Celebrating 10 years of Lights, Camera, Africa!!! film festival with Ugoma Adegoke – Toni Kan

This independence weekend would have marked the 10th year anniversary of the wave-making, industry-defining Lights, Camera, Africa!!! Film festival, co-founded by the amazing Ugoma Adegoke but the celebration will be muted because of Covid-19 and the social distancing protocols required to help flatten the curve. thelagosreview.ng had a chat with Ugoma Adegoke in a bid to unpack 10 years of the festival while highlighting some of the amazing moments even as we project into the future  post Covid-19 and the new normal we find ourselves in. Excerpts.

Thelagosreview: Where did the idea for Lights, Camera, Africa!!! Film festival come from?

Ugoma Adegoke: It was actually coined during a conversation I had with Chika Anadu in 2010 on the back of the successful but informal weekly film nights that i hosted at The Life House back in the day. The Life House was a community as well as a pioneering space which was dedicated to sharing and gathering various aspects of art and culture – and film was at the centre of this. Every Thursday, with the help of volunteers and film enthusiasts like Lala Akindoju, Lanre Shasore, Jinmi Sonuga and Femi Obagun, we staged free screenings of cult classics, world and African cinema. They were so successful and well received – and thus the idea of a film festival was born, to widen that reach and engagement.

TLR: 10 years is a long time to keep a festival going especially an independent film festival without big money backers. How has the journey been and what has sustained you this far?

UA: A friend of mine and I were speaking recently and he posited that “passion makes new and great things possible”. I couldn’t agree more with the statement. Yes I am a passion baby. Passion for community, for enabling connections, for enlightening people, for creating possibilities and for elevating culture. Passion and a bit of stubbornness and lots of help from friends and believing inspired strangers – these are the things that have sustained me. Yes it has been very tough to keep an independent film festival going, and every year my volunteer turned friend turned sister and partner, Lanre Shasore and I swear that we won’t do it the next year, but here we are. I am a romantic and an optimist and I like to think that I have focused more on the festival’s wins and the pleasure than on the pain. By God’s grace, we will see you in another 10 years.

TLR: On October 2, Kenneth Gyang’s new feature, Oloture, makes its Netflix debut. Abba T. Makama’s The Lost Okoroshi is on Netflix. Lala Akindoju is making a star turn in Oloture. I could go on and on, but you get the picture. These are all LCA alums. How does it make you feel as an arbiter of cultural taste?

UA: I feel proud, elated and somewhat vindicated. These are shining creative lights that could have easily been drowned out in a country which, once upon a time, believed that mainstream and popular were the only things worth paying attention to. I doubt that anyone would deny the role that LCA has played in the last 10 years through this festival to shine light on raw talent, break down closed doors, return nobility to the filmmaker and highlight the danger of that problematic single story – by simply presenting multiple varied stories. Like The Life House, LCA started slightly ahead of its time and the beginning was very lonely – but unknowingly and knowingly we were paving paths. Today, there is full proof that Africa is not a country and that Nigeria is a beautiful kaleidescope of cultures, creativity and stories. Well I always knew that, and LCA always supported that reality and the creatives associated with that reality. It is beautiful to see history unravelling before me and to have a solid and undisputed seat at that proverbial table.  For me it’s always been about us, about creation and about elevation – we and all our children are going all the way up.

TLR: With Netflix changing the game and scene in Nigeria, what do you think will be the long term effect on the film industry?

I think that this will fuel more productions, more stories, more perspectives – and this is a good thing. The pool of content will widen, tastes will sharpen, the market and that invisible hand will rule, connecting creators to receivers. All I ask of Netflix and those who will come after (I trust competition to enter and I crave this) is to not get carried away with sensationalism and commercial prowess that only a market like Nigeria can give, and to also understand their social responsibility to give back to communities and to do so in ways which are relevant, not some one-size-fits-all giving back. I would like to see Netflix invest heavily in educational, truthful historical content and collaborate with schools from primary level all the way up to higher institutions of learning. Our development must be wholistic and this means –  WIDENING the pool and reach of film content as well as WIDENING the brains and minds of the receivers of that content. Commerce and Culture must stay close together because one is just as important as the other. This is the responsible and customised development that I want to see…because I know, love and serve Nigeria and I have the scars to prove it – so I think my small voice matters.

TLR: For 10 long years, you have midwifed a film festival which has become a fixture on the Lagos culture calendar? Did you see this festival lasting this long when you started?

UA: Midwifed indeed. LOL! Thank you for that accolade. Birthing is never easy. Nurturing is even harder and can easily go awry if one is not intentional. I didn’t think the festival would last this long. That speaks more to my personal philosophy rather than my commitment to the festival. The truth is that I never really think that far ahead. Every year, my mission is/was to give it my very best shot, commit totally (often breaking down for weeks after each festival) and then start again for the next year. This has been the flow. Staying in the moment and doing my absolute best.

TLR: Following up on that question, as a culture impresario and film buff, do you think that you will one day go into film production? I ask this well aware that you already have a documentary under your belt.

UA: Oh yes, this is inevitable. I have enjoyed providing a platform that shares so many stories and ideas and creates links between film, music, art, culture and identity. I also have this niggling need to make much needed stories that have Nigerian history and humanity at the core. I was honoured to co-produce “Lagos: Birth of a City of Style 1851-1967” with Emeka Ed Keazor in 2017 and hope to continue in this fashion. This bug has kicked off nicely in 2020 as I am publishing a very special biographical book which I will let you know about in due course.

TLR: As an arbiter of taste in the film ecosystem, what is your take on the so called new Nollywood and the fast-paced changes occurring with big budget films as well as streaming services like Netflix and Iroko?

UA: I welcome multiplicity in the options available so these changes are welcome and for now we are all just going to have to watch and see how it all pans out. Having said that I am weary of hype and remain concerned that we not spend time creating boxes and new categories for ulterior motives and to keep keeping important but less popular film makers and sub genres out and spend more time raising the bars of quality and intention and staying as true as we can (bearing commercial viability in mind) to the original and still important premise of filmmaking as art and as medium – particularly in a country that is still so very poor and dangerously undereducated and miseducated. We can not copy and inhale foreign models of acculturization just because we are at par with them technologically. The jury remains out on this one for me. All in all, I am happy with the democratisation of the space – let everyone come out and play and in no time, the market will speak as will the works of the passionate and truly talented.

TLR: LCA has always gravitated, in my view, towards the quirky, the independent and the overtly artistic, where did your filmic taste come from?

UA: I plead guilty to the gravitations and accept your view. I am a maker, an artist, a creator, a designer, and a curator of various facets of the arts. I am also about giving voice to the underdog. So as the founder and the director of the festival, my slant is of course present in the programming. But it has never been a monologue. Our programming from day 1 has always been about collaboration, creative talent, truth, passion and nobility as well as entertainment. We are a festival dedicated to the best of independent (African) cinema. My filmic taste is inspired by physical and imaginary travel, humanity and my changing identity as a global citizen of Nigerian, Igbo, Female affectations.

TLR: They say to make lists is to cause offence so I will take this outside Nigeria; who are your Top 5 directors, Top 5 actors and top 5 actresses.

UA: Wahala O! I have never ever been asked this question. This is a set up. Lol!. I will answer this question as a global citizen if I may so will also stay inside Nigeria a bit. (wink)

Directors – Ousmane Sembene, Tunde Kelani, Spike Lee, Woody Allen, Francis Ford Coppola

Actresses – Viola Davis, Angela Basset, Diane Keaton, Meryl Streep, Julia Roberts

Actors – Robert DeNiro, Denzel Washington, O.C Ukeje, Samuel L. Jackson, Johnny Depp

TLR: And as a follow up share with us some highpoints of LCA’s 10 years long journey.

UA: 2013:The privilege of presenting the World Premiere of ‘Confusion Na Wa’ (Kenneth Gyang). 2014: The live phone interview with William Onyeabor conducted by Toni Kan after we screened ’Fantastic Man; Who is William Onyeabor?’(Jake Sumner). Onyeabor died less than 3 years later and I am eternally proud that we were able to share this mysterious man with Nigerians through a documentary at our festival. 2015: Screening ‘Timbuktu’ by Abderrahmane Sissako (the first ever public screening in Nigeria), a film which mysteriously refused to play and could have destroyed the closing night of the festival. Instead it became the greatest show of solidarity, community, love and passion for film. We found a solution, the film eventually played to an audience glued to the screen. The standing ovation afterwards to the film, the creator of the film and the festival for making this historical moment happen is one of the moments I will never forget. The crazy laughter that year thanks to ‘Sex, Okra and Salted Butter’(Mahamat Saleh Haroun), ‘Gone Too Far’(Destiny Ekaragha) and ‘White Wedding’ (Jann Turner). Laughter is such wonderful medicine. 2016: Opening the festival with ‘GREEN WHITE GREEN’ by Abba Makama. This was the opening of openings in more ways than one – for the festival and for Abba. 2017: The tears stirred by ‘Afia Attack’(Ujuaku Akukwe) and the glory and sheer power of ‘An Opera Of The World’(Manthia Diawara). 2018: The deafening applause and the bursting room of commendation that followed our Nigeria premieres of ‘The Delivery Boy’ (Adekunle Adejuyigbe) and ‘KASALA!’ (Ema Edosio). These two amazing creatives have gone on to do amazing things and we are proud to have been a small part of their launchpad stories. 2012 – 2019: I have to just also add that it is a forever highlight and a joy to see our festival brochures come to life, in the hands and hearts of festival goers. This is the only thing that stays with us after the festival ends each year and I am extremely proud of the publishing canon that the festival has also intentionally created.

TLR: Covid-19 has ensured that we will not be massing together this independence weekend, but it won’t last forever. So, what are your plans for the future of LCA?

UA: The plan is to stay the course and keep evolving. And to quote a recent epiphany which I shared on my Instagram page (Monday 21 Sept. 2020) ‘I am not exactly certain where I am going, but I know that I am not lost’

TLR: Thank you.

Photo credit: Bumi Thomas

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