A visit to iREP in Lagos
Andy Jones and workshop participants in Lagos at iREP
Writer/director Andy Jones shares memories of his trip to the sixth iREP documentary film festival in Lagos, Nigeria, where he presented his latest film I Shot Bi Kidude.
Saturday March 26, 2016 - the morning after the night before
You don’t often get a night like that. One of those screenings where the host begins singing along to the end credits and the audience join in. It doesn’t even matter that they get the words wrong, there’s something euphoric about that crowd participation - the feeling you only ever get when you watch a film with an audience. The fact that this is the West African premiere of an East African film, just adds to the magic.
I love outdoor screenings, and last night we were in the amphitheatre of Freedom Park on Lagos Island, the epicentre of iREP. This place was once a prison, built by the British in 1882, (and then rebuilt three years later after the original was burnt down) but now home to some of the best live events in the city, and an oasis of calm amidst the vibrant bustle on the streets outside.
I first visited Lagos back in 2009, working on An African Journey with Jonathan Dimbleby, a BBC series that went out just before the World Cup began in South Africa. The idea was to cast an optimistic, positive eye on the continent, eschewing the narrative of poverty, corruption and misery as we went in search of resilience, innovation and progressive ideas. Our first scene in Lagos saw Jonathan navigating the streets of Lagos in the company of a certain Mr Femi Odugbemi, who explained, among other things, the hidden informal structures which keep the city moving.
That same Femi Odugbemi is now one of the three directors of the iREP festival and his enthusiasm for documentary as a subversive tool for progress is reflected in this year’s festival theme "Change: Documentary Films as Agent Provocateur."
There’s a fantastic buzz around the park with guests from across West Africa, the US, a large German contingent, and also visitors from South Africa. There’s no market, but alongside the many screenings are a series of ‘in conversation’ sessions, masterclasses and workshops.
After lunch I return to the Afrinolly Space - a new creative hub over on the mainland. Alongside German crowdfunding and marketing consultant Paul Rieth I’ve been helping to lead a two-day workshop attended by 15 young Nigerian documentary filmmakers. Just as at the festival, the energy in the room is contagious, with ideas flowing, and by the end of our second day everyone is ready to pitch. A fantastic mix of projects ranging from new YouTube tech shows and long-form enviro-activist features.
The workshop has been supported by the British Council and the British Council's Nigeria Arts team are busy folk. On my way back from the workshop there’s time to drop in and hook up with Sam Jones of Soundthread and Yemi Alade Lawal from Afropop live - they’re here with a fantastic project touring the streets of Lagos in a big yellow bus - recording musicians performing out and about on the streets. I’m soon roped in on second camera as trumpeter ‘Mandela’ nails a solo. A proper busman’s holiday!
The day ends with a trip out to the New Afrika Shrine. Seun Kuti is on stage, and there’s a whirlwind of conversations with friends old and new. One of the themes of the festival has been around the language we use to describe ourselves, and our late-night discussion revolves around how the very description of ourselves as ‘independent’ film-makers is misleading. We struggle to think of a better term before settling on ‘co-dependent’ as a more accurate reflection of reality.
It feels right to me. Although the film I am here with is a first-person narrative, it wouldn’t exist without the input and support of a whole bunch of creative, talented people who shared an enthusiasm to tell the remarkable story of Bi Kidude’s final months on screen. People who halved their usual rates, who gave their time for free. People who donated funds to get us out to Zanzibar to film, organisations who support networks of film-makers - festivals who are now helping to get the film in front of audiences, and cinema owners, VOD platforms and events organisers who are taking it beyond the festival and out in to the world.
So I arrived in Lagos an independent film-maker. And I leave as a co-dependent creative. Thanks to all who made this trip happen - I hope I’ll be back soon.
The British Council supported Andy Jones' trip to iREP and also supported the festival as part of our UK-NG season.
See more from Lagos, including videos from Soundthread here.
Watch the I Shot Bi Kidude trailer below.