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iREP Film Festival 2024 Dispatch: Righting the Future Through Documentary

iREP Film Festival 2024 Dispatch: Righting the Future Through Documentary

Righting the Future - iREP International Documentary Film Festival - Dispatch - Afrocritik

Tagged “Righting the Future: Wole Soyinka at 90”,  the iREP International Documentary Film Festival was dedicated to the Nigerian Nobel laureate, Wole Soyinka, ahead of his birthday in July.

By Seyi Lasisi 

Founded in 2010 by the quartet Femi Odugbemi, Theo Lawson,  Japan Anikulapo, and Makin Soyinka, the annually curated iREP International Documentary Film Festival with a penchant for documentary films is usually held at Freedom Park in Lagos, Nigeria. The festival has not only been an avenue for exhibition or possibly distribution for documentary filmmakers, it’s also become a public gathering for engaging political, cultural, and socio-economic conversations that the documentaries traverse. 

Over the fourteen years of its existence, the festival has graciously accommodated change and growth — an indication of its co-founders’ interest in expansion and experimentation. As an obsessed cinephile who ritually attends the festival, the significant change the festival initiated this year was its community screening of documentaries about four underserved communities in Lagos: Ajegunle,  Ikorodu, Bariga, and Ejigbo. With a limited understanding of Lagos’ geographical landscape,  these four communities represent part of the working class and economically thriving areas in the state. Despite its supposed affinity for violence, the communities have a uniqueness: It has a teeming population of impressionable youths. And being that most of the selected and screened documentaries at the film festival are reflective of the situation in these communities,  it only made sense that they are screened there. Thus, away from the well-protected Freedom Park screening rooms and spaces, selected documentaries were taken to be screened on the street, attracting passersby — young and old, participatory and apathetic audiences.   

Righting the Future - iREP International Documentary Film Festival - Dispatch - Afrocritik

Tagged “Righting the Future: Wole Soyinka at 90”, this year’s festival, which was held from March 21st to 24th, was dedicated to the Nigerian Nobel laureate, Wole Soyinka, ahead of his birthday in July. The event featured multiple film screenings, post-screening conversations, workshops, networking sessions, and other related intellectual activities, altogether exuding dialogue between the present and the future. The mood and tone of the selected documentaries cast a retrospective glance at Nigeria’s past,  not with an interest in being furtively retrospective, but with an interest in instigating deeper connections and conversations between young people and their elders. Upon attending the four–day event, amidst mind-draining Lagos traffic, and a sleep-deprived body, but still with an active mind, I was able to screen 7, out of a large number of selected documentaries.  This piece is a miniature review of the documentaries I was able to see. 

The Loot and the Lost Kingdom: A Quest for Who We Really Are 

The Loot and the Lost Kingdom: A Quest for Who We Really Are  - iREP Documentary Film Festival - Afrocritik

Directed by Gbemi Shashore, this history–festooned documentary was the festival’s opening film. Written and produced by Olasupo Shashore,  the feature-length documentary traces various historic,  cultural, economic, and political moments in pre- and post-colonial Nigeria. Voiced by Shashore and backed by archival footage and texts, a striking point the documentary reiterated and emphasised is: Using the right vocabulary to address history. The looting and plunging of the African cultural and spiritual landscape has often been documented as an “expedition” and a “conquest”. However, with this documentary revealing in detail, the recurring, targeted, and strategic looting of African history and cultural identity in Ghana, Egypt, Benin, Dahomey, and Nigeria, one comes to categorise these supposed expeditions as acts of banditry. The stealing of these cultural and spiritual artefacts and the decade-long and excruciating labour of demanding their return to Africa are imperialist attempts at controlling the societal well-being of African states under Western dominance. 

Madu

Madu - iREP International Documentary Film Festival - Afrocritik

A few minutes into Matthew Ogens and Joel ‘Kachi Benson’s co-directed feature film, I shed a tear. The film follows the story of Anthony Madu, a promising ballet performer who went viral after a video of him dancing ballet surfaced online. The tears,  inspired by mild introspection, are in admiration of Madu’s story. From a working-class family; a religious and doting mother, a present father, and siblings and neighbours who share in his moments of joy, the documentary tracks Madu’s journey from Nigeria to his seven-year program at an elite British ballet academy. What is admirable about Madu’s parents, is that though they do not totally comprehend what their child does or that they cannot be accurate role models, they are accommodating and supportive of his dream. 

I’m Psyched 

Written,  directed, and voiced by Mariam Kuku, this is a story about the Irewe people who live in a riverine area around Ojo, Lagos. What is mostly gripping about this short documentary is its poetry-laden voice-over.  What it lacks in technicality and story depth,  it perfectly makes up for in the voice-over that carries a semblance of urgency and care.  

On Your Own

Daniel Omokhagbo Itegboje’s documentary is graphically disturbing, not because it’s ridden with images of violence or horror.  But, even without being festooned with these mind-boggling images,  the documentary is a stark representation of violence and horror. Each Nigerian community can attest to its area boys; boys who are often described as thugs and thieves.  Itegboje’s documentary doesn’t take a descriptive approach towards telling the story of these boys in Benin. It offers them an opportunity to tell their story; how they ended up on the street, and what their pains and joys are. What the documentary shows is that, though these boys are supposedly erratic, they aren’t barbarians.  They have their unique social creeds and dogmas. 

Asiwaju: Bumpy Road to Aso Rock

The screening of Niyi Babade’s documentary started on an ironic point. In On Your Own, which preceded this documentary, an elderly woman was complaining about having no access to food and the exorbitant means of survival. From a curatorial and thematic point of view, the documentary,  which tracks President Bola Ahmed Tinubu’s supposedly bumpy road to the presidency,  is out of sync with the other documentaries.  

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The Fuji Documentary 

The Fuji Documentary - iREP International Documentary Film Festival - Afrocritik

 

Professor Saheed Aderinto’s documentary about the life of Nigerian singer and songwriter, Ayinde Barrister, is one of the archived–backed and experimental documentaries in the film festival.  Tracking the biographical details of the late musician who pioneered Fuji music, the documentary provides, through interviews with experts and friends, musical albums of the singer/songwriter,  and reenacted footage, details about Ayinde Barrister. As a documentary about the life experience of a musician, the film is filled with sonic moments that influence viewers to not just sing along but rhythmically sway their bodies in obedience to the patronising drums and lyrics. The documentary shows Ayinde Barrister’s transition from a parise-driven singer to one conscious of the political situation in the country. “Military”, “The Truth”, “Prophecy” and Democracy are songs and albums that exude Ayinde Barrister’s growing interest in politics.  

Soot City

Soot City - iREP International Documentary Film Festival - Afrocritik

What do you do when your beloved city has been besieged with soot — deep black powdery or peculiar substances consisting largely of amorphous carbon? Directed by Adeolu Shogbola, this documentary about the economic and environmental situation of citizens living in the Niger Delta seeks to provide implementable solutions to the problems. Capable of causing heart attacks,  respiratory illnesses, and other severe sicknesses such as cancer, citizens living around the community where gas flaring is prominent are prone to numerous damaging health problems. A striking point made by the interviewed citizens and community heads is how apathetic the government is to salvaging their problems. 

Seyi Lasisi is a Nigerian creative with an obsessive interest in Nigerian and African films as an art form. His film criticism aspires to engage the subtle and obvious politics, sentiments, and opinions of the filmmaker to see how they align with reality. He tweets @SeyiVortex. Email: seyi.lasisi@afrocritik.com.

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