The Lights Camera Africa film festival has become, in 7 short years, one of the biggest events on the Nigerian and African cultural calendar as it pushes the agenda for films that celebrate not just the African experience but worldview. In this chat with Toni Kan, convener and Festival Director, Ugoma Adegoke, talks about how it all started, what this year’s theme RESET is all about and what to expect in the years ahead. Excerpts.
Lights Camera Africa!!! is 7 years already. Can you tell us how it all began?
The festival was started because we identified a gap in the cultural experience in Lagos – specifically the fact that many independent films, particularly films made with an African tint, were rarely enjoyed by locals. There was also a keen desire to engage in some exchange between local Africans and diasporean Africans through film and cinema. So we began with a small film club, gathering weekly to consume truly beautiful and original films and with demand and interest staying constant, we soon morphed into an annual celebration of the best of independent and African films – Lights Camera Africa Film Festival
It is always easy, they say, to start off but keeping festivals going can be tough. What is responsible for your staying power?
I am extremely passionate about art, stories and the community and these are ideas I live by daily and it is evident in my work. I believe that the artist voice is supreme. They are the seers and chroniclers and custodians of our heritage and social positions and a platform where they are celebrated, showcased and encouraged is crucial to my work (and life) vision. So I simply look inwards and garner my strength to continue from within. I always go back to my ‘WHY’ and my ‘WHY’ has never faltered and hopefully will never falter despite the challenges. I must also add that I have an amazing community of colleagues, advisers, volunteers, artists and audiences who value the festival and rely on the energy and inspiration it brings year after year – and I can’t let them down. The festival is for me as much as it is for them.
This year’s theme is RESET. Why Reset?
Because I truly believe that the world, the continent of Africa and in particular NIGERIA needs a reset. Something has got to give. Looking at the current world order which I believe is completely chaotic and out of harmony in many senses (economically, environmentally, socially, spiritually, politically, communally, educationally, behaviourally, etc etc etc), I believe it is the responsibility of the conscious members of a society AND by default socio-cultural platforms like mine to question, critique and discuss on the paths we need to forge to achieve harmony – harmony that takes into consideration what the people identify as their ills and possible solutions.
Every year, the LCA introduces something fresh and novel. What will the audience be expecting this year?
This year we go deeper into generating discourse and ideas by overlapping and integrating multiple aspects of art, design, and story telling into our core film program. This is our festival’s signature and it is also the signature of my wider practice as a curator and artistic director across my numerous projects.
LCA will be premiering ‘An Opera of the World’. Why this film and what is the significance.
I am blushing already at the thought of this film. ‘An Opera Of The World’ is important not just because it is made by one of the most conscious brilliant minds of our time, director Professor Manthia Diawara, but because it brings to the fore in an ethereal and extremely moving manner, the timeless conundrum of migration from Africa to Europe and the associated refugee issue, which remains a hot world topic. Diawara uses this film to expose views on a complex socio-political and socio-economic matter but layering these views with music, movement, theatre and high art. It is a seminal work and an unforgettable film which I was privileged to see at its June 2017 world premiere at documenta#14 in Kassel, Germany and knew instantly that I had to share with my own world…because the film is so on theme for our 2017 edition and essentially because I think it’s a film that will force us all to consider and map out our own proverbial ‘opera of Nigeria’. ‘An Opera Of The World” will be our festival’s grand closing film, and I can not wait to welcome Professor Diawara to Lagos to present his film in person to our enthusiastic audience.
Some of the directors we first saw or heard of at LCA have gone on to amazing careers. Do you feel maternal?
Yes I do. One of the original film club members and featured director, till this day calls me ‘MAMA LIFE” in jest and endearment. I said in my radio interviews last week on BeatFM and SmoothFM, that my work is about enabling the voice of the artist and also to restoring glory to the artists who primarily are concerned with truth in their expression. And I thank God that many of the directors recognise this, are grateful for this and also express this to me…most of the time with me ending up in tears!
There is always a strong emphasis on documentaries at LCA. Aside from preserving nation/cultural/historical memories, what do documentaries mean to you?
Documentaries are CRUCIAL. They are contemporary social commentary which we can learn from and they shine a light in the path of our collective development as peoples, societies, cultures, polities and nations. Documentaries are a direct reflection of the realities expressed by some of the most important thinkers and seers of our time and can’t be ignored….unless of course we wish to bury our heads in the sand (a notion that our 2017 festival theme, RESET, concludes is not option). Documentaries are like a filmic mirror that we must look in to.
LCA has become a landmark feature on the Lagos cultural calendar. Even though hosted in Lagos it has retained a strong pan-Africanist flavour. Why is this?
This is because from the onset, the festival, its director, the entire team and its preferred partners have had a world view. Lagos is where we are based, but is not our boundary. We are festival with the art and story telling of Africa at its core and these notions defy physical or imagined borders. The world is our limit and we programme accordingly. The festival was created by the need to use film as a tool for cultural exchange as well as for entertainment (especially African cultures) – and this essence stays with us and permeates into each edition we produce and shall continue to stay very diversely African.
The African Film Festival New York has remained a strong partner. What do they bring to the table and how has the synergy impacted the activities of LCA?
The AFF New York Inc is a big brother and sister to our festival. They provide us with contacts to film makers all over the world, we share ideas and and on many occasions they solicit for us to have screening fees waived. What is very exciting is also the fact that LCA is a resource and a source of connections to Nigerian film makers and many of our festival’s films and featured directors have gone on to have amazing showcases at The African Film Festival in New York where they were received like extended family members.
On a personal level and after 7 incarnations of the Lights Camera Africa!!!, are you ever going to produce or direct a movie?
I think it is inevitable that I will go into producing film. I am more certain of this as I find myself more deeply interested in publishing and investing in publishing platforms which can aid the story telling and story dissemination process.
I am excited to announce that I just recently co-produced a short documentary “Lagos: Birth of a City of Style 1851-1967 “ with acclaimed historian Emeka Keazor and this has opened the flood gates for me. I want to publish books that are important to me…and I also want to make short films about topics I am passionate about.
Editor’s note: LCA 2017 opened yesterday and runs till Sunday October 1, 2017