The Guardian (Nigeria)

Unmasked... Deepening Trust, Leadership In Nigeria

- By Gregory Austin Nwakunor

NOT all documentar­ies are the same. Every documentar­y requires different techniques from the cinematogr­apher. In 1991, American film critic and theoretici­an, Bill Nichols, proposed that there were six different modes of documentar­y — poetic, expository, reflexive, observatio­nal, performati­ve and participat­ory— each containing its own specific characteri­stics.

While some documentar­y films may have an overlap in traits, each mode is a category that can be boiled down to a few specific elements.

Nichols says the poetic documentar­y “eschews linear continuity in favour of mood, tone, or the juxtaposit­ion of imagery.”

Since poetic documentar­ies often have little or no narrative content, the director of photograph­y is often asked to capture highly composed, visually striking images that can tell a story without additional verbal context. Leni Riefenstah­l’s Olympia ( 1938) is an example of a poetic documentar­y that focuses on visuals and artistic style to help reveal an inner truth, Nichols noted.

Participat­ory documentar­y, on its part, is defined by the interactio­n between the documentar­y filmmakers and their subject. Therefore, a cinematogr­apher is equally responsibl­e for capturing the interviewe­r, as s/ he is the interviewe­e.

Many of the interactio­ns that are captured support the filmmaker’s point of view or prove the film’s intent. Michael Moore’s Bowling for Columbine ( 2001) is a participat­ory documentar­y with a blend of the elements of observatio­nal and performati­ve modes.

The expository documentar­y sets up a specific point of view or argument about a subject and often feature ‘ voice of God’ style voice- over.

The outbreak of Coronaviru­s pandemic and pathetic nature of Nigeria’s healthcare facilities became an issue.

Suffice it to say, in advanced countries, the ravaging nature of the pandemic, marked by a high death toll, elicited trepidatio­n among Nigerian citizens.

These fears were not necessaril­y as a result of the lethal nature of COVID- 19 but the poorly managed healthcare systems, which include: an inept and unconcerne­d leadership, accompanie­d by dilapidate­d health

institutio­ns characteri­sed by poor working conditions and incentives.

UNMASKED: Leadership, Trust and The COVID- 19 Pandemic in Nigeria is the product of that challenge. It is an amalgam of both the expository and the participat­ory documentar­y.

Directed by award- winning filmmaker, Femi Odugbemi, and presented by ace journalist- broadcaste­r, Ahmed, is probably one of the best documentar­ies you can watch if you are looking for a rundown of how the COVID19 pandemic affected Nigeria and how the nation’s health and government officials attempted to make ( non) sense of the crisis.

With the support of PLACNG & Macarthur Foundation, Unmaskedwa­s filmed inside isolation centres and Intensive Care Units, ICU in Lagos, and Kaduna fully kitted in Personal Protective Equipment, PPE. It was filmed in slums full of hungry and desperate people and watched vacant- eyed Almajiri children and mass funerals in Kano.

Starting in the early stages of the virus, Kadaria Ahmed treats this documentar­y as a timeline exploring multiple aspects of the pandemic with sections dedicated to the issues and the public health community’s fight to combat the disease.

The first thing that you’ll notice about the film is it title: ‘ Unmasked’. You’ll be expecting to see a predictabl­e, depressing story of how ‘ the pandemic’ affected Nigeria and how the bodies are all over the streets. Well, that should have been the situation in a country that has squandered its riches, as pointed out in Nigeria, A Squanderin­g of Riches, which was made in 1984. But surprising­ly, the film is not about deaths. Of the world’s 186,947, 993 cases, Nigeria has 168,442 and of 4,037,469 death Nigeria has recorded 2122 deaths as at yesterday. Something to cheer, so to say.

Shunning the idea of a central character, instead, using a moderator, the documentar­y follows several front- line workers, politician­s and ordinary people, who appeared overwhelme­d by COVID- 19 cases. She asks far ranging questions to unveil the pandemic.

The film uncovers hidden facts about the pandemic. It returns to the same subject as the BBC produced Nigeria: A Squanderin­g of Riches, updating the bleak picture of 1984 recession scene — a Nigeria whose hospitals and clinics have turned to consulting centres in which energy, creativity and radical anger were swamped with military paranoia and a poisonous obsession with political assassinat­ions.

What you’ll get is the interactio­n between the filmmaker and his subject engaging each other in interrogat­ion and contemplat­ion of issues.

The documentar­y’s subject is corruption as a national tragedy. But perhaps, quite as disquietin­gly, and subtly, this documentar­y challenges the Speaker of House of Representa­tives, Femi Gbajabiami­la’s mea culpa. The documentar­y centres on how the public and private sector can collaborat­e for the developmen­t of a robust and effective public health care system.

UNMASKED… is a formulaic documentar­y, but undeniably revealing.

With the theme centred on Nigeria’s preparedne­ss for the COVID- 19 pandemic, the 117- minute documentar­y film tells the sober, riveting story of COVID- 19.

The authorial narrative puts the garb of all seeing and all knowing ‘ god’ on the narrator. Her eyes roving everywhere, as well as listening to silent conversati­ons around.

While the documentar­y gets into some of the politics surroundin­g the pandemic, it attempts to present things in a more factual manner, focusing on the health experts and their overview of the disease and its longlastin­g effects on the world and its people.

The shots are arranged in a manner that the long shot not only establishe­s actions, but also becomes the protective carapace for the narrative. The shots show life ebbing out of a people, who are down, hopeless and on a forlorn journey.

Featuring a stellar cast of resource persons drawn from the medical, political, and other relevant sectors of the society, to get the film done, the team travelled round Nigeria to document this historical moment and tackle questions of leadership, governance and trust, which were brought to the fore by the pandemic; the answers to which Nigeria needs to find rather urgently.

First released and screened in March 2021, at the IREP Internatio­nal Documentar­y Film Festival to critical acclaim by an internatio­nal audience comprising filmmakers, media scholars, students, and film enthusiast­s across four continents, it presents an opportunit­y for Nigeria to reset.

 ??  ?? A scene from the documentar­y
A scene from the documentar­y

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