Friday, June 10, 2011

Viva Riva, Beyond the Nollywood Fever and Palaver

Viva Riva, Beyond the Nollywood Fever and Palaver

This weekend as the Congolese gangster thriller Viva Riva opens in theatres in Los Angeles, U.S.A, it should be a wakeup call to Nollywood that what matters most is not the quantity of your movies, but the quality in Art and craft of filmmaking beyond the get-rich-quick syndrome of churning out cheap home videos of Nigerian comedies and tragedies from Idumota to Onitsha.

When Djo Tunda Wa Munga’s "Viva Riva" beat the best Nollywood movies at the 2011 African Movie Academy Awards (AMAA), many of the Nigerian filmmakers were humbled. But how many of them learnt the real lessons of the event? They preferred to rush back to their business as usual in Nollywood and having premieres of their amateurish flicks at the Silverbird Cinemas where their posing and posturing on the local red carpet is the best they have been able to achieve so far, while the man from the war torn Democratic Republic of the Congo has gone ahead of them to make history with his "Viva Riva" as the first Congolese feature to find distribution in the U.S. I wonder if any Nollywood flick has achieved that. And Congo where French is the main official language, plus four official indigenous languages: Kikongo, Lingala, Swahili and Tshiluba from “400 different tribes with 400 different ways of thinking. And, there are more than 200 ‘living’ languages,” according to Munga, with no acting schools and no "Congowood". In fact for most members of the cast, it was their first film credit.

Chineze Anyaene

Is it not amazing that the best film from Nollywood is "IJÉ the Journey", a New York Film Academy thesis feature film by Chineze Anyaene who has won 12 awards, including the Golden Ace Award at Las Vegas International Film Festival and the Melvin Van Peeples Award at the San Francisco Black Film Festival. In fact she even claimed that "IJÉ the Journey is the first standard Nigerian made Hollywood film" and do you blame her when like most people Nollywood is being mistaken as the best we can boast of from the Nigerian film industry since majority of our youths and even journalists are ignorant of the history of filmmaking in Nigeria and never knew that "Palaver" was the first Nigerian film shot in Jos, Plateau State, in 1904. But "IJÉ the Journey" is just one of the best Hollywood standard features done by Nigerian filmmakers who were making fantastic world class films for the cinema in the 1970s and 1980s. From Dr. Ola Balogun to Afolabi Adesanya and other notable veterans of the Nigerian cinema now mistakenly erroneously and ambiguously dubbed “Nollywood”. And I have already addressed this in my previous articles on Nollywood, so there is no need to over flog it again.

The once popular cinema culture is gradually being revived by Ben Murray-Bruce through his expanding Silverbird Cinemas and others building new cinemas all over Nigeria. And the real filmmakers are now redefining Nollywood by taking up the challenge of making features that can compete with the best in the world.
Majority of them have gone through the New York Film Academy. Faruk Lasaki, Kunle Afolayan, Stephanie Okereke, Chineze Anyaene, Chika Anadu and others who are going to take Nigerian films to compete with the best at the Cannes, Oscars and other major centres of the film world. But we need to address the problem of intellectual ignorance and professional arrogance plaguing Nollywood.

Many of the stakeholders are doing more harm than good to Nollywood by engaging in activities questioning the dignity and leadership of the Nigerian film industry.
They have also dragged their associations into partisan politics and promoting cash-for-vote and cash-for-news coverage sharp practices with many of them rubbishing and tarnishing the public image of the Nigerian film industry.

Piracy is still rampant and counterfeiting is being practiced by notable Nollywood stars who have been accused of copyright infringements like the desperate but futile attempts by a faction of Nollywood producers to hijack the duly registered Eko International Film Festival with the unethical support of their accomplices in public office.

My personal experience is quite revealing in the case of the counterfeiting of Eko International Film Festival by the mercenaries in Nollywood who have been abusing and misusing their professional associations for their greed and ego trips. But I have dismissed them since they have been found wanting in facing the real business of filmmaking and raking up ethnic differences and tribalism in their primordial divide and rule tactics to cause north-south dichotomy and east-west dichotomy in Nollywood when what matters most is promoting what is best for the Nigerian film industry and giving the necessary cooperation and support to those with the best intentions for the advancement of Nollywood, no matter your state of origin, in fact no matter where the person comes from, even from the moon or mars.

Only backward and narrow-minded people would be banging their office desk and going round the bend over why an Igbo should be the owner of a film festival in Lagos with the Yoruba name of "Eko"?
Would they also go bananas that my popular pen name "Orikinla" is Yoruba, because I am Igbo or question why I created "Òmó Iya Osùn" the mystical girl in "Boy Adam Floats Headless In The Thames"? Of course they are ignorant of the fact that my father grew up among the Yoruba Ijebus of Ogun State in the western region of Nigeria, became a Babalawo versed in Ifa Divination, was also an Ogun priest with an Ogun shrine in Obalende on the Lagos Island and was a prominent member of the Ogboni society. And he brought me up with deep knowledge of the mythology and mysticism of the Yoruba culture and religion until he passed on. I knew enough to be the first Nigerian artist to mount an installation of Ogun shrine and Opon Ifa in an Art exhibition hosted by the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung on the campus of the University of Lagos in 1992, based on my late father’s paraphernalia of Ogun worship and Prof. Wande Abimbola’s book on Ifa Divination.

The search for knowledge knows no boundaries.
Before Oduduwa there was Ifa. And before Adam, our lord Jesus Christ existed and still existing as explained in the book of John 1:1 of the Holy Bible.

Only ignorant, uneducated and uninformed people will question why two Igbo men should be the founder and owner of Eko International Film Festival in Lagos or anywhere else in the world. Anyone could have been the founder, owner or whatever. What matters is not who discovered or founded a property, but how beneficial it is to you and me, regardless of class, colour, creed, tribe or race.

In conclusion, may I advise all the stakeholders, aficionados and well wishers of the Nigerian film industry to look beyond their local competition in Nollywood, put aside their evil greed and foolish pride and let us do our best to support whatever will benefit Nigeria and the rest of the world.

~ By Ekenyerengozi Michael Chima

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