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10 years after, IRep Festival changing documentary narrative

By Gregory Austin Nwakunor
08 September 2019   |   3:48 am
Plans are afoot to mark iRepresent International Documentary Film Festival’s 10th anniversary in 2020. The anniversary edition, scheduled to hold from March 19 to 22, in Lagos, will be a celebration of the achievements of the film fest and an appraisal of its direction in the future. Before its emergence, there had been a paucity of festivals devoted to documentary films in Nigeria.

Makoko: Futures afloat – a documentary film by Femi Odugbemi

Plans are afoot to mark iRepresent International Documentary Film Festival’s 10th anniversary in 2020. The anniversary edition, scheduled to hold from March 19 to 22, in Lagos, will be a celebration of the achievements of the film fest and an appraisal of its direction in the future. Before its emergence, there had been a paucity of festivals devoted to documentary films in Nigeria.

In the early days, documentary films were made to show the military might of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, stimulate interest in the Empire, food and cash crops and depict government activities, especially in the areas of health and development in education.

In his, The Context of film production in Nigeria: The colonial heritage, the film scholar Onookome Okome noted, “film came to Nigeria in the context of colonialism. The film medium was invented and became a force at about the tum of the 20th century when colonialism was at the feverish pitch of its balkanisation of territories in Africa. The medium came at an auspicious time, and it helped, in no small measure, to perpetuate colonial ambitions; thus, reducing colonial subjects to colonialism’s scope of reference in politics, culture, economics and social systems.”

Film as a medium first arrived to Nigeria in the late 19th century, in the form of peephole viewing of motion picture devices. These were soon replaced in the early 20th century with improved motion picture exhibition devices, with the first set of films screened at the Glover Memorial Hall in Lagos from 12 to 22 August 1903. One of the newsreels presented a brief glimpse of the Alake of Abeokuta, a Yoruba king of Western Nigeria.

The practice of documentary in Nigeria was without a conscious delineation as it lacked critical standards for its practice. Mainly Nigerian filmmakers commissioned by institutions or individuals for personal or institutional gains produced documentary films.

Hyginus Ekwuazi, in his seminal book, Film In Nigeria, noted, “the documentary attained its highest significance in Nigeria in the days of the Colonial Film Unit (CFU).”

Documentary films by the government up till 1985, Ekwuazi noted, dealt mostly “with festivals, visits, tours, FESTAC, fire hazard, chieftaincy installations, trade fairs, drug abuse and military transition to civilian.”

During this era pointed out, films like Daybreak in Udi and Community Development are among the documentary films made in the period.

The first generation filmmakers were a student of the Accra Film Training School, where they trained essentially as documentarians. In this respect, they were protégés of the John Grierson School of Documentary of the Old Empire Marketing Board’s Film Unit.

These documentarians include Adamu Halilu, A. Fajemisin, J.A. Otigba, and Mallam Yakubu Aina. However, after the re-christening of the C.F.U to Federal Film Unit (FFU), documentary films like Empire Day Celebration in Nigeria (1948), Small Pox (1950), Leprosy (1950) Port Harcourt Municipal Council Election (1950), Queen Elizabeth 11 Visit to Nigeria (1956) were produced under the supervision of N.F. Spurr.

The Nigeria Television Authority inherited the role of a platform and fertile ground for the practice of the documentary film productions. The establishment has recorded the highest number of documentary films in Nigeria.

But the emergence of iRepresent Film Festival has changed the narrative, promoting quality in output and professionalism in the industry. Using the documentary format, the festival has become a tool for the promotion of the nation’s cultural heritage,

The festival, over the years, has domesticated film format in addressing several issues relating to politics, economy and social matters of Nigeria. More so, the style of filmic narration has become convincing.

“The decade-long journey has indeed been challenging, but also very rewarding for the parent body of the festival, and; essentially for the vocation of documentary film making,” said Femi Odugbemi, Executive Director of iRepresent International Documentary Film Festival, who is convinced of the power of documentary film to investigate, expose and persuade the viewers in a particular manner. He has also continued to exploit it in his attempt at playing a part in the development of his country, Nigeria.

The award-winning filmmaker, writer, photographer and a respected voice in the arts and culture circuits of Nigeria and around the continent, said, “when the festival started, in 2010, the iREP Forum was clear about its vision to provoke change by engaging Africans in conversations that could help to shape the future of the continent and its people. Since then, iREP has consistently curated conversations around identity, culture, governance and democracy, new media, and the power of documentary films to bring about change.”

Since its maiden edition in March 2010 and, over the years, the festival has registered itself in the frontline of promotion of production and showcasing documentary films in the country and, by extension, the continent.

Importantly, the festival has expanded the popularity of the documentary genre and push the frontier of the power of documentary films to cause a change.

Jahman Anikulapo, a member of the directorial team of the festival, said, “iREP is conceptualised to create a platform of awareness and expression for aspiring and practising filmmakers who are creating socially relevant documentary films, to positively impact our world, to fully engage an array of trans-cultural creativity, to provide a forum for everyone’s ingenuity to be showcased without prejudice to style or subject and to celebrate the ever-expanding world of documentary films by inviting talents from across the globe to share ideas on trends and technological advancements in the format.”

Essentially, the parent body of the festival, iRepresent Documentary Film Forum, a member of the West African Documentary Film Forum, AWDFF, has proven to be a resourceful organisation in the discovering and nurturing of fresh talents, and training of young enthusiasts as well as helping to hone the skill of practising filmmakers (established and mid-career) through its regular manpower development programmes.

The festival has over the last 10 years attracted some of the most brilliant minds in the global space of documentary filmmaking, and the plan for the year 2020 festival is to take this a nudge higher.

The theme for the anniversary edition is Africa In Self-Conversation, drawn from the founding conceptual framework of the forum and its festival project. The theme is designed to promote awareness about the power of documentary format to serve as a means of deepening and sharing social and cultural education as well as encouraging participatory democracy in society.

The anniversary edition will, thus, look back at the last 10 years and appraise the impacts of the festival in terms of the key-value areas that are important to the conversation of change in Africa. The festival will bring back films and conversations from 2011 that touch on Democracy and Governance, Development, and the Politics of Identity. Keynote speeches from cinephiles, eminent media and culture scholars and practitioners such as, Prof. Manthia Diawara, Jane Mote, Prof. Jean-Paul Collyn, Jihan El-Tahri, Prof. Awam Amkpa, Paul Ugor, Emeka Mba, Afolabi Adesanya, Prof. Femi Shaka, and lately, Prof. Jonathan Haynes, who have featured in editions these past years would also be revisited.

A major highlight of the anniversary is the publication of a 200-page photobook documenting each year of the festival since 2011. Other highlights of the festival include an impressive list of international award-winning filmmakers from different parts of the world.

Anikulapo said, “activities would also be expanding to more venues in Lagos State. The iREP directorate is already in talks with cinema houses and other art spaces in Lagos with a bid to spread the experience across different locations of the state. Freedom Park, however, remains the main festival base, and would host some of the key events of the festival, including the cocktail party and the open-air night screenings.”

The festival training for beginners and intermediate filmmakers will also get a boost, as the festival directorate is liaising with a major camera company in the United States of America in terms of facilitating the training for the anniversary.

Entries for submission are already open on the festival website: Filmmakers are invited to submit their best works for screening consideration. Film entries will close on November 31, 2019.

Special editions of the iREP have been staged three times outside of the country in Europe and Southern part of Arica, and its operational staff has benefitted from training abroad through a partnership with an international organisation.