The monthly iREP/Goethe film screening took place on February 25 with many film enthusiasts in attendance.

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Organised by iREP and Goethe Institut, the monthly film event was a prelude to this year’s edition of iREP’s annual documentary festival. The three films screened at the Nigerian Film Corporation venue echoed the festival’s proposed theme of ‘Democracy and Culture.’ Makin Soyinka of iREP kicked off the programme by introducing two short documentaries from ChopCassava.com, an online initiative of TV host Funmi Iyanda and her business partner Chris Dada. The films recorded the Occupy Nigeria protests that followed the Federal Government’s January 1 announcement of fuel subsidy removal and followed the protesters’ assembly through Yaba to Ojota and Falomo.

Making the films were no easy task for Iyanda. But the need to avidly record the protests for posterity’s sake was enough justification for the life-endangering mission. It also showed the angst and height of emotions felt by the masses following what was widely seen as a wrong move at a wrong time by the state authorities. The films would later raise questions over whether or not it was fine for Labour to call off the strike and urge an end to the protests at the time it did. Whatever the consequences, the protests, for Iyanda, heralded the Nigerian Revolution.

The day’s top bill was Adrian Loveland’s Unhinged: Surviving Jo’Burg, a documentary on South Africa’s most popular cities. Adorning different tags from Jozi to JB, Johannesburg is a city both loved and feared. The 52-minute film showed this much in equal measure. Taking a humorous approach to his narrative, the documentary is half-filmed from Loveland’s car. Accompanying each scene with additional information, his commentary aids the action to life. He reminds us of Jozi’s earliest days of tent-dwelling gold prospectors to the point where urbanisation and development make the much-loved city what it is today, edging out Lagos and Accra on the favourite destinations’ list.

Johannesburg is not without its fair share of violence though as images of placard- (or weapons) bearing rioters constantly come up on screen while security personnel try to curb the uprisings. Loveland’s Unhinged does not forget to mention the xenophobic attacks aimed at Nigerians, but somehow hardly refers to Jozi’s apartheid days. In reference to the violence, Loveland reveals that many native Jo’burgers detest Nigerians who are jobless or involved in illegal dealings. They detest them even more if the Nigerians are comfortable and making an honest living. Oddly enough, despite numerous conversations with Nigerians in South Africa, in his throwback to reggae icon Lucky Dube’s daylight murder, the director says nothing of the confession by Dube’s killers that they attacked him because they “thought he was a Nigerian.”

The choice of films at this month’s screening allowed a juxtaposition of life in post-apartheid South Africa and contemporary Nigeria. Considering the former’s level of development, it is hard to believe that Nigeria had been independent for nearly four decades at the time South Africa achieved an end to white, segregate rule, or that Nigeria contributed hugely towards the country’s eventual freedom.

Back to Unhinged. Helping Loveland’s narration in its course is a series of ‘talking heads.’ Each respondent speaks on their experiences living and working in Johannesburg – for good and bad. So far, so good, it is easy to survive in this city despite the violence and craziness. (The director does not help hesitant converts as he shows a sequence of road accidents resulting from blatant disregard for road safety laws.) However, if you abhor the city’s human life, Loveland offers you the choice of Jozi’s wild life. Giraffes, monkeys, hyenas, lions amongst other exotic animals provide an escape from the city’s human complications. Some guidelines provided at the end of the film give tips on surviving the city and Johannesburg comes across as a city for everyone. Having never visited Jozi, does this film make me want to go there? I do not think so. Nevertheless, Loveland’s portrait of the South African city is direct, funny and largely balanced. In fifty-two minutes, its homage to the city is memorably brilliant.

At the end of the film screening, a discussion followed, with many dissenting views about the director’s narrative and overall style. These evoked comments from the buzzing audience, which included filmmaker and photographer Tam Fiofori, producer and IREP director Femi Odugbemi, writer and Jazz enthusiast Ayo Shadare, Goethe Institut director Marc-Andre Schmachtel, visual artist Mudi Yahaya and Toyin Akinosho of the Committee For Relevant Art. There was however, a general clamour for such documentaries to be made about Nigerian cities like Lagos and that similar films, which had already been made, needed to be better publicised. This led to the issue of funding and distributing documentaries plus the matter of the genre’s marketability and empowering more people on the need to embrace documentary production.

This was a good introduction to the second iREP Festival, which provides a platform for discussion, training, networking and daily film screenings. According to Toyin Fajj, also of iREP, a workshop during the festival will focus on directing and producing skills for aspiring filmmakers. The next screening coincides with the forum’s International Documentary Film Festival, which holds from March 22 to March 26, 2012. Billed to deliver the Key Note Lecture is Professor Jean Paul Colleyn, Director at the Paris-based Centre for African Studies. Tagged ‘Democracy and Culture: The Documentary Film Intervention,’ the event takes place in Lagos at Terra Kulture and Freedom Park.

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