by Onyeka Nwelue
I started teaching Film Adaptation and Scriptwriting for the Film Direction Class of the Centre for Research in the Art of Film & TV (CRAFT), Delhi early this year as Writer-in-Residence.
CRAFT is one of the finest small film schools in India. There are foreign students, a larger percentage from Nigeria. These Nigerian students already have first degrees. And they are here to extensively study all the techniques of filmmaking to help Nollywood, our emerging film industry to grow into a big one like Bollywood, which is more structured. The other thing is that, these Nigerians are largely from the Yoruba states.
Walking into my class and seeing the bearded faces and one single beautiful girl, among the 9 students I teach, I felt something new in my life. I had arrived beery-eyed and went straight to talk about scriptwriting.
It is not difficult to connect with the students. What is difficult is allowing the students flow the way they want; to express themselves the way they want. How do you expect a Hyderabadi write his film script in Hindi? Or Hindi screenwriters do that story in English without losing the flavour of the story? So, this is where the difficulty in my class lies. I ask the students to do an adaptation and I get a long stare, because oh yes, they’ve read the book in question, but they tend not to understand the English it is written in.
This brings me to a recent conversation I had with a filmmaker in Nairobi during the AMAA Nomination Party: the Igbo Language Film has gone. It has completely disappeared. This is weird, considering the fact that Nollywood was discovered by Igbo people. Igbo language remains the language of the majority. However, it is believed that the language will completely wane in years to come. Now that the AMAA Nominations List is out, we have films in every category, except the Animations Category. In the African Language Film Category, we have Yoruba films gushing everywhere. So, the question is: what happened to the Igbo Language Film? What has made the Igbos think that it is better and more commercial to do these films in English? If by making a film in English guarantees awesome box office sales, why do Yoruba movies still do well more than the Nollywood movies?
So far, we have acted like eunuchs in a harem: we know how it’s done, but we can’t do it. We criticize the filmmakers for doing such shady works, but the truth is that filmmaking is not an easy path, although what we have in the industry are people who care so much about the money which has to be recouped from the investment. This is good. However, I feel that with such passion Niji Akanni or Kunle Afolayan pulled into making Aramotu and The Figurine respectively, even after going through the hurdles of fund raising, we can always get the Oscars as we have envisioned. Having seen movies like The Song of Sparrows, shot in beautiful Tehran, I felt that really we don’t need a story to be told in English before we realize it is a good movie. I’m thrilled that Yoruba movies are shaping the way the world sees our cinematic achievement.