Toni Morrison, Ake Festival and the infiltration of media in offline festivals

Toni Morrison

Obscure documentaries and experimental audiovisual projects about eccentric but powerful people in various are sub-genre to itself for media buffs. The idea that a popular person otherwise in control of how they are perceived allow an audience to get a closer, less sanitized look at their lives and politics fascinates. However, many of these documentaries and experimental media projects while critically acclaimed, rarely get any mainstream media love, languishing as niche underground darlings, beloved by fans of these influential people and media buffs who become obsessed with specific sub-genre of media.

Living in Nigeria heightens the difficulty of finding these documentaries and shows in ways that don’t constitute as plagiarism. And it seems that media festivals, have taken notice of this dearth and are using it to lure visitors who normally would not attend their offline festivals. This trend used to be purely a film festival side attraction, with  festivals like Ugoma Adegoke’s Lights, Camera, Africa festival leading the trend. But since the Ake Book and Arts Festival began, it has expanded being a purely literary festival to including audiovisual media that showed film projects from across the continent and documentaries that would otherwise not air in Nigeria.

Last year, the Ake Festival included sound exhibits that introduced its guests to pre and post colonial music asides premiering a couple of local documentaries. film and documentaries are often associated with and adapted from literature, so people sort of took it for granted that these projects were being aired in this way. That is until 2019, when the organizers of the Arise Fashion Weekend, asides their usual fare, decided to premiere not one, but two media projects during the fashion showcase. The first was the Andre Leon Talley documentary ‘The Gospel According to Andre’, which was introduced by Mr. Talley himself, and followed by a Q&A, and a documentary chronicling the process of making the Pyer Moss 2019 collection. Visual media has never been an integral part of a fashion showcase like this, and seemed an effective secondary draw, by people who were fascinated by the man and the brand, and were undecided about the fashion show.  The Abori Food Festival organized for the first time earlier this year, also incorporated documentaries into its schedule that otherwise tried to prioritize an immersive physical experience.

This year, the Ake Festival, is also thinking bigger for its media attractions for this year’s festival. It is screening the late, great Toni Morrison’s documentary, ‘The Pieces I Am‘, which has become even more integral to her legend now that she has passed and can no longer add to the canon of ideologies and quotes that made her as famous as her books. This feels like the festival scene in Nigeria is changing, and expanding to include audio-visual media as a proper draw for guests and visitors.

This might be too early to project, but it seems that events and showcases in Nigeria have embraced visual media as a necessary part of any offline festivals. It will be interesting to see how this, inspires and influences the work that content creators here and in the diaspora make specifically for these new audiences in the coming years.

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