Guest blogger Bart Weiss is director of the Video Association of Dallas and VideoFest. He will be blogging from his trip to Nigeria as part of the American Documentary Showcase. You can read his previous post here.
Today we spent the day in a master class with a great group of filmmakers from Lagos. Almost all of them make Nollywood films.
We had lots of actors , writers , directors, cinematographers and producers. We also had more women that any stop along the way. We started by showing Welcome to Shelbyville and had a great discussion. We were able to get into issues the film deals with, talked about how it was created and how the Nigerian filmmakers could create something like that here. They asked about funding, to which I tell them to take the Nike approach: Just do it.
I asked how many people had cameras, and enough hands went up to get the point: they could do it. But we were careful to point out that it might be riskier to produce powerful documentaries in Nigeria. One filmmaker told me he was jailed three times after making a film.
The next film we showed was No Subtitles Necessary (which by the way will be shown at VideoFest, Sept. 23-26). While it was going on, we were taken to the Center for Black and African Arts and civilization – where everyone had really colorful clothes (above).
They showed us a film about African culture that was clearly produced on 16 mm film. It was a vibrant film about the World Black and African Festival of Arts and Culture (FESTAC ’77).
While I enjoyed the film, I feared the current physical state of the film was fading. Then I looked around the room and saw stacks and stacks of 3/4 inch video tape that was getting old. Later, the organizers took us to a room with 1 inch video tapes (even older). It was great that they had all of this tape, but sad that this important archive was fading and flaking away. We talked about how to get a grant to transfer this collection so it would not be lost.
Then it was back to our class, where we had some more lively discussion. We got students to pick a leader and pledge to get together again. We also said we would create a list of documentaries we think they should see. The embassy folks said that they might purchase them and make the room available for screenings. It was important for us to help them build a community, because that is how movements happen, and we are expecting a documentary movement to show up in Nigeria.
We then had the obligatory giving of the certificates ceremony, and I had to get on the road to start the long journey home so I could be here for The Program screening this past Saturday night. The flight was a 10:45, but we had to leave at 5, which I thought that was a bit extreme. But they close the counter two hours before the plane leaves, and with Lagos traffic you cannot take any chances.
About 16 hours later I was back in the heat of North Texas.
Tired and exhausted, I really feel we did a great job of bringing a new vision to these three different communities, Kano (conservative Muslim in the north) Abuja (a bit more progressive in the middle) and Lagos (the major metropolis and center of the film world in Nigeria). The world changes when we can see the stories of a place we have not seen and have real empathy for their issues. When these films get made, our eyes and hearts will be opened.