Why are documentaries so important?
Documentary filmmaking is a sober genre fostering reflections on culture, politics, ethics, philosophy, society, science, spirituality and addressing questions of day-to-day life. It is also a cultural practice and every form of its interpretation enriches a culture. And because'culture' is an evolving definition, documentaries represent important interpretations of these evolving shared experiences. The dimensions of documentary as a tool for deepening human experiences by bringing perspectives to history is a vital and urgent need to foster needed development and grow the nascent democratic experiments in our continent.
What is the vision of IREP?
At IREP, we strongly believe that documentary can help to recreate the African identity and re-tell the narrative of the "African experience" in the voice of those living the experience. That is why our festival's thematic framework from inception - five years ago - has been built around the phrase "Africa in Self-Conversation." It's about self-realization and identity. In this emerging global environment, cultural distinctions and dissection aid understanding as well as preserve and protect diversity. Documentaries are important in helping us all to express our "individualities" within the blurred boundaries of the global community.
Can you shed more light on "Documentaries and the digital space"?
Documentaries are also personal and too important to be left in the hands of institutions. It should be in the hands of the population. Today, everything happens at the speed of light - fast foods, fast cars, fast communication, fast marriages. All human experiences - social political and economic - are moving at a rapid pace, requiring not only perspectives but individual interpretations of their meaning and impact.
Thankfully, the'accessibility' of the digital space has created the opportunity and tools for individuals to not only document their'reality' as it happens but to broadcast and distribute their story globally within minutes.
It has already been five years. What has IREP achieved in this period?
Well, for starters, we have rekindled awareness of the power and possibilities of documentary to provoke debate; highlight issues; explicate human experiences, and explore history and cultures. We have over the past five years screened more than 500 films of diverse styles, languages and themes from over 40 countries of the world. We have built an audience for documentaries that are entertaining, impactful, penetrating and enlightening. We have formed strategic international alliances and partnerships with the Africa World Documentary Film Festival at the University of Missouri, USA, to access contemporary films and filmmakers from across the world.
Our partners have also included the Goethe-Institut, with whom we began five years ago; the British Council; the Ford Foundation; Freedom Park, and many others who have supported our vision. We have provided training opportunities for emerging young filmmakers through our Festival Workshops, documentaries, and international networking platforms for experienced producers. We have achieved a lot in just five years because more than ever before, documentary films from Nigeria, and even more documentary filmmakers, are emerging to participate at the IREP Documentary Film Festival every year.
How have you managed to keep going despite the challenges?
We have retained our passion for the genre and focused on building on our strategic plans year on year. Of course, our yearly challenge has always been finding support but we are growing stronger by the year. The IREP brand is known across the continent and beyond. It is trusted for its quality and is still creating impact. We have made it this far and we are thankful, especially to all our friends and our supporters who continue to believe in the importance of our vision.
What can we expect this year - anything new?
This landmark fifth anniversary festival will explore the theme "Reinventing Documentary Filmmaking in a Digital Space" and it will form the overriding concern that our screenings, presentations and conversations will explore. Though conceived on the traditional IREP thematic framework of ‘Africa in Self-conversation', the theme is premised on the reality that digital media technology is expanding narrative possibilities and shaping audiences' experiences of how realities are articulated.
Documentary filmmaking is coming to terms with these new realities and continuously finding hybrid strategies to navigate the blurred lines crisscrossing verité and satisfying the ever-changing temperament of the digital world that is hip, fun-seeking, chaotic, multi-tasking, and attention-sapping.
For documentary filmmaking, digital technology presents a challenge and an opportunity that would either remarkably transform and redefine what passes as a documentary film or bury the art in its past. More than ever before there is a need to reinvent the art of documentary filmmaking within the space of the new elements that are dictating the trend of media consumption and experience globally. We are also conscious of the inevitable movement of television broadcasting and services into full digital era as envisaged by the Nigeria Broadcasting Commission and that quite a lot of African nations have set [the] same 2015 as deadline for their full embrace of digital broadcasting on the continent.
What are the other highlights of this year's festival?
Highlights of the festival will include film screenings, keynote speeches, panel discussions, producers' roundtable, awards presentation, and training/workshops. This festival will screen over 40 films curated around themes and issues in Africa. It has become a tradition for the festival to engage Africa and Africans in self-conversation and create talking points that can bring insights on developmental issues in Africa.
This edition of the festival has deliberately allowed an eclectic selection of films addressing different subject matters, and selected widely from different parts of the world, including USA, South Africa, Uganda, Ghana, Germany, Nigeria, and many more.
Tell us about the Producers' Roundtable.
The Producers' Roundtable is a forum that brings international filmmakers and producers together in an extensive discussion that covers areas such as international collaborations and co-productions; film distributions; publicity and marketing; international best practices, and prevailing industry trends. This edition of the Producers' Roundtable will explore the opportunities that technology brings to film distribution using case studies from very successful campaigns.
The migration to digital broadcast by many countries in Africa will also be a cogent point of discussion, particularly on how documentary filmmaking can take advantage of the policy.
And will awards be given out this year?
Every edition of the iREPRESENT International Documentary Film Festival, we recognize the industry and commitment of those who have made immense contributions to the discipline of documentary filmmaking in Nigeria. These cut across different areas that facilitate the filmmaking process. Recipients of the iREP Festival Awards from past festivals include Chike Maduegbuna, Emeka Mba, Sandra Obiago, Biola Alabi, and Adegboyega Arulogun. Deserving personalities will also be presented with the award this year.
Tell us about the trainings and workshops.
In the last four years, iREP has trained close to 200 young, up-and-coming filmmakers in the art of documentary filmmaking. This edition of the festival will expand on what has been done in the past. The training will run for four days, offering intensive hands-on knowledge of filmmaking. The training is a two-tier documentary filmmaking course on "Telling Your Story in the Digital Space" and "Distributing Your Story in the Digital Space."
Our goal is to prepare the participants for the opportunities of digital filmmaking in a broad sense. We believe that documentary filmmakers must become more flexible and invent new ways of telling stories across multiple platforms and immersive formats. The thrust for a post-modernist, self-aware documentary film culture must find a space for itself in the digital agenda and marry creative storytelling with timelessness of issues that are yearning to be told. This fifth edition of iREP will interrogate how the documentary filmmaker is engaging his art within the digital space - can documentaries remain verité, or like beauty, will the truth be in the eyes of the beholder? We look forward to the activities and interactions of the 2015 festival with great excitement, and we hope strongly that as many people as possible would be a part of it.
by Isabella Akinseye
First published in iREP 2015 Newsletter - Day 1, with support of iRep FilmFest and Goethe-Institut Nigeria.