A Scream, Gunshot, Running Feet…

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Vanessa Obioha

This is the opening sequence of the highly lauded military thriller, ‘76.
In recent times, Nollywood has made remarkable recourse to Nigerian history. There was Biyi Bandele’s ‘Half of a Yellow Sun’, an adaptation of Chimamanda Adichie’s novel of the same title which is set against the background of the Nigerian Civil War; Kunle Afolayan’s ‘October 1’ and its Independence Day trappings; and Lancelot Imaseun’s ‘Invasion 1897’, a long heralded chronicle of events leading to the fall of Oba Ovonramwen of the ancient Benin kingdom. These movies have done incredibly well by focusing historical events that have long been dismissed from the classrooms.

Through the medium of motion picture, these events are relived and re-established in our memory. Despite their little shortcomings, credence must be given to the storytellers for their bravery.

Now ‘76
Izu Ojukwu’s military thriller is one-of-a-kind movie. Early 2016, the producers, director and members of the cast teased selected members of the press with few clips of the movie at Four Points by Sheraton Hotel, Victoria Island, Lagos. The reception was impressive despite the short teaser. An air of anticipation filled the room instantly after the reel ended. Online buzz and the movie trailer added to the frenzied atmosphere. The expectation was that the movie would be released within two or three months. That was not to be.

Apparently, the producers and director were in no hurry to show to the public a half-baked movie in their own estimation, despite spending seven years in production. With producers like Tonye Princewill, Adonijah Owiriwa and a director like Izu Ojukwu, imperfection would not be tolerated. Their goal was to make a movie that would be technically and aesthetically convincing. Gathering a cast that included Ramsey Nouah, Rita Dominic, Chidi Mokeme, Ibinabo Fiberesima, Pat Nebo, Daniel K Daniel, and Zimbabwean, Memry Savanhu, they spent three months at the Mokola Barracks in Ibadan, Oyo State where they got first-hand training on military mannerism. With this, 76 scored a first, in terms of securing unwavering support from the Nigerian military. From the costume to the setting, ‘76 highlights the invaluable work of these gentlemen.

What followed next were visits to international film festivals in Toronto and London where the work was adorned with garlands. Feedback from these festivals led to sessions of rigorous editing before its release in Nigeria last November.

Set against the backdrop of the historical failed Dimka’s coup that led to the assassination of the former Nigeria military leader, Murtala Mohammed, the storyline revolves round a young army officer, Captain Joseph Dewa. Dewa (Ramsey Nouah) who had barely returned to his pregnant wife Suzie (Rita Dominic) in the barracks from a covert mission found himself ambushed by his friend, Major Gomos (Chidi Mokeme) into another covert mission. This time around, it involved the assassination of the military leader. Art director, Pat Nebo who played Colonel Aliu is the architect of the coup. Between smoking cigarettes furiously and issuing codes in a dark dingy room, he recruited his underdogs who were to carry out the mission. It was in this room that Dewa was brought and threatened to submit his identity card as a proof of allegiance to the plan.

Ramsey Nouah was lovable, adorable and superbly dynamic in his portrayal of Captain Dewa. He dazzles the audience with his unique ability to switch from a romantic husband and father-to-be to a smart and disciplined soldier on the run. His well-paced purposeful strides, intelligent glances, alertness and quick-witted remarks, gave his character an undeniable credibility.

As a husband, he doted on his pregnant wife, Suzie who is robbed of sleep by their neighbour, his superior, Lieutenant Jubril (Shuaibu Ebenesi Adams) and his spoilt uppity wife Eunice (Memry Savanhu). With her afro hairdo, mini dress and her heeled shoes, Eunice made it a habit to play her music loud to the annoyance of Dewa and his wife. She knew the Dewas could do nothing about it because of her husband’s rank in the army.
But that was not the only issue Dewa was confronted with in his marriage. His in-laws dislike him. His wife was worried about his family since he had not introduced her to any member of his family.

At work, he tried to play the hero who will upend the evil plots of his superior only to find himself as a major target of his enemies. Ramsey displayed the action part of him he never knew existed. Perhaps, he will be the next Agent 007 (James Bond) should Hollywood need a Nigerian to play the part.

For her role, Rita Dominic was peerless. To fully interpret her role, she added extra weight and had that amazing glow peculiar to a pregnant wife. Her love for her husband was clearly seen in her recalcitrance despite her family’s objection. Their love would finally be put to test when Dewa is wrongly accused and arrested for complicity in the coup. His fate depended on his wife who had to produce his identity card as evidence of his innocence.

Beyond its military setting, ‘76 explores social and cultural themes. Ojukwu known for his dexterity left no stone unturned as he brings to life the flamboyant lifestyle of the 70s. From the vintage cars used, the costumes (the afro wig, mini dresses, footwears, cutlery) cultural display to music, the film relives the past in a creative way. It is a nostalgic voyage to the past that evokes powerful emotions. From love, greed, betrayal, ‘76 is a film that the Nigerian audience will be proud of.
The film’s beauty lies in its visuals. Shot on film, it creates an imagery that is so live and true. The use of live footages from the crime scene and execution of the coup plotters further enhanced the quality of the production.

By all standards,’76 awakens hope in Nollywood. Ojukwu is no doubt a meticulous director who knows what he wants and how to get it. But more importantly, he controls the story. He owns it and tells it his way. Of course, with input from his peerless cast. He resisted the temptation of focusing on the gory events of the coup, rather he plotted a beautiful story of love and history. The true beauty of ‘76 is Ojukwu’s ability to beautifully construct a story and tastefully execute it. This does not mean that the film does not have any flaw. Of course, its choice of casting Ibinabo Fiberesima as Angela (Dewa’s sister) was bad. She laboriously tried to evoke emotions from her audience. However, her poor acting does not stop the film from being thoroughly enjoyable.

It will be unfair to label ‘76 as just a military thriller. It is by far more than that. To capture it succinctly, the head of Silverbird Group and member of the Red House in the National Assembly, Senator Ben Murray-Bruce calls it a history class, with all the embellishments of a compelling love story.
Interestingly, the movie dominated the 2017 nomination list of the Africa Magic Viewers Choice Awards (AMVCA). It also had the distinction of being the closing film and scooping awards at the 2016 Africa International Film Festival (AFRIFF). Definitely, ‘76 does not need fawning. It is a film not suitable for shallow-minds but those who appreciate the beauty of art and history.