In the Caribbean, African movies bridge racial gaps,

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Ambassador Justin Duru's name may not yet be a household one in Nigeria. But he is a name to reckon with in the Caribbean countries. His activities in the St. Maartens have turned him to a force to reckon with to the extent that he was made a cultural ambassador. His effort is geared towards bridging the African-Caribbean gap using film and television as well as radio programmes.

Duru acts, produces and promotes African, especially Nigerian film, literature and cultures. His works have generated more interest in people who wish to know more about Africans. For this, the Federal Government, under General Abdulsalami Abubakar, aided him with funds. Now, he wants Africa to shine in the Caribbean through the first African film festival billed for November 6 to 13 this year.

I am Ambassador Justin Duru. I hail from Umuaka in Njaba Local Government Area of Imo State. I am a graduate of Theatre Arts, from the University of Ibadan. I specialised in Television Production and Business Management. I once worked at the Nigerian Television Authority, NTA before I resigned. I am an actor, writer, producer and director.

As an actor
I acted in the Village Headmaster, Masquerades which later became New Masquerades. I played many roles, like the villager, a police officer, and Okoro's brother who came from the village. On stage, I played several roles in plays like Queen Amina of Zaria, Things Fall Apart and Gods Are No to Blame. I worked with so many experienced artistes like Bassey Effiong, Israel Eboh among others.

Going to the Caribbean
I did not run away from Nigeria. I left because I got an offer from Leeward Broadcasting Corporation Television, LBCTV, Channel 7 in St. Maartens, Caribbean. So I went there to see how viable it could be and it turned out to be good. I was made the Programme director of the station and I took the challenge by staying on.

African Caribbean programmes
There are many programmes we run on the African Caribbean Network, ACN to bridge the African-Caribbean Island gap. This was as far back as 1996. We produced them on Africa in the radio and television. The title of the programme is Sunrise for Africa. We showcased Chinua Achebe's Things Fall Apart, Professor Ali Mazrui's African Peoples Heritage, a documentary, New Masquerades, Tales By Moonlight. It served as an educational and enlightenment programme for the Caribbean. Nigeria The Giant of Africa, a special documentary on Nigeria was presented to celebrate Nigerian independence day. Similarly, we run other programmes to reflect other African countries. These programmes enabled the audience to see the original African setting. Throughout the Caribbean, there are Cable Television Network broadcasts, purely on American programmes. The only news they give about Africa are distorted. They present wrong image about Africa. Our programme brought light for people to realise that there is something different about Africa. Right now, most schools in the Caribbean use Things Fall Apart aside from their curriculum. We are still working to see that more of African Literature are used in the Schools.

African movies
In Sunrise Africa in 1999, we put African movies on television. There was lack of fund to air them, because we had American market to contend with. But it was essential to promote African films. I felt obliged because being part of the Motion Picture Industry, I think I owe the industry that responsibility. So it was a contribution towards developing the market. I have been able to show African movies especially those from Nigeria eight months non-stop. The movies were shown on Sundays and Mondays for three hours in stations like :CVN Jamaica, ABS TV Antigua, and television stations in St Maartens, St Kiths. It was not a commercial venture but for enlightenment, so we were paying for the airtime. To this extent we bought some equipment to aid the stations. Some of the movies were: Agony, Diamond Ring, Battle of Musanga, Glamour Girls, Blood Money among others.

The African film festival
The film festival is christened Sunrise Africa. I feel it is time for the African sun to rise in the Caribbean. We are expecting about 13 African countries: Nigeria, Ghana, South Africa, Sierra Leone, Senegal, Burkina Fasso, Morocco, Tanzania, Kenya, Tunisia among others. The programmes earmarked are: Seminar on the need to promote and market African films in the Caribbean. Apart from the ones we have shown on television, nobody knows about African films. There are educational workshops on African films for the Caribbean youth, film show involving special screening in the theatres and cinema, a weeklong exhibition that will create room for direct sales to the public during the festival. In addition, we will create an avenue for interaction. There will be full participation from the Caribbean newspapers, television and radio. We are collaborating with the Caribbean Broadcasting Union, Radio Swaliga, Afro-Carrib Communications as well as Calypso Tours.

The reaction of the Caribbeans was good. People call on us to express their feelings. The only negative reaction was for the ritual dominated movies. They have this feeling that we have voodoo in Africa. But one thing they realised was that at the end, the movies show that good triumphs over evil. They do not seem to see such lessons in the American movies. For the fact that they see To God be the glory at the end of every movie made them believe that Africans are strong Christians. From the location, they feel the kind of houses and the car they see portray Africa as a beautiful environment.

Changing African image through movies
They believe there is nothing good about Africa. They learn from the CNN that Africa is all about famine and war. In fact, no TV station shows the good side of Africa. But the programme really laundered African image.

Due to lack of fund, we stopped airing the movies, but so many people started calling us asking why we stopped. They said that they were seeing something authentic from Africa and we do not want it continued. The reality was that we stopped it because there was no more fund.

Abdulsalami Abubakar
Former Head of State, General Abdulsalami Abubakar, in his appreciation funded our programmes. There was a time we planned a visit of some Caribbean citizens down to Nigeria, but we could not go ahead because of some obvious reasons. But the government on both sides really appreciated the proposals. I was overwhelmed when I got a call from Washington that the Federal Government had a message for me. Behold it was money to support in my projects.

The benefits of the festival are enormous. It is quite unfortunate that our people see benefits in terms of immediate money. I have had course to meet with all the professional bodies irrespective of the poor turn out. It was all about knowing that a market is being developed for their works. After the festival, African movies would constantly show in the Caribbean stations and all the royalty will be paid to the filmmakers. The video rental clubs must pay for the films they take. We are talking of about 40 Caribbean Islands and all the Islands belong to territories like French, Dutch, Spanish and English.