Things Fall Apart (1971) film viewed in Nigeria for the first time

Lagos Film Society in collaboration with Modern Art Film Archive as part of Lagos Photo Festival and Festival of Forgotten Films, hosted invitees to the cinema hall of the Nigeria Film Corporation, Ikoyi to view Things Fall Apart, a 1971 film shot in Nigeria rediscovered by the Deutsche Kinemathek in Berlin and curated by Didi Cheeka. The film was seen in Nigeria for the first time on 31 July 2021.

Other “forgotten” movies including Handsworth Song, by John Akomfrah (UK 1987), Countdown at Kusini by Ossie Davis (Nigeria, USA 1976), Kongi’s Harvest by Ossie Davis (Nigeria 1970) and others are screened at the same venue and other parts of Lagos till 8 August.

For the first time since the film’s release, a selection of archive findings are on Virtual and open-air exhibition with a large-scale installation in the form of seventy-four printed photos by Stephen Goldblatt, two by two meter fabric tarpaulins all around the lively Tinubu square, Lagos Island, curated by Berlin based Akinbode Akinbiyi, Gisela Kayser runs till 4 September.

The scenario is a spin-off from Chinua Achebe’s internationally acclaimed novels, Things Fall Apart and No Longer At Ease. The film together with more than 2000 unpublished film stills, various production papers, correspondences, as well as a film print of the production with location in Lagos and Ibadan from September 1970 were found in the estate of Berlin filmmaker Jason Pohland (1934-2014), who was also the director.

Things Fall Apart was made in Nigeria shortly after the Biafra war and had been lost for decades. As a result, little was known about the circumstances and the creation of this film. It was premiered in Atlanta in 1974 and also shown in Germany a few times thereafter but was never viewed in Nigeria.

Executive Producer Francis Oladele (1933-2015) established Calpenny Nigeria Films Limited in 1965 with the intention of providing a platform for artistic expression in a more profound way and opening the Nigerian arts to an international audience. His debut film Kongi‘s Harvest (1970) already set standards. The film is based on a play by Wole Soyinka, who also plays the lead role.

Oladele‘s second feature film, Things Fall Apart is another key part of the beginnings of Nigeria’s Pre-Nollywood movie industry. The film, made by a few international but mostly local crew members, was directed by Jason Pohland.

Lagos Photo Festival shows Achebe on set, Orlando Martins (born 1899) – Nigeria‘s first international film star – in his last role as Obierika, the Ugandan princess, lawyer and later diplomat Elizabeth of Toro, who shortly after the movie shoot became her country’s foreign minister, John Sekka, the popular Gambian/ Senegalese born actor in the leading role of Obi Okonkwo, 23 year old Iyabo Aboaba, now of Freedom Park Lagos in her role as Bisi. Tunde Adeniji (84), the assistant director and Aboaba were present to view the film for the first time.

Things Fall Apart highlights the societal issues that plagued Nigeria in the 1960’s as the country was in the grip of a civil war. Obi Okonkwo, a journalist trained abroad returns home with his heartthrob, Clara Okeke (Elizabeth of Toro) a freshly graduated nurse. The couple’s togetherness is in jeopardy, her being born into the Osu caste – an ancient practice in Igboland that discourages social interaction and marriage with a group of persons called Osu (Outcasts) – it remains a hot topic in Nigeria today.

Obi represents modern Nigeria. Through his gaze, his own expectations and disapointments, those of his environment and the woman he loves become visible. Obi experiences the spreading corruption, the dominance of European interests and the conflict with the values of traditional societies. In flashbacks, his struggle is interwoven with that of his grandfather Okonkwo. The latter experiences the first foreign influences in his village of Umuofia, from the arrival of Christian missionaries to British colonialism.

At the open air Photo Exhibition on Tinubu Square, Mareike Palmeira, founder, Modern Art Film Archiv said “An exhibition on the beginnings of Nigerian film of this size in such a busy city square is both: an experiment and a challenge. How will the people of Tinubu Square react? In a bygone era, the heart of the city once beat here, but the city is in a never-ending process of transformation and no postcard views of Tinubu Square have been printed for a long time.” Palmeira continues “There were basic conditions: it should be an open air exhibition, because of the pandemic, and we also wanted to reach the people you don’t meet in galleries. Even during the set-up work, there are surprising moments: schoolchildren stop, look, talk, a boy stands in front of the text panel with a serious expression on his face and his arms folded, reading with great concentration. A young man, a so-called ‘Area Boy’ takes a photograph from the exhibited photographs. Later he tells me that Things Fall Apart has been translated into about 60 different languages, ” including Flemish, but not a single Nigerian language.” His knowledge surprises me, I did not know that.”

Some crew members moved on to great careers: the still photographer Stephen Goldblatt became a director of photography, shot Batman films and was nominated twice for the Oscars. The assistant editor Alhaji Arulogun became one of Nigeria’s pioneer broadcasters and later headed several ministries for the government of Oyo State, Ivan Sharrock, the sound mixer, won two Oscars.

The 91 minute film is a complete work of genius, colour and sound that have stood the test of time even as it was locked away in Germany for decades. The rights to the film – including cinema screenings- are held by the producer’s son, Lanre Oladele and his brothers. A copy will be given to Iyabo Aboaba, who can also be contacted.


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