Saturday, May 7, 2016

Producing a Documentary Film is More Challenging than Making a Movie

Meg Masha at the new Tinubu Square in "Sights and Sounds of Lagos" tourist documentary film.

Only filmmakers who have produced both documentaries and movies can understand what I am saying.

I have been professionally engaged in TV and Film productions since I was 17 as a script writer and puppeteer for TV puppet drama at the Nigerian Television Authority (NTA) Channel 10 on Victoria Island in Lagos before I joined others on different locations of Nollywood movies more as an observer than an actor in the 1990s. Then in 1998, I ended up as the Production Manager of "Money Wise" on DBN TV, the first private TV station in Nigeria founded by Sonny Adun in the 1980s.

My first experience in documentary film production was at the UNICEF Nigeria when I was a national program consultant for Child Survival and Development and our Communication Department made a TV documentary produced by Onyeka Onwenu in 1988 and premiered at the Lagos Sheraton Hotel in Ikeja.

My second experience was in 1995, producing and directing a video documentary on the Market Based Distribution public health education project for 100 traders at the old Tejuosho Market in Yaba, Lagos. It was an amateur documentary for the Center for Education on Population, AIDS and Drug Abuse (CEPADA), an advocacy NGO founded by Alhaja H. O. Shitta-Bey, the highly esteemed Program Specialist at the USAID in Nigeria who won a major award from former President of the United States of America, Bill Clinton.

I have never attempted making an independent professional documentary until this year that I decided to use all my savings to produce and direct my "Sights and Sounds of Lagos" tourist documentary. I wanted to make it a simple documentary series for Afrinolly mobile streaming on all the GSM networks in Nigeria targeting more than 70 million users of smart phones in the most populated country in Africa with a population of more than 170 million people and the largest economy in Africa with the fastest growing eCommerce industry in the continent; with more than 125 million subscribers of GSM networks; largest population of subscribers of cable TV networks in Africa and second largest producer of home videos in the world after India. Then, I decided to make it a commercial documentary for both local and global audiences.

Documentary is not fiction, so you cannot make up imaginary characters, places and events as in movies.
You cannot do as you wish, because actuality and accuracy cannot be compromised in documentary film making. You cannot lie!
You are documenting life on film for the contemporary society and for posterity.
You have to capture the real life moments, events and incidents of the people in motion picture. And if you miss any of the true life activities of the people, places and events, you can never bring them back again at the same locations.

The sights and sounds of people, places and events change as time passes in seconds, minutes and hours of everyday.
Lagos has changed over the years since the colonial era to the post colonial period with the influx of people from different parts of Nigeria and the world and they all come with their peculiar cultures like the Hausas from the North and the Igbos from the East. Documenting the changes is very important for the knowledge of history and the benefits of the legacies for posterity. A new generation will not know about the ways of life of the old generation without any document of it in print or electronic media for them to see. There are magical and precious moments you can capture on camera as they occur which you cannot see again. Even if it is a regular daily activity in the same particular place or spot, it will never be exactly the same every day, because there will be something different the next time you see it. Like when I used my smart phone to capture live as a young Nigerian bricklayer was still working with shovel and basin in the rainfall during the renovation of a house on Bajulaiye Street in Shomolu. But I lost the video when the smart phone was stolen and what pained me most was not losing the smart phone, but losing the precious moments of unique human activities I captured as they happened. I cannot recall the people to return to the same locations and repeat the same actions. Of course, I can use reenactments and reconstructions, but they will never be same young bricklayer in Shomolu or the two young women in hijab quarreling with the bus conductor of a “Danfo” minibus at the Mobil Ligali Ayorinde round about on Victoria Island.
Landmarks may remain for years and decades, but may have been renovated or totally removed and in such situations reconstructions will be required to capture the past environment and reenactments are necessary when producing a historical documentary film if there is no available footage.

The famous Falomo Shopping Mall on Awolowo Road in Ikoyi was totally demolished last year and we are only left with our memories of the popular Bata footwear store, Glendora and Bestseller bookshops and Swedish-Nigerian, Aino Oni-Okpaku’s famous Quintessence Arts and Crafts Gallery. The Sandgrouse Market in Lafiaji on Lagos Island is also gone and will be replaced by a new one like the Tejuosho Market in Yaba.
The Bar Beach on Victoria Island is now replaced by the construction of the Eko Atlantic City!

The sights and sounds of Lagos I am documenting today will be different from the sights and sounds of Lagos in the future. There were no BRT Lanes until the former Governor of Lagos State, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu introduced the Lagos Bus Rapid Transit System and opened the first phase on March 17, 2008. What will come next? Only God knows. So, making documentary films is more significant to me than making fictional movies.

Churchgoers and traders on Olumo Road leading to the popular MFM Church in Onike, Yaba, Lagos.
Sunset on Victoria Island, Lagos.
Sunset in Onike, Yaba, Lagos. 

There have been some videos of sights and sounds of Lagos, but the producers were not serious about the documentary values and simply recorded amateurish views of Lagos streets and some special attractions.
There are other well produced documentary series like "This is Lagos" by Naija Airtime, "Witness - Street Life in Lagos" by Al Jazeera and "Lagos, Nigeria The Africa You Dont See On Television" on YouTube.
The best documentary on Lagos so far is "LAGOS: Africa's Big Apple" by Lagos Internal Revenue Service (LIRS). But it did not capture some of the must see tourist attractions of Lagos I have captured using direct cinema method for my “Sights and Sounds of Lagos” without talking heads and narrators. My casts for the special tourist attractions are just to reenact the people who would have been there normally. And I am very happy and satisfied with what I have captured from the mainland to the island of Lagos city. For example, the popular Mountain of Fire and Miracles (MFM) Ministries Sunday Market on the streets leading to the church is a must see by millions of people in Nigeria and abroad who have never been there before. It is one of the must see tourist attractions in Lagos city showing a unique lifestyle of Nigerian Christians on the streets of Lagos.
Every Sunday morning as thousands of devout church goers troop to the MFM in Onike, Yaba; the Olumo Road and Olasimbo Street leading to the church turn into a busy market as traders of foodstuffs , footwear, clothes, Christian publications of books, magazines, pamphlets, CDs and DVDs of home videos of Christian movies and music and other products display their wares by the sidewalks and shouting for buyers. The churchgoers are the regular customers who go shopping after their Sunday church services. But no Sunday is the same, because the church goers and traders don’t wear the same dresses everyday and something spectacular can occur on any Sunday as I have discovered during the recce for my “Sights and Sounds of Lagos” and nobody has captured the popular MFM Sunday Market before in any documentary on Lagos. It’s awesome!

See more photographs and clips from the recce on Pinterest and Instagram.

~ By Ekenyerengozi Michael Chima, Publisher/Editor of Nigerian Times Online and NOLLYWOOD MIRROR® series.

No comments: