The Auteur Director and the Repositioning of Nollywood for Cultural Diplomacy and National Security
Department of Theatre & Film Studies
University of Port Harcourt
Nollywood remains one of the entertainment wonders of the world. Its rapid growth has continued to attract the attention of government, entrepreneurs, entertainment experts, scholars and critics into the content, form and the economic business of the industry. However, there are more to be done by the industry in resolving the myriad problems affecting the Nigerian state where the industry is housed. This study examines the role of the auteur director in promoting cultural diplomacy and reducing insecurity in Nigeria. Using the literary and artistic methodologies, the study observes that the auteur director has the capacity to use his art in marketing the image of Nigeria, as well as reduce insecurity in Nigeria through appropriate storylines, technical expressions and casting. It therefore calls on such identified auteur directors, such as, Tunde Kelani, Teco Benson, Kunle Afolayan and Dickson Iroegbu, to step up their games in this regard.
The Nollywood industry has not only improved numerically but has attracted international attention to the Nigeria. Its production style appears to have improved with the cinema mentality of film producers and directors. Utoh-Ezeajugh position affirms that the industry has continued to enjoy a wide range of audience across the world. According to her:
Nigerian video films have become popular not just with Nigerian audiences but with an international and multi-cultural mix of audiences in recent years. The films are being marketed and consumed all over the African continent and have attracted the attention of cable television networks in different parts of Africa. These cable networks which include African Magic, Nollywood TV and Hi Nolly are now broadcasting Nigerian video films on a daily basis (67).
The broadcasting style as identified by Tracie has also added to the travelling speed of Nollywood films to viewers. The implication of this is that, more attention will be expressed by critics to issues of technical competence. Ovunda Ihunwo supports the view that the criticism that greets Nollywood films is an indication that the industry has grown when he observes that:
Recently, the Nigerian video film industry popularly known as Nollywood, has come under harsh criticism centred on modes of production, quality, and professionalism. These criticisms are however, indications that the industry has been able to gain relevance for it to attract such attention (73).
These criticisms may have resulted to the technical and thematic improvement of Nollywood films. Indeed, scholars have affirmed that there is a tremendous improvement in the industry at the technical level in spite of the poor take-off. According to Ime and Uwaoma,
Although early productions in the Nollywood era were marred by slap-dash scripting and amateurish directing, with little or no attention paid to aesthetic quality, in terms of lighting, sound, costume, set design and overall picture quality; the consolidation of the industry has led to the emergence of a new breed of directors who view themselves as artist, with unique creative ingenuity, striving to stamp their style and originality on each of the works they've produced. The Nollywood directors in this category include the likes of Tunde Kelani, Kunle Afolayan, Mahmoud Ali-Balogun, Gugu Michael and so on (782).
The current state of the industry calls for technical and trained experts in all the areas of film production. This is because the interest of Government, private investors and multi-national companies to invest in Nollywood films has increased in recent times. They have shown more interest in film productions through sponsorship and investment in different film programmes. The production of these films have become so expensive and technically competitive that some of the road-side businessmen can no longer meet up with the technical competitiveness in the current Nollywood that, takes more time, requires technical competence, more crew hands, camera-friendly actors, rigorous work, etc. It is no longer write a script today, shoot the next day, edit and release the following day and recoup your money as it was popular in previous years. This sudden improvement in Nollywood has also been echoed by some Nigerian film critics when they opine that:
a new dawn seems to be evolving with the emergence of a new breed of directors who are not only creative and competent in the art of film-making but who also are committed to quality and strives through artistic ingenuity to bring to the fore their impressions of the society through careful manipulation of the medium. The directors who fall into this category include Mahmoud Ali-Balogun with Tango With Me (2011); Tunde Kelani with Magun Tunderbolt (2001), Narrow Path (2006); Gugu Michael with Unge's782 War (2010), Kunle Afolayan with Figurine (2009), Irapada or Redemption (2007); Chineze Ayaene with Ije: The Journey (2010) and so on (183-184).
This paper is therefore anchored on Ayakoroma caution of experts in Nollywood on the need to be conscious of what they conceive and send out to the outside world (page?). Because what they send out in their films determine to a large extend the image attributed to the country. There is no doubt that culture has a profound influence on all aspects of behaviour, determining how individuals perceive and interpret phenomena globally as well as a tool for cultural diplomacy. He explains further that:
It has therefore become necessary that major players in the Nigerian video film industry understand their role as cultural ambassadors and contribute their quota towards building a positive image for the country through films. It means that stakeholders in the industry, such as script writers, producers, directors, costumiers, actors, editors, and so on, need to always ensure that they approach their productions with a sense of patriotism. This will minimize, to a large extent, aesthetic ambiguities as the message a production sends across is vital in the way outsiders look at the country. The position above calls for a more patriotic and message conscious director who must be selective in projecting images through the film for foreign attraction
The Concept Auteur Directing Theory
The concept of directing generally speaking has to do with controlling, harmonizing, organizing and interpreting visuals and auditory elements. Directing is an art that encompasses the interpretation of an idea or a concept through managerial, creative and interpretative skills. Robert Cohen’s view of directing is very useful even though it is domicile in the theatre the mother of other performance medium. For him:
Directing is an art whose product is the most ambiguous, perhaps the most mysterious, in the theatre. The direction of a play is not visible like scenery or costumes; and unlike the actors voice or the sound designer’s score, it cannot be directly heard or sensed. And yet direction underlies everything we see and hear in the theatre. Utterly absorbed by the final experience, direction animates and defines that experience (448).
Like any other performance medium, the process of film directing, is indeed mysterious and ambiguous because it involves the manipulation of montage (putting together the shots of the film, i.e., cutting or editing) and mise-en-scène (what actually goes into a shot and how the camera shoots it) to express an idea to the audience. In spite of the ambiguous interpretative task by the director, less emphasis was placed on the director over the ownership of the film. Though, Clurman, citing Pirandello and Granville-Barker, assert that: “in the theatre the work of the author does not exist anymore” and “the playwright he said is essentially a collaborator, even though he is creative beginning of the collaboration. He sums it up by saying that, “the director is the author of the stage play” (film inclusive) (13-14). This implies that the director is the author of the film.
Tracing the controversy over film ownership to 1954 when François Truffaut wrote an essay, entitled, “A Certain Tendency in French Cinema,” attributing the ownership of the film to the director. He claims that film is a great medium for expressing the personal ideas of the director andt this means that the director should therefore be regarded as an auteur. In fact, Truffaut once provocatively said that: "there are no good and bad movies, only good and bad directors" (http://www.wikipedia.org).
Catherine’s opinion is that, auteurism, like many other features of cinema, is a matter of supply and demand. It is a way of both making and experiencing films, and increasingly of selling them, in which the largest part of the control of the intellectual and creative work involved in the filmmaking process, or of the responsibility and credit for this, is actively taken up by or ascribed to the film’s director. Contemporary auteurism comprises a complex series of interrelated film production, marketing, and reception practices and discourses which are all underpinned by a shared belief in the specific capability of an individual agent – the director – to marshal and synthesize the multiple, and usually collective, elements of filmmaking for the purposes of individual expression, or to convey in some way a personal or, at least, “personalized” vision.
Historically speaking, Wollen identifies Charles Chaplin, John Ford, Arson Welles, etc. as some auteur directors (680). He traced the auteur theory in the French magazine, Cahiers du Cinema thus:
The auteur theory as Andrew Sarris calls it was developed by the loosely knit group of elites who wrote for cahiers du cinema and made it the leading film magazine in the world. It sprang from the conviction that the American cinema was worth studying in depth (680).
In a parallel vein, Taylor identified some of the qualities of the auteur director thus which forms our theoretical framework for the auteur theory in film production (10-11). He will, even if he does not actually choose his subjects (though preferably he should do that too), be on the preparation and scripting from early stage, choose his cast, work with the writer to see that the script evolves the way he wants it, choose a camera man whose known talent and characteristics fit in with his requirements, direct all the film himself, or closely supervise the work done when he is not actually behind the camera, and then control editing, post synchronization if any, musical scores and all minor matters which go into the making of a finished film (cited in Okwuowulu 11).
Some of the feature of auteurism identified above deserves attention as they form the basis for our reliance on the auteur director as a saving grace for packaging Nigerian through films for cultural diplomacy and national security. These qualities include: choice of subjects, be on the preparation and scripting from early stage, choose his cast, work with the writer to see that the script evolves the way he wants it, choose a camera man whose known talent and characteristics fit in with his requirements, direct all the film himself, or closely supervise the work done when he is not actually behind the camera, and then control editing, post synchronization if any, musical scores and all minor matters which go into the making of a finished film.
Defining National Security and Cultural Diplomacy
The concept of human and institutional relationship has continued to enlarge in style and scope. This need to expand the scope of diplomatic relationship rages from economic, financial, political and cultural. Culture, diplomacy and security are key considerations in international relations.
Culture simply refers to what Emeka Nwabueze described as, “everything a society thinks, believes, does and possesses as members of that society.” It is a “complex whole which includes knowledge, beliefs, art, law, moral, custom and all other capabilities and habits acquired by man as a member of the society (Taylor 81). Diplomacy, on the other hand, may be seen as the tact or skills of managing relationships and communication between nations. Cultural diplomacy will mean the management and communication of knowledge, believes, art, law, moral, customs and all other capabilities that reflects a man’s identity between countries. The term is viewed by scholars to be a fundamental third dimension in relations between states associated with politics and trade that dominates inter-state and inter-nation relationships. Kirsten Bound et al have noted that culture has a vital role to play in international relations (page?). This stems from the wider, connective and human values that culture has; culture is both the means by which we come to understand others, and an aspect of life with innate worth that we enjoy and seek out. Cultural exchange gives us the chance to appreciate the points of commonality and, where there are differences, to understand the motivations and humanity that underlie them.
The exchange of such cultural ideals as values, tradition, language, dress sense, food and other social lives of a country between countries have become necessary in order to understand each other better. Various institutions have also been established in some western countries to promote and educate member countries in this regards. Some of these agencies or institutions include – Institute for Cultural Diplomacy. The ICD defines cultural diplomacy as:
a course of actions, which are based on and utilize the exchange of ideas, values, traditions and other aspects of culture or identity, whether to strengthen relationships, enhance socio-cultural cooperation or promote national interests; Cultural diplomacy can be practiced by either the public sector, private sector or civil society (cited in Wikipedia).
Cultural diplomacy gives room for a better and more cordial relationship that guarantees peace and unity. It makes countries of the world to understand the differences and similarities between countries. ICD further explains that, “the interaction of individuals, the exchange of language, religion, ideas, arts and societal structures have consistently improved relations between divergent groups. The Institute for Cultural Diplomacy explains further that, cultural diplomacy, when learned and applied at all levels, possesses the unique ability to influence the “Global Public Opinion” and ideology of individuals, communities, cultures or nations, which can accelerate the realization of the five (5) principles which include: respect are recognition of cultural diversity and heritage, global intercultural dialogue, justice, equality and interdependence, the protection of international human rights, global peace and stability. Cultural diplomacy, which has been defined as, “the exchange of ideas, information, art, and other aspects of culture among nations and their peoples in order to foster mutual understanding,” is expected of every nation in order to foster the needed bilateral relationship advocated for in world politics.
The Auteur Director and Nigerian National Security and Cultural Diplomacy
The interest generated by a country on another is generally due to the identifiable qualities that are beneficial to the said country. Nigeria may have attracted foreign nations due to the crude oil wealth and the influence Nigeria commands among African countries. Nollywood films appear not to have been careful in the marketing of Nigerian culture. Ayakoroma cited Hyginus Ekwuazi that: “the ultimate function of any film and the auteur‘s need to accommodate the exigencies of politics determine what aspect(s) of truth/reality to be mediated, and how (25). Ayakoroma externs Ekwuazi’s argument that “This is because with the mélange of foreign films, the thinking then was that the bastardization of the African culture could only be checked if our filmmakers produced films that would adequately promote our lives. This is coterminous with the view of a former Managing Director of the Nigerian Film Corporation, Brendan Shehu, who observes that the cinema in Africa:
has gradually become the instrument for the articulation and projection of the dominant beliefs and values of Africa to the world community. An immediate implication of this is the growth of intellectual curiosity on the role of cinema in shaping the culture of Africa and simultaneously, how cinema itself has shaped the culture of Africa (cited in Ayakoroma 25).
To reposition Nollywood for cultural diplomacy and national security, the auteur director who is technically competent and have total control of the production processes must assert his qualities of stamping his signature through a total control of the production and postproduction elements in the film making. In doing this, there are key areas that devalued Nollywood films in terms of proper repositioning and marketing of Nigerian culture. These areas include poor storyline and plot. Critics have unilaterally agreed that Nollywood films are dominated with poor and recycling storylines and plots that project the country in a bad light. Such stories about the wicked mother-in-law/father-in-law, the wickedness of the gods, prostitution, money laundering, poor leadership, ritual stories, witches and wizards, religious hypocrisy, tribalism, militancy rubbery, insecurity and ethnic stories. These stories in most cases are poorly plotted that bad triumphs over evil or evil doers enjoy throughout the stories while good people suffer throughout. These stories give the impression that Nigerian culture is that of evil and criminality. Nollywood stories do not attract foreigners to relate with Nigeria as a country with diverse cultures. It is for such situation that the auteur director is recommended to restructure such stories through the auteur privilege technique. In doing this, he must not fail to restructure these to project more of the Nigerian hospitality, folk issues of victory and other leadership stories that can attract neighbouring countries for cultural diplomacy and as such have a secure place in national security.
Another area that calls for serious attention is the thematic thrust of most of the films in Nollywood. The message(s) expressed by these films may not attract cultural diplomatic relations from the outside world. Although, thematic thrust is highly subjective depending on the receiver’s worldview, most of the films in Nollywood present our rich men as men who make their money through human sacrifice and occult means. Some of the films that readily come to mind include Arusi Iyi, Handkerchief, and Return of my Vision. These films parade wealthy and influential men who attain their statuses outside the social acceptable means. For example, in Arusi Iyi, in an attempt to make wealth and fame, Chief Danco (Kenneth Okonkwo) joins the “Asugo Brotherhood,” an occult group. This brotherhood demands for human sacrifice of blood relations from members. Similarly, in Handkerchief, Chief Igwe engages in same fetish means of acquiring wealth to the detriment of morality. At the end of the video film, he couldn’t raise a family that can represent him and promote his name. These films are embellished with messages of a debased country with moral ineptitude.
The auteur director must express production concepts that will attract diplomatic relations to the Nigerian culture and guaranteed national security. His interpretation should reduce the image of the country as expressed by screenwriters in their scripts as an insecure nation dominated with bandits. The visuals in the area of costumes, props, makeup, lighting, sets designs and other camera interpretations deserve a serious attention of the auteur director. As established earlier in this study, a major quality of the auteur director is total control of the film in such a way that his philosophies/ideologies and personal view of life are usually stamped and projected. This is done in such a way that whoever views any of his films from the visuals and auditory will quickly identify it as belonging to him. Thus, costumes which reflect our dress culture must be represented to market our culture positively. In her article, Utoh-Ezeajugh, one of Nollywood film practitioners and critics, entitled, “Costuming to Corrupt: Nigerian Video Films and the Image Question” states that:
Nigerian female film stars are consciously or unconsciously revolutionizing the dress culture of youths and even some adults by bringing into vogue, dress codes that operate outside the boundaries of decency. These dress codes more often than not, conflict with periods, settings and concepts of the productions. They make non-verbal but effective visual communication and therefore could become instruments of moral or immoral propagation as the case may be (67).
To support the above position, costumes which are wrongly portrayed cannot attract cultural diplomacy from foreign Nollywood viewers. Foreigners will rather see our dress sense as that which lacks moral value. Her opinion is backed by Nzekwe on the influence of this visual element to the youths and by extension the outside world thus:
In today‘s cultural milieu, a cursory observation reveals that video films highly influence young lives. The media affects their dress sense, hairdo, makeup, love and choice of music, walk, talk, and thought. Sadly, the Nigerian video film, much given to slavish copying of society instead of positively altering these negative stereotypes… has rather reinforced these negative stereotypes (171).
Theodore Anyanji’s Dirty Secret Part I and II and Michael Jaja’s Thanks for Coming and Gallant Babes, are examples of films that debase the Nigerian culture of dress sense. Apart from the costumes issues in these films, there is a very poor characterization of the women folk. This portrayal cannot attract cultural diplomacy that will generate the needed development in the country. For example Dirty Secret parades such characters and actors which include: the character of Florence (Maryann Apollo), Pandora (Tonto Dike), Tuba (Aioli Dab) Cain (Mona Ebikere), Erica (Ejinne Okoroafor), etc. Among these characters, one notices that there is none of these female characters that members of the audience in the Nigerian culture can emulate. This is because Pandora is guilty of prostitution, incest and blackmail; Mrs. Elvis is guilty of adultery whereas Florence, the wife of Tuba, is also guilty of adultery as revealed towards the end of the film. This portrayal does not give good image of the country.
Generally speaking, the visual perception in Nollywood film culture for the character of the woman is that of servants, prostitutes, uncontrollably vivacious and citizens of low thinking. These characters are poorly developed without respect to such issues of motivation and actions.
The analysis of some Nollywood films goes a long way to verify the poor portrayal of Nigeria to the global world without censoring. This issue has become so worrisome that Nigerians abroad find it very difficult to market the country to international community. It is also important to observed that amongst the various genres identified by Nollywood critics, only the epic genres has the total capacity to attract cultural diplomacy and national security to Nigeria. This is because the epic genre is highly cultural and historical. However, only few epic films abound in Nollywood. This study has observed that the dearth of epic movies is due to the cost of production and the technicality in terms of research. Producing an epic film will definitely require serious research on the culture involved and most Nollywood directors are not interested in sacrificing professionalism in the face of profit. This is where Tunde Kelani stands out in his film production. Using Maami, a film adapted from Femi Osofisan’s novel, Maami as a reference point. Maami is a story that chronicles the growth and achievements of a single parent, Maami and her son, Kashimawo. In spite of her poor status, she tries her best to raise her only son Kashimawo and give him a life deserving of emulation. The interpretation of this film which is highly epic in genre markets Nigerian as it expresses love perseverance and self-reliance.
Auteur directors are also called upon to produce films that will quickly restructure the image of the country at the level of insecurity. Most of the vigilante films such as, Issakaba, Please Come Back, The Great Vigilante, Liquid Black Gold, etc. are indications of a country full of insecurity. The media’s exaggeration of the Boko Haram and other kidnapping issues in the Niger Delta region of the country are signs of insecurity that discourages foreigners from venturing into the country. Insecurity issue has made even those residents in the country to pack to their country for safety. With this, the auteur director becomes a rallying point to stamp his authorial mark and give foreigners a new identity of Nigeria.
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Amata, Fred (Director). Arusi iyi. Screenplay: Sunny Collins. Starring: Kenneth Okonkwo, Rita Edochie, Gentle Jack, Nnenna Nwaeze Okontao, Pete Eneh. Company: Great Movies, Year?.
Anyanji,Theodore (Director). Dirty Secret. Story/Screenplay: Chisom Julliet Okereke. Director of Photograph: Kenneth Nwabueze. Producer: Kinsley Okereke. Editor: Uche Ike. Starring: Muna Obiekwe, Tonto Dike, Aioli Dab, Maryann Apollo, Ezinne Okoroafor, Geraldine Ejiogu, Mike Echetama. Production Company: Divine Touch Productions Ltd, 2010.
-------------. (Director). The Handkerchief. Screenplay: Adim Williams. Producer: Adim Williams. Starring: Clem Ohameze, patience Ozokwor, Fabian Adibe, Chioma Chukwuka, Ejike Asiegbu. Company: Video Field International Ltd, Year?.
Kelani, Tunde (Director). Maami. Screenplay: Tunde Babalola. Starring: Funke Akindele, Wole Ojo, Timilore Kuboye, Ayomide Abatti. Company: Mainframe Film and Television, Year?.
Jaja, Michael (Director). Galant Babes. Story: Uche Nancy. Screenplay: Michael Jaja. Editor: Ejike Eze. Producer: Uche Nancy. Executive producer: Uche Nancy. Starring: Mercy Johnson, Yul Edochie, Ibol Ene Angelica, Eve Esin. Duration: 1:13mins. Company: Onye-Eze Production Ltd, 2011.
-------------. (Director). Thanks for Coming. Story: Uche Nancy. Screenplay: Michael Jaja. Producer: Uche Nancy. Editor: Ejike Eze. Executive Producer: Uche Nancy Starring: Mercy Johnson, Yul Edochie, Ibol Ene Angelica, Eve Esin. Duration: 1:13mins. Company: Onye-Eze Production Ltd, 2011.