By Adaeze Umolu
31ST October 2013 when we all stayed awake as the nations had their final day to pour in their entries to the 86th Academy Awards, fondly called the Oscars, for the Best Foreign Language Film category.
This year we had four African entries. The nation of Chad entered ‘GriGris’; Egypt entered ‘Winter of Discontent’; Morocco entered Les chevaux de Dieu (Horses of God) and South Africa entered ‘Four Corners’. South Africa has been one of the few consistent African nations but not a lot of noise has been made about Four Corners (their 10th entry so far), a fairly unknown film. Chad’s ‘GriGris’ on the other hand is easily the most successful of these four titles.
This year Mahamat-Saleh Haroun’s ‘Grigris’ was entered for the sought after Palme d’Or prize at the Cannes Film Festival. The film was picked up by both UK and USA film distributors. Morocco’s ‘God’s Horses’ is equally one to watch out for has it is on the list of 58 films compiled by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association being considered for Golden Globe 2014 nominations in the Best Foreign Language Film category, which has screened for the Hollywood Foreign Press Association. No one knows whether it will make the final short list of 5 nominees, until nominations are announced on December 12, 2013. However this nomination has raised further awareness for the film.
Nollywood, Africa’s biggest film industry and the second biggest globally did not have any entry and has never had an entry. Nollywood is lavishly celebrating 20 years, so it is indeed a year of expectation for African Cinema Film Enthusiasts the world over. A year we thought would provide us a debut to the Oscars.
In January this year I wrote a piece after the 85th Oscar nominees were announced. At the 85th we also had only four African entries and not one of them made the shortlist. I expressed sadness that we were left out and obtained some solace in ‘War Witch’, the entry from Canada about a Congolese child soldier, one of the classic Foreign Films with an African theme.
‘War Witch’ tells the story of Komona, a young girl who was kidnapped by African rebels at the age of 12 and forced at gunpoint to murder her parents and fight against the government. The film was shot in the Congo with a cast of unknown actors such as star Rachel Mwanza, a newcomer who was discovered on the streets of Kinshasa. The 85th wasn’t all sad news for African filmmakers as South Africa ‘docu’ – Searching for Sugar Man picked up the award for Best Documentary.
My expectation for a better next time was already fed when I heard Adichie Chimamanda’s Biafara based Novel, ‘Half of a Yellow Sun’, was been adapted for the big screen. This movie was engaging enough for me to consider it a potential Oscar contender for in 2014. Hailed as Nigeria’s most expensive project, the least they could do was put it forward as a candidate for Nigeria’s foreign film entry for the 86th Oscar. This excitement would fade, unfortunately, as this movie doesn’t even qualify ‘Executive produced’ and produced by British filmmakers – Gail Egan and Andrea Calderwood, starring two British actors as leads – Thandie Newton and Chiwetel Ejiofor, it wouldn’t qualify as Nigerian’s entry. If the characters spoke predominantly Igbo, as it is after all set in Biafara, then maybe we stood a chance. Since Nigeria’s most expensive movie had no chance of getting us into the Oscars, let us examine what the criteria for foreign language film are:
Films competing in the Foreign Language Film category must have been first released in the country submitting them during the eligibility period defined by the rules of the Academy, and must have been exhibited for at least seven consecutive days in a commercial movie theater.
Although a film has to be “foreign” (i.e. non-American) in order to be nominated for the Award, it also has to be in a language other than English. Foreign films where the majority of the dialogue is in English cannot qualify for the Foreign Language Film Award
The designation of each country’s official submission has to be done by an organization, jury or committee composed of people from the film industry, whose members’ names must be sent to the Academy. Only one film is accepted from each country.
Based on this model Ace filmmaker Tunde Kelani’s Maami would easily fit into this profile. ‘Most’ of Kunle Afolayan’s movies could easily be contenders and given the way they pick up international awards too. Hausa true-life-themed movie – Blood and Henna, a film inspired by the 1996 Pfizer Clinical Test in Kano, is the sort of film we would also be looking at to represent Nigeria. Frankly any great Yoruba movie, seeing that the boundaries are been pushed these days, would serve as an ideal candidate for this category. The Isong sisters, the dual of Emen Isong and Uduak Isong-Oguamanam coming out with a World-class Efik Movie would not be a bad idea. And now that Obi Emelonye has dabbled into the Igbo movie making business with the launch of his latest flick, Onye Ozi, then the options are limitless for our nation.
Basically, Nigerian filmmakers have the ability to do it, yet again this year we are fed with nothing. It would have been nice if we had ten possible contenders and then the whole process of selecting just one would begin. The very core of this problem is Nigeria doesn’t even have the mechanism in place to select a film and at this stage it would be a good idea to kick start the process for 2015. Other nations who put forward a movie have a system in place that selects the film which bares the nation’s touch to the Oscars.
South Africa goes as far as publicizing a call for entry to filmmakers for their works to be considered for the Oscars. This process is managed by the National Film and Video Foundation (NFVF) of South Africa who are officially recognized by the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences to make submissions on behalf of the local film industry. A committee also exists to manage the process more intimately. Darrell Roodt’s ‘Little One’ which was South Africa’s choice for the 85th Academy Awards was chosen by the South African Academy Awards selection committee, which actually made ‘Little One’ Roodt’s second time on the Oscars stage, after his 2005 nomination of ‘Yesterday’. The selection committee described ‘Little One’ as “a universal story made local,” calling it “a poignant, moving and minimalist narrative which is apologetically South African.” Other considerations could include how well the movie has done internationally especially within film festivals.
This article is not trying to undermine our own awards like the African Movie Academy Awards (AMAA) and other local awards which are very important. But surely if South Africa and Chad can make an entry then Nigeria can very well make one too. This article is also not canvassing that a movie be made entirely for the eventual process of been put forward as an Oscar ‘rep’ but we already have our colourful indigenous languages so our movies should be equally as brilliant.
For the purposes of this article I should remind myself about the overall body in Nigeria that could select a movie that truly reflects the nation impartially at the Oscars. I however think no such body exists. Again I may be wrong and maybe one has been established but is dormant. At this stage I will draw my inspiration from outside Cinema, and consider that if ‘Phyno’ and ‘Olamide’ can take Igbo and Yoruba rap music to greater lengths respectively running on the predecessors of rappers, Nigga Raw and DaGrin, then indigenous movies in 2015 could record progress enough for the Best Foreign Language Film category at the 87th Academy Awards.