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Tuesday, 8 July 2008

Hausa Film and video; New Economic Frontier

Hausa Film and video;
New Economic Frontier

By Sani Mu’azu

From the agricultural age to the information age the history of human civilization has been characterized by three major revolutions, the first being the agricultural revolution. The second major revolution in human history was the industrial revolution. At the industrial revolution however, man discovered that it is possible to extract energy from inanimate objects. Thus were the development of the steam engine and other uses of hydrocarbon and other fuels.

Human history is now experiencing yet another major revolution; the information revolution characterized by great developments in digital technology which now facilitate instant communication between any two or more people located anywhere on planet earth and even much of the space beyond the earth’s atmosphere. This has led to the much talked about ‘globalization’ of our world.
Even though the information revolution can be easily located in time within the last half century, but the seeds of this revolution had been sown over a much longer period of time, characterized by the development of human speech, the development of writing, the development of the capacity to record and reproduce speech, the development of photography and of great importance, the development of motion pictures.

Of all these developments, the development of motion pictures is a unique development in the sense that it brought about the capacity to represent reality in unequaled ways. The medium of motion pictures engages our visual and auditory senses and thereby communicates to us in ways that other media cannot.

The combined effects of the power of motion pictures and the information revolution have changed our world permanently. People are now easily affected by influences from far away lands. We only need to consider the effects of Indian films and American films on the modes of dressing of young people all over the north, ‘yan Arewa, today and we shall begin to understand the combined effects of the power of motion pictures and the information revolution. This is the sense in which Hausa film and video have become the new frontier.

Crossing the frontier

A frontier is a boundary, an edge, a place of crossing. We talk of the frontier of knowledge as the dividing line between that which is understood and that which is yet to be understood. Hence, a frontier represents both hope and despair. Crossing a boundary may either open up new and exciting vistas or introduce bleak ignorance of newly acquired realities. So what sort of new frontier does Hausa film and video represent to us?

Due to the effects of modern digital technology, motion picture equipment have become more powerful, cheaper and more accessible. As a result, in the last decade or so, there has been an upsurge of activities in motion picture production in Nigeria, examples being ‘Kannywood’ or ‘Nollywood North’ of Nigeria. In Nigeria in particular, an industry of sorts is developing around these efforts. Over a thousand feature length productions are undertaken every year. These productions are sold, the investments are recouped and the producers are able to do it again and again. So if this is a new frontier, what sort of frontier does it represent? An opening of new vistas? Or an introduction into bleak ignorance of newly acquired realities?

The position I am taking in this paper is, the choice is ours. Motion picture can be the opening of new vistas or an introduction into bleak ignorance of newly acquired realities depending on the way we use it. Definitely, we have derived benefits from high volume of sales recorded at ‘Bata’ in Kano crossing borders across the desert and engaging new frontiers, and we are beginning to be relevant in our internationally famed production efforts. The establishment of the cable TV channel, Africa Magic, which is essentially programmed on Nigerian productions, is an indication that benefits are derivable even from beyond. Hausa Films are beginning to enjoy that benefit too. But we have also acquired some negative characterization.

Anecdotal evidence suggests that while many other Africans see Nigeria as a country of fetish rituals by virtue of the prevalent themes of many Nigeria productions from the south, other Nigerian see Hausa films as a collection of bad remakes of Indian ‘Bollywood’ films. Beyond anecdotal evidence however, Hausa films are the most terrible among films on the aspirations of Nigeria’s different nationalities. Our films are neither Hausa in all intents and purposes, nor are they Islamic films. Reason why they attract public outcries and outward rejection by the very nationalities they are suppose to represent intermittently. Hausa films cannot be compared to Yoruba films in terms of cultural positioning as Yoruba films are Yoruba in nature. They cannot be compared to Igbo films or Anglicised Igbo films. These films are essentially films with ‘I must arrive – no matter how’ themes or basically Christianity films in content and exposition. What is the agenda of the Hausa film?

Understanding our medium

The pertinent question therefore is how we can turn motion picture production in Hausa language into the opening of new vistas rather than an introduction into bleak ignorance of newly acquired realities.

The first step is to ensure that we fully understand the medium in which we are working. Motion picture is a very powerful medium, but whatever is not understood cannot be controlled and whatever cannot be controlled will be more of a source of danger than a source of power.

The democratization of production technology is great advantage to us and it is desirable, but ownership of an ‘alkalami and tawada’ does not necessarily make someone ‘malami’. Owning a great voice does not automatically give you the ability to recite the holy Qur’an by heart. Compelling storytelling in motion picture demands skills in both the art and the techniques of filmmaking, and for most of us these have to be learnt. We are not likely to go far with the pedestrian efforts that we sometimes make and then argue is the Hausa ‘Hausawa’ way of doing things. Such ways are not likely to yield much if they do not take account of the already systematized techniques of filmmaking.

Having acquired deep understanding of our medium, we then need to consider what we intend to use it for. We are not likely to profit much from the medium if we leave our storytelling to chance subjects derived mainly from Bollywood. We must be motivated and propelled by our prevailing circumstances as a people, as Hausawa and Muslims. From the great exploits of our forefathers to the soft engaging voices of our grandmothers telling us ‘tatsuniya’ or moonlight stories, lies a huge reservoir of knowledge to tap from. Then the big one is, we are a Muslim society. Entertainment for entertainments sake is a luxury that the Muslim world cannot afford.

As an industry, and in agreement with the larger society, we need to determine strategic and tactical social goals that we want to use our stories to achieve. Furthermore, our governments need to realize the power of the medium as means of galvanizing development efforts and also presenting ourselves to the outside world. Recently, the Maryam Hiyana incident indicated how government agencies, particularly the Kano State Government can take us seriously. Apart from the ‘A daidaita sahu’ socio-cultural intervention that makes positive overtures to Hausa filmmakers even before the Hiyana incidence, a process of reorganizing the industry by the Kano Censors board is quite in line. It is hoped that through these cooperative efforts in Kano, the ‘Arewa’ film Industry will derive some of the latent benefits of having such a vibrant production industry. I must however caution quickly here, that the assumption that a pornographic Hausa film was made, in the Maryam Hiyana infamous case, is NOT TRUE. Technology is making films to be viewed on cell phones today, but filmmaking must be seen and defined on professional terms as a process involving a whole lot of people, cast and crew. No any Hausa film practitioner had made a blue film ‘Wa iyazu billahi’. We, Hausa-Fulani and other nationalities of Arewa, as a people and as Muslims, are too morally upright to make blue films. We therefore wish to call on Kano state government, through the state Censors Board to stop punishing us for a crime we have not committed. Kindly allow us to put up ethical and other professional structures, and continue making films relevant to our culture and religion.

Apart from understanding the medium and directing our products to strategic and tactical ends, we need to take account of the rapid changes taking place around us.

The landscape

Hausa film as a product is not afforded the protection it had in the past. Copyright and intellectual rights generally are not as easily enforceable as they were in the past. The technology is changing at such a pace that, from a tangible product of a certain physical nature, projected on a particular 16 or 35 mm projector in a particular place, now we have digital bits that are downloadable or swappable or are being broadcast on Digital satellite TV or being swapped over broadband internet connections: digital bits floating about in the ether or the sky. How can our governments protect us from products distributed in this mode and form? How can they protect our products from this changing landscape? Instead of engaging in reforms that can kill our creative abilities, we need to understand and engage this changing landscape.

The product

Our product is also a hybrid of this change. It has changed from an Indian filmic experience projected from celluloid by a large projector onto a large Screen in a particular room in a particular town and only a limited scale. Or from the Indian films shown almost on a daily basis on television channels like NTA and CTV without any institutional censorship on its likely impact on the mind of the youths. We now make digital films. Our products are now distributed on peer-to-peer networks and can be projected on mobile phones in small mpeg or mp4 files.

Our strategies for coping with the changing landscape and market have to come out of engaging the new technologies and evolving new and appropriate products for the end user. The times are changing fast. We used video for our immediate purposes and as the technology has improved we have found even Hollywood has come round to our way of doing things. We need to sustain this level of proactive thinking.

The market

The product we sell is sold mainly in Kano. It is for that reason that while we are accepting challenges pose by the Kano censors board in good faith, the board must also relate with us in like manner because, our market is changing fast.

Kano film marketers need to open the market up in other distant places. It is common knowledge that the Kano market is like an omblical cord with tentacles spread across the whole of the African continent. We need to sell Hausa films to the Igbo-man, to the Yoruba-man, to other Nigerians, and to the whole of Africa. Our product is shown at our local Cinemas, they can be shown internationally at digital Cinemas, on satellite and terrestrial TVs, and of course, in living rooms as DVDs, VCDs, instantly burnable, instantly rip-able and digitally reproducible. We need to anticipate the emerging market.
The methods

As an industry propelled mainly by individual enterprise and without support from any governments or mega-financial institutions, our experience has been such that we have had to make do generally with available resources. Hausa films have used found technology: cheap digital video cameras, computer applications in motion picture production to cut budget and production cycle.

To survive we have used alternatives to current models of financing in the Western world and we have had to use our sweat and blood to develop and finish projects with a degree of creativity that would task the most hard working and creative western filmmaker. Among the over one thousand titles produced in Nigeria annually, according to the National Film and Video Censors Board, Hausa filmmakers make more than 35% of that, or an average of one film per day, more than 360 films a year. Out of the over 50 billion naira worth of investment in the Nigerian film sub sector of the economy as indicated by the federal ministry of finance, Hausa films make 35% of that or over 17 billion naira of investment. Out of the over 14,000 employment opportunities created by the industry in Nigeria, Hausa films employs over 5600 young people on a permanent engagement bases.

Stifling film production in the north for six months had caused us about 9 billion naira of investment, putting more than 5000 people out of job, with a ripple effect on families and other dependants too numerous to mention.

On our part as an industry, we must however accept and acknowledge that to compete globally and to make products that will be morally upright, culturally a source of pride and religiously uplifting, we must improve our standards. We must find ways of raising funds that are not short term, we must find funds that do not compromise our creativity and we must find funds that will allow us to develop both as a people and an industry.
Alternative strategies must also be developed for our circumstances: we must aim to tap from other sources outside the now traditional vcd’s and dvd’s.
The digital age of filmmaking

To survive the digital age of filmmaking, we need access to training and re-training in the new techniques and technologies that are ever evolving and we need access to standard production and post-production facilities. We cannot continue to do things the old ways, the Hausa ways. We need to respond to the times. We also need access to funding to finance our productions and a modern marketing platform to sell them.

Finally, we need access to markets outside Nigeria and outside Africa. On one hand, access to markets outside Nigeria and outside Africa widens our income possibilities and thereby enhances the chances of profitability. On the hand, it is only in marketing our productions outside Africa that we can contribute positively to a fast globalizing world, in which Hausa films too have a stake.

In conclusion, if for us film and video as the new frontier is to be the opening of new vistas rather than an introduction into bleak ignorance of newly acquired realities we need to do more than we are now doing. We need a think-tank for the Hausa film industry. A think-tank that will know that we make over 360 films annually in Nigeria. That will know Hausa films are worth more than 17 billion naira in investment. That will know that we create employment opportunities in Nigeria to over 5600 young people on a permanent basis. A think-tank that will make us to be more organized and more proactive. We need the cooperation of Kano state government and the larger society.
Thank you for the opportunity.

Sani Mu’azu
Lenscope Media

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