Internazionale a major Italian weekly magazine published an article that features Michael Osheku, The critic’s Company, Oladipo O’fresh, Samuel Mwaura and Lcharles Degreat.
In an article written by Italian award winning journalist Vincenzo Giardina. Titled;Lightsabers in the Sahel
A little girl wields a pink lightsaber: she’s wearing boots of the same color and has just dodged the rays of a flock of spaceships. At the bottom of the esplanade awaits Darth Vader, the hero of the Star Wars clone wars converted to the dark side. It is the last scene, but it must be done again. To die before the duel begins, she is not there: the shot goes back to a room, where they try to convince her. The set is not in Hollywood but around Kaduna in northern Nigeria in the windswept Harmattan Sahel. The short, less than three minutes, was shot with a smartphone. Directors, set designers and actors are ten boys, aged between eight and 27, who call themselves The Critics: on social networks they are strong and in recent months they have refused interviews with Nigerian newspapers to keep up with requests coming from abroad .
“We started by ripping off mom and dad’s phone,” says Ridwan Adeniyi, production manager and senior member of the group. “First of all, Raymond Yusuf, the special effects expert, tried it: he worked on it for four and then six hours a day; we had nothing of our own, the important thing was to be able to borrow “.
A second-hand computer was useful, found at home and also the one that disappeared regularly: hours of Wikipedia and tutorials to learn, free Blender-style software and “green screen”, the chromatic key, the one that allows you to superimpose images or videos, a bit like what happens on TV with the weather forecast when you replace the background. The short of the lightsabers, between parody and metastoria, is called Another Star Wars story. Special effects are zero-budget. “In Kaduna, nothing hardly ever works but the beauty is also this” laughs Adeniyi. “If we had waited for professional video cameras we would not have even started: we were driven by the desire to invent and tell stories”.
The name The Critics originated from here. “We loved watching Nigerian films,” recalls the production manager, “but then we got bored and started working on our stories.” The recipe seems successful. The sci-fi shorts are full of likes on social media, and not in any country: it is estimated that Nollywood, as the national film industry is nicknamed, produces 2,500 films and is worth over 600 million dollars a year. Hollywood has also noticed: JJ Abrams, the director of Star Wars: the rise of Skywalker, has sent The Critics a gift package with monitors, cameras, stabilizers and high-end PCs. And now the guys from Kaduna are teaming up with Revelations Entertainment by Morgan Freeman. “With them, we will make our first feature film, a 100% smartphone”, Adeniyi anticipates: “It will be the story of an African god, happy ending and above all zero stereotypes”.
A golden rule, this, to disprove the prophecies of misfortune that would weigh on the future of the continent. Among the new projects of The Critics is a film about an astronaut kicked by life, who continues to dream of a mission to Mars. It may not necessarily succeed, but the point is that from Nigeria to South Africa there are smart girls and boys, fascinated by new technologies, full of hope and determined to get involved. They are told by new authors, young and very young, who with Instagram and TikTok try to reach everywhere.
Take Sammy Mwaura, a 37-year-old Kenyan, formerly the author of Chocha, which in Swahili means to instigate. They are three minutes shot in a shantytown against politics that can turn friends into murderers. The first shot is in black and white, a machete and then blood on t-shirts that no longer have colours. “I denounce the brainwashing and manipulation of our young people by cliques of selfish people who think only of themselves,” explains the director. He is convinced that pain can ultimately open his eyes.
The stories of daily life and community often remain outside the Western representations of Africa
It was a boy, on December 27, 2007, when in Kenya the electoral challenge for the presidency between Mwai Kibaki and Raila Odinga triggered allegations of fraud, with accusations against entire communities and appeals to take justice for themselves. In two months of violence the dead were at least 1,500, the displaced 600 thousand. It is a drama that must be told, in order to understand and to strengthen antibodies; a sign of hope in times of pandemic, to the discovery of that extraordinary mystery which is the care of the other. Muzzled tells it , one of Mwaura’s latest works: despite the curfew for covid-19 begins at sunset, a boy goes around late to bring insulin to diabetics.
According to the director, the stories of daily life and community often remain outside the Western representations of Africa. “They are mostly based on rumors and false myths, almost always lacking accurate documentation work,” says Mwaura. “Here in Kenya, production has yet to take off and new talents depend on other sources of income to keep going; the good thing is that interest in ‘African films about Africa’ is growing, even by foreign audiences, with positive repercussions for local directors ”.
Different profiles, sometimes light years away from each other: Lcharles Degreat , an Ivorian who defines himself as an ” afrofuturist “, author of the alien saga of Maroon King , does not have much to do with Shery Yohanna, Kenyan with Asian origins, 100% social commitment percent. With her Matshepo productions , she became an entrepreneur.
Just like Oladipo O’Fresh, still a Nigerian, founder of a studio that employs twenty people, from photography technicians to post-production experts. Shooting with the smartphone, for him, began after a cinematic failure. “I ended up bankrupt on marketing and promotion expenses,” he recalls. “Then one day I was playing with my iPhone 6s and I realized that maybe I could do it: I started studying and now I only ride on mobile”. It’s his Onslaught, 26 minutes in vertical format, “a world premiere”, he assures. It is the story of a boy who moves bricks on a construction site and is convinced that he can change his life thanks to a ring with extraordinary powers. The short would be a reflection on willpower and existence: O’Fresh talks about it like this, defining himself as a “faith-based”, religious and contemporary author.
In December he released Sweet4ty , the first feature film all on the phone. His stories have been awarded at the African smartphone international film festival (Asiff), a review born in 2017 in Lagos, the most populous megalopolis in Africa and the capital of Nollywood. The event is organized by Michael Osheku, former production assistant, screenwriter and director with selected works also in London and Los Angeles. Now he smiles in video connection, listing difficulties and then reversing everything to the positive. “In most cases, independent African directors are not valued and their projects are kept out of the main international festivals,” he says. “With the exhibition we try to answer two problems: there are film-makers with great content who do not have access to distribution platforms; there are talents full of ideas who do not have the financial resources ”.
Alongside the knots to be solved, however, there are new opportunities, which the covid-19 pandemic has not reduced, perhaps even by accelerating processes already underway. “Smartphone movies have created virtually limitless possibilities for many young people, on YouTube and other social networks,” Osheku points out. “Filming with smartphones are also increasingly professional film-makers: the film industry will be hit by a bottom-up production and first of all Nollywood will benefit from it, which is already the second world power”.
It’s not just the money that matters. Perspective is crucial. The boys of Kaduna repeat that “if you can’t do it now, you can do it in a while”. As if to say: Africa will conquer Mars, without waiting for the Hollywood cameras. Osheku, the founder of the festival, has just opened the applications for the fifth edition. “This is an awareness project, you have to counter the old ‘break the bank and get the most expensive cameras’ story,” he says, pointing finger and thumb on the trigger. “Believe me, Africa is the future of cinema, not just of shorts; we have millions of stories that have never been told ”.