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Michaela Moye
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Michaela Moye, our writer (Africiné Magazine / iREP Report)

Still from BEER AT ITS BEST, 1955

Audience at Footprints, Screening in Lagos

iREP 2017

Footprints: A Walk through Time

The sun is setting.
Lagos Island is tinged pink.
Sitting on the fourth floor #iRep2017 newsroom at Goethe-Institut Lagos, I can see and hear the bustle of the cramped yet sprawling city.
"Lagos is an up to date city," read one of the captions in the silent film I just watched. The film is one of five that comprised the British Council's presentation at this year's edition of the iRep Film Festival. The hour-long presentation is, in turn, a part of FOOTPRINTS, an archival project by the British Council and the British Film Institute (BFI) that will culminate in open access digitized colonial era Nigerian footage: ‘byte-sized' history, if you will.
It is easy to understand why Lagos holds the reputation for being cosmopolitan. Certainly, looking at the footage from the Southern Provinces of Nigeria report, one could perhaps say the city has always been this way.

Footprints trailer - the British Council's Nigerian film archive project from British Council Film on Vimeo.

But this is not an article on Lagos alone. It is an attempt to view present-day Nigeria and Nigerians through the lens of recorded history. The five films that comprise the FOOTPRINTS presentation are: Africa's Fighting Men [1943], Nigeria's New Constitution [1952], Northern Provinces of Nigeria [1928], Southern Provinces of Nigeria [1940], and Beer at Its Best [1955].

Missing in Action
AFRICA'S FIGHTING MEN [1943] is a colonial documentary on the war-time contributions made by African men in the service of Britain. From operations in Ceylon to repelling Italy on Abyssinian shores. The narrative of this film is strong with what, at the time of its making, was considered high praise indeed. Of Nigerians serving in The West African Frontier Force (WAFF): "The great strength and endurance of the African is invaluable for work like this." Work like this referring to transporting, assembling and operating heavy artillery. Nigerian fighters were commended for their "bravery" and "commitment to their cause." Save, Peter Thomas, the Lagos civil servant who became the first African to fly in Britain's Royal Air Force (RAF), no other Nigerian is mentioned by name. Little has changed then: Nigerian military and para-military men and women battling Boko Haram are reported only in numbers - no names, no faces - except for the few whose loved ones honour them on Facebook.

NIGERIA'S NEW CONSTITUTION [1952] focused largely on the regional elections conducted after the introduction of what became known as ‘Macpherson's Constitution'. Footage of Nigerian cities like Kano, Enugu, Ibadan, and Lagos revealed the peculiarities of each region and a simple similarity - a large male presence. Although footage from Lagos showed a few women, these women were not voters. Female participation in governance and perceptions of women in leadership may have improved in the past decade, but only just.

NORTHERN PROVINCES OF NIGERIA [1928] and SOUTHERN PROVINCES OF NIGERIA [1940] are two documentaries that centre on the development of colonial Nigeria: from the bridges and the railways in Northern Nigeria, to the thriving timber exportation, rubber production and coal mining in the then-Southern Protectorate. "Nigeria is now completely independent of outside sources," read captioned scenes of the coal industry in Enugu. During the screening, there was a collective sigh from the audience. Nigeria's production industries atrophied in the 1980s and the country is now largely dependent on imports.

Then as Now
BEER AT ITS BEST [1955] is a lengthy advertisement for Star Beer, a beverage that is still hugely popular in Nigeria. Footage covers the production process: receiving imported Dutch malt at Apapa Wharf; brewing; fermentation; bottling, and shipping. The opening scene of three men enjoying several bottles of the "first prize winning" lager loops around to end the documentary. Then, as now, enjoyment of life's pleasures is a firm foundation of Nigerian society - whether alcoholic or not.
In seeking pleasure, political power, and profit, Nigerians appears to have deliberately forgotten to document Nigeria's history. Others are still telling our story.

By Michaela Moye

First published in iREP 2017 Newsletter - Issue 2, edited by Derin Ajao, with support of iRep FilmFest and Goethe-Institut Nigeria. Courtesy iREP.

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Footprints 2017

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Ajao Derin


15/03/2017 > 19/03/2017
festival |Nigeria |
iREP international Documentary Film Festival 2017
7ème édition. Theme: Archiving Africa. Guest of honour: Jihan El Tahri.

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Royaume-Uni | LONDON

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