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Archiving Africa for the future

Participants at one of the sessions

This year’s I-REP International Documentary Film Festival, rigorously explored the opportunities open to Africans to bring their historical past into archival system for accessibility. Most importantly, it showed how to use these materials to define a path for the future through storytelling.

Don’t Lose Hope, a 30 minutes documentary, directed by David Gilbert, was screened. Lead curator, African, British Library, Marion Wallace, presented a paper titled ‘Accessing Africa’ History via Digital Routes.’ It focuses on selected websites of free-to-view materials from sound and moving images to documents and more.

A panel of discussion comprising professionals from various film and archiving backgrounds discussed the importance of archiving, its problems and suggested solutions that could make the process sustainable.

Representative of Lagos film Institute, Dare Dan, gave instance of how his team, working on a project at the Nigerian Film Corporation, discovered a building looking neat on the outside but abandoned on the inside; they saw a pile of film rolls as they went inside, and began to reclaim some of the film cans for digitisation.

They further organised a two-day workshop, supported by the British Council and invited people from Africa, America and Europe to share experiences on archiving and what they could do with what they had found. According to Dan, “We had symposiums and screenings; and right now, a founding member of the Lagos Film Society, Didi Omika, had presentations at the last Biennale on some of the clips recovered.”

Insidibi Institute of Dele Meiji Funtula, who is basically involved with consulting for agencies, has been trying to archive the information available from the National Archives in Lagos and, according to him, “I have three to four hard drives of about 500G each.”

He is currently applying that technique in book projects, or commissioned documentaries, the most popular being, We Are Nigerians, the story of Amalgamation. Funtula said, “Some of the files, dating back to 1862, are lying down there in dust, files that show old lawyers in their hand writing and practice in Nigerian bar, disputes involving government. If you find one random line somewhere it will open the key to a massive universe of information and solve multiple mistakes. There is no substitute to breathing in dust and going through papers to get to the point we should be.

“I did a documentary on Lagos, exploring the elite culture, which is an integral part of Lagos landscape. Lagos is all about elitism, style, show, whether we like it or not. It is a sad commentary that a lot of data has been lost, trashed.”

Wallace noted that there were several options in archiving, such as working on materials from the 1960s and digitising and archiving them so they also go on the web. She also advised that weather is a very important factor to consider regarding where the materials are kept, but said with film and sound, digitalization is the way forward.

On how the Nigerian archive should stay accessible and takenpreserved, CEO of Ebony TV, Mo Abudu said when they started Enony TV, their mandate was to do 1000 hours of programming in a year so that in four years they would have done 4000 hours of programming.

“We have an entire I.T. department that backs up all the things we do on hard drive and we are consistently buying new ones,” she noted. “When we started ‘Moments with Mo’ in 2007, we were using tapes but now everything is on cards. Even the older episodes have been digitalised so that we can save the content so that in the future they can become reference materials.

“It is critical that we continue to store, even though it is quite expensive, but there is no point investing in making the programmes and not investing in preserving them.”

In this regard, Meiji said literature is the most important way of re-imagining African history so people could feel confident about the future, and that film is a medium that can achieve this.

“When you look at Kunle Afolayan’s October 1, you will see how Nigeria was in the 1960s,” he said. “It is important to make the films but it is also important that the filmmakers have context from great institutions.”

He confessed that Nigeria was doing a good job but that there was a lot of secrecy and bureaucracy, adding that people, who are interested in history must create systems and strategies that will work. He, however, said there may not be money behind archiving and that it may take 70 to 100 years before the institution commands money from government but that participants should see it like an investment for the future.

He cited the example of Chinua Achebe’s There was A Country and another writer, who wrote about his family’s experience during the Biafran war, saying: “A lot of these sorts of experiences abound and if there are institutions collecting these information people may want to invest in them by taking their memories to them.”

Funtula said once you capture memories it becomes public commodity but when Nigerian government captures history, they lock it up somewhere and accessing it becomes a big issue.

A 60-minute documentary by Jihan EL-Tahri titled Egypt: The Modern Pharaohs ended the session. The series takes the spectator into the heart of contemporary Egyptian history, interweaving the major themes of the army, the Moslem Brotherhood, International Relations and the role of civil society.

From Gamal Abdel Nasser to Anwar Sadat to Hosni Mubarak, the series follows the path of the successive regimes in power, and reveal their common goal to carefully lay contradictions of a country at independence, and the revolution at Tahrir Square in 2011.


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