Friday, 27 May 2011

Street Life in (Conrad's) Lagos

This documentary was recently aired on Al Jazeera on the programme Witness, a weekly show that aims to 'bring new stories to light they showcase the talents of a new breed of multi-skilled, frontline journalist.'  Street Life in Lagos is made by Joe Loncraine and it focusses on two migrants from Benin who go to Lagos, Nigeria in search of  a better life. As slum tourism is the in-thing among documentary filmmakers on African cities, this one fits right in. It raises the usual questions of who is telling Africa's story, how and why? How are these Africans telling their story within this documentary, what is it's framing? How is Lagos the city, it's slums and it's inhabitants represented on screen? By the looks of things, not very well. Unlike some of the commenters on AJE's site or the upset multitudes on Nairaland, I think it's really great that these stories are being told and I have no problem with Nigeria or any other country's poor being given a platform to speak. However, when it becomes fashionable for the world's media to tell only one particular kind of story about a city and this becomes the perceieved major, singular narrative of a city, I think it becomes probelmatic and especially so when that narrative (with all due respect to the filmmaker) isn't presented well. A city has many complex, interwoven stories.

The act of giving of voice to stories -by making a film, writing a news article - is as crucial as the telling because the framing, context and intent etc is what also (not solely) gives meaning to a story, determines audience reception and what genre the story falls into. This feels like a cross between observational anthropology and poverty porn, because, despite the filmmaker's most likely good intentions, the film doesn't create a bond with Makoko or many of its people seen throughout the film - they're fleeting, sometimes dragging stories, but the glue that binds a viewer to a character/story somehow isn't there. It feels like you're meant to just get a glimpse and move on. In the role of anthropologist armed with a camera, the filmmaker gives no introduction nor political or social context to Makoko or Lagos - instead the (international) viewer is thrown in the deep end. As a documentary film concept it might be all edgy and stuff, but unfortunately it doesn't work here. 

After the protagonists have told their stories of migration, the anthropologist/filmmaker goes to the school (around 4:00) where poor, non-speaking, inquisitive children are filmed. No explanation nothing, onto the next scene. And so it goes: lots of stories belonging to nameless, ageless people whose characters and circumstance you never really get to know... If Wole Soyinka was outraged by BBC's documentary, Welcome to Lagos, I can't imagine how he'll respond to this. It's a million times worse. And unlike the BBC's one which had the sickest afrobeat soundtrack, this one doesn't have much of that. Instead it invites us to observe (not engage with) the poor slum dwellers of Lagos, all filmed from behind a Conradesque camera lens.

1 comment:

Jay said...

This is worse than the Beeb ting! The way dem pple are shown is ruff, blud. Not denying poverty but like you say these people's story ain't told properly. Faya post sis.