Arts & Entertainments

Joanna Lipper: Celebrating decade of iREP Int’l Documentary Film Festival

Award-winning filmmaker, photographer and author, DR. JOANNA LIPPER, explains how iREP’s authentic and broad-reaching democratic policy of inclusion has empowered her personally and professionally as a filmmaker… Excerpt:



Over the past decade, iREP has been a leader in the movement to fight against what they have called “collective amnesia” when it comes to “connecting the dots in Africa’s historical past.” While I was directing and producing


The Supreme Price, my objectives mirrored iREP’s mission to identify, to address – and when possible – to overcome an array of postcolonial challenges related to archiving Africa’s visual history. My own work as a documentary filmmaker encompassed the dual roles of archivist and historian.



As a filmmaker, I am drawn to one particularly magical aspect of the historical documentary film genre: the power to breathe an illusion of immortal life into deceased characters on screen. While producing and directing


‘The Supreme Price’, I utilised the historical documentary film genre as a living, breathing, constantly evolving archive, capable of containing, organising, preserving, reshaping and ultimately reconstructing and representing Nigeria’s past to more effectively illuminate and include the voices, political activism and contributions of Nigerian women.


During the editing process, I made a conscious decision to situate the intimate, emotional mother-daughter story of Kudirat and Hafsat within the larger context of M.K.O Abiola’s biography, set against the epic backdrop of Nigeria’s tumultuous history.


Historical Documentaries are vital to the intergenerational transmission of knowledge and culture because they retain the power to transport audiences to locations where they have never been, offering glimpses into real historical moments that are inaccessible for many reasons, including the irretrievable passage of time.


‘The Supreme Price’ functions to represent and preserve key aspects of history in Nigeria, filling a void in the Nigerian educational system where history as an academic subject was

for many years eliminated from most primary and secondary school curriculums. Intent upon capturing Nigeria in the present as well as in the past, I set out to capture the 2011 election as it unfolded in real time.


Shooting footage myself while simultaneously distributing cameras to numerous Nigerian crew members throughout the 2011 election season, I aimed to record the registration and voting processes and related current events as they unfolded from multiple perspectives, ranging from my own as a foreign observer – to that of embedded locals.


In ‘The Supreme Price’ I incorporated Abiola family photos, paintings on the walls of the compound, statues, commemorative street signs and memorials. Bricolage was central to my narrative process. Like a quilt made from many various fragments of precious cloth, each imbued with unique emotion, personality, shape, tone, texture and meaning,


‘The Supreme Price’ incorporates many different components and perspectives including those of numerous Nigerian filmmakers who shot archival footage and stills that appear prominently in the film.


In terms of gleaning, I found archival footage that other filmmakers might not have seen value in such as a silent gesture, gaze or facial expression that provided a window in the marriage of M.K.O and Kudirat; an inside perspective on their private moments offstage before and after speeches; and a view into their moments of communication, reflection, solitude and repose.


Gleaning involves being able to see value in what others might overlook or discard – and then collecting and preserving it, present  Limiteding it to audiences for the first time in compelling and engaging ways that leave an indelible impression, etched into personal and collective memory.


Once ‘The Supreme Price’ was completed, it was Tunde (“TK”) Kelani who introduced me and the film to Femi Ogdugbemi and Jahman Anikulapo at iREP. From that point onwards, the team at iREP worked tirelessly to ensure that audiences gathered to see The Supreme Price at iREP-sponsored screening events in 2014, first in conjunction with Lights, Camera, Africa! as part of Lagos Book & Art Festival; then at LagosPhoto; and then at their own festival in 2015.


After the first screening, eminent historian, Ed Keazor, joined Femi Odugbemi, Tosin Otudeko and Joke Silva to discuss the film in relation to the theme “Importance of Documentation to the Quest for Freedom.”


This precisely articulated theme so aptly captured the essence of M.K.O, Kudirat and Hafsat Abiola’s deliberate usage of international media platforms to circumvent censorship in order to expose human rights violations and various forms of oppression perpetrated by the military dictatorship.


Through the amplification and preservation of their voices across borders, these key figures strategically created archived, historical multimedia records of the pro-democracy movement and their opposition to the military regime in Nigeria.


These audio-visual archival records enabled me to engage in a collaborative, cinematic process of remembering, repeating and working through individual and collective historical trauma with powerful corresponding evidence that made it possible for the historic moments described in present-day interviews to be assembled and brought to life on-screen.


Over the past 10 years, iREP has stepped in to take on the huge responsibility of communicating Nigeria’s history through the engaging medium of documentary films.


The organisation regularly holds screenings during which documentary films are used to educate, inform and inspire Nigeria’s vast, burgeoning youth population.


When interviewed by The Union Newspaper, iREP Festival Manager Toyin Fajj said the purpose of screening


‘The Supreme Price’ at LagosPhoto for secondary school students drawn from local public schools was: “…to guide the youths to raise their voices against political killings, gross ineptitudes, perennial deceit, governmental self-denials, cover-ups, and intolerable levels of corruption and non-accountability under various administrations of Nigeria’s governments.


We want our younger generation to know where we are coming from, especially when the 2015 General Elections are around the corner.


While Nigerian filmmakers shot most of the archival footage that was used in the film, many did so while employed directly or indirectly by overseas news agencies and broadcasters such as Reuters, the Associated Press, BBC and CNN.


These organisations contracted or subcontracted local Nigerian cameramen who then shipped their footage out of Africa to Europe for broadcast and archiving.

Therefore, although a significant percentage of this archival footage originated in Nigeria and was shot by Nigerians, it was sourced from large, corporate, international archives owned by conglomerates that charged a premium for licensing fees.


This issue is a source of debate on the continent as it is viewed by many African filmmakers as a colonial legacy which situates their visual history under ownership in archives in countries associated with Africa’s colonial past. With grants from Ford Foundation and the MacArthur Foundation I was able to license this footage for use in the film.


Some of the most important footage in ‘The Supreme Price’ depicting Kudirat and M.K.O Abiola on the campaign trail during the 1993 election was not found in any archive and might never have reached any audience at all.


It came from the home of Stephen Wale Fasakin, a Nigerian cameraman who was engaged by M.K.O Abiola as the official videographer of the Hope 1993 Presidential Campaign. Fasakin accompanied M.K.O Abiola, his wives and the Abiola delegation on the campaign trail in Northern Nigeria in cities like Maiduguri and Kano as well as in the South.


Using a ubiquitous fly-on-the-wall approach, he documented public events including speeches given by M.K.O and by Kudirat Abiola; motorcades greeted by rapturous crowds; and winding queues of Nigerians enthusiastically casting their votes on Election Day. Fasakin also documented M.K.O and Kudirat in private, behind-the-scenes, off stage moments.


Although this was 1993, long before the advent of reality television, Fasakin’s style of filming this campaign was a preview of that genre with coverage including M.K.O and Kudirat Abiola and his other wives travelling all over Nigeria in private jets, complete with depictions of their public and private lives.


This peek into M.K.O Abiola’s public persona alongside glimpses of his private life was a preview of the future fascination with the culture of celebrities and the idea of humanizing heroes, heroines and cultural icons by showing them both on and off stage in their daily lives on reality TV. In Nigeria, where organisations like iREP are now holding conferences and film festivals on issues related to archiving and digital video and distribution platforms, the story of African  filmmakers discovering huge volumes of decaying precious film rolls and videotapes in desperate need of salvaging and restoration is an all-too common one. The iREP newsletter contained a summary of a discussion that followed a presentation at the film festival made by Marion Wallace, the Lead Curator for African Collections at the British Library. Archives begin as memories, data  that are privately owned. The challenge is getting all these memories together in one place or platform so that the collection is available to the public.


This is how the world’s biggest archives are built, something that Nigeria has been unable to do effectively. iREP’s early validation of ‘The Supreme Price’ in Nigeria, helped position the film to succeed at a wide array of film festivals and screenings throughout the continent and globally.


The film went on to win Best Documentary at Africa International Film Festival (AFRIFF), was nominated for a Grierson and an African Movie Academy Award; and won the Gucci Tribeca Spotlighting Women Documentary Award.


The film was released theatrically in the U.S and UK and was distributed in cinemas in Europe by the U.N in their Ciné Onu Film Series; and by Women Make Movies in North America.


It was broadcast on Africdocs in 49 African countries on October 1st, 2015, the Anniversary of Nigeria’s Independence. iREP’s authentic and broad-reaching democratic policy of inclusion has empowered me personally and professionally as a filmmaker. i

REP has honoured my vision by interpreting my documentary filmmaking practice as an act of transnational, multicultural solidarity, collaboration and synthesis resulting in a final film that is a hybrid artefact – simultaneously feminist and African.


I will always be grateful for the essential role that iREP has played in ensuring that The Supreme Price is seen, contemplated and deeply valued in Nigeria and around the world. I am looking forward to celebrating many more milestones with iRep in years to come.


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