A Gathering of Women in Film

Panel session at the National Female Filmmakers’ Congress. “Women belong in all spaces.” We are glad to see that more women have accepted this and are creating rooms for themselves to be seen and heard. While there is still so much work to be done, we are seeing women buck against gender norms in career choices because, and it is sad that this has to be said…careers are not gendered. We are especially ecstatic about the number of women who are taking on roles in all areas of filmmaking: writing, editing, directing, production, marketing, distribution etc. You are as likely today to see a woman rigging her own camera and lights as you are to see one in the biggest rooms where film publicity and distribution are discussed.  This is such a flex!  It is why when we heard about the conference for women in film, we were excited to attend. The National Female Filmmakers Congress was organized by Girls Voices Initiative, conveners of  Women’s International Film Festival Nigeria (WIFFEN), on October 11, 2022 at the Shehu Musa Yar’adua Centre in Abuja. The congress was a gathering of filmmakers to celebrate women in film, the International Day of the Girl Child and World Mental Health Day. It was an avenue to watch films made by women, listen to filmmakers share their experiences in the industry, and generally pick up lessons that we could adopt to improve our work as filmmakers. Cross-section of participants at the event. Welcome remarks were given by Emmanuelle Blatmann, the French Ambassador to Nigeria, and Mrs. Carolyn Seaman, Creative Director, Girls Voices Initiative. Two films were screened at the event: Miss Binary by Girls Nation (Kano) and The Burial of all Women by Girls Nation (Abuja). The films centered on resilience and mental health, and were a powerful watch.  Following the film screening was a panel discussion on the films that had been viewed. Panelists included Halima Ben-Umar, Maryam Abubakar, Binwana Gazuwa, Amaka Agudiegwu, Asabe Madaki from Girl Nation in Kano and the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja. They shared their experiences and how the Girl Nation program has impacted their life and work.  Panel session with Nadine Ibrahim and Rahama Sadau. Other panel sessions were “Tips on Global Standard Productions (Netflix, Amazon Prime, International Film Festival etc.)” with Nadine Ibrahim of Nalia Media and Rahama Sadau, Actor and Producer at Dee Dee Films where they urged filmmakers to be authentic, detail and quality oriented, and to build a portfolio that proves the quality of their work.  There were breakout sessions around funding films, and the legal aspects of filmmaking with Mr. Muhammad S. Bawa and Barr. Ese Igbako Esq. respectively. Overall, we think it was a great event and opportunity to engage with a gathering of women in film.

A Rookie’s Mistake

From the moment I finished my film directing course at the Royal Arts Academy in Lagos, Nigeria, I have been introducing myself as a filmmaker…along with the other titles I like to describe myself as. Yet, four years since I earned that certificate, I do not have any film — short or feature — to my name. Oh! It isn’t because I haven’t tried. I have tried, alright! But a series of rookie mistakes have made me a filmmaker in name only. My first foray into film making started in 2016, just after I finished my directing course. A couple of friends and I wrote a script, recruited some of our actor friends, put some money together, secured a series of locations and…began preparing to shoot our short film. On the day before we were schedule to shoot, we slept at one of the locations, so we could be up on time and begin shooting. We factored that if we were fast, we would be done before noon and we could go to the next location and continue filming. What we didn’t factor in was that, with one camera, and all the shots we needed to take, there was no way we could be fast. So, we trudged on. But nerves began to be frayed from going over the scenes again and again. I began to snipe at my friends the more frustrated I became. I could see that everyone started to walk on eggshells around me. The situation got tense, but filming continued. Behind-the-Scene Photos from the first film, Buff. At around 3pm or so, we were through with location one. We then had to transport ourselves from Ajah to Surulere to shoot the rest of the scenes. Thankfully, Lagos traffic was mild, and we got to Surulere in less than two hours. Setting up the location became another hassle. This location was an office that had the personal effects of the owner and we needed to make it something different. By around 6pm however, we were ready to start filming. The cast was fantastic, and we didn’t need to do that many takes. And if I am being honest, I didn’t have the energy for many takes. I was tired, stressed the hell out and needed the entire process to just come to an end. And end it did! When we finally called the wrap on shooting, we gave a collective guffaw of joy and hugged each other. I had been forgiven for being a diva director and we were all back being chummy buddies. Then, we had to reset the location and head home. After all of this, we were so tired, we decided to just head home. Here is where things got funny. When we finished recording in the first location, the raw footage was ‘dumped’ on my laptop to ensure we had space for subsequent shooting. Because we had been so tired at the end of the shoot, we didn’t ‘dump’ the new footage on my computer. My friend who served as cameraman/cinematographer took the rest of the footage with him. The sound guy took the entire sound recording with him. We planned to pick a day where we would sit down and edit our project. A week later, I had an emergency that required I left Lagos sooner than I expected. Turns out I would not return to Lagos again except for very brief meetings. So, editing the film was shelved. We thought it was best to edit together so we could pick out our favorite scenes. But how could we do that when half the footage with me in Yola, Adamawa State, and then Kaduna State, and then Abuja and the other half was in Lagos? My life took a hard turn at that point. I was no longer thinking of film making. I just wanted to survive. Then by the end of 2016, I got a job which I was to resume at, at the beginning of January 2017. I would go on to work there for a year and a half. That period was so fast paced that I barely had any time for myself. I didn’t have breaks and I was way too stressed to even write any script or think of filming. By the middle of 2018 when I left the job, I began to itch for my life behind the camera. I called my friends in Lagos to see if we could meet up and edit our short film, and maybe, finally put it out. That was when I realized we had a bigger problem: all our audio was lost. While we could use the audio from the camera, there was no chance in hell the sound would be clean. I mean, filming in Nigeria means a lot of ambient sound like the noise of the generators you will need because power supply is epileptic. Editing the film was going to be tougher than we planned. Again, we shelved the movie. I went into a depression for a couple of months after that. Or more appropriately, I was crashing from being depressed for months, if not years, before that time. This crash had me wondering if I could ever get anything right in my life. And the seeming failure of the short film — in spite of all my efforts — made me feel like I was bound to fail at any project I touched. It is important to note that I was out of a job at this point too and being the over-thinker that I am, I was really spiralling. Then I got another job. This one was really good and though fast-paced, let me balance my work and life. I was able to compartmentalize work and personal time. And because of that, I again began to think of the films I could make…the stories I could tell. By the end of 2018, I was resolute: I was going to shoot at least four short

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