Monday, November 08, 2004

Kae-Kazim on what SouthAfrica can learn from Nigeria

Cape Town based filmmaker Hakeem Kae-Kazim recently completed a co-production, Coming to South Africa, with a Nigerian producer. Shot on minimal budget, on digital video, over ten days, with three lights and "lucky locations" in Durban, Kae-Kazim has emerged from the experience with a better understanding of the Nigerian style of film-making.

"It was deliberately done 'the Nigerian way.' We wanted to mimic that style in the South African context," he says.

The film tells the story of two Nigerians who come to South Africa to improve themselves but end up in a drug gang. Kae-Kazim says it's a story that "humanises the South African stereotype about Nigerians." At the same time it's a cautionary tale to Nigerians back home as to why their fellow countrymen get such a bad press here.

Kae-Kazim admires the Nigerian filmmakers for finding and making stories that entertain, for doing the business without looking over their shoulder for guidance and affirmation.

In a population where thousands of VHS cassettes and VCDs are being pumped into the market, competition is intense. Keeping it cheap is a way of getting high turnover, small margins and maximum return - and for the consumers, a great variety of product choice. Inevitably, this opens up a can of questions about volume versus quality. But the value lies in the audience reception and, as Kae-Kazim notes, some directors are pushing out three or four films at a time.

So, does quality matter to Nigerian filmmakers? The answer from Kae-Kazim is that you make the best out of what you've got available. Omotoso reckons that if a producer thinks he can get more bang from his buck by upping the investment, then he will do that. But the bottom line is - business. It's strictly business.

Typically, movies from the Nigerian stable have riveting storylines, says Hakeem Kae-Kazim, although they may be patchy in terms of technique. It all depends on the maker and the amount of budget and time he can afford.

Coming to South Africa was his first experience of working in this way, at high-speed, relying on the story to make the impact. But the experience was critical in his development. Like all filmmakers would like the big-budget movie to fall into his lap, but he can't afford to rely on that happening.

"We must begin to tell it from our own perspective. I want to tell the story. I don't want to wait three or four years to tell a story because I don't have the money."

For Hakeem, the method is: fill the gap, improve your technique as you learn, by doing; compete in the market.

It's all very well trying to do the Hollywood copycat formula movie that is going to make millions (if you get really lucky), but the most important motto is - tell our own stories.

Kae-Kazim continues: "You have to look at where you started, and then get better. Otherwise we are just playing catch up the whole time." And that, as we know, is not how Bollywood evolved.

Kae-Kazim believes, however, that the popular tide is turning in Nigeria. Audiences are beginning to discriminate much more. They are asking for quality of technique, style and story-telling. The practitioners themselves are looking to create guilds for professional practitioners - a case of separating the wheat from the chaff.

Wait, he says, "In three years time it will be a different picture in Nigeria, whilst South Africa is still flapping about in the dark."

One of the hot issues at Sithengi will be how South African filmmakers respond to the challenge of the Nigerians. Are their audiences even the same? How do our filmmakers respond to local audiences? Nigerians tend to invest in home entertainment - video and DVD machines. South Africans in the township lack that basic technology.

It's time for change? The Nigerians will be at Sithengi in force, to show just how change is done.

Source: Sithengi Newsletter