iREP 2016… Canvasing new consciousness for documentary filmmaking

A training session at iREP Documentary Film Festival 2016

A training session at iREP Documentary Film Festival 2016

For four days, filmmakers and film enthusiast from all parts of the world converged on Freedom Park, Lagos, for the 2016 edition of iREP International Documentary Film Festival. In its sixth edition, this year’s iREP festival which attracted notable personalities in the film world, including key speaker Jane Mote, Prof. Manthia Diawara, Prof. Niyi Coker, Andy Jones, Peter Heller, Prof. Awam Amkpa, Tam Fiofori, Paul Reith, Julian Riech, Steven Markovitz, Barbel Mauch, Viola Shafik and Barbara Off.

Key partners of the festival included Freedom Park, Goethe Institute, the Africa World Documentary Film Festival, Afrinolly Space, British Council, Multichoice, Africa Magic, German films, AGdok, Dok.Fest, AV EDGE and the Ford Foundation.

Director and co-founder of the festival, Mr. Femi Odugbemi said the festival was held on the same framework that has energised the conversation since inception – ‘Africa in self-conversation.’ But remarkably, this year, perhaps in line with the global call for change in every ramification, the conversation that ran throughout the festival – with two days’ training programme on documentary filmmaking and funding – centered on connecting the emerging but yet vibrant cinema and creative industries to the realities of the immediate communities.

Held within the broad theme of – #CHANGE: Documentary as Agent provocateur – much of the conversations and even the themes that dominated the selection of over 50 documentary films dwelt on the impact of filmmaking and how filmmakers can use the power and promise of documentary films to facilitate history other than just engage in merely archiving history.

Indeed for Odugbemi, there was no better time to use documentaries to effect change in Africa than a period when Africa is in dire need of a cinema that does more than entertain. As he put it, “We need cinema that deepens democracy, strengthens governance structures, advocates responsibility, elevates accountability, fights diseases poverty and illiteracy”.

Importantly, Odugbemi stressed the need for documentary filmmakers to take the African storytelling experience to a new level of reckoning and celebration because like he noted, “The post-colonial issues of identity and inequitable sharing of economic resources have created constant tensions and armed conflicts in many of Africa’s nations, with devastating impact on politics, governance and development. The landscape in countries where bitter civil war and armed struggle raged for decades is littered with experiences needing articulation especially as regards its impact on young people. In countries like Nigeria the absence of armed conflict has not always meant peace, given the violence and corruption of our politics and its adverse effects development.

“And because Africans yearn for a democracy that translates to development, improvements in their quality of lives, better education, better healthcare, better economy, constitutional guarantees of their liberty and freedom in their pursuit of purpose and prosperity”.

Odugbemi canvassed the engendering of a new consciousness that reframes documentary’s image as a tool for the documentation of personal experiences and an important platform for deepening democracy, development and empowering human rights.

Also, he maintained, “The dimensions of documentary as a tool for deepening experiences and mediating history makes it a powerful tool to unpack what we need to grow our nascent democracies”.

He also called for a situation where filmmakers must begin to “craft intervention strategies that forge audience engagement and exposure of the audience to various genres of documentaries that explore experiences and subjects that align and respects the hopes, aspirations, history and cultures of the people of Africa”.

MOST of the positions and issues Odugbemi raised in his opening address at the festival were reiterated by the keynote speaker Jane Mote, a TV and media consultant for various companies including the BBC. Mote who delivered a paper on theme of iREP 2016 canvassed a need for intervention that would create a robust awareness for the power of the documentary film as an important tool for change. Particularly, Mote admonished documentary filmmakers to document the world honestly and to engage their subject matter in a manner that it would get the audience nearer to the truth.

In her words, “We have a responsibility to document the world honestly and to ask the questions that get us nearer to the truth. I passionately believe everyone should own their own stories. They are who we are. And they can change the world. Stories are as central to our lives as eating and sharing food. They are part of what defines us and our cultures. They are nourishment for the human spirit. It’s not what Nigeria is about. It is not what any country outside of the U.S. wants to be known for. Documentary storytelling needs to stand out from the crowd and mean more than imported and formatted TV”.

Mote pointed to a number of documentaries that have changed situations. She also hinted on how she has, working with the Ugandan filmmaker Carol Kamya, has been training young filmmakers, a move that was borne out of the unrelenting practice by Western filmmakers to degrade Africa for their own selfish interests through documentary films. However, Mote cautioned against wrong use of the documentary medium because of its ability to create false stories that would shape the views of generations when wrongly used.

The other days of the festival were devoted to the screening of over 50 films from all parts of the world including Makoko: Young Future Afloat, a 30-minutes film by Femi Odugbemi and Constanze Fischbeck and Daniel Kotter Making of History among other critically acclaimed documentaries. There were other conversations like the one on documentary funding hosted by notable producer Steven Markovitz, networking sessions, roundtable meetings among documentary filmmakers and several panel discussions including a panel on film criticism which was facilitated by the Goethe Institut in partnership with the Lagos Film Society. The panel was peopled by film journalists and critics like Steve Ayorinde, Terh Agbedeh and Wilfred Okochie and was moderated by Derin Ajao.

The other highlight of the iREP Festival 2016 was the stampede facilitated by the Committee for Relevant Arts (CORA) and it held as an extension of the Arterial Network day celebration in Nigeria, organised by CORA/Arterial Nigeria. This diet of the CORA arts stampede always held as part of the festival from inception. The focus this year was on Documentary & Creative Freedom.

However, the collaboration with IREP as Toyin Akinoso, Secretary General of CORA clarified a manifestation of CORA’s decision to dedicate a conversation, every year, to the moving images. CORA has hosted similar conversations at the now rested BOBTV market and festival in Abuja. Akinoso explained that CORA chose the theme ‘Documentary and Creative Freedom’ because “without, at least, a perception of freedom our whole notion of flowering of the artistic enterprise, of a wild field of activity, will be restricted”.

But at the stampede, which held on the last day of the festival, had discussions on other issues like rights and distribution, particularly the options opened to filmmakers for distributing the content. There was also the unveiling of the Foundation for the Promotion of Documentary Film in Africa (FPDFA), which is expected to oversee the expansion of the iREP vision through a 7-point agenda that includes an academy and iREP TV.

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