Sunday, September 13, 2009

Kannywood and beyond

By Akintayo Abodunrin
July 10, 2009 12:16PMT

Leading northern Nigeria filmmaker, Sani Muazu, is president of the Motion Pictures Practitioners Association of Nigeria (MOPPAN). He discusses developments within the industry and on his productions.

Filmmakers in Kano have started to register with the Abubakar Rabo Abdulkarim- led Censors Board with which they fought a war of attrition for the most part of 2008.

“It is true that more than half of the filmmakers in Kano State have registered with [Abubakar] Rabo’s Censors Board, but more out of fear than a belief in what it stands for. The Board cannot really define what it wants other than it is fighting what it refers to as ‘badala’ in Hausa. Its definition of that word can be reduced to pornographic films in Kano.

We, the filmmakers, have argued that none of our members had ever produced such. We are not morally bankrupt to attempt to swim in such murky waters, but the man insists most of the films made prior to his posting to the Board are ‘badala’ films.

He capitalised on the general rejection of singing and dancing the Indian way, in some Hausa films, to justify his claims. But we were the first to agree that we must stop making films with those kinds of songs,” says Sani Muazu, a major producer of Hausa movies.

He continues: “In essence, both the filmmakers and the Board were singing the same song, yet he insists he has a formula for a clean film. To understand what he wants, and so as not to keep stakeholders in Kano out of work for too long, we okayed those that wanted to register with the Board to give him a chance to show us the way.

We now know that he is only interested in collecting the registration fees from filmmakers as nothing has changed in the content and quality of the works approved by that man yet.”

‘Damaged Merchandise’

Muazu’s newest film, ‘Haaja-Damaged Merchandise’ centres on Vesico-Vaginal Fistulae (VVF), a health condition rampant among girls forced into early marriages in the North.

“‘HAAJA-Damaged Merchandise’ is a feature movie that highlighted the VVF issue as never before. There were attempts to bring VVF to the front burner in the past, but never was it attempted at such magnitude and scope by the people that know it most.

This is a movie you finish watching with a grim expression on your face and a plenty-to-chew countenance. I am yet to see a viewer that clapped after a preview despite its promises and a happy ending.

It didn’t scratch the surface like the rest. It exposes the socio-cultural contradictions of our society where we end up doing harm, while trying to do some good. It also not only shows, in a creative way, the VVF issue as a national one adding to maternal mortality, but also proffers solutions out of it.”

Mrs. Yar’Adua and I

Does going to show the movie at Aso Rock for Mrs Turai Yar’Adua not indicatethat he is trying to romance government?

“VVF is a maternal issue that requires policy makers at the highest level to intervene and move to action. Who else is better placed to watch it first than Mrs. Turai Yar’Adua, in company with the wives of other governors?

What is wrong with romancing the government to bring change anyway? But to put the records straight, the movie was supported by the United Nations Population Fund that arranged the premiere for the first lady.”

Indian influence in Hausa movies

The producer of ‘Hafsah’, a movie which reportedly sold about 85,000 copies, apart from box office returns, is concerned about the Indian influences in Hausa movies. He discloses what he is doing about it.

“I am not happy with it and our Association is using training and retraining as the panacea to make it fizzle away. Do you know that once upon a time, even Hollywood struggled to find its footings?

"It is actually better to dance like an Indian than to promote cultism, don’t you think? All these are definitions of our teething beginnings that are bound to fizzle away once the boys are separated from the men.”

No wood tag

Muazu, who began his film career in Nollywood before crossing over to Kannywood, attempts a comparison between the two.

“Ordinarily, I will reject all the ...wood tags you mention, but I kind of see them as necessary for cultural symbolism. I am a part of the growth of the Nigerian film industry, no matter what tag they decide to give it.

"The white journalist that coined Nollywood and called us so, did it to show how we are not Hollywood but today, most of us are happy with that tag. Kannywood is another tag that some say, shows Hausa movies as second-rated.

"I always argue that if Tafawa Balewa and Sardauna of Sokoto never played second fiddle in national politics, Hausa films must rise to the occasion and rub shoulders in terms of creative and technical quality in Nigeria and beyond.

“I do not see points of divergence between Nollywood and Kannywood as they are an integral part of a whole. After all, when UNESCO used statistics to qualify us as the second largest film industry in the world (in terms of numbers), the organisation took into cognisance the multicultural nature of the kinds of films we make, especially the use of different local languages.
"I make films in the language of film, pictures, be they in Hausa or English or even Yoruba or Igbo.”


A vastly experienced filmmaker, Mu’azu was the executive producer for the British Council’s ‘Reel Dialogue’ project. His other notable productions include ‘Agumba’ and ‘Eg’igwe’. He produced ‘Chapters of Our Life’ and ‘Tambaree-The Beats of Pain’. He worked closely with the late Matt Dadzie on ‘Riddles and Hopes’ and ‘Change’.

His ‘Mountain Blues’ won the Best Feature Film in 2007 at the Abuja International Film Festival while ‘Hafsah’ won three nominations at AMAA. The movie also earned him the best Hausa Film Producer/Director at the UK based Africa Film Awards.

‘Mr Johnson’

Muazu was on the set of Bruce Beresford’s ‘Mr Johnson’ – and recalls the experience of working with the late Hubert Ogunde, Femi Fatoba and other greats.

“It was a great pleasure to have worked with all these great people on the set of ‘Mr Johnson’. I still remember Pa Ogunde being flown from his sick bed in the UK to the set of the movie to play his last role on earth.

"I saw him struggle in the pains of ill health to deliver his lines convincingly. I was among the Nigerian and other international crew members that applauded with pride that day. He died a few days after that.

“I remember Femi Fatoba, who is a good actor. I also got to know the likes of Tunde Kelani and a host of other talented Nigerians on that set. But above all, I am glad to have worked with one of the worlds’ greats, Bruce Beresford.

"I have never met a more composed, focused, down-to-earth and easy going film director in my life. No airs at all. Imagine, he got the Oscar that year as the Best Film Director for his movie, ‘Driving Miss Daisy’, but here he was working with us without raising a shoulder.”

Naturally, Muazu took some lessons away from the production. “The technical crew of ‘Mr Johnson’ was the best in the world then. I worked directly under the tutelage of Rosemary Burrows whom we fondly called Frox. There is no way you can work with those people and be the same again, never.

"That production changed me beyond anything I can imagine. You know, you don’t learn film in the classroom, you learn on locations, sets. My youthful exuberance as a filmmaker was tamed for the man in me to take over after ‘Mr Johnson.’”

Film Development Centre

Muazu has been agitating for the Nigerian Film Resource Development Centre project for a long time. “It is only in Nigeria where film is developing at an alarming pace without the necessary structure with corresponding investment to nurture and give it a sense of direction.

"Our antecedent is unlike that of Hollywood where the major studios played that role from inception. We are also not like Bollywood. If an investor is interested in film in Nigeria, where will he go to?
"The NFC in Jos, a local bank or the Censors Board? Where will the banks access facts and figures about the industry in Nigeria, from the fragmented Guilds and Associations?

"We really need at least three film resource centres to be situated in Lagos, Enugu and Kano. These centres must be manned by the practitioners themselves where issues such as the development of production villages and film support resources, training, technology and professional matters can be harnessed.”

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