A Harvest of Firsts at LCA Film Festival

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By Vanessa Obioha

One of the primary objectives of  the Lights Camera Africa Film Festival when it was created in 2011 was to place the city of Lagos as a gateway for the development and exchange of new African and Nigerian cinema. 

Over the years, Ugoma Adegoke and her team have stayed true to that mission, screening films that cut across different genres at different locations. From Freedom Park, British Council, the Wheatbaker Hotel to the Federal Palace Hotel, the usually free entry film festival provided festivaliers an opportunity to explore the city of Lagos.

At its eighth edition which held last weekend, the festival witnessed another change in location. It left the spacious ground of the Federal Palace Hotel, Victoria Island, where it held last year  for the cinematic ambiance of the Muson Centre, Onikan. The new venue, besides being a historic landmark for music and arts, suggested that the film festival has come of age and is gradually given the necessary recognition in the film industry. 

Much of the attendees at the opening  were there to celebrate the tenacity and dogged determination of the convener of the festival. For seven years, Adegoke stayed true to her vision and mission to bring to focus the different narratives shaping the continent through films. Be it a documentary, animation, short or feature film, the festival provided a platform to discuss issues and experiences that are rooted in the African experience. 

Beyond that, LCA also hosts a variety of workshops, seminars, and talks that offer learning opportunities for filmmakers and consumers. For this edition, there were workshops facilitated by filmmaker and director Remi Vaughan-Richards, Nadia Denton and Adekunle Adebiyi.

Excited about her new stride,  Adegoke cheerfully exclaimed to the audience inside the packed Agip Recital Hall on Friday, “Yay! We are growing.”

Indeed, the festival has.  A good pointer to this is the number of sponsors who threw their weight behind the festival. Some of them have been with her over the years while new ones like the Nigerian Breweries PLC brand, Amstel Malta specifically reached out to her to be a part of her journey. 

That was a first for the convener who was used to soliciting for support from different sponsors. In its usual tradition, a curated lounge by Oparanze Collection displayed beautiful design pieces while festivaliers had a treat of assorted drinks from the bar, feasted their eyes on books and other memorabilia, networked with emerging and  famous filmmakers and was entertained by music performances from Philip Uzo and Victor Ademofe for the three days the festival held. They also had access to the Muson Centre Garden which was famous in the past as the ‘Love Garden’.

Apart from changing its venue, this year’s festival which screened 19 films from nine countries scored a few firsts. For instance, it was the first time in the history of the festival that films made by women opened and closed the festival.  

Ema Edosio’s fresh and gritty comedy drama  about life in the ghetto, ‘Kasala’ opened the festival to a deafening  applause. The film’s honest dialogue about four young boys’ pursuits of hope and dreams in the ghetto filled with unending problems aptly tackled the theme of the festival ‘Who do you think you are’.

Despite the negativity attached to their environment, the young chaps proved that they are not lazy Nigerian youths but are hardworking enough to wriggle themselves out of any problem.

In the same vein, the closing film ‘Baby Mamas’ by Stephina Zwane, threw the spotlight on single mothers, another group of people ridiculed in the society because of their peculiar circumstances.

Essentially, these films revealed that societal labels do not reveal one’s  true identity. Having these films opening and closing the festival was the convener’s way to celebrate women in the industry.

But to gain further understanding of ourselves, a visit to the past is necessary. Much of this was seen in the historical documentaries of Emeka Ed Keazor whose work ‘Cafe of Dreams’ is centred  on the popular Dolphin Cafe in Onitsha. The cultural hub was home to highlife veterans like Eddie Okonta and Rex Lawson. Keazor in his documentary traced the history of the vibrant music club and its ultimate demolition during the civil war.

There was also the documentary series on visual artists and collectors by Vaughan-Richards. Commissioned by the Foundation for Contemporary and Modern Visual Arts (FMVCA), the series focused on the first generations of Western trained visual artists like Yusuf Grillo, David Dale who are the roots of contemporary art in Nigeria.

Another first scored by the festival is the showcase of a Russian film. While the festival often tend to celebrate films made by Africans in the continent and in the Diaspora, the Russian film ‘Our Africa’ cast a light on the nation’s sojourn in the continent and how they propagated their socialism ideals. The film also examined the way the Soviets expanded their geopolitical influence in Africa with humanitarian aid programs based on Marxist ideology.

Films by Tunde Kelani, Kenneth Gyang, Onyeka Nwelue and others were also screened at the festival.

Despite the impressive firsts recorded at this year’s festival, the most painful one had to be the untimely passing of Pierre Cherruau,  a man whom Adegoke described in glowing terms. According to her, he has always been a great supporter of her dreams. In that fleeting minutes when the audience observed a moment of silence for the dead, Adegoke who had been all smiles broke down and fled the stage.

Perhaps, the most intriguing first witnessed at the festival was having actress Kemi Lala Akindoju hosting the event for the first time as Mrs. Fregene.a