By Odimegwu Onwumere
Film, as the word implies, is defined as a thin sheet or strip of flexible material, such as a cellulose derivative or a thermoplastic resin, coated with a photosensitive emulsion and used to make photographic negatives or transparencies. In an online report, rom the Old English filmen in the Indo-European roots, it is believed among them that one indication of the gulf between them and their Victorian predecessors is that the Oxford English Dictionary fascicle containing the word film, published in 1896, does not have the sense “a motion picture.” The one hint of the future to be found among still familiar older senses of the word, such as “a thin skin or membranous coating” or “an abnormal thin coating on the cornea,” is the sense of film used in photography, a sense referring to a coating of material, such as gelatin, that could substitute for a photographic plate or be used on a plate or on photographic paper. Thus a word that has been with them since Old English times took on this new use, first recorded in 1845, which has since developed and now refers to an art form, a sense first recorded in 1920. Thereafter, often used in the plural, movies became a sequence of photographs projected onto a screen with sufficient rapidity as to create the illusion of motion and continuity.
(Sam Dede; Nigerian Actor)
However, on the theme of Film as a Tool for Socio-cultural Integration and Tourism Promotion, it is imperative to say that Africans, precisely the present day people called Nigerians, didn’t know what film was till when in 1903 the first film was shown at Glover Hall, Lagos; and thereafter in 1904, the first film titled Palaver was shot in Jos, in the present day Plateau State. Before these events took place, Nigerians were enmeshed in folklores, according to the myths of their different ethnic groups before they were amalgamated in 1914, by Sir Lord Luggard. Aftermath of Palaver, film-showing and cinema-going was politicized by the British and American exploiters. Through their makeshift cinema vehicles, they inculcated the much sorted socio-cultural integration and tourism promotion. This polarization of film-showing and film-going was sustained through a platform called Colonial Film Unit.
In the recent times, Nigerian films have been produced since the 1960s. It is on record that the rise of affordable digital filming and editing technologies has stimulated the country’s video film industry. Later in the 1990s, the movie industry in Nigeria tremendously progressed. Today, Nigeria has the second largest film industry in the world, and rated largest in the Africa’s movie industry – in terms of the value of the movie industry and the number of annual film production. In this regard, film in Nigeria has brought dividends of eco-political empowerment, socio-cultural integration and tourism promotion. Nigeria’s annual film production is ahead of the United States but behind the Indian film industries. This was why Hala Gorani and Jeff Koinange, who were formerly of the Cable News Network (CNN) said, Nigeria has a US$250 million movie industry, churning out some 200 videos for the home video, market monthly.
In his Keynote Address at the 2nd National Film Festival, 27th November, 2003, titled, In Defence of the Films We Have Made, Odia Ofeimun, a radical Nigerian poet/author, said that film does represent a deep psychological implant pressed into place by so many untold and even unspeakable events in our history. It looks like an underdeveloped prong of the collective mind of a whole nation. But it is actually the result of a deliberate scrambling of categories and genre for the sake of effect in a society where the truth of history is still being told unnecessarily in whispers. Arguably, in western scholarship, such a fare of screen narratives would be appreciated as a special category. In literature, critics of African literature have moved from talking about magical realism, as Latin Americans pursue it, to what our South African-based critic, Harry Garuba, has called animist realism.
In the said 1960s, the Nigerian films were dominated by the people from Yoruba ethnic group, thereby giving the people of that region an edge to showcase their culture. And they were manned by Hubert Ogunde, Duro Ladipo, Kola Ogunmola, Moses Olaiya (Baba Sala), Ola Balogun and others, whom Ofeimun, described as, tough-minded denizens of folk drama. These indigenous Nigerian film pioneers were frustrated by high cost of film production, but they were never discouraged owing to the cultural ties and tourism they were integrating Nigerians through their films. It was as a result of the unrelenting spirit of these film-dudes that television broadcasting in Nigeria, which began in 1960s, received much government support in its early years; and every state had its own broadcasting station by the mid-1980s. It was the efforts of these Nigerian film-dudes that the government law moderated foreign television content to enable the Nigerian film producers showcase their products. As a result, producers in Lagos began televising local popular theater productions, which are not far from the films of the persons mentioned above for Nigeria’s socio-cultural integration and tourism promotion. Many of that were circulated on video as well, and a small scale informal video movie trade developed.
In promoting our culture, it is a known truth, said Ofeimun, that rather than wait on the imports from Hollywood which speak to our common humanity by denying or simply being indifferent to whatever we could call our own, the home-video woke up something that was once there but had been stamped underfoot by managers of the national and sub-regional cultural economy. Not to forget, this was happening when swindlers in the political marketplace were emplacing homegrown democracy with one hand and displacing it with the other. The video arrived in the most homegrown attire that it could weave for itself in a country where the search for foreign exchange had become the defining factor in national dream-making. It turned its back on the dollar trail and reached out for the Naira without hesitation.
Rather than the dollar-mania that had overtaken all comers, it sought an import-substitution aesthetic which insisted on building a comparative advantage not as a subaltern of the imported Hollywood stuff but its avid displacer. Whereas in every other area of economic activity, imports have killed the local industry, the home-video industry is one area in which the avalanches of CDs and DVDs that have come as bounties from off-shore bootlegging confederations have merely widened the room for the video marketers to dance.
The emergence of film in Nigeria has integrated Nigerian authors to lengthen the showcasing of their arts through films, as a result, widening the scope of that genre’s culture which was previously read by those who cared.
Film is widening the cultural relationship and tourism promotion between Nigeria and other countries since the staging of the first National Film Festival in 1993. The festival broke the disparity in the West African coast, relationship with the member states, which were only glued by the awkward smuggling of goods. Film breached the debasement the international creditors meted out on us, in the words of Ofeimun, as those who lapped up what others produced while abandoning their own. Film in Nigeria broke the pariah on cross border trade which was centred on feeding the stomach and brought about the exploration and exploitation of indigenous artistic talents. This broken jinx ended the years of centralised knowledge or awareness: those who could not read books can now watch films, thereby making the culture of Nigerians go round, as against the years when it was few Nigerians that could tell which highlife musicians, authors, or fine artists were doing what within the West coast.
Many academics and intellectuals, especially Onokome Okome, Jonathan Haynes, Hyginus Ekwuazi, Wole Ogundele, Obodinma Oha, Brian Larkin and Dul Johnson, made it their business to monitor and censor film, which’s seen by them as art, business and social ideology – with elements of culture and tourism in any defined society. It is only film that can tell story in a way that no other medium can do. Film has integrated the Onitsha Market Literature and widened the culture of only buying and selling, for the inculcation of socio-culture awareness. Likewise, the same is applicable in the Kano Market Literature.
His film, Amadi, Ola Balogun had to show the cultural affinity that a people can relate with people from other ethnic group by producing a movie in such a people’s language. It is on record that Amadi is clearly an experimental film: an Igbo film made by a Yoruba. Films such as Cinaventures’ Bisi – Daughter of the River, Ladi Ladebo’s pairing with African American Ossie Davis and in Countdown at Kusini and his later productions, Taboo and Vendor, lack in the true and original tale of communality of Africans, thereby making us to grasp the visual results and not in authenticating its Africanness and our culture. Films like Dinner with the Devil by Sanya Dosunmu and Wole Amele and Eddie Ugbomah production, and The Great Attempt which were banned by the film censors, perhaps met their waterloos, because they breached the culture of Nigeria.
Hubert Ogunde’s film, Aiye, was termed the modal film of witchcraft, showcasing the Yoruba tradition and their cosmic cultural endowment, which Ofeimun calls, cultural economics. Amaka Igwe, Olu Jacobs and Joke Silva, Zack Orji, Tunde Kelani, Galadima, Liz Benson, Kenneth Nnebue, Peter Edochie, Sam Loco Efe, Zeb and Chico Ejiro, Mofe Damijo, Yinka Quadri, Genevieve Nnaji, Jide Kosoko, Omotola Ekehinde, Zack and Fred Amata, became directors, producers, actors and actresses coming from different cultural divides. In the words of Ofeimun, they are new denizens on the block. Their emergence brought about the Nollywood, as it is known today, widening our culture and promoting tourism.
Nollywood was set by the release of Living in Bondage critics called the box-office movie in 1992 by NEK Video Links owned by Kenneth Nnebue in the eastern city of Onitsha. The Promotion of tourism in the story goes that Kenneth Nnebue had an excess number of imported video cassettes which he then used to shoot the first film. The huge success of that film set the pace for others to produce other films or home videos. It is a known fact that through the business instincts and ethnic links of the Igbo and their dominance of distribution in major cities across Nigeria, home videos began to reach people across the country. Nollywood exploded into a booming industry that pushed foreign media off the shelves. Against the early Yoruba filmmakers who used local languages, the use of English rather than local languages served to expand the market and fierce marketing using posters, trailers, and television advertising also played a role in Nollywood’s success, bringing back the British and Americans Colonial Film Unit, when films were shown in mobile vans.
However, in Europe, in its Cross Border Cooperation: Neighbourhood Programmes under Technical Aid to the Commonwealth of Independent States (TACIS) programme, the European Union launched its “Wider Europe – New Neighbourhood” initiative in 2003. The creation of Neighbourhood Programmes, covering the period 2004-2006, became the first step in implementation of the new instrument. The Neighbourhood Programmes as a bi/trilateral programmes and regional/multilateral cooperation programmes, involved both sides of the European Union’s external borders. They supported local and regional authorities and organisations inside and outside the Union to work together to improve the economic and social conditions of the areas concerned, to address common challenges, ensuring efficient and secure borders as well as promoting people-to-people contacts. The initiative seek to address the challenges posed by proximity and neighbourhood, aimed at working with neighbouring countries towards improving conditions for the free movement of goods, services, capital and persons as well as developing a zone of prosperity and friendly neighbourhood.
“Paving the Way for a New Neighbourhood Instrument”, the Commission adopted the Communication as part of its new policy, which envisaged the creation of a new instrument for dealing with the common challenges arising from proximity related issues on external borders of the enlarged EU. Among the many examples of projects that were carried out by the initiative, a successful project for national and international heritage reservation was the one entitled, Arctic Archives and Films under Restoration in Barents Region (AARE). The project aimed at increasing the know-how of the Russian partners (from Murmansk and Arkhangelsk) in restoring, digitising and archiving of the unique audiovisual materials – arctic documentary films, as well as to facilitate their public access.
Film as a Tool for Socio-cultural Integration and Tourism Promotion, however, has brought much good to humankind. Film has brought quantitative studies increasingly dominating analyses of conflict, issues of data validity which have many a times received tremendous consideration. Our local cultures are in sojourn all over the world through film. In the interaction of cultures, globalisation is also setting the pace.
With the approach that local cultures are overwhelmed, it is on record that there is sufficient evidence, in accord with a comment that ‘dynamic cultures will overcome conservative cultures’. In another vein, reports explicate that attempts by Nigerian video films to mainstream along the lines of global commercial culture could explain their superficial commitment to culture… since the elements of local cultures are daily refined by influences which dictate the mainstreaming of values to fit global prescriptions. That, itself, brings into question the optimism of a former Secretary-General of the United Nations who, in reference to nationhood and cultural projection, stated (De Cuellar, 1995: 7): “Nationhood… has led each people to challenge the frame of reference in which the West’s system of values alone generated rules assumed to be universal and to demand the right to forge different versions of modernization.” A different view is the interpretation that ‘forging different versions of modernization’ means projecting a version of local culture which suits the demands of global popular culture.
Gelete: Irin Ajo Eda Laye, says the report, which chronicles facets of a man’s journey through life and was produced by a former television personality – Jaiye Ojo, is another. The film is said to be a collage of the lives of different people from different backgrounds: intrigues, desperation, greed, misfortune, betrayal, and leaves lessons… it portrays Yoruba culture in its richness, leaving out the kind of abusive and rotten language used in some other films, ostensibly to raise their popular appeal.
The world cup and other world’s grand finales are today extolled by their fans through film. The case of the world cup in South Africa is an immense case study. People, who could not be there live, were united as fans by the televised world cup films in what many call Film Centres for Football. In the Film Centres for Football, a Christian could shake hand with a Muslim, irrespective of their religious background, and an American can sit with an Iraqi and watch football film, irrespective of their countries wrangling, and so on.
Nigerians can’t thank the Nigerian Film Corporation, set up in 1979, and the Nigerian Film Distribution Company enough, for playing very great-secondary roles in their affirmative consequence towards emancipating our film. Posterity will always remember foundation and pioneering work of Nigerian filmmakers like Sanya Dosunmu, Jab Adu, Ola Balogun and Eddie Ugbomah; Ade Foloyan, Moses Adejumo Olaiya, Herbert Ogunde and Bankole Bello. As part of its cultural preservation programmes, in 2009, UNESCO called for greater support for Nollywood, which it said, is the second-largest employer in Nigeria.
About the Author:
Odimegwu Onwumere, Poet/Author, is a Poets for Human Rights member, USA., co-founded by Poet Laureate Larry Jaffe, the author of One Child Sold; and a Champions For Nigeria Resident Poet, United Kingdom . Onwumere is a voracious reader, prolific writer, researcher, poet, thinker, social critic, political analyst, an activist, etc. He has published four books namely: Piquant: Love Poems To Prince Tonye Princewill (2008), The many wrong doings of Madam do-good (2009), Through the Crucible (2012) and The Disgrace of Marriage (2012). Tel: +2348032552855.