western dance form that we copy shamelessly. When he directed the ceremonies of the 8th All African Games in 2003, we were all witnesses to the beauty of a dancer's art. Many of us privileged to see that work will never stop pondering the creative dimension to which the so-called African ethnic dance can be stretched.
How many of our young dancers have revisited this work’s to interrogate its concept and performance techniques or even shown interest in understanding how the dances were created?
There is Olu Olukanye who as a student I encountered as a very resourceful dancer and choreographer.
When Okekanye was introduced by the compere of this gathering few minutes ago, I noticed many of my dancer friends do not know Olu Okekanye. That is sad!
We don't even know the heroes of our profession! So how do we proceed to know the history of our profession, share the experience of the elders or learn from their mistakes.
When we talk of dance on the Nigerian stage, people like Okekanye deserve standing ovation for the service they have rendered; they started what we now call professional dance troupes of the English language theatre, at least here in Lagos.
From my little knowledge of Nigeria's dance history in the past three decades, apart from Ogunde, Ogunmola, Ladipo and others in their pioneer class, the Okekanyes, Yemi Remis, Eppi Fanio (Faroofa), were the major stars of dance troupes in Lagos of the post-FESTAC era. After them come Zulu Adigwes, Amata Braides, Arnold Udokas, Ojo Rasakis, Liz Hammond, Bola Eberighas, Chris Ugolos, Chuks Okoyes, Moji Bamtefas, etc. They are still very much around, and these are the people that we should relate to: take them up and ask them questions such as: "How was it possible you were able to organize that troupe at that time?
'How did you survive?'
'What happened that you did not continue with that group? '
'Why is it that you could not follow up what, you were trying to do at that time?'
We have to learn from our elders and masters.

MASTERING YOUR ENVIRONMENT
I asked a couple of friends what dance meant to them. Someone said "dance in Africa is not a separate art, but a part of the whole complexities of living". He continued, "for an African, the magic of all life's experiences is encapsulated in his dance'.
Another said "African dance is vital and complex; it varies according to the individual cultural experience that produces it".
Yet another stretched the argument further, saying, "Traditional dance in Africa is the integrated art of movement that is dictated by music, governed by language. Its relationship to music is what really distinguishes it from any other art form. African dance is also a source of communication through which it is possible to demonstrate emotion, sentiment and other reactions through movement".
The import of these submissions just as Chief Ogunde had pointed out is that before you become an international dancer or what Dr. Yerima called 'Western dancer', at least, you must master your indigenous forms and materials; that is you must master your environment, and master your cultural heritage before you can go into the world and really conquer.
This is not to deride the ambition to master the language of modern dance that is spoken all over the world, on the world stage. But it is to state that, you cannot be a good modern dancer, if you don't first of all master what you have on ground. If you don't understand the language of Bata dance, or music of Sango dance, or Atilogwu dance or Koroso dance or Kwagh-hir or Ekombi and you think you can just go out there and join in the global discourse on the art, you are making a mistake because you must go there with an identity.
What identity are you taking to the globalisation table so that you don't get swallowed up by the bigger, more muscular cultures of the West, which in fact perpetuate their self-reverence by muzzling out the 'others'. If you don't have a bold identity to drive you, you might end up committing the kind of mistake that our nation and most African nations are committing by going to discuss Globalisation without any sense of purpose! It is as futile as that nebulous concept (or misconceived conception) called 'technology transfer'. Of course, you know that we are not transferring any knowledge of technology; rather, we are using our ill-education to destroy the remaining vestige of our knowledge of traditional sciences and technology.

UNDERSTANDING THE DIMENSIONS OF DANCE.
I reason that part of the problem some of us have as young dancers is the inability to differentiate between modern dance and what we call ethnic dance.
Many of our young dancers think to have a good, deep knowledge of the so-called ethnic dance is a waste or retrogressive; and they want to engage in modern dance so they can be considered great dancers in the eyes of the West or their institutions operating in this country.
There is nothing wrong with this ambition. What is worrisome is the attempt to romance modern dance without summoning the courage and the intellectual rigour needed to master its technique or even understand its ethics and cultures.
Some of our colleagues — among us here today — see the photograph of some western dancers or they see it on video and they want to copy it... but they are going into that experiment without a solid foundation. So, after copying a lot of what you have seen from some other dancers from other cultures, you crash in terms of career progression or even technique mastering; in terms of ideas; in terms of materials. That is the end of the career. And then you return to your airport tarmac dancing days.
The ethnic dance, which you have sworn you don't want to do, now becomes your retirement option. At this time, the fire has left your leg and your bones have been conditioned by years of wrong application of vision and techniques.

SOCIETAL ATTITUDE AS ODD TO PROFESSIONAL DANCING
The society itself does not perceive dance as a serious vocation. To many of the people, dance though pleasurable is a distraction. 'Oh those dancers, well, let them just entertain us and go'. They will tell you, you have 10 minutes, but when it is seven minutes, they start saying you should go. They are not interested whether or not you are telling a story and trying to get the message across. Left to them, you are disturbing 'Item 7'; so you must go.
So, aside not getting your due financial reward from the show, your spiritual fulfilment is aborted midway. They ignominiously stop your creative expression midcourse, maybe because the Managing Director's mistress wants to go and retouch her 'pancakes' in the Ladies!
If you conceive yourself as an Airport Tarmac dancer, just like Airport Art, or you conceive yourself as 'Owambe dancers', which means you go to wedding and the rest of them to perform — then you are probably talking of dance as a hobby.
Unfortunately or sad enough, much of what we are still doing is this hobby dancing.

Look at the societal conception of dance itself. How does the society conceive dance? We've just been told that the society does not expect you to make a career out of dance; that is why they say "call those people at abe igi, let them come and dance for us'! And in the end they abuse you; insult you with their pittance; and probably throw you out of the venue, when you ask to partake of the dinner for the event.
If you live in such an environment, what do you do as a dancer; or what do you want to do as a dancer, to begin to insist on your dignity; that your professional integrity be respected? To confront that prejudice means that you have to package yourself very well. And in packaging, we are not talking about cosmetic packaging. We are saying that, you have to equip yourself intellectually, physically, emotionally. Even the way you talk in the public, the way you approach your art... you have to really comport yourself in such a way that, you can begin to change the negative perception of the society.
I have had occasion to ask myself: 'how can a professional dancer survive in a society like Nigeria whose main occupation is trading? Oh yes, the major profession of Nigeria is trading and since dance is not a buying and selling affair, a dancer will be standing in a very precarious state! You have to be very careful.
And since in Nigeria — a profession is conceived or interpreted in terms of suits and jackets, and since the dancer is not likely to wear a piece of suit or jacket everyday unless on Dance Day such as this, you are not likely to be seen as a professional. You have to be very conscious of the environment.
The conception of professionalism in Nigeria is driven by commercial or profit motifs and the art most times emphasise principles that are antithetical to commerce. So, if you are not a banker, insurance broker, lawyer or other professions that are specifically driven by the commercial motives, then you a dancer, you are standing on a very dangerous stage. You must not allow the society pressures push you to merchandise your art; or coat your profession in the deceptive glistening of mercantilism.
Even if dancers are ready to be professionals in Nigeria, is Nigeria ready to accommodate dancers in its business space? Not when you are fighting pastors who say that the second World Festival of Black and African Arts and Culture, FESTAC, was the beginning of the crash of the Nigerian economy and the Nigerian moral standards; when you are standing against friends, who say that if you are dancing, you are wayward; not when you are studying Theatre Arts in school, and they say you don't even belong to this University in the first place you should be somewhere else!

THE RUSH TO THE BORDER
One of the battles we are facing as dancers in this country, is this 'going abroad' mentality! And this we need to tackle else we jeopardise advancement of the dance art profession.
While thinking about the issue of dance and the dance artiste, I had called on my school-mate. Mr. Muyiwa Ojo, who studied at the University of Ibadan between 1983 and 1986. Popularly called OJays, out of a class of about 30, Ojo was the only one that eventually decided to turn a professional dancer. He used to run the Youth Palace in Ibadan and had a stint with the veteran dancer, Zulu Adigwe — before he left Nigeria in 1992.
While at the University of Ibadan, Ojo, Isiaka Egunbunmi, the diminutive bata drummer, actor (now a filmmaker) and myself, we used to run two separate weekly dance programmes on NTA Oyo and BCOS Orita Bashorun. But as at the time we were graduating from the department of theatre arts, Ojays was the only one who graduated as a Dance major. After sometime, Ojo left for the USA. We did not see him and I thought he had given up dance. But when he came home recently, I met him and we had time to reflect on some of the complex movements and dance formations he created, with which we made some great shows at the theatre department then. He laughed and told me he had actually been dancing all his life. He never stopped for one day. And he has been teaching dance at a University in the USA.
That for me, is very instructive because, I know of so many of our colleagues, members of our generation who left these shores as dancers but have gone into retailing or trading or some other ventures
I ask myself: where are they today? Are they dancing?
We need to ask ourselves that important question. We talk about Peter Badejo, and people of his generation, they are still dancing; but those who came behind them, and left for overseas, purportedly to advance their career, are they still dancing?
Especially, members of the Guild of Nigeria Dancers who left these shores to participate in festivals or some programmes abroad but did not come back, are they still dancing?
Remember France '98? I recall that more than six troupes — at least none with not less than 20 artistes — left this country! Many of them did not come back! Are they still dancing?
This question is germane to those of us practising in the country today. We stand the risk of ending our career like that, if we don't individually and collectively develop visionary managerial structure to guide our practice.
If you are a professional dancer, and you left here with the sense of a professional, you will promise yourself to remain a professional dancer.
Dance is worse than a jealous lover. It demands absolute loyalty, love and commitment. And the demand is not just on the state of your body but also on your mental disposition to the vocation; such that not even hunger can drag you out of its web of romance.
I recall that even before Muyiwa Ojo left home, there had been such good dancers like Bode Lawal, Bose Aliu and so many others who left. But ask yourself; are they still dancing?
Why in fact, are they not dancing?

RECOMMENDATIONS:
We have to find a way of encouraging most of our dancers to publish their personal memoirs collected in the course of their engagements abroad. When you travel outside, at least, you should come back with a diary. You should be able to relate your experience and be able to inform your mates, what the outside world, at least, that place you have gone to, what they think about dance as a profession in Nigeria and what they think about dance in other worlds.
We should collate reviews of dance projects in the media or press cuttings of dance projects — you can go into alliance with the newspaper house and tell them to give you some of these copies — so that you can publish and people can read and learn what had been done in the past and build on past accomplishments.
We have to revive or find a way of reviving dance programmes on the electronic media. There was a time we had various dances across Nigeria being broadcast on the network television. Is it not possible to bring them back as a way of educating the Nigerian dancer and the Nigerian society about the beauty and the function of our dances?
We could have discussion programmes in the media; we could have columns on dance in the newspaper just as we have for music and theatre.
In the Dancers Guild of Nigeria, we should not just concern ourselves with yearly staging of World Dance Day... I don't think that it is impossible to revisit what the GOND started sometimes ago that you called 'Monthly Discussion on Dance' as a way of educating members of the dance family in the country.
We must bear in mind that the dance schools, the dance classes are not focused on really teaching the dancer about how to behave and how to operate in a society, the monthly dance talks can serve as refresher courses. This will also enhance outings of Nigerian dance outfits in the yearly 'Dance Meets Danse' of the French Culture Centre.
The dancers must think of back-to-school project. I am sure majority of us here, we started our theatre experiences as students, as pupils in drama societies in schools. It is very sad there are no more drama societies in schools.
But why shouldn't some of our dancers go to teach dance in some of these expensive nursery or private colleges or even the universities? I believe that for every child you teach, you have a whole family being converted to your profession. No parent will fail to show interest in that person teaching his or her child how to dance. Think about that.

The Rage Man

Aduaka… And the Rage was born

By Jahman Anikulapo
(First published in 2003)
AFTER much trumpeting last year about his imminent visit to the country, the rising moviemaking star didn't show up. He was to have come in to screen his award winning film, Rage on his homeland but logistics messed things up.
Even his parents who amid warming up for the coming of their illustrious son that had just shot to global film pedestal with his winning for the second time the best Young Film Director award at the 17th edition of the once-in-every-two- years FESPACO 2001, spoke to The Guardian, were disappointed at the turn of event.
Wale Ojo, the Nigerian actor in London (remember Soyinka's Beatification of an area boy) who starred in the film and had come in ahead to promote the film, was saddened by the absence of the much-expected moviemaker.
Well, from tomorrow, Newton Aduaka will be in the country courtesy of the British Council, which last year had sent out frantic apologies to explain Aduaka's failed arrival and the screening of the film, last year.
The filmmaker will be headlining a workshop on filmmaking at the MUSON Centre in Lagos.
His Rage which turned head at the 13th FESPACO last year in Burkina Faso and, later at various film festivals in Europe and America will be screened in the course of the workshop.
When Aduaka steps into the hall on Monday, he probably would shock many people; with his little frame and 'the-guy-next-door' carriage. He has no air; just one plain chap who is likely to be caught in half-buttoned shirt on jeans and a pair of sneakers; perhaps a black hat to shield his stubs of dreadlocks.
It was the same deceptive looks he wore last year in the lobby of L’Hotel Independence where he was celebrated as the only winner from Anglophone West Africa at the film festival. In the previous edition he had accomplished a similar feat winning the best First Director prize for his Out On The Edge, a flick about the razz life of the underclass and the minority group in downtown London.
When he walked into the open expanse of the swimming pool of the hotel where hundreds of film workers from around the world were lodged, some chatty Burkina babes cooed that he was some reggae musician. And in fact, there is an air of a hip-hop with all the go-go traits around him.
Yet this was the newly crowned Best First Feature Film Maker in Africa -- having grabbed a prize at a film feast where Francophone film-makers seemed to have appropriated all the trophies to themselves. He had broken the jinx around the suspect adjudication at the famous festivals, that always seemed ever schematised to shut out the filmmakers from the English-speaking African countries.
That feat put Aduaka, the thirtyish native of Chinua Achebe’s Ogidi town in Anambra State in the class of the ‘wanted filmmakers’ at the FESPACO. He was head-hunted by the media, coveted by fellow film workers, swarmed by the pretty Burkinabe dames who thronged the lobby of the L’Hotel Independence, especially in the romantic evening after the curtains had come down in the various screening centres.
On the podium of the closing ceremony of FESPACO where his feat was announced, he spoke for long. No one said he was boring even if he sounded so. He was the star and the full-size stadium was ready to give him their ears. He dedicated the award to his co-producer, his wife, the Italian Maria-Elenca La’bbate. He reasoned that the prize of 2 million CFA was an acknowledgement that “African filmmakers living abroad can make tangible contributions to development of the cinematic art on the home continent”.
Aduaka, the1990 graduate of London International Film School was not a stranger to such treatment as was apparent in the way he lived up to all the attention. On The Edge, his first major feature film, had earned him “Best Short Film’ laurel at the 1999 edition. And three weeks before the current FESPACO deal, Rage had fetched him “Best First Feature Film” at the Pan-African Film Festival in Los Angeles, USA.
Still swimming in the euphoria of the man-of-the-moment sort of feeling, Aduaka sang “I am a Lagos boy! My parents moved to Lagos and I attended Methodist Boys High School. My parents live in Gbagada Estate, Lagos. In fact, I want to make a film about Lagos.”

Rage is the story of three younger stars in Britain determined to grab success through music. In desperation to cut a music album, they strayed off-beat in their pursuit; getting wild and crazy. And so many events unfolded celebrating youthful exuberances as well as showing the iniquities of the so-called Western societies, especially in their relations with immigrants..
Aduaka himself was driven to a breaking point cooking the flick… “I went almost out”, he said, a distant look lurking behind his eyes “Everything went tough and I had to go wild to nip them”.
And talking about how a Nigerian shunned all the racial odds to venture into film in the tight Western scene, Aduaka said: “My partner and co-producer, Maria Nena I’Abbate and I decided to get off the boat three years ago. We’d lost faith in the journey, and even more, in those that captained the boat. We felt our vision was not a part of theirs or vice-versa.
“We decided to set up Granite Film works, our own small boat, go independent and make the films we really wanted to make, without having to answer to anyone. The short film On The Edge (OTE), our first production, we raised a little money, gathered together a crew of like-minded film makers, and shot it in five days. It went on to become very successful for us.”
The success and fulfilment eased into the couple’s dreams by OTE and the eventual sweet song it wrought fired the will of the couple to dare the Rage. “We decided quite naively that instead of shooting another short film, all we had to do was put in three times as much energy as we did on On The Edge (28 minutes), raise three times the amount of money it cost to put that in the can; shoot for three weeks and we'd have a feature film. Post-production we will worry about when we reach that bridge.
“That was the simplicity of thought that gave us confidence, inspired us and from which we glimpsed a bright light at the end of the tunnel. All we had to do was focus on that light and never lose sight of it…”.
And so Rage was born.


'We wanted him to be a Doctor, he ended up a pictureman'

NEWTON Aduaka parents’original plan for their son was to become an Electronic Engineer, But what Newton Aduaka eventually turned out to be is indeed an inspiration to most Nigerian parents: a young film-maker steadily climbing the ladder of global fame.
And the father of the 'Best First Feature Film Maker in Africa', Mr. Aduaka a geologist and an alumnus of the University of Nigeria, Nsukka (UNN), acknowledged this fact when he enthused:
“Newton’s destiny has taught me a lesson which I would like to share with most young Nigerian parents…
“Never disturb your child when he made up his mind to study a particular course because you don’t know where the salvation lies.’
“My son’s case confirms the reality of the concept of destiny. That one Supreme Being is somewhere directing the affair of mankind. That man is really guided by God who always empowers him to pursue a particular objective and talent.”
Indeed, Mr. Aduaka, a former staff of Mobil Oil Producing Company had not been accurate in recommending a career for his children. There was a similar attempt on Newton’s elder brother, Kingsley, the first child in the seven-member family. “I wanted Kingsley to do Medicine. He had his primary and post-primary education here in Lagos; but while he was leaving for America, I insisted that he should go for Medicine, he said he was interested in Architecture. But perhaps to please me, he said then that, 'Daddy if you insist, I would first do Medicine and later cross to Architecture.
“At this point I said: 'No, please, continue with your area of interest. Now he is based in the US working as an architect.”
After Newton’s unsuccessful bid, Mr. Aduaka did not bother to select any course for his remaining three children. And he is indeed happy that the decision to allow his children to satisfy their desire academically has paid off.
“Newton has not only put the family name on the world chart, he has equally brought fame and honour to his fatherland,” he remarked.
“Kelvin, the last boy is with Newton in the UK -- also in the entertainment sector. Newton is his mentor. I’m indeed, grateful about what God has done for the family.”
On Newton’s childhood, Aduaka said “He was born on March 25, 1966 in a hospital in Ogidi but we really belong to Abagana parenthood also in Anambra”. Mr Aduaka was correcting an earlier impression in the media that the family was from Ogidi, thus sharing ancestral source with the patriarch of African Novel, Chinua Achebe.
“When Newton was growing up, he was an easy going, active and jovial person. We began to notice a strange trait right from his primary school days. Though, we (myself and his mother) did not count much on it, I could remember vividly that he participated in a play at his primary school, Onward Nursery/Primary School, Ikate, Surulere Lagos. The title of the play was Iroko. We just discovered that he was very active; a restless young chap who grew up to develop a knack for entertainment. He left Onward for Methodist High School at Broad Street, Lagos. He finished the school very well.
“At a point, he had to join his brother – Kingsley abroad to do his 'A level’ programme. But before then he left for the United Kingdom to do music, which I objected to. About this same period, himself and three of his colleagues made an attempt to wax a record.
“It was after the music thing that he did the ‘A Level'; and thereafter, he attended the London International Film School. It was a very expensive school. We just managed to get him through. But we all rejoiced at the end as he did very well and his performance gave him a boost.
“Newton’s romance with film making started after his graduation in 1990. It wasn’t easy. He needed a lot of money to lay the foundation. But as a strong boy he managed to carry on.
“Occasionally, when I visited him, he would always be busy writing scripts. On one occasion I read two of his stories, all quite impressive. I always support him with prayers.
“Since he started Newton has not been found wanting. He has been performing quite incredibly. But a major breakthrough was recorded about two years ago when he had his first short film entitled, On the Edge. Before then, he told me he had won an award in Cameroon with a work in which he participated as sound recordist. On the Edge however, was his first major accomplishment as a film writer, producer and director.
“The latest work is Rage. We were in Britain few months ago and he could hardly attend to us. In fact, we never saw him. We were told he was on location and throughout one month we stayed there, we could not see him. Actually, he started working on Rage since November 1998.
“He has been doing well! I am not surprised about his progress, success. He grew up with a strong belief in hardworking as the only hallmark of success and that has been working for him. What I used to tell them, particularly, when I decided that they would have to complete their education abroad… I would encourage them by saying: for the whiteman to respect you, you have to be thrice as hardworking as the English people.
“All of them followed my creed and I think God today for them.”
The happy father could not recall a spectacular sign during Newton’s early days that perhaps signalled his current status except that “when he was crawling -- about five months old precisely -- we were in Port Harcourt then, whenever, we put Dr. Victor Uwaifo’s record on the gramophone, Newton would crawl there and be jumping in front of the equipment. That showed his interest in music.
“And I’m sure he has flair for song composition. He had tried to wax record and I don’t think that trait has abandoned him; he would surely be waiting for the appropriate time to do that. Besides, he attended music school also.”
Even the dream of the 34-year old artiste to do his next film in Lagos has received the blessing of his father.
“I don’t have anything against it. It would be an instant success when accomplished. He had written something about Nigeria in the past. He mentioned the civil war aspect and I told him to be very careful. The military were in power then, Sincerely; I don’t think he knows much about the war. He was very young when the war broke out. After all, he was born on March 26, 1966.
“What perhaps he could remember was his escape from one of the ravaged areas during the war. Truly, he had a portion about the war. But the entire story is purely on entertainment, I have no worry about it at all. Except, I don’t want him to venture into fetish thing -- glorification of occultism and rituals. And I’m sure he won’t do it.”
While the elder Aduaka is full of glory to God that he had taken a right decision by sending his children abroad, he had a fear then that they might become victims of drug abuse, which held sway then.
“My headache when they were travelling out was on the fact that the drug issue was then the in-thing. Hence, we did always pray that God should guide their steps. Though I had the belief that with the type of home training they got from us, they would not fall victims, but such fear was still there.
“Glory be to God today. Kingsley for instance never drinks alcohol but Newton -- perhaps because of his profession -- does it occasionally. Even with that, he cannot finish a cup of alcohol. I can beat my chest on that, I’m happy that God has been good to us, the family entirely. None of them got into such situation and I still pray that they should never get into it.”
But how did the family receive the news of their son’s feat at FESPACO 2001 in Ougadougou?
“I got to know about FESPACO during our holiday in London recently. As I said, we could not see Newton, later we got to know that he was in Los Angeles at a festival with that film, Rage. But before he left for Ougadougou he phoned to inform us that the film won an award (at the Pan African Film Festival in Los Angeles) and that he would be heading to Ougadougou.
“From the moment, I decided to follow the event closely. I try to listen to BCC African Service always. We prayed for him too. The festival ended on Saturday, March 3 and it was the following day, Sunday morning about 6.30 a.m when I first heard on BCC…
“Thereafter, I invited his mother, I woke her up to listen to the news. We were all happy. Everybody is happy about the news.”
The only regret, according to Mr Aduaka, “is that NITEL people have been wicked to us since Friday, March 2; the line has packed up, we can’t make call, people can’t reach us through phone to felicitate with us. I know a lot of friends would have tried to congratulate us,” he lamented.
Acknowledging the impact of good upbringing on his children, Mr. Aduaka has the following advices for the Nigerian parents.
“The decay that I see in the society nowadays pains me much. We (myself and my wife) are from strong Christian family. We cherish the progress of our siblings so much. It bothers me the way most Nigerians think money is everything in life. I would want to lay emphasis on an average Igboman who has made money the second god. Right; money can do a lot of things but it cannot do everything.
“I thank God the way I brought these children up. I warned them that they should not compare themselves with other children. I would always tell them to consider themselves as individuals who have missions to accomplish. By the time a child is comparing himself/herself with somebody else automatically, he would fall into trouble.
“Our children need our parental guidance always. Let us not force them to do something, when they come up with something, but let us advice them and point out merits and demerits of their action. This will help them a lot in life.
Likewise, a child should not also say “my friend’s father comes to pick him at school with a Mercedes Benz car, so my father should buy a Mercedes car too. No! It is craziness! Let every child be satisfied with what his parents can provide for him. By that, peace, tranquillity will reign in the society.”
In fact, Aduaka also acknowledged that the understanding and support of his wife has in no small way contributed to the overall success of the children.
“I had got married before I graduated in 1966. She was a teacher and eventually when we moved to Lagos after the civil war, she resumed teaching but at a private school. The idea was that she would have the leeway to take care of the children. She obliged.
“But the situation has changed now. The economic crunch has forced the two parents to run after money at the expense of their children. It is very said!”
With the dwindling interest of the Nigerian public in film and theatre productions, is there any future for young filmmakers like Newton who perhaps, may want to come and settle in Nigeria later?
“The problem is security and safety. I knew there was a time when film watching culture was really going on. The National Theatre would always be crowded – in afternoon anyway.
“If the security is taken care of, people would develop the culture of going to cinema houses to watch good films. The more a country grows, the more it needs relaxed areas. There is a limit to which the video thing can go. You don’t get real life situation in watching video. I support the culture of going to theatre. It douses the tension. And we really need such thing in Nigeria. We tend to quarrel too much because of lack of relaxation. We just have to create time for it. Going to theatre is good for the health.”
Were Newton to have pursued his filmmaking career in Nigeria, Mr. Aduaka is emphatic that “he might not be able to achieve the feat.
“This is because the facilities are not just here. No good film school. Though, there is a film corporation in Jos, I don’t think it has the state of art equipment. No good school. Newton would not have developed if he were to be in Nigeria. He attended the London film School which I think is one of the best in Europe.”
And to solve the problem, Aduaka wants the government to lay the foundation for good training ground for young, talented film director, producers including actors and actresses.
Also, there should be a change of attitude as regards maintenance culture. “National Theatre for instance is now a shame to Nigeria. We always allow our infrastructures to rust away. Government should resuscitate it and get young Nigerians to study film so that we can compete and beat countries like India.
“We have filmic environment; our topography is superb; good environment to shoot good films; government should just help to develop these infrastructures. It is not just a matter of naming a building without adequate and appropriate facilities.
“A body like ITPAN should also be encouraged. I have been following their activities, they are trying but they would still need encouragement from both the government and corporate bodies. It is only through that we can get there.

To Mrs. Aduaka, Newton is very active with much interest in music.
When he was growing up, he liked to make a lot of friends. He liked to entertain people. In the family, he is unique because he would always make sure that everybody is happy. He does not associate with sadness or loneliness. He is kind, sympathetic indeed cheerful. He likes looking different.
“At age 12, he had a guitar and then he had wanted to wax a record. In London whenever Oyinbo people saw him with his guitar at that age, they always admired. He is a source of inspiration to the family and we thank Go for his life.

Sango in the Picture

Burden of a legendary King
(Review of te film Sango by Obafemi Lasode, 2003)
To send off his troublesome wives, Alaafin Sango is so worked up that he emits fire from his mouth. And when he is to destroy his enemies at the war front, he belches fire. The rhythm of his fury has no limitation. But this is just a cut away.
Sango: The Legendary African King, the "epic film" in the African Heritage Video/Film series of Afrika N'Vogue (Even Ezra Studios) is a film about effects and spectacles, rich and flamboyant display of the wealth of the Yoruba and African material and immaterial resources. And of course, there is a good attempt at technical inventiveness, especially in the deployment of computerised machine effects.
Spectacle is indeed the bite of the effects, which lifts the actions beyond ordinary dramatic effects. The appropriateness of such effects at moments and action frame of the film is something else, though. Substantially however, Sango deepens the depth of the myth of the god of thunder or of any of the gods in the African pantheon, particularly in the sensibility of non-Africans.
In essence, however, structural alignment of the many materials -- effects, plot ideas, actions, stunts and others -- into a composite unit to properly enunciate the entire experience and movement seems the problem of Sango, the film. There is a likelihood of the director being caught in the intentional fallacy syndrome. The flick being a Femi Lasode-directed film has strong cultural, albeit African-centric predilection… it almost throws it agenda in the face of the viewer at every point in its plot. Well, this has also being expressly stated in the apparent intention of the producers: to produce a film that will celebrate, flaunt and impress on the viewers (specifically Africans in the Diaspora) the beauty and riches Africa, its cultural philosophy and its people.
In fact, this had been the fore-grounded objective of Lasode's Even Ezra as would be seen in the company's existing repertory of mostly documentaries -- including ‘African Legacy’, ‘The Lost Heritage of Africa’; ‘Osun, The River Goddess’ and the African N'Vogue musical video and audio series.
Sufficiently celebrated is the vegetation landscape, which had been generously explored in ‘Back to Africa’, an earlier film, which the company had jointly produced with Tony Abulu's Black Ivory Communications, with essentially the same mission of selling Africa to people outside the continent.
In the footages on the environment is also spotlighted the redoubtable beauty of the African architectural heritage including the cultural essence and socio-spiritual functionality of designs, art, decorations, crafts, symbols and other attributes.
Location choice of the film -- recorded in villages around Ilorin (Kwara State), Ijebu (Ogun State), Ikorodu, Epe and Aja in Lagos -- deliberately picked on the very rare structures and landscapes.
Embellishment, in terms of complimentary sets are appropriately created by the technical/location team led by Biodun Abe. And except on one occasion that a close up shot exposed rough edges of the wood, it is difficult to decipher village from the constructed set. Sango, the film also picks a crown in the best costume category, with its intense exploitation of the divergent colours and designs of the Yoruba dress culture. Except that Ogunde's series of film ‘Aye’, ‘Jaiyesimi’, and especially ‘Ayanmo’ as well as Ola Balogun's ‘Ija Ominira’ have set a very high, but not unbeatable standard, not only in periodic costume but also in creative adaptation of such dress patterns to suit the creative cultural themes and motifs in their films.
But all these are still effects. And it does not just stop there.
Technically, Sango the film elevates the level of sophistication of an African film with its flourish of special effects. But it appears overwhelmed by the huge patronage of effect materials that the unity of artistic resources suffers.
There is some precedent though -- and it suggests that earlier statements by critics of Nigerian films, especially in the manner of composition are correct; it has been contended that most of the times, when an artiste -- dramatist, director, musician, poet among others-- has a story to tell, he "overtells" or 'overstates' or 'over-dramatises’ such story. The statement is blanket and may not necessarily be true, but the new Nigerian films -- video dramas especially-- have not challenged such contentions.
Sango, over-dramatises its effects. That is obvious. Just like Owo Blow directed by Tade Ogidan for Cinekraft overstates its case. But whereas, in the latter, the excess is in physical actions, which are themselves interesting, the extra in Sango is machine-generated — cold and less effective.
So, Sango, the fierce King rains fire-balls on his cantankerous wives whose offence is as grievous as maltreating his latest and youngest wife, Oya. And to stop the ferocious army of Owu, which is threatening to submerge his kingdom, he explodes in fire balls. There is no cadence to the character of the god’s emotional psuche or temperament.
On his coronation, he destroys by fire a chief who insisted that it is improper to crown Prince Sango when his brother King Ajaka had only been sent on exile by King Olowu. Twice, Sango set a bonfire on his chief warrior Eliri who disobeys him.
There is fire everywhere in the actions of the film that eventually the myth of the fire-spitting deity is rendered ineffective.
When Oya invoked a shower of water simply by raising her arms skywards, the hall of Eko Hotel where the premiere of the film held last Sunday exploded with ovation. The action was shocking and the effect breathtaking. But when she did it the second time, the house merely giggled.
Yet it was a vulnerable Oya completely devoid of her magical prowess that married Sango and she is as powerless as not being able to challenge the senior wives -- Osun and Oba, who had decided to terrorise her before Sango would return from an outside mission. When Oya begins to cry like a baby, the weight is excised from the character.
It is not enough for the producers to explain that because Sango, in order to force Oya to marry him had seized her magical skin (which makes her transform to an antelope), thus she has become so vulnerable. It has nothing to do with her water power.
And in any case, when after Sango's apotheosis into a deity, the essence of transmission of Oya and the two other wives, Osun and Oba into three rivers (as they exist today) to be worshipped, is not realised in a film that relies very much on special effects.
Apparently, Sango: The Legendary African King is a film in progress requiring a further clipping in the editing studio. The screened two-part version last Sunday is three and a half hours in duration. But with a further clipping and especially objective restructuring, the film will run the normal length of an epic in its nature.
Every time the chiefs in the four locales of the action -- Owu, Oya, Nase and Oyokoro -- are making a visit to their king, there is a session of singing and dancing. Every action there has to run from the very beginning of arrival of the chiefs on to the exit. Every little achievement or moment of triumph calls for celebration. The war seems not incomplete without moments of dances and chants. But in the culture of war -- even the precocious tribal warfare of the past -- only the period of preparation for war is celebrated in theatres, not the actual action of fighting.
Those are still, however, the fallouts of the producer’s exuberant intention to showcase the rich African culture, itself an overused term and over-stated matter. It is possible that by now the African culture of music, dance, masks and others is available on cassettes and CDs in the homes of many people in the West -- the obvious target market of the film.
Sango, the film obviously has two directorial styles; one that is stringent, economical in use of pictorial language, a bit more impressing and very much movie-like; and the other that is so over generous with duration of action, preferring more the words over picture; not necessarily expressionistic or naturalistic but seemingly more stagy or melodramatic, like a television drama piece. Thus, the film can be divided into two halves: the first, the movie; the second, the drama. This results in a discontinuity in form, plot, idea, and techniques.
In the frame of the second technical framework is the indeed very dynamic shot of Owu soldiers hopping over a gaping hole in a thick forest formation on their way to the war-front. At a low angle shot, the camera records endlessly as about 25 soldiers hopped over same obstacle. There is no attempt to see the determined expression of the soldiers as they overcome the obstacle. The innuendo of a looming violence, which the camera had captured as stunts in the texture of a thriller is thus whittled.
The much of the second part of the film, which essentially records the fight between Sango and his two chief warlords, Eliri and Timi Olofaina, fall in the framework of the second directorial technique of saying it all in words, action and in picture. But the most of the story is told in long shots, much of which is blurred, perhaps due to unfavourable weather condition at the time of recording. For instance, in the re-match of the right between Eliri and Timi, which itself appears as a patch up in a story that is already overstretched, the allure of the African marital art which the director wanted to exhibit is lost in a contracted long shot that does not even show the face of the fighter, nor the tension on the set.
Another instance of protracted action is the journey of Sango out of Oyo, trailed by his acolytes pleading after him. A serious action, but it becomes stretched unnecessarily in the protraction and the repeat of the action of Sango eliminating the stubborn followers one after the other. By the time Eliri emerges from the bush to confront his former master, and in the process compels Sango's transition into a deity, the god had overstayed his presence on the cine-frame. Other instance is the tatooing scene where Sango decided to adopt the body beautification art as an expression of his liberty and assertion of his control over his fate. Earlier in the film, and as a prince he had been shown to be tatooed, but another frame, when he is already a king shows a debate between him and Oya on the desirability of Tatoo. Yet another footage shows the king and people of Oyokoro in about five minutes action of Tatoo by his followers, just to show allegiance to the whims and wishes of Sango, the king.

The deity the man
BEYOND the effect, a retouch of Sango: The Legendary African King in the studio might need to re-examine the structural format of the actions in the film.
At the outset is the encounter of a white anthropologist Mr. Thurston with a local chief in which the latter tries to convince a disbelieving Thurston that Sango indeed is the force behind thunder and lightning.
The voice of the chief locates the story in a narrative format which means that every action, and indeed the entire story of the film, is experienced through the narration of the chief, but nowhere else in the course of the film is the narrative voice recalled; not even at the end of the film; even for purpose of unity of action.
Prince Sango is the focus of the first movement in the film: how he is summoned from his base at his mother's place in Nupe to rescue his troubled brother, Alaafin Ajaka who had been held hostage by Oba Olowu of Owu. Conotatively, the action is to spotlight the prowess of Sango as a potential force to liberate the people of Oyo. But in his encounter with the Olowu, who is his cousin, there appears a mixed up between Sango, the humble prince and Sango the fire-spitting, belligerent egotist.
His effrontery and tough words on the Olowu scratches the face of same Sango, who would plead for a truce. And as early as now, he could wield magical power that made him conjure the set of properties with which he paid the ransom to secure freedom of his brother. Such extra-human prowess, even while a prince reduce the effect of the supernatural power of Sango the deity as well as the believability of the action.
The import is that a natural progression in the development of the character of Sango is distorted. This is also unhelped by the brash, arrogant, boastful, commandeering character of Sango who literally 'kidnapped' (or through forceful acquisition) Oya to be his bride. Later, Sango the king almost becomes a terror to his own subjects even for the slightest offences.
Only a villain of a king would overrun Oyokoro, the way Sango does, moreso to a people that have moments earlier adopted the deity’s moral and behavioural codes, for instance the Tatoo as fashioned by Sango. How could the same leader- king turn up their names; so soon? Or maybe it is deliberate that Sango should be so destructive of his own benefactors, because at the end of the film, he also destroyed his own loving servants who were pleading with him not to abdicate his throne and his own homestead. In that case, there is the case of a tragic flaw in the heroic character of Sango.
A matter of grave structural unevenness is the unclear delineation between the human and the extra-human actions and characteristics of the figure. Sango. At the time he transmutted into a deity, Sango had already been characterised a god, by his many super-human actions in the film.
But this is usually a pitfall in an epic work like Sango. It is usually difficult to draw a line between the acts of the super-forces and human beings. Again there is the tendency for the artiste to become subservient to the dictates of history or the myth or legend that informs the film.
Perhaps the safest means is that adopted by the A' Production team that produced ‘Ose Sango’ in 1991. The human actions are configured in human beings who merely invoke the extra human powers of Sango to solve their problems. It was thus clear to see when the human desire clashes with the will of the gods such as in excessive abuse of the powers of the gods to impact negatively on the society.
A most constant attribute of the film Sango, The Legendary African King is its vast repertory of music and songs which are effectively (in most part of the film) employed to aid the progression of the story and as well as sound track, which is soon to be released in audio format. This alone would draw to it a mass appeal.
The film is also, as in the cliché, 'star studded'. In fact it is about the most loaded with some of the best actors on the screen and on the stage including Kola Oyewo Laide Adewale and Peter Fatomilola (he can’t stop playing the priest, can he?), all of who also played lead roles in ‘Ose Sango’ by the Adesanya brothers. Others include Jide Ogungbade, Ayo Akinwale, Antar Laniyan, Olu Okekanye, Remi Abiola, Rachael Oniga and others.
The lead role Sango is played by a relatively new name, Wale Adebayo, a law student at the Obafemi Awolowo University Ile-Ife. Oya, the second lead is by Bunmi Sanya, a back-up singer for many pop musicians. The problem with the two young actors is in terms of artistic direction, especially in role internalisation, and ability to master mood, cadences and rhythms of action; and especially to understand the dynamics of the screen as different from that of the stage.
Peculiarly though, Adebayo' speech pattern is not properly doctored, which makes him to gabble most times his opening and end syllables. Most times he loses his lines in inappropriate sense grouping. It is not helpful to him too that he has to shout most of his lines, so that whereas the physical carriage in properly established, there is no colour or rhythm in what comes from Sango's mouth. There is volume alright, but little intelligibility.

Monday, September 3, 2007

The Video game

The Video game
By Jahman Anikulapo
(Published in The Guardian in 2000)
The Movie Award, THEMA is thinking of assuming a more likeable personality. A more robust, influential and accepted character to everyone who thinks he has a stake in the business of video (movies) making, distribution and consumption.
Friday last week, the THEMA congregated a class of video workers and the objectives was simply to review its present character and status as reflected in the first edition of the award programme organized by management of the FAME WEEKLY Magazine early in the year. Ostensibly the meeting was to fashion a direction for the second and subsequent editions.
Expectedly, there was a convolution of ideas; some smart and some weird and others simply flick. The video makers and distributors apparently bear certain degree of conceit about the actual state of the business. In divergent tones, they seemed to have concluded that there is an industry yet. That’s in spite of repeated critical observation that for now it is only a set of traits of an industry that is noticeable in the business of video making.
THEMA is in fact, as at now the most optimistic factor that an industry might eventually emerge. The award programme, as reinforced by the Friday meeting is already laying foundation for a process of standardization of the video (movie) business. (And that is the first key factor).
Other signals in the past have been the gradual incursion of real, professionally trained and committed artistes and movie makers into the vocation. Otherwise, the current jumble of merchants with merely enthusiastic occasional artistes is rather putting weeds on the path of a plausible industry.
For now, what exists is a video market. And like all markets, it welcomes everyone irrespective of wares, method of procuring, displaying and selling of such wares, and even origin of the marketers.
There can be no industry yet, where in spite of huge investments by a variant of businessmen, there is no control to standard. No regulation to practice. No constant review of progress or regression. No viable critical institutions, And no responsibility to the viewer beyond pushing the product -- no matter how poorly produced or packaged-- down his throat.
Okechukwu Ogunjiofor, reputedly the initiator of the first news-maker video drama work, ‘Living in Bondage’ and producer of ‘Brotherhood of Darkness’ among other works, signified the chaos yet in the video business, when speaking on movie half hour on NTA 2 Ch. 5 last Saturday, he said “presently what we have is the producers/marketers’ market. I am waiting for the viewers’ market.” He averred that progress could be said to have been made only when the viewers have grown to become the key determinants of the quality of video works that would be produced and subsequently consumed.
“Presently,” he continued “we just push anything to the market and the consumers just buy them. There is no control!” His statement had been echoed sufficiently at the THEMA forum and similar forums before it. It was demonstrated too in the volume of misconceptions projected by certain attendants at the forum, who pride themselves as video makers.
Beginning with definition, it was clear that the video makers thrive on incongruous logics and mis-education. For instance, a lot of what is called video movies are actually mis-normally defined. Largely, the market has adopted the strategy of direct translation of drama into the audio visual medium of the video, without cultivating the filmic medium and all its required technical dynamics and appurtenances.
It is not enough to put a scripted drama in the video idiom and term it movie. The enter- sit-shoot-leave procedure is only a basic frame of the movie. The movie considers, among other technical indices, photographic interpretation of such an action, angles, level, colour, mood, composition of shots, sound tracking etc to effectively combine the audio and visual materials for an optimum realization of the main text and subtexts of the script.
At the level of artiste, there are actors and the players. The actor is more technically accomplished in the manner he interpretes the world and actions of a script. He has mastered the language of his face, body and mood to the gesture or movement (no matter how slightly or almost inconsequential) to realize the expected action. He has too; mimesis, pantomimes among other acting techniques as his tools.
The player is the one who hops endlessly in front of camera; jumping in and out of the lens because of his listlessness, wild gestures and over-active, exuberant movements; his voice is exceptionally loud; carriage excessively boisterous. He is sometimes the comedian, the typecast or stock character player found in many Yoruba, Igbo and even English medium home video, playing the dunce gateman of houseboy. In acting history, such characters devolve from legendary figures such as Halequinos of the Commedia del’arte era, modified and played qualitatively in the Moses Olaiya’s Baba Sala or the Ojo Ladipo’s Baba Mero, and in another dimension by Chika Okpala’s Zebrudayah. What characters as these do is really in the realm of burlesque or slapstick; in which case what he says is not really the heart of the action, but his exaggerated movements and sometimes nonsensical actions and sayings.
The recent video visage is replete with these stock characters played by equally stock typecast actors, Usually they, transfer the aggressive mien required by the live stage onto the video medium. They normally disrespect the acting space and the camera has to chase them round while the more restricted microphone picks only the few words it is lucky to grasp from their restless mouths. Such actors also talk endlessly, eliminate breath pause and silence (which in truth sometimes speak louder than voice.) All the actions and moods are especially said in loud, loquacious manner; at an almost incredible speed level that listeners or viewers have to be extra vigilant.
Siblings to the type cast players are the largely enthusiastic actors with apparent blank knowledge on the basic rudiments of the profession. Paired with a more qualified and competent actor, such enthusiast has the potential to draw the actor to his level of haphazard role execution and half-measured gestures. His voice is infirm, light, colourless and mood-less but full of excitement where it should be somber and high where it should be low.
The actor’s beat is more afflicted by the standardization problem since it is accepted erroneously, that everyone is an actor, so far he could move his arm, leg and shuffle and bubble. In the less than five years of the video rave, close to two thousand new ‘actors’ have emerged and many are ready to hop onto the screen from their other failing vocations.
Very few scriptwriters indeed look beyond literal presentation of experiences they want to capture, hence the baggage of otherwise good stories ruined by over adornments or shallow treatment. Video reviewers have had the most to do with stories told in incomplete manners or existing ideas reworked in deformed shapes. And since the story is the basis of a movie, the inherent inadequacy in the script is carried over to the audio-visual realization of the experience captured in the plot.
Besides, the writer’s ego often prevent critical assessment of script. Worst still, many scriptwriters are themselves the producers and sometimes also, the director. Censorship is not encouraged nor the benefit of an editor’s contribution. Many local video works are too wordy with actors talking endlessly and thus mortifying the possibilities of the movie medium.
The pictures are supposed to do larger percentage of the talking but the writers or directors would rather make his characters benumbed the viewer with unnecessary gibberish. Thus the work often appears congested and unwieldy. Atmospheric aesthetics are negated and action airiness mortgaged.
Video drama reviewing or criticism machinery is still a contraption of the producer’s media hirelings and praise singers. With the ‘Hype-ists on rampage, every film is excellently produced and every actor is good; every film is best produced. The video reviewer is thus an accomplice in a grand propaganda machinery aimed at the viewer’s deception. The premature conferment of an industry status on the video market is architected by the reviewer who operates more on reductionism.
To the video maker, the reviewer has engendered a false confidence and deep-seated conceit. This much was observed by television programme director and critic, Sola Osofisan at the Thema forum when he said entertainment journalists should be more discerning and restrictive in the way they lavish pages and praise on so called video producers and their works.
The essential factor is for the reviewer or critic himself to be well trained, be ready to invest in skill acquisition, not just on the job learning, but to read widely about film and its sociological consequences, so that he can make informed commentaries and intelligent appraisals of the film. It is not enough to say the acting, script, light, direction is bad and so the film is bad. This is cheap, flat-footed criticisms albeit displaying the symptom of an impoverished critical faculty. The intelligent and productive critic or reviewer must be bale to put the movie on the slab, dissecting its artistic, cultural, economic and sociological characters to the extent that he can highlight the contribution or the absence of same to the discourse of the medium and as well as its connotative effect on the contemporary debate in the society.
To Osofisan, a reviewer must know the rudiments of his vocation before dipping himself in the field. But even Osofisan did not mention the producer’s conceit, a latest worm cluttering the progress path of the video business.
Some producers have been quoted recently to have said, “Let the video reviewers write what ever they will, the buyers don’t care. We are after all smiling to the bank.” This inadvertently pushes despair deeper into the soul of a venture desirous of emerging as an industry.
Producers smiling to the bank are the rapist s of the fortune of the video business. They would rather acquire flashy cars than buy cameras and other key needs for improved production and they are unconcerned about the environment of operation.
For purveyors of the ‘let them say’ syndrome Ogunjiofor’s prayer of a quick arrival of the viewers’ video market is most appropriate. However, that would not annul the fact of an orchestrated viewers’ deception movement. Such an attitude will only retard progress, because it portends a darkening situation in which nothing is being gained and no progressive thought is being upheld.
A video industry even in its emergence state, such as now, will not push money forward as the first condition for practice. That was the bane of the music practice whose fortune in spite of its potentials has been hanging between the stature of a market and an industry. Money was ruling at the crucial time when professionalism -- training, quality products, artistic integrity, control and self-assessment should bedrock the practice.
Currently, copyright abuses, idea poaching, piracy and plagiarism are so rampant in the video business. Guilty producers or scrip-writers seem unshaken by the enormity of such heinous crimes in literary profession. They have failed to provide explanation to glaring cases reported in the media. Instead they run the other eyes, whereas an industry will ensure such a culprit is appropriately apprehended and prosecuted.
An industry will take care of infrastructural development in the provision or gradual evolution of a video-viewing culture, which include the assurance that only quality product will be able to get across to a lot more people at reachable conditions.
Pre and post-production facilities would be available including the building of credible locations and studios. Besides, the industry will pay for almost all its needs; and not, without permission shoot the frontage or the living rooms of members of the public, free of charge.
Money reaped from the video business has to be ploughed back rather than producers investing on personal comforts at the expense of developmental projections.
Accepting the emergence of video as a positive development to film fortune, TV and film producer, Lola Fani-Kayode was optimistic that the video makers currently reaping fat purses from video making would assist in providing interests, equipment and infrastructure for the real producers, who in turn would project the integrity of the video industry. But presently, there are no indications that such progressive moves are being made. Rather, video makers operate more as just-jobbing contractors, reaping and draining the video fortune.
At the instance of a true industry, it would be unnecessary to classify video work through the criterion of indigenous languages in order to determine the best actor, actress or director; for a standard would have been established. That was the thrust of Ihria Enakimio’s and Patrick Doyle’s argument at the Thema meeting.
Thema forum itself admitted that the environment of an industry is not yet established and thus it resolves for now to design about five categories of awards to video in indigenous languages, aside of a general list of awards for all video works irrespective of language or cultural background.
In matter of adjudication the Thema forum suggested the composition of a body of well informed and qualified workers in the video and film medium to take critical assessment of the works; looking through their merits according to the categories of awards.
Osofisan, however, warned that even that decision should be cautiously applied; for “a good musicologist, for instance, may not necessarily have a good knowledge of how to sound-track a film.” That holds for every aspect of video or film making.
Yet, Francis Onwochei, actor, artistes manager and former chairman of the Lagos National Association of Nigerian Theatre Arts practitioners (NANTAP) caretaker committee suggested that it should be possible for all Thema judges to have a session at which they would sit together so that thorough attention could at least be encouraged to be paid to the works. “Because of distractions in individual’s time and daily affair, you cannot be sure that everybody would be able to devote enough attention to the works giving to him for the purpose of adjudication.