Scottish and Nigerian film: common bonds
At the Africa In Motion panel: Chinedu Omorie, Lizelle Bisschoff, CJ Obasi and Olumide Fadeyibi
British Council's Wendy Mitchell reports from two industry panels at the Africa In Motion film festival in Scotland, which brought Nigerian and Scottish filmmakers together to discuss common inspirations and struggles.
Scotland and Nigeria are far apart on the map but maybe not so far apart with what their film industries want right now: to tell authentic stories and get them to audiences.
That was the message Nigerian-Scottish Film Odyssey: Industry Day at the Africa in Motion film festival in Scotland. Two industry panels were held in collaboration with Film Hub Scotland and supported by British Council as part of our UK-NG season celebrating UK-Nigerian collaboration.
Visiting filmmakers from Nigeria (CJ Obasi and Chinedu Omorie), Scottish filmmakers (Andrea Gibb and Duncan Cowles), and one in between (Nigeria-born, Scotland-based Olumide Fadeyibi) shared their inspirations and struggles.
Obasi noted that Nigeria was lacking in film funding and infrastructure such as soundstages and even steady power supply, but filmmakers there have a wealth of ideas. “We are just starting to tell our stories in Africa, we are just scratching the surface. Hollywood is pretty much done, story wise, and we on the other hand are just starting. It’s an exciting time to be a Nigerian filmmaker,” said Obasi, who has made Nigeria’s first zombie film, Ojuju, which is screening at Africa in Motion. [Obasi is also part of the screenwriting lab Script Junction which British Council is organising.]
Fadeyibi said he was interested in telling personal stories reflecting his experience at home in Africa and in the diaspora. “People get connected to things that are personal to them, when t feels like the filmmaker has travelled through their life,” he said. “My big picture is to make films that will be universally accepted, that is my end goal.”
Andrea Gibb, Scottish screenwriter of films such as AfterLife and Dear Frankie, said listening to the problems of resources that the Nigerian filmmakers had gave her more perspective on Scotland’s issues. Gibb said, “It's been fantastic to get a bit more perspective,” even if she thinks improvements can still be made for facilities and funding in Scotland. “The money tends to go to the same sort of people" and could be better disseminated among more projects.
Omorie added he was committed to telling stories that reflect the issues facing Nigerians. “I can’t just do a film because I want to do it, I have to do a film because there are certain people it is targeted to. I don’t believe in fabricating stories, I believe in issue based stories -- Teach them and also entertain them.”
The latest project he’s worked on is Stephanie Okereke-Linus’s Dry, which is a drama built around the issue of child brides. “You need to take the change right into the audience’s homes, into their living rooms…Running interviews on TV wouldn’t work. But a movie can show a problem, a solution, how this thing can be stopped. Then you don’t have to shout a lot, let the movie do the work. This movie has opened people’s eyes.”
Working in the digital age
Both countries are turning to social media to help develop audiences. Sambrooke Scott, manager of Film Hub Scotland, noted that the digital world was “breaking down distance between audiences and filmmakers. With social media you can engage with an audience so early in the process. If you are a new filmmaker you can draw in an audience.”
He pointed out recent Scottish hits including From Scotland With Love, We Are Northern Lights, The Wee Man and NEDS. Terence Davies’ forthcoming Sunset Song is expected to see its theatrical sites split 50-50 between Scotland and the rest of the UK (despite Scotland representing just 10% of UK screens).
“People are recognizing there is an audience for Scottish cinema and Scottish voices, maybe even five years ago there wasn’t that awareness,” Scott added.
Fadeyibi said he loves the instant feedback from his audience using social networks, including 1,000 people on WhatsApp. “I get immediate comments from them [on the stories]. I will try to dance their tune because I am doing something for them.”
Omorie said online releasing would become bigger in Nigeria as broadband speeds improve. “The Internet [infrastructure] is improving. The majority of new filmmakers in Nigeria are utilizing the internet, YouTube, social media.”
Because his zombie film Ojuju isn’t a traditional Nollywood story, Obasi has had to think of other options for distribution at home and abroad. “If you are doing another kind of film, you have to figure out for yourself how you are going to get it to your audience,” he said. His run so far has included local and international festivals and he will follow that up with online, DVD and TV releases in Nigeria. “Sometimes there’s no set way of doing things, you just figure things out. We’re still experimenting as new filmmakers. The traditional model doesn’t always work for us anymore,” he said.
Still, there is a lot of talent and imagination to tap. “For us in Nigeria specifically, we’re just beginning to understand how we can tell our stories to a global audience, and for me that’s exciting,” Obasi said. “It was a fantasy as a child watching Conan the Barbarian and realising we have stories like that within the African context. We have superhero stories whose backstories are more interesting than Spiderman.”
Personal work was also central to the Scottish filmmakers’ experiences. Duncan Cowles has made four short films -- including Isabella and Directed by Tweedie -- about his family that have played major festivals around the globe.
Gibb added, “My mother is in everything I write, even if I’m adapting a novel she finds her way into it.” Her new multi-part TV drama Elizabeth Is Missing draws on her own experience as a woman getting older. “I’m exploring getting older and invisibility, we don’t see those issues of women getting older yet most of the people watching TV in this country are women over 50,” she said.
Africa in Motion is working with the African Movie Channel to produce a documentary about the experience of the visiting filmmakers at this year’s festival; it will air in early December in more than 14 countries in Africa and Europe.
More on the British Council's UK-NG season here.