Monday, February 12, 2007

To Lapland And Back In Five Days

I wrote this over a year ago but did not publish for some reasons.  It still brings back colourful and fond memories of my hosts - THE SAMI.

My invitation to Finland had been quite simple. It read; 'we the Friends of Sami Art association would like to invite you, Babatunde Kelani to our Skabmagovat - Indigenous Peoples' Film Festival 2007. The festival will take place in Inari, about 1200 north from the Finland capital, Helsinki, from 25th to 29th January. I confess, I have never been this far north of Europe before and I had reasons to be apprehensive. But first, some education.

Who Are the Sami? They are an indigenous people of the North who are over 150,000. Spread through Finland, Norway, Sweden and Russia, they have their own history, language, culture, livelihood, way of life and identity. In spite of great odds, they have built great institutions and as I was to later find out; without fighting a single war. What about my own? The Yorubas estimated at some 35 million, are spread throughout the south western region of Nigeria, parts of West Africa and also in the diaspora including, Brazil, Cuba, Haiti and the United States of America.  Regrettably however, the tribe has very little to show in terms of institutions and cultural establishments. The principal cities, Ife, being the spiritual headquarters and Oyo, the political cannot boast of museum or centres worthy of tourism potentials.  The language and culture of the Yorubas at home is now under threat of extinction faced with the challenges of a fast globalising world. I suspect that mentally, we followed the colonialists after they voluntarily withdrew and decided to leave us alone. We became follow-follow and inherited a permanent colonial hangover.
As my departure day drew near, I started to develop cold feet. I had heard rumours of -30c temperature and I could not imagine how anyone could survive in such inclement weather. Or what would I eat? My imagination took over. How about roasted reindeer? Or penguin pepper soup or grilled bear meat? If I had hoped that I would be denied a visa to prevent my travelling that was shattered into smithereens as the Finnish consulate had been warm, friendly and had issued me a visa that same day.

My travelling is usually preceded by an incredibly busy day which leaves me completely fagged out and just about ready to creep on board of British Airways flight departing Lagos at midnight. Arrival was early in London around 5 a.m. and temperature at 1c. However, there was plenty of time for the 10:20 connection flight to Helsinki. Enough time for the slow and cumbersome security and immigration formalities which is a constant feature at the Heathrow airport in London.

Arriving Helsinki later that afternoon, my observation was that everything was white, caked with snow. The onboard in-flight monitor flashed outside temperature at minus 9c and the PA cracked to life to welcome us but unfortunately there will be bus transportation only to passport control. This meant an early encounter with the snow at -9c; well, better sooner than later.

We finally arrived Ivalo after another one and half hour flight from Helsinki. This could only mean that Finland has a larger land size than Nigeria since it takes about one hour to fly from Lagos to the farthest part of Nigeria. Despite the land mass, the total population of Finland I was to find out is only 5 million people. Now, Ivalo was whiter than Helsinki, I concluded, during our forty minutes ride by car to the village of Inari, both the centre of Sami culture in Finland and the appropriate venue of the festival, with only a short break at a local restaurant to a meal of hot salmon soup.

The highlight of my trip apart from screening the film 'The Narrow Path' was visiting a reindeer farm dressed in what was almost a space suit.  And not many people except the Sami can boast of having fed a live reindeer in a minus 30c and live to tell the story.

Monday, January 1, 2007

When Reality Overtakes Art

Agogo Eewo, our previous movie is a blend of traditional Yoruba folklore with modern political sensibilities in a scorching allegory of corruption in the highest places. Set in a fictional Jogbo but interpreted by many as a thin disguise for a socio-political entity named Nigeria. Can reality overtake art? Since the film was produced a few years ago, a lot of water has passed under the proverbial bridge. Events in the country last year alone make the events in Agogo Eewo pale into nothingness.

At the Los Angeles Film Festival, 2004 where the films were screened, I got interesting questions from the American audience. Will I come back to Hollywood to make movies? My answer was an emphatic NO. The ingredients I needed to craft our movies abound in my environment. The mountains, hills, forests, rivers, the old and new cities and indeed our entire cultural landscape are nearby at home in Nigeria. Are the movies action films. Another NO - they are films that are tied to issues that concern us as a developing nation. There is enough action in our lives already for free.

Did you watch the aircraft disasters whose victims are given mass burial with unmarked graves in full technicolor? The oil pipeline explosions engulfing people and environment with fire and flames roasting everything in its path into cinders? Or the collapsed buildings in glorious slow motion and wails of the trapped and wounded shouting for help that would come too late? Daylight bank armed robberies with the stacatto of gunfire coming from the most automatic and sophisticated weapons providing real sound effects? The commando style snatches of expatriate oil workers by armed militias operating from flying boats in the Delta region? Those bodies prone on the ground groaning from pains or already lifeless are not film extras or background actors. They are Nigerians. The tears and blood are no makeup but the real thing. And yet the real drama with unbelievable plot and twists has shifted to Aso Rock and its occupants, the national and state houses of assembly, the house of representatives, the local governments. The courts write the scripts installing, de-installing, re-installing of political office holders. Comedy comes in the form of my interractions with area boys who have installed parallel governments from local government to state and federal levels. That is comic relief indeed. Enough jagajaga. Let us, as Fela Anikulapo Kuti, the afrobeat icon sang, clear our minds from this musical contraption called 2006 and re-focus for 2007.

My prediction is full of hope and great expectation for the entertainment industry in the new year. We need great movies, music, drama, literature, art etc that will assuage the already battered mind and body of our people. The whole entertainment industry is poised to take Nigeria to the greatest heights in 2007 or has reality already overtaken art?