Sunday, 18 September 2016

93 Days Of Proudly Nigerian Courage… A Director’s Compactness Test


By Tajudeen Sowole

Telling a story of how the dreaded Ebola was stopped in Nigeria comes with the challenge of not leaving key factors out as well as making a compact film. But despite the challenges of selecting what key parts of the real story makes contents of 93 Days...the Ebola film, a proudly Nigerian story of courage is not missing.

  
Patrick Sawyer (Keppy Ekpeyoung) in 93 Day

In coordinating the creative contents of 93 Days, the director, Steve Gukas, seems confronted with the challenge of compactness as the film brings same sides of a coin: so much details enacted as well as certain key events left out.

  And after nearly two hours, leading to the end credits scrolling in from the bottom of the screen, inside House on the Rock, Lekki, Lagos - venue of the premiere - 93 Days leaves one wondering if the efforts of Dr Ameyo Adadevoh in the Ebola battle was exaggerated in real life.   
  Currently showing in cinemas across Nigeria, 93 Days as a straight jacket, historical film is almost spotless, even when viewed through the prism of strictest critique. But within the context of art as essence of filmmaking, irrespective of whether it's a biopic or feature doc, something seems to be missing in 93 Days.

  The challenges of merging compactness and art contents in 93 Days not withstanding, the effort of Bolanle Austen Peters, Dotun Olakurin. Pemon Rami and Gukas-led production crew intercepts Nollywood mediocre, that could have rushed to film locations and  basterdised subjects of national interest under erroneous claims of making 'epic' film. For now, whoever is making another film on Ebola knows there is a standard to beat.

  As regards late Dr Adadevoh, played by Bimbo Akintola, there is no doubt that the film, in at least two or three scenes establishes her efforts in stopping Patrick Sawyer (Keppy Ekpeyoung) from leaving the First Consultant Hospital, Lagos. Also, her coordination and inspirational efforts of the entire health workers at the hospital is also well enacted. But in creating artistic contents out of these scenes, specifically, heroic strides of Adadevoh, the scenes appear too ordinary. If Gukas was avoiding melodramatising the scenes, I think he also under highlights the fulcrum role of the late doctor in the widely reported battle against Ebola. 
  Perhaps, compensating for that weakness are the motivational and courageous lines as delivered by Akintola. "We must do it together. Lagos is watching. Nigeria is watching. The whole world is watching," she tells frightened colleagues inside the feverish environment of the hospital.

  Indeed, using the medium of film to refresh people's memory of a story that happened, almost animatedly, before everyone's eyes - constantly reported by the media just two years ago - could be a complex one for any filmmaker. Confirming that complexity in 93 Days, is when the film leaves out the key factors of how Lagos State Government constantly released information. As much as compactness is key in telling such story within two hours of digital motion pictures, just one scene where Yemi Shodimu appears as Commissioner for Health, Dr Jide Idris underplays those crucial parts of government.
 In fact, a film about the battle against Ebola in Nigeria, as happened in 2014, is incomplete without depicting the constant and preventive speeches of Mr Babatunde Fashola, the then Governor of Lagos State. Fashola's image in the Ebola battle was like that of Mayor of New York, Rudy Giuliani during the 9/11 terror attack that brought the World Trade twin towers to grand zero. 

David Brett-Majors (Alastair Mackenzie) and Dr Ada Igonoh (Somkele Idhalama) in 93 Days.

 Also, the contribution of the Federal Ministry of Health, is also missing. Specifically, the much acknowledged non-partisan and collective energy from both Lagos state and Federal Government, which was a key factor is left out of the film. Even, if 93 Days goes into the real politics of who does what, perhaps, the film would have expanded the argument. Complete silence of these crucial aspects of government deducts from the essence of such a timely film project, particularly within artistic context.

  From the point where six health workers of First Consultant Hospital are quarantined, the texture of suspense is chilling. Particularly when expatriate doctor, David Brett-Majors (Alastair Mackenzie) leads Dr Ada Igonoh (Somkele Idhalama) to the ward and tells her: "Take a bed and start fighting."  Quarantined Dr Igonoh actually fights and wins, becoming the first of the quarantined persons to be freed of Ebola.

  The power of a film medium is stressed in 93 Days as the battle for population figure of Lagos appears to have been won by those who promote 21 million as against the Federal Government's questionable and unpopular official figure of over 10 million. Constantly, Lagos as a city of 21 million people was mentioned across local and international spaces, in the film.

 However, courage as a central and key essence of 93 Days is not lost. Even the making of the film itself, could be described as courageous effort on the part of the entire crew, given the controversy surrounding the concept from the beginning.

Dr Amevo Adadevoh (Bimbo Akintola) and other acts in 93 Days. 

 Shortly before the screen came alive inside House on the Rock, Austen Peters told the audience how she nearly rejected the idea of making the film when  she was approached with the idea. But having been "inspired by Fela on Broadway (the musical)," much earlier, she chose to extend her love for any Nigerian brand to the Ebola film idea.

  For Olakurin, 93 Days film teaches two lessons: having people do the right thing as exemplified by Dr Adadevoh who did not allow Sawyer to leave the hospital. He also argued that the film has boosted the image of Nigeria as a nation of filmmaking in the international space, after the film "enjoyed good reviews” abroad.

  Also, the Nigeria brand as a factor has been the attraction for the director, Gukas. "I am attracted to things that show the best of Nigeria; 93 Days shows Nigeria in its finest hours."

 As much as 93 Days adds to the Nigerian brand as a resilient entity and promotes the depth of creative incendiary abound, there are still spaces for future films on the Ebola, perhaps to expand the strength of the creative landscape. .

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