Lights Camera Africa 2017
One of Nigeria’s landmark cultural events, the 2017 edition of Lights Camera Africa took place at the Federal Palace Hotel, Lagos from September 29 to October 1. In light of the refractory times that we live in, the festival brought to its audiences a selection of films that support Africans in identifying the errors of their trajectories and retracing their steps through a common contemplation of opportunities. This is imperative, particularly in these time, as Nigeria tackles perennial sectarianism.
Nollywood celebrities including Olu Jacobs, Joke Silva, Ego Boyo, and Akin Omotoso attended the 3-day event. Popular actress and thespian, Kemi Lala Akindoju, hosted a preview of Omotoso’s new film A Hotel Called Memory, which dominated the opening night, with film director, Femi Odugbemi moderating a session on the Nse Ikpe Etim-feature film.
Also featuring prominently at the festival were Omotoso’s Vaya and Ifeoma Nkiruka Chukwuogo’s Bariga Sugar, which are reviewed below.
When it comes to international film festivals, it is almost a given that there will be at least one multi-narrative film in the lineup. With so much heart and soul, Vaya spotlights topical issues of crime, polygamy, unsafe abortions, secret families and human trafficking. Directed by Akin Omotoso and Petr Václav, the film is set in Johannesburg, where the lives of three strangers collide in unanticipated ways. Much like the numerous immigrant dramas about achieving the American dream, it follows these South Africans as they journey to the city from their rural homes in the province of KwaZulu-Natal. Unaware of what is to come, they are shocked when they find themselves in an unknown cut-throat world.
Omotoso deftly tells a story of three young protagonists, each on a separate journey to self-discovery. We are first introduced to them on a train to Johannesburg. Their motives for coming to the city of gold couldn’t be more different from one another. Yet they are closely connected by their naiveté. The first character Zanele (Zimkhitha Nyoka) is a caretaker tasked with bringing a little girl to her mother, a failed singer who migrated to the city. Next, we meet Nkulu (Sibusiso Msimang), who is sent to retrieve the body of his deceased father who worked in the city’s mines. While Nkulu’s mother warns him of the city’s dangers, Nhlanhla (Sihle Xaba) is more optimistic, expecting to experience the high life his cousin Xolani bragged about.
Indeed, all three become sidetracked once they arrive and before long, they are all unwillingly caught up in an underworld of organised crime, leading back to a powerful gangster. Putting the trio through the fear of abandonment, torture and even death threats, the script is brutally honest about the perils of the gang world — a world we become quite familiar with through the work of cinematographer Kabelo Thathe.
Vaya also boasts a robustly populated story. As a result, no one stands out in the talented cast and every actor is given enough screen time. Nyoka’s delicate, yet strong, approach to her character is delivered with much subtle brilliance while Msimang is superb at being devastating. Xaba makes a mark as a likeable clown, while newcomer Azwile Chamane-Madiba, nominated for Best Young Actor in the Africa Movie Academy Award, is the one to watch. Proving that there are no small roles, Harriet Manamelo makes the most of her limited screen time. In the third act, the three unparalleled stories quickly intertwine to a disastrous, thrilling and explosive climax.
The carefully deliberated screenplay is not groundbreaking and it does not feel like it’s trying to be. What makes the skilful and insightful coming-of-age story precious is that, although entertaining, it remains honest to its grim subject matter.
Bariga Sugar tackles the topic of poverty relating to prostitution. Some may argue that the term ‘prostitute’ is only used to describe poor women who trade their bodies for money, while ‘runs girl’, the classier name, is reserved for women with high-end clients. The short film Bariga Sugar sheds light on this difference. Directed by Nkiruka Chukwuogo, and written by Ifeoma Nkiruka Chukwuogo and Ikenna Edmund Okah, Bariga Sugar follows the story of Ese, a young girl whose mother is a prostitute. She tolerates her mother’s constant male visitors her mother refers to as “mumus”, leaving Ese to ponder why her mother keeps fools as friends. When these men come by, she is left to her own devices but chooses to sit under the sun and wait for her mother to finish the day’s work. Soon a young lady from the north, Hannatu, is introduced to the compound, along with her son Jamil who is the same age with Ese.
Ese and Jamil become fast friends. They play together but also learn together, which is what makes their relationship intriguing. In perhaps one of the most unforgettable scenes in the film, Jamil shows Ese an anthill and asks her if she will like to be a queen someday. Her answer is yes, but her description of the kind of queen she wants to be leaves the audience and perhaps Jamil in shock. She wants to grow to be Queen Sugar. Queen Sugar (Tina Mba) is a pimp. She controls the affairs of everything that happens with the prostitutes. In observing Queen Sugar, Ese found an unlikely hero, her idea of a supreme queen. Jamil encourages her to be a queen like real queens and not the type of queen that reigns in Bariga.
The charm of this is that amidst all the filth and prostitution, an innocent and pure relationship is blossoming—a relationship that leads to growth that cannot be stagnated by the environment. At the end of their relationship, Ese has grown and we notice this when she says, “When I grow up I will build a big house and my mother will be in it and Jamil’s mum too.”
Bariga Sugar is a straight film that does not dwell too much on masking prostitution as entertainment. It focuses on children and on how their environment affects their development, for a young girl like Ese to grow up in a consuming environment that threatens to consume her too.
Apart from its intriguing story, Bariga Sugar makes good use of dialogue, as well as skilful actors.
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