Friday, October 24, 2008

Hooray for Nollywood

The film director stands in the blazing sun of the Kaduna afternoon. Mopping the sweat from his face, he motions for his newest discovery to take centre stage and deliver his lines to the crowd of extras assembled beneath the protective shade of the gateway arch. The camera man does a sweep of the scene to capture the moment as the star confidently rises from his seat to address his audience. The director leans in for a last-minute word of advice and his leading man nods his understanding before turning to provide the climatic speech. A brief pause for dramatic effect, and then, in a booming voice as warm as the afternoon sun, he calls out, “Sannuku! Lafiya! Oh, no! I messed that up!” The crowd erupts with laughter. The director shakes his head and makes a note to do some serious editing later on or maybe add this scene to the blooper reel.

So much for my film debut.

The film industry in Nigeria is a booming affair, ranking only behind the US and India in terms of production, according to some accounts. Local films run around the clock on the Africa Magic television channel, and shelves in the community shops are overflowing with new titles every month. With so many movies being produced, it should be no surprise that most of the films won’t merit Oscar consideration, with camera work that is shakier than an earthquake and acting that recalls the subtle craft of the Three Stooges. But putting aside the technical considerations, the stories are usually very entertaining, whether retelling old myths or attempting to create new ones. The combination of gangsters and lions might seem an unlikely one at first, but a healthy suspension of disbelief is often rewarded with a tale that would never make it to celluloid anywhere else in the world.

My introduction to Nollywood happened last weekend when Kristel invited me to the release party for her first film – Called to Missions. She had been asked to star in the film over a year ago through an acquaintance who knew people in the movie industry. Her role as a development worker in the film benefited from her actual experience of working in the field, and she impressed the director so much that her role was expanded through later shoots. During the course of my time in Nigeria, I heard many times about the progress that was being made on getting the film ready to be launched, but delays pushed the release date back repeatedly, until it seemed that it would be unlikely that we would see the film before we left the country in November. When told of her departure date, the director assured Kristel that it would be ready in time, so a party was planned and Kristel extended invitations to a handful of her closest friends.

As with most things in Nigeria, the event turned out to be quite different than expected. Instead of a simple occasion where DVDs would be handed out after the requisite speeches and thank you’s, we arrived to find that the director had a different agenda in mind. Apologizing from the start that the DVD was still not completed and would not be available for us to take away, he was determined that the event should not go to waste, so he decided that it would be filmed and incorporated into the final cut of the movie or at least form part of the documentary that he wanted to complete that would chronicle the making of the film. These would all be details that would presumably be worked out at some other time .

Speaking to the understandably confused group of people in front of him, he thanked us for coming and then asked us to come again. Right now. Leading us out to the road, he pointed to our vehicle parked in the shade of a tree and asked us to get into the truck and drive down the road with a couple of the other cars. “We want to capture your arrival, so turn the truck around at the end of road and drive toward us. We’ll wait here and greet you when you get here.” Seeing our chance for stardom, Kristel’s entourage eagerly piled into the truck and drove down the road to await our cue. I suddenly became aware of how sad I was going to look on film, wearing a T-shirt and pants that would have been appropriate if I was portraying Charlie Brown in a Peanuts epic. My hair was also a wonder, with sprigs sticking out from the side of my head in what I hoped would be seen as my homage to Kramer from Seinfeld. Seeing the director wave, we drove down the road with deliberate slowness to convey the seriousness and passion of NGO workers. As promised, the crowd waved and welcomed us and we greeted the people that we had already met. My sunglasses hid my eyes well, so my efforts to make them twinkle with delight probably weren’t captured by the camera following us around.

After a tour of the village, we assembled under an arch that provided the only shade in the immediate area. The director pointed at various cast members seated among the crew and gave them their instructions regarding their lines. At this point, I wasn’t sure whether we were still filming the movie or if we had moved on to the documentary, so my performance technique shifted between method acting and pretending I was on Survivor. Eventually, the director came over to Kristel and explained what he wanted from her. “I want you to stand up and greet the crowd,” he said, “Use all of the Hausa that you know.” Kristel happily obliged and delivered a series of greetings in fluent Hausa that were warmly received by the crowd. “And now, I want you to do the same,” he said, looking at me. And that’s how I came to make a complete arse of myself on film in two languages. Giving me the opportunity to redeem myself, he asked me to explain why I had left Canada and what I had accomplished in Nigeria. “Get him to do it in Hausa,” some wiseass in the crowd said. I hope they can edit that out.

With the speeches complete, the film crew had a special surprise in store for Kristel. Bringing out a framed certificate that confirmed her contributions to the film, they thanked her for everything that she had done and wished her well when she returned to the Netherlands. Promising that the DVD would be available before she left, the director assured us that the film would be complete by the following weekend. “And now, it’s time for us to film you leaving,” he said, which we took as our cue to go. Lining up beside the vehicle, the film’s crew and stars shook hands with each of us as we climbed into the truck and drove away. It was too early in the day for us to drive off into the sunset, but I’m sure they can add that in later on.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Chief of Kagoro Dies

On January 1st of this year, Kristel and I attended the Kagoro Festival, presided over by the chief of the community, Chief Gwamna Awan. Chief for 63 years, he was one of the longest serving rulers in the country, and his death at the age of 90, while not unexpected, has deeply affected the community. What follows is his obituary from the Nigerian Daily Trust newspaper.

The longest serving traditional ruler in Northern Nigeria, Chief of Kagoro Malam Danladi Gwamna Awan, died in Jos on Tuesday after a protracted illness, the Kaduna State Government announced yesterday. He was 90. It said Awan died at the Evangelical Church of West Africa (ECWA) Hospitday.

Malam Gwamna Awan was born at Kagoro in 1918. He started school with evening classes in 1928-32, before he went to the Elementary Teachers Centre, Toro in present-day Bauchi State in 1933-35. Awan started teaching at the Sudan Interior Mission [SIM] Elementary School, Kagoro in 1936, and was transferred to the South Sudan Mission Elementary School, Kafanchan in 1938, where he combined teaching with Christian evangelism. He returned to Kagoro in 1939 to teach at the Elementary Teachers Centre.

In 1940, Malam Gwamna Awan joined the Zazzau Native Authority as an Assistant Scribe. His contemporaries said his acumen greatly improved the tax collection system in those days and led to the execution of many development projects in the area, including the building of a modern palace for the then Chief of Kagoro, his uncle Malam Biya Kaka, in 1943.

When Malam Biya Kaka died in August 1944, Gwamna Awan was appointed the acting Chief, and he was formally installed as the 5th Chief of Kagoro by the then colonial Resident of Zaria Province on April 11, 1945. Many eminent citizens yesterday described the departed Awan as a bridge builder and a pillar of support whose long reign was characterised by peace and progress in Kagoro Chiefdom.

Former three-time chairman of Kaura Local Government in Kaduna State and current House of Representatives member for the area Mr. Barnabas Bala Bantex said Awan was an icon of peace and development who ranked alongside the Sardauna of Sokoto, Sir Ahmadu Bello in leadership vision. He also described him as a fair and just ruler who wished the best for his people and for Northern Nigeria. Awan was deeply interested in Western education and empowerment of the youth, Bantex also said.

For his part, member of the House of Representatives representing Kaduna North, Alhaji Muhammadu Sani Ibrahim, Wakilin Jema’a, said Awan was a detribalised Nigerian who shunned all ethnic and religious bigotry and worked very hard for the upliftment of his people, his state, country and all mankind. al in Jos. He had been the Chief of Kagoro since 1945, and had outlived colonial rule, three republics, three phases of military rule and dozens of presidents and state governors. Kaduna State Governor Muhammad Namadi Sambo said Chief Awan’s death was a great loss not only to the people of Kagoro chiefdom but to the entire people of the state. He described the late monarch as “one of the greatest elders of our time”.

The statement, which was signed by the Director General, Media and Publicity in the Sir Kashim Ibrahim House, Alhaji Umar Sani, said, “With a heavy heart, total submission to the will of the Almighty God and deep sense of loss, [Governor Sambo] regrets to announce the passing away to glory of the oldest monarch in Africa and the Chief of Kagoro Malam (Dr) Danladi Gwamna Awan, Member of the British Empire (MBE) and Officer of the Order of the Niger(OON), which sad event occurred in the early hours of 30th September, 2008 at the ECWA Evangelical Hospital, Jos, Plateau State after a protracted illness”.

The governor prayed for the repose of the deceased’s soul and is expected to pay a condolence visit to the family at Kagoro.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Batauri Blues

(With apologies to Bob Dylan)

Broken sunglasses (two pair)
Got big holes in my broken underwear
Broken alarm clock won't wake me it seems
From sleep that's broken by Lariam dreams
Car's out of gas, you must be jokin'
Everything is broken

Broken school system, a strike descends
Weeks go by and no one attends
Broken education, no children learning
Except how bleak their future's turning
Young minds wasted, a damning trend
Everything is broken

Broken laptop battery, how I cried
Replaced the battery, then my laptop died
Broken DVDs, some won't play
Broke copyright laws buying them anyway
Broken lantern spits fumes that are chokin'
Everything is broken

Broken roads, craters abound
Broken speed limits, no cops around
Broken bodies in broken cars
Broken headlights? Drive by the stars
Pass that van, though a semi is approachin'
Everything is broken

Broken watch tells me time I can't trust
Its broken replacement is collecting dust
Broken shaver won't trim my goatee
Broken mirror won't set my reflection free
Broken mosquito net invites malaria in
Everything is broken

Broken NEPA, no switches work
Broken water, diseases lurk
Broken babies face broken starts
HIV silences broken hearts
The hardships mount, the deluge soakin'
Everything is broken

All the things that I have broken
Are only things, their losses token
People here bear worse and remain
Comparing our struggles would leave me ashamed
Their spirit still soars, their faith has no end
Seems not everything is broken