Yinka Olatunbosun

Ronke Macaulay came to the film scene just in the nick of time. Nigerians in diaspora have so much stories to tell and there has not been a proper channel to air their true stories. Macaulay decided to make documentaries films within her resources to open up the vista for the long overdue conversations about the issues with the Nigerian Brand.

Having lived most of her life in the UK, Macaulay developed interest in those socio-cultural issues but making documentary films about them at first was not particularly intentional.

“I didn’t set out to make the series of documentary films called Green Passport,” she recounted during a brief encounter at the nation’s commercial capital, Lagos. “The first one was borne out of the whole xenophobia experience in South Africa. I did some film studies in South Africa and I decided to combine my studies in directing with documentary film production on Nigerians in South Africa.”

Next, she made a second documentary film sequel to the initial one, Green Passport II: Nigerians in Ghana. Founded on her curiosity into the academic migration of Nigerians to Ghana, Macaulay, through the documentary film, raised questions about the quality of education in Nigeria and the rush for Ghanaian tertiary institutions.

The third one, Green Passport III will be screened at the IREP International Documentary Film Festival which runs from March 21 to March 24 at the Freedom Park, Lagos.

“I made the third one from the materials we got from events of some years ago,” said Macaulay. “I love soccer. When I was in the UK, I organised a trip to France ’98 for Nigerian football fans to go and watch the Super Eagles. You can imagine a coach full of fans, singing and cheering all the way from London to France. It was fun. It wasn’t a professional thing. But we had a camera which we used to record the whole experience. Last year, I saw the materials again and I thought I should do something from them. It is a very short documentary film, just 18 minutes long. I submitted it to IREP and now it is one of the official selections.”

She explained that the documentary deviates in narrative techniques when compared with the previous ones but still shows a slice of history and aspects of lives of Nigerians in diaspora.

“I’ve always been a storyteller before I got involved in documentary film making. I have always been a writer. I had a blog. And back then when I had a full time job with an international organisation, I was still writing for Nigerian publications. I used to write for Nigerian Village Square about socio-cultural issues about Nigerians in diaspora.”

For her first instalment in the Green Passport series, her directorial approach took the viewer on a personal visual journey with her as narrator and guide. Perhaps, her career years in Amnesty International and her newsroom experience played major influences on the technique adopted and issues that her documentaries stir.

“I worked for Ben TV. I had a magazine show called, People and Places. I have always been interested in current affairs, people’s lives and telling stories,” she said.

She matched with her passion the zeal to learn more. Once, a friend informed her of the training on film-making techniques by AFRIFF in 2015.

“Many young people applied for those things. I applied for scriptwriting and I got invited for the workshop. I was the mummy of the class,” she recalled with smiles. “That was my first introduction to film making. Then I got involved in film production. I was learning on the job. Later, I did a course in directing at Jo’ burg. It lasted four months and was very intense.”

Her lecturer loved documentaries and that feeling was mutual. However, when she expressed her ambition to make a documentary on Nigerians in South Africa, that sent out a red flag. She had to convince her lecturer that it will not be a celebration of negative stereotypes.

“I told him I was not going to bash the South Africans or paint Nigerians as saints. I will let the story speak for itself,” she said.

Undoubtedly, documentary films have been very powerful instruments of change. For instance, the viral documentary film, Surviving R. Kelly propelled the authorities in Chicago, US to reopen the unresolved case of multiple sexual allegations against the R&B singer-songwriter, Robert Kelly who is currently facing a 10-count charge of aggravated criminal sexual abuse. When asked if Macaulay could make a bold artistic statement like Dream Hampton did with Surviving R. Kelly, she responded that her Green Passport series had made some remarkable change in South Africa.

“After the Green Passport was screened in Jo’burg, there was a town hall meeting afterwards with Nigerians in South Africa, Nigerian Consulate in South Africa and some legal experts to talk about some of the issues raised in the documentary, towards building bridges and finding solutions,” she said.

“For the one in Ghana about education, the whole issue of Nigerian students paying school fees in dollars was raised. I thought Ghanaians should also come to Nigeria to get education. It should be a two-way traffic.”

After the drinks were served, the conversations continued on how the film maker’s biases interfere with the visual narrative. In many Hollywood documentaries, there are usually counter-productions which often seem to be artistic battle of wits. Macaulay argues that it is very hard for any visual storyteller not to have biases.

“I think it’s impossible to be totally without bias because at the end of the day, you want to tell a story and you can take it from different angles but then you chose to take just one. But I always try to come from the position of integrity and I won’t tell lies or hide what should be revealed.”

As to when her next documentary movie will be made, she responded that she usually takes her time, not putting herself under pressure.

“When I find something that speaks to me that I can be passionate about, then I will move into it,” she promised.
At the Best of Nollywood Awards 2018, her Green Passport series won the award for the documentary movie of the year.