Newton Aduaka may appear a bit immodest when, in talking about his work, he invokes Giacometti. Specifically, he talks about the shock the artistic world expressed when they asked Giacometti what he’d produced in his sculptural career, and he’d produced no monumental works, “just a few figurines.” But “those figurines were a combination of a man’s life and thought into a small scale.” And Aduaka, a Nigerian director who’s produced one feature and three celebrated short films, clearly hopes his work does the same. His first feature, Rage, was a huge success, and was the first independent film by a black artist to gain widespread release in the UK.
We see clips from three of his earlier works:
- A couple, shot close in black and white, talking about their unhappiness in the UK and wishing they’d been able to be in Nigeria. The irony is that the film is set in the 1970s, in the wake of the Biafran war (which drove Aduaka from Nigeria to the UK) and during the darkest days of Nigeria’s military dictatorship.
- An argument between an older, dreadlocked scholar and an angry young rapper who wants violent responses to racism in the UK.
- A passionate argument between filmmakers from several countries about the importance of film.
It’s hard to find a common theme between the three, but Aduaka gives us some hints: alienation, racism, a longing for home. He mentions that since moving to France from the UK, he feels like he’s gone decades back in time in terms of multiculturalism.
He shows long clips from his new, forthcoming feature – “Ezra” – set in Sierra Leone. It’s the story of a child soldier, his indoctrination, and his sister’s search to find and rescue him. It’s an amazingly powerful work, even in short pieces, and leaves the audience close to speechless. Remembering the Biafra war and its transformative effect on his life, he reminds us, “Africa should go forward, but we must look backwards so we don’t forget.”
Rokia Traoré wasn’t originally supposed to follow Aduaka – our closing musician was scheduled to be the legendary Toussou N’Dour. But he’s “unavoidably detained” in Senegal and Traoré is here to ably fill the void. Her spare, sparse arrangements set off her voice beautifully, and she’s backed by her own guitar, a female vocalist, a kora player and a xalam player, who are more concerned with the overall feel of the music than with taking the spotlight. Traoré was clearly moved by Aduaka’s talk and shares her hopes that his new film will find an audience. Her music is the perfect end to a day shattering our preconceptions about Africa. We all expected to spend the end of the session shaking our butts to some funky music – instead, we heard something beautiful, meditative and very precious.