Yinka Olatunbosun

“Maybe part of the things we should also be looking at is the place of the documentary film in the change era. We should look at the way this platform would, not just to showcase documentaries, but to also consider marketing them.”
Those were the words of the Lagos State Commissioner for Information, Steve Ayorinde on the theme, “Documentary Films as Agent Provocateur” at the opening gala for the 2016 iREP-Documentary Film Festival inside Freedom Park, Lagos. It was an eventful four-day event which marked the sixth year of the cultural gathering of film makers, film students and reviewers.

Wine glasses clinked as the surround bar system was loaded with bottles and ice. Easy flowing vibes emanated from the stage where Aduke was the lead singer. Then came Femi Odugbemi, the convener of the festival who doesn’t work alone. His cronies, Makin Soyinka and Jahman Anikulapo were also on board as the festival began with a storm, yes, literally. Everyone had to take cover as Anikulapo urged all in attendance to re-converge on the Kongi’s Harvest Gallery, just about five minutes’ walk from the amphitheatre. Volunteers scampered to rescue the projector from the slight showers as the windy air saluted the screen.

Inside the warm building sat the Commissioner and his colleagues in the media. Of course, THISDAY’s Eniola Bello’s preferred seat was near the screen while this reporter’s was near the wall sockets and windows which revealed heavy flowing water from the downpour. The next day, this reporter, on the invitation of the festival’s organisers, sought the venue of the workshop for filmmakers, namely Afronolly Space, Oregun. The training is restricted and just about 20 persons were selected. The number dwindled by the second day of the training.

One of the instructors, Andy Jones, an independent creative professional, freelance journalist and writer, always had a knack for setting trainees on a task ahead of the tutorial. If you are fortunate, you’d get commendation and constant reference to your first name. On the flipside, your work will be laid on the table of scrutiny by other trainees who, in spite of themselves, often have the eyes for spotting the errors of others. Anyway, the training essentially focused on crowd-funding. The dearth of the knowledge and expertise in crowd-funding has been a major setback in the film industry in Nigeria. Movie-producers are usually content-controllers, if not puppeteers, mandating directors to do their bidding. Crowd-funding is here to put a stop to the era of “he who pays the piper calls the tune”. More importantly, documentary filmmaking is saddled with the mandate for truth, credibility and factual representation of real life situations and that must be protected.

Just as the state commissioner had advised, the training helped in facilitating new marketing strategies for recouping the money invested in the making of the film. Trainees were educated on certain rights especially in the area of distribution to ensure that there is reward for all those contributed financially to the making of a movie. It was emphasised by the second instructor, Paul Rieth, a filmmaker and a marketing consultant, that crowd-funding is about building trust with the public.

Jones was the last instructor at the training and he made the most of it. As usual, he gave tasks to all participants on the art of pitching. It was a role-playing situation where he assumed the role of an investor in a film project. Naturally, he had his expectations which he had highlighted before the exercise commenced. For the first three presentations, he pointed out the need for trainees to know the relevant experts that they desire to work with. He said brevity can also be a virtue when pitching to an investor. Still, the pitch, according to him, has to be convincing and detailed in terms of film genre, length, project duration, marketing strategy, budget, title, albeit not in that order. That way, a movie may become bankable.

The festival, which had the support of Africa Magic, also featured panel discussion sessions at Freedom Park as well as the screenings of masterpieces from film makers from different parts of the world. It ended with the art stampede last Sunday with focus on documentary and creative freedom.

There is no gainsaying that documentary films deal with reality and presentation of facts. “This could be antithetical to expectation and interest of the state or holders of political or economic powers. It could also create tension between the filmmaker and such officials; in some cases it could lead to cases of harassment, persecution or sometimes outright imprisonment as we have witnessed on recent times,” stated the organisers.

It is against this backdrop that stakeholders met to discuss the issue of rights and distribution, in the context of the theme of the iREP 2016. The issues raised include the documentary filmmaker’s economic rights and the available options for distributing the content.