After tape traders in Nigeria decided to start shooting their own movies on (relatively cheap) videotape to keep their store shelves full, the output of the Nigerian film industry exploded. ‘Nollywood’ as it has been called is now second only to India in the number of films it puts out every year, ahead of even Hollywood, which simple can’t reboot Spider-Man often enough to match the amount of films Nigeria puts out every year. For Westerners, the volume of ‘Nollywood’ is one of the only things known about it, and as the industry continues to develop in Nigeria, it will be worth observing trends there and how they compare and contrast with those of America, or of our own film industry. The closing film of last weekend’s Feminist Film Festival Dublin, short documentary Amaka’s Kin: The Women of Nollywood provides one inportant perspective of Nigerian cinema, focusing on women working behind the camera in one of the world’s biggest hubs of film.
Though Amaka’s Kin is dedicated to the memory of Nigerian filmmaker Amaka Igwe and gives her due focus as a pioneering figure for women directing in Nollywood, it is more about women in general directing in the country. Staging interviews with a wide variety of directors (including the director of the documentary herself, Tope Oshin, who also narrates), Amaka’s Kin covers how these women got into the field, the challenges they face and the support they show for each other, many of them inspired by Amaka and her status as a role model and maternal figure before her death in 2014. They describe the experience of not being taken seriously and of being ignored, something that resonates for women outside of the country.
Though Nigeria has its own cultural context to be kept in mind, the stories that the directors tell-cameramen blatantly ignoring instructions, producers stepping in to mandirect-aren’t merely a problem for the Nigerian film industry or even the film industry in general. Important discussion is had about the roles women are confined to, the directors adamant that they will not be boxed in to typical gender roles (many got into directing from being actresses or even working in the make up department).
What is difficult about evaluating a film like Amaka’s Kin is that it must be put into the right context, treated seriously and open to criticism while remembering that it is coming from a different cinematic culture. The visual language is not going to be the same as Western or Asian cinema which have both been aware of and drawn from each other over the decades, the budgets are not going to be the same and shooting on videotape is atypical to how many of us here understand what a film is ‘supposed’ to look like. From the clips shown here of various Nigerian films it is clear the amount of progress that has been made in a relatively short time. Nevertheless, the documentary is hampered by repeated use of the same footage numerous times and some issues with the sound mixing in the version sent to the festival that give an unfinished feeling.
For these sound issues to come up during the interviews is particularly dissapointing, as the film is at its most affecting and effective when the directors speak for themselves. With some of the women movrd to tears talking about the gap left by Amaka’s death, or missing out on working with her by just one day, Oshin leaves the camera lingering long enough to capture genuine emotion, allowing for the meaning Amaka Igwe had to come through in a running time that’s just over 40 minutes.
The directors featured in Amaka’s Kin: The Women of Nollywood have carved out a considerable place for women in one of the world’s biggest film industries, striving to be given the credit they deserve. They want to be known foremost as talented, successful filmmakers, rather than the reductive idea of being talented/successful “for a woman”. In highlighting these women and one of their main inspirations in Amaka Igwe, one hopes that the next generation of Nigerian directors can be inspired to carry that work forward.(3 / 5)