At iREP, ‘Righting the Future’ Through Hope, Resilience

At iREP, ‘Righting the Future’ Through Hope, Resilience

Vanessa Obioha

Echoes of hope and resilience reverberated throughout the four days of the i-Represent International Documentary Film Festival (iREP) held in Lagos, against the backdrop of political discontent and misinformation. From the films to speeches and discussions, the premium documentary film festival in West Africa illuminated issues that have strayed from our national purpose, as articulated by the co-founder and executive director of the festival, Femi Odugbemi in his opening speech.

Always a filmmaker and academic delight, this year’s festival, under the theme ‘Righting the Future,’ offered a diverse array of documentaries that spoke to the enduring power of hope and resilience in the face of adversity, whether personal, societal or environmental. For instance, the portrayal of Anthony Madu, a young ballet dancer from Lagos who pursued his dreams against all odds in the Disney helmed ‘Madu.’ Making its African premiere at the festival, the film received a rousing ovation. Directed by Nigerian filmmaker Joel Benson and Oscar nominee Matt Ogens, ‘Madu’ is set to premiere on DisneyPlus on March 29, 2024.

In ‘On Your Own,’ a 2023 documentary film by Daniel Itegboje, audacious and gritty tales of street boys come to life, showcasing their sense of brotherhood as they navigate the hardships of street life in Edo State. Their stories of survival, often intertwined with crime and drug abuse, highlight their resilience and optimism for a better future.

Through her documentary ‘I Am Psyched,’ Mariam Kuku trained her camera lens on the community of Irewe, nestled in the Badagry environs. Despite the lack of basic amenities, Kuku discovered youths brimming with hope for a better future on the horizon. These talented individuals believe that hard work will pave the way to their success.

Adeola Osunkojo captured the inspiring legacy of the late Chief of Army Staff, Ibrahim Attahiru, in the documentary ‘Ibrahim Attahiru: A Soldier’s Soldier.’ The film portrays his dedication to work and philanthropy, as recounted by friends, family, and loved ones, leaving an emotional impact on the audience.

The recurring theme of hope was also evident in the ongoing Niger Delta Project by Maria Galliani Dryvik, titled ‘Hope is a Word.’
Inspired by the works of poet and activist Nnimmo Bassey, who uses his poems to not only draw attention to the environmental hazards in communities in the Niger Delta region but also inspire a generation of activists, Dryvik hopes to show that poetry can be a powerful tool of activism through documentary.

‘Soot City,’ a 2024 documentary film by Adeolu Shogbola, also sheds light on the health consequences of industrial activities by oil and gas companies on communities in Rivers State.

This year’s festival witnessed the arrival of first-time filmmakers like Professor Saheed Aderinto who embarked on an ambitious project on fuji, a music genre with roots in Yoruba culture. The first episode of the project titled ‘The Fuji Documentary,’ focused on the life and times of the pioneer of fuji music, Sikiru Ayinde Balogun better known as Ayinde Barrister.

In the nearly two-hour episode, Aderinto, recently honoured with the prestigious Dan David Prize—the largest financial reward for excellence in the historical discipline globally, meticulously chronicled the life of the musician. From his formative years to his political influence, relationships with women, disputes among band members and fellow fuji musicians, to his eventual passing and enduring legacy, Aderinto delved into every facet. While he garnered praise for the extensive archival material used in portraying the late musician’s life, some audience members criticized his approach of scripting characters to narrate the story, arguing that it diverges from the documentary’s intent to present factual accounts through real-life subjects.

While these films evoked a sense of hope, not all of them resonated with the audience. For instance, the documentary on Nigeria’s president, ‘Asiwaju: Bumpy Road to Aso Rock,’ left some audience members grumbling about its screening due to the peculiar manner in which the president came into power. However, iREP has always maintained a commitment to balancing factual accuracy and diverse perspectives. The festival provides a platform for differing voices to be heard, allowing audiences to draw their own conclusions from the facts presented.

Beyond the films, a panel discussion addressed the pivotal role of media in an era marked by political discontent. The panelists, comprising esteemed figures such as the former Nigerian minister of information and culture, Lai Mohammed; broadcast journalist, Anikeade Funke-Treasure; political economist and columnist, Prof. Anthony Kila; anthropologist and documentary filmmaker, Jean Paul Colleyn; and lawyer and media archivist, Nze Ed Keazor, delved into the topic of ‘Disinformation and Misinformation: The Media in the Age of Discontent.’ During the discussion, Mohammed advocated for the regulation of social media platforms as a means to address the challenges posed by misinformation.

As part of its commemoration of Nobel laureate Wole Soyinka’s legacy, the festival shared the trailer of the upcoming Zuri24 Media production ‘The Man Died’ based on Soyinka’s memoir of the same name. Directed by Awam Amkpa, who serves as the Dean of Arts and Humanities and Vice Provost of Arts at New York University Abu Dhabi, as well as a Global Network Professor of Drama, Social and Cultural Analysis at New York University, the film is poised to tackle pressing issues such as ethnocentrism, localisms, and the rejection of political suppression.

Equally honouring the contributions of Soyinka was Manthia Diawara, a distinguished writer and art historian. During his keynote speech, Diawara, who directed the documentary ‘Negritude: A Dialogue Between Wole Soyinka and Leopold Senghor,’ underscored a profound lesson inspired by Soyinka: the significance of one’s location in shaping engagement with the wider world.

“Act from your location, and engage with the world,” he asserted.

This sentiment deeply resonated at iREP, where cinematic works from diverse corners of the globe were explored, alongside thought-provoking discussions serving as pathways towards ‘righting the future.’

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