The workshop wrapped up on Friday as Governor Fashola’s Deputy Chief of Staff Moji Rhodes, and other Lagos State Government representatives came to review the progress made by all the participants over the last week. The highlight, undoubtedly, was the screening of nine short films created by the participants as a way of experimenting with the lessons learned in the classroom. These films were shot over the course of two days by director/screenwriter/cinematographer crews grouped at random. It was my hope that this would mean a reshuffling of the hierarchies one finds on most Nollywood sets (with directors dictating to DPs, and screenwriters often totally absent, having finished their task) and more creative collaboration between participants. The films were based on three scenarios imagined and composed by the screenwriters seminar. The film concept goes something like this. The film opens on an argument between Bolaji and his wife Sandra that climaxes with Sandra shooting her husband in a fit of rage. We then cut to exactly one year earlier, on the night of Bolaji’s inauguration as Governor. In the later scenarios, Sandra tries to warn Bolaji that her own father, whose powerful patronage secured the governorship for Bolaji, has been maneuvering to exploit his influence over Bolaji. In the final scenario, Bolaji’s young mistress is chased down by a mysterious assailant. Is the attacker sent by Bolaji to silence the young woman or by Bolaji’s father-in-law seeking to use her against Bolaji?
The nine films presented us with nine very different interpretations of the scenarios. Four of the films were more conservative in their style, choosing to start from familiar ground for Nollywood professionals. This means long establishing shots from perhaps too far away, static camera work where a POV or tracking shot could be employed, and medium shots in interior spaces. These films did mix in several new techniques as well. The other films were impressive for their experimentation with expressive camera work. Some tricky depth of field work was executed to the applause of viewers in two of the films. Editing was swift. Shots of objects and detailed motions were included as a means of conveying narrative without dialogue. And finally, one of the films shot between Bolaji and Sandra featured a tastefully passionate and, frankly, quite touching kiss, for which the actors received the cheers and applause of their peers.
Over the last week I did some hand-wringing, as I’m sure so did others who are sensitive to the cultural politics of film style, especially the long tradition in African cinema of creating aesthetic challenges to world-dominant Hollywood dream-machines. If anyone worried that this workshop would steer Nollywood filmmakers into a Hollywood mode of storytelling and image-making, they can relax a bit. The role of the American (and Nigerian) trainers was, from my observations, more to bring ideas and small technical lessons into a forum where Nollywood professionals could pick and choose what they found helpful and ignore what failed to inspire them. The final films demonstrate that Nollywood’s two-decade tradition of making films in its own particular style will not be wiped clear in a week of training. However, film traditions are like living creatures, they must feed to grow. I only hope that these training workshops gave Nollywood professionals some food for thought.