A Review of iRep Xchange 4.0

iRep Xchange 4.0 by Ebukah Emmanuel Nzeji

I was at the iREP Xchange, held at Freedom Park, Onikan, Lagos. It’s a monthly documentary screening event, where contemporary and archival documentary films about Nigerian heritage and history, are shown. I got an invite to the British Council-powered event from a colleague and newfound friend, Adebimpe Adebambo, an über cool visual artist.

The event was billed to start by 6pm. It kicked off by roughly 6.30pm. And Jahman Anikulapo, a seasoned writer, film maker, and cultural archivist, was the anchor on the night. The first film to be screened was a medley of different defining periods in the timeline of Nigeria’s existence as a political entity, from the amalgam till date.

After this film’s screening, Jahman talked about how documentaries were not being embraced by the younger generation. And how their interest could be won over by producing docudramas instead. Next was a brief speech from a rep of the British Council. He praised the efforts of the Council in preserving and restoring archival films. He also eulogized the endeavours of the two sages and guest speakers in the house: Bayo Awala and Bayo Adepetun; one a veteran film maker and the other a seasoned composer and sound designer. It was a privilege to have them speak on the night. But before that.

Three more documentaries were screened. The first is a medley of the cultural heritage of Northern Nigeria. This film dates back to the mid 30’s. The second was the marquee film of the night (or so we thought). This Film, Footprints, more docudrama than documentary, was shot in the 30’s. It chronicles the efforts of an Igbo community in Udi, Enugu State to build their first local maternity centre, despite opposition from rabble-rousers.

I want to specially thank the British Council for making this film available. It was wonderful seeing a group of people from my ethnicity doing something remarkable for that period. That emotion-laden hour or two was the closest I have come to seeing what life was really like back then in Igboland.

What followed this was a short film (“a short-short film” as Bimpe would call it); the kind you miss if you blink. The film, Mamiwata, was produced by Nyancho NwaNri, a cultural enthusiast, film maker, photographer, and poet. The film, per her explanation, is about showing the duality of the ocean as a mother with two sides to her: calm yet aggressive. Nyancho sees a romantic relationship between the ocean and the sun whereby the ocean is evapourated by and into the sun, and they co-habit for a while, after which the ocean returns to its place. Hence, as powerful as the ocean is, it depends on the sun to sustain its existence. Mamiwata easily dethroned Footprints as the marquee film of the night. It caused so much controversy, surprisingly not because of its theme, but because of its duration. The thought of this irony alone was so funny, I nearly laughed my socks off.

Bayo Awala was then introduced to the stage. He talked about how film making in Nigeria used be like in the past, in comparison to present-day Nollywood. He also dwelled on the issue of the home video era pioneers taking the glory of being the pioneers of Nollywood. He pointed out categorically that the solution to this issue, was for film makers to stop seeing themselves as pioneers at all.

He also reminisced about how challenging it was producing a film back then. There were issues ranging from poor logistics, to dearth of equipment. Paraphrasing his words: to shoot a film back then was quite tough, especially at the time when Éko bridge was being built.

Bayo wasn’t the only august or esteemed person at the event. Laide Agunbiade, a Hollywood-based veteran visual effects artist, Francis Onwochei, a seasoned film maker and actor was present, and James Omokwe, an ace young director, among other highly rated stakeholders in the industry, were also around.

Laide asks what Bayo Awala thought about the state of film distribution in the industry. And Bayo’s response was a huge reminder of how dire the situation is at the moment. At that point, Bayo Adepetun, whose talk I had patiently and eagerly been waiting for, took the floor. He talked about sound production in Nollywood films of yore. He started out in sound production, during his days as a medical student in England, just about the time Musical Instrument Digital Interface technology, MIDI was launched, before venturing into sound designing, after he had worked on one of Bayo Awala’s films. His foray into sound designing started his transition to movie scoring. And years later he finds himself producing the original score for The Wedding Party 1 and now 2. Bayo talked about the hilarious encounters he’s had with terrible and poor movie sound designing, sound mixing and scoring, in the industry. He rounded off by talking about an upcoming collaboration of sound designers, sound editors, sound mixers, composers, sound effects producers, and experts in sound surround 5.1 to 9.4 production, in order to form a cooperative. One that will take the industry to dizzying heights. Hopefully.

From the iREP Xchange 4th edition I saw happy signs of a willingness to discuss and proffer pragmatic solutions to the issues holding Nollywood back from reaching its full potential. The fact that iREP has been able to pool top stakeholders who are versed in the knowledge and experience of film making is a huge plus.

However, as is often the case in these types of gatherings, there weren’t many young people in attendance to take advantage of the drops of wisdom dripping liberally from the lips of the sages of the craft. Perhaps, the content and timing of the event should be reviewed. Not every person is willing to go for an event on Monday by 6pm. Especially not those living on the mainland. A friend of mine refused to come along for this very reason.

In terms of content, it wouldn’t hurt to give more top billing to those of some familiarity to the millennial generation.  People like Laide Agunbiade and BB Sasore (director of Banana Island Ghost). In this edition, Nyancho NwaNri was the only young speaker on the podium. I’d love to attend a next edition where Laide Agunbiade and BB Sasore give a talk or two on the role Visual Effects can play in moving Nollywood forward. An edition where archival films on special effects during the days of Hubert Ogunde and co is screened alongside Kola Olarewaju of Komotion Studios’ Dawn of Thunder, and excerpts of Banana Island Ghost. Would this interest and pull more young people to the iREP Xchange? Yes, it would.

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