‘New Media… is about technology, people, content’
‘In a digital world like the one we live in, reality is fragmented because we’re all creating content one way or the other in what is called digital democracy. Indeed, the new media has come to stay and its effect is pervasive’.
This was how the Director-General of National Film and Video Censors Board, Mr. Emeka Mba, started his keynote address at iREP International Documentary Film Festival 2012 that ended last Sunday at Terra Kulture, Victoria Island, Lagos.
Mba spoke on the theme, New Media, New Possibilities in addressing some of the salient issues defining documentary films and filmmaking in a world radically globalised by advances in technology. At the heart of the new media, he said, is embedded ‘technology’ and its multiple applications, and then the ‘people’ that drive or utilise that technology; then there is the ‘content’ that is fed into that technology to create experiences for consumers.
Mba’s suave presentation on the all-important subject of how new media is impacting documentary and films and how filmmakers can latch onto these new media to benefit was inspiring. He stated that makers of documentary and filmmakers “live in more interesting times as technology (which provides the new media) offers us tremendous opportunities” waiting to be explored and exploited.
Inherent in the new media is the concept of convergence, which Mba said creates a whole new world of possibilities for those who know how to tap into them. He highlighted some of the opportunities to be derived from the new media by filmmakers and makers of documentary films so as to maximally benefit from the new media, which includes the ‘content’ that sits in these new media or devices. He argued that with the pervasiveness of technology or new media, businesses are changing and so, filmmakers, whether of documentary or feature films, should brace up and meet these challenges and how to appropriate them.
One feature of the new media, Mba stated, is its impact of sharing on social media networks and the kind of freedom or democracy it offers even consumers, whereby they have become far more participatory in the process of creating or contributing to what content they want to see or watch.
Mba argued, “Consumers do not just want to consume, but they want to take part as discussants; they decide what they want; they are more participatory; technology or new media has lowered the barrier of entry so that the definition and content of narrative is changing. Indeed, the structure of what is created has changed or is changing”.
Coming on the heels of the new opportunities new media offers is the challenge of alternative distribution channels for the content so created. You-tube and such other social media network, Mba stated, offer unlimited possibilities for sharing content in a digitalised world.
Challenges of regulating in an era of digital media
THE Director General of the Film and Video Censors Board, Mba, said a regulator, like himself, would have serious hard time dealing with the content and quality of what is put on social media, as it would have gone beyond his scope of regulation. He noted, “Regulating in a digital atmosphere is a lot of hit and misses; it could be a nightmarish situation for regulators. However, the essential thing should be about deepening and opening up the market. The philosophy of regulation in a digital environment is responding to changes as they come. I have never used the word, ‘ban’.
Although audiences tend to be fragmented in a digital world, Mba noted that there would always be ‘content’ and the ‘people’ for whom content is created, and competition and the ability to monetise in the long run, and be able to create new market.
Not discounting the importance of the stability of the environment in which new media should operate, Mba argued, “we need to live in a democratic system to be able to have all these new media work. More than ever before, information is a global currency oiling the wheel of progress, for us to be better prepared for the future. Information is what is really important for us, the key to development, to create a view for a better future, for us not to be afraid to engage in new media, and take a leap of faith in what we do”.
Mba ended with a famous quote from an unknown source, which he said would seem to be at the heart of the new media revolution that is also creating new opportunities for those not afraid to dare: “Imagine the past, challenge the present and leap into the future!”
EARLIER, CHANNELS TV chairman, Mr. John Momoh, had spoken on ‘Documentary, Demonstration and Development’, where he reflected on the January street protests tagged ‘Occupy Nigeria’ on account of fuel price increases. Slides of the protests were shown to the audience to highlight what could be termed people’s power, as they confronted their government in a bid to hold them accountable for its actions or inactions. Momoh argued that the documentary film format is an important element in so far as it “is a creative treatment of reality”.
He also asserted that there is a need to deepen the democratic culture so as to allow what happened during the protests so government would feel the pulse of the people and respond accordingly. With such protests, Momoh “government is kept abreast of what the people expects of it; it also fosters accountability, which is very important” in governance relations with the public. He charged government to also make attempts to let the people know what was going so they could fully understand its policies.
In responding to a question, Momoh denied the widely circulated rumour during the protest that the Presidency and security operatives had reached out to him to desist from broadcasting images of the protests, which were the dominant news items in the two weeks that the mass action — that crystallized in Occupy Nigeria movement — lasted. He said the only contact he had with the presidency in the period was to ask him to offer suggestion on how the fuel subsidy crisis could be easily tamed; an that invitation he reasoned was in recognition of his status as a citizen with a crucial voice.
Momoh, who said he was both worried and bemused at the rumour when it went all over town, pointed out that circulation of falsehood as truth is a major challenge that the social media — where the false news was spread — has to contend with.
He commended iREP team for the festival idea and restated his commitment to the festival, saying, “What do we do with what we have in iREP? We need to reinforce it through partnership like the one we’re having with iREP”, details of which he said would be unveiled soon.
The broadcaster, TV executive, who expressed his deep passion for documentary films, said he’d like “to see how TV stations can pool resources together to commission documentaries” as a way of assisting documentary filmmakers so they could come up with better productions.
Documentary... making it profitable, attractable
Conceptualised on the framework: Africa In Self Conversation, the 2012 edition of the iREPRESENT international Dopcumentary Film Festival screened about 30 films, held workshops and training in production (film and radio) , camera works, scriptwriting (films and news), and gave awards to four eminent Nigerians who have contributed to documentary filmmaking in the country. It was organised in partnership with Goethe Institut and AG DokumentarFilm (German Association of Independent Producers), both of which facilitated participation of a host of international filmmakers from Germany, South Africa and Cameroon, some of who presented films, conducted training workshops and participated in the two sessions of Producers’ Forum, with the objective of devising strategies towards international production and distribution cooperation among producers from the participating countries.
iREP divided its main theme, Democracy and Culture: The Documentary Film Intervention, to four sub-themes that cover areas such as democracy and demonstrations, new media and participatory democracy, media and nation building as well as potentials of Nigerian films to explore and exploit the documentary format in its production virtues.
Speaking on her observations of the festival Ursula WeBler, secretary of Filmstadt Munchen, Germany, noted that the festival had a lot of discussion and films about the history of Nigeria, colonialism and corruption in governance. Comparing the films and documentaries she had watched in this festival to those of other festivals in Europe, the operative of the famous Doc-Fest film festival, said the documentaries from Europe are longer and the pictures tell the stories while in Nigeria, the documentaries are shorter and more like a reportage.
“In Europe, we tell the stories in films and unlike what we saw here, our documentaries are usually longer. Though inadequate fund may make it short, I observed that most Africans are not used to long documentary films”.
Reiterating WeBler’s views, Barbel Mauch, of Barbel Mauch Films, Berlin, observed that though most African film producers have little funds at their disposal, their productions are impressive.
“What I saw yesterday was very impressive and the presentations were good with the topic well-thought out. What we have seen so far will surely change the image of Africa, which my colleagues and I hold of the continent before now. The event has really opened our minds to knowing Africa the more and we hope to go back to our country to correct those negative opinions. Apart from the social media and exchange of films, meeting and discussing in a programme of this nature helps a lot to correct such abnormalities. I was thrilled with some of the clips on democracy (the Occupy Nigeria footages); it revealed so many things about the country, the people and the government, which we do not know”.
Mauch, who has produced many African filmmakers, especially of the Francophone extraction, and had worked with the Nigeria Film Corporation (NFC) on its Shoot!!! project series inn Jos, urged documentary filmmakers to look for new ways to fund their works, as the model currently in use may make finance difficult.
She said, “Documentary films can be commercially viable if producers sourced for new ideas such as looking inward and doing stories on the political leaders or those that have impacted on the society from different parts of the country, put them in CD and sell to the people; these documentary films would be bought and watched like any other film at home and in turn bring in the financial rewards”.
Reacting to some of the observations about the festival, a veteran documentarist and recipient of the iREP Hall of Fame Award at the event, Mamman Yussuf, said documentary making is a more serious, incisive and professional business that goes beyond just shooting films. It’s more profound and involves the issues and ideas, planning, synopsis and the budget. Because of the huge budget usually involved, government has hijacked documentary making for propaganda use, which to some extent, discouraged many people.
Continued, the former ambassador to Spain and the Vatican,“Documentary could be for one hour, 30 minutes or five minutes depending on the fund and the audience. In Nigeria, no TV station has a programme dedicated to documentary, so it makes the producers to look elsewhere to air their films and in most cases depend on sponsors.”
COMMENTING on the effects of social media on filmmaking, film producer and director, Enrico Chiesa, director of IDmage, said Nigerians will have to wait till when the Internet becomes powerful to download movies. He also urged producers to be prepared for the necessary changes to come as the sale of films would move from direct CD buy to online buying and placement.
Enrico, whose organisations recently launched AfricaFilms.tv and mobiCINE, two film initiatives supported by EC ACPFilms, stated, “Nollywood filmmakers should take advantage of this. Today, the biggest problems of Nollywood are DVDs or the CDs and piracy; tomorrow a very large part of the business would be made online. They should be prepared for the online market just as it is done in the U.S. and U.K. Producers are making good money through the sales of film on the Internet. With this, you can easily know the number of buyers, when they bought the films and the amount paid; it’s transparent.
"Although the online price to rent a movie maybe as little as $4 or 4 Euros for feature films, it cannot be compared to the film being stolen or downloaded illegally; it’s quite better and if they don’t plan towards that, other people may do that at your expense”.
...And the Docu-Film Fest comes to a roaring close
The iREP film documentary festival came to a close last Sunday at Terra Kulture, Victoria Island, featuring the Art Stampede organised by the Committee for Relevant Art, (CORA). Conceived on the theme, The theme was ‘Where is the Market for TV Documentary?’, the 90th edition of the so-described Artists Parliament staged quarterly since June 1991, was designed to spotlight the economics of documentary film making, spotlighting the potential markets for documentary films, especially on local TV stations -- whether documentary film making pays in Nigeria, whether there’s a market for documentary films in Nigeria and the possible distribution outlets, and what the role of broadcasting stations is in advancing the cause of the documentary format.
The CEO of Communicating for Change (CFC), Mrs. Sandra Mbanefo-Obiago, who gave the lead presentation, spoke on the power of documentaries over feature films, which she said usually generatequick reactions. She wondered why people are least enthusiastic about documentary film format, giving its inherent advantages.
A trained film producer and director, whose works include (Cash Madam, Lady Mechanic, Red Hot Nigeria Creativity etc), Sandra gave a detailed account of how CFC was being run, the challenges of raising funds for the documentaries the company made (before it wound up few weeks ago) and stated categorically that for now documentaries are not financially rewarding in Nigeria. She also cited instances where creative treatment of documentary have actually been commercially successful at the box office in other parts of the world.
Filmmaker, Mahmood Ali-Balogun, who was on the panel that reviewed Mrs Mbanefo-Obiago's presentation, stated clearly, “Documentaries do not make money anywhere but some money ought to come back to the producer so that he can produce others”.
He lamented the attitude of proprietors of electronic media in Nigeria whom he said regard the setting up of TV stations as comparable to buying toys. His grouse is when “you take your materials to TV houses, they ask you to pay no matter how developed they are!" an exasperated Ali-Balogun, producer of the popualr film, Tango With Me, declared: "If they don’t have money to pay for the materials, then let them close shop”.
The producer of yet to be released, Nigeria Autumn (based on the Occupy Nigeria mass action following the January 2012 removal of fuel subsidy), also acknowledged the power of social media where documentaries could be aired but he also noted that internet connection is discouragingly slow in Nigeria. And this limits the potentials of film to get good and profitable viewership.
Nollywood movie producer and director, Charles Novia, who is currently producing two books and a documentary on 20 years of Nollywood), simply submitted, “When people ask me about documentaries, I tell them to rather go into music. There is also the issue of audience; people enter a cinema and want to be entertained...” he concluded that documentaries are not yet lucrative in Nigeria because the criotical audience size to sustain it is yet to be created.
However, Obiago debunked Novia’s submission that documentaries are not entertaining, saying, “our (CFC) documentaries get lots of audience and people watch with rapt attention; this shows that documentaries are entertaining”.
Ali-Balogun affirmed that there would always be audience to watch documentaries if the TV houses made efforts to air them.
A filmmaker from the North, Mikail Isa Sufi, however, expressed a different angle to the challenge of making documentary films, saying, that most of the documentaries made from the North are about personalities, which nobody is ready to watch. He wondered how documentaries could be profitable when the audience is almost non-existent. He, however, concluded that a way out is for filmmakers to make documentaries entertainning more like drama.
A London-based filmmaker, Ben Ali, with a different experience from the rest, advised the stampeding filmmakers to think out of the box. He suggested that they could do docu-dramas and bring in Nollywood personalities to act out the roles, which he is convinced people would watch. He stated, “Filmmakers always do the same mistake of doing it the same way; that is why people don’t want to pay money to watch”. Edxamples were thus given of the success of Pennies for the Boatman by US-based Nigerian filmmaker, Niyi Coker (jnr), which has been garnering awards from around the world.
Mikail, however, suggested that filmmakers should create a market for documentaries rather than depend on TV houses alone for survival.
Another contributor, Lawrence Ani, a journalist, said, “we tend to look at documentaries as something that must address social issues; we don’t see it as a business but as something that must be commissioned to be done”.
Professor of entrepreneurship, later-day politician and host of the once popular TV talkshow, Patito's Gang, Pat Utomi, insisted that inspite of the challenges of funding and sustenable audience patronage, there is a place for documentaries still. He gave an example of his programme, which he couldn’t continue hosting due to financial constraints but said people have kept calling to ask when he would bring it back; and he did late last year.
Veteran actress, Taiwo Ajayi Lycett, said people need to be taught a lot of things through documentaries. She said entertainment should actually make people sit up and think, saying, “There are so many issues in this country; we can make people listen to us through entertainment but we have the attitude of poverty that makes us see limitations and keep us thinking that we can’t. We can create our own world rather than consume other people’s view about us. The right thinking will produce wealth”.
Mrs. Mbanefo-Obiago concluded that there might not be money in the documentary films yet, but the joy of seeing that you have addressed an issue and it has brought about a positive change to society is spiritually satisfying and uplifting. She gave examples of how the works of nher company, CFC, had led to infrastuctural development in a hitherto government-neglected community in Oyo State; and the inspiring story of Lady Mechanic, who has moved from obscurity to limelight with high networth patrons.