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A FILM ON SOYINKA

Source: nigeriafilms.com

Seventeen years after it was first conceived, Professor Wole Soyinka's autobiography, Ake: Years of Childhood, is on the verge of being made into a film.

Though the date of release is yet unknown, work has started in earnest. After several hiccups, the movie adaptation of Professor Wole Soyinka's autobiography, Ake: Years of Childhood, is a step closer to realisation. A brainchild of Dapo Adeniyi, writer and journalist, the project was initially the initiative of the Nigerian Television Authority (NTA). It was conceived to develop a Soyinka work into screenplay for television, shortly after he won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1986. The initial choice was Season of Anomy, which eventually was rejected in favour of Ake by the NTA board. Even then, the adaptation of Ake was not actualised because of the subsequent dissolution of the board.

Almost two decades after, Ake is on the verge of committing Soyinka's extraordinary life to celluloid. Adeniyi, who wrote the script on Soyinka's request in 1989, rebooted the project and assured the Nobel laureate that his company, Backpage Productions, will complete it.
Soyinka's consent was not exactly secured on a platter. “After NTA seemed to have failed us, we approached Prof. (Soyinka) and sought his consent to produce the film privately. He initially hesitated. I understand why he was reluctant to give the approval because he probably felt that, as a young man, the production would overwhelm me,” he told TheNEWS.

Soyinka has not only endorsed the screenplay, he has given Backpage Productions the authority to produce it. To ensure a top-drawer output, Adeniyi has contacted some of Nigeria's brightest filmmaking talents. They include Pat Nebo, Nigeria's foremost scenic designer; Tunde Kelani, celebrated cinematographer, and Tunde Babalola, a UK-based award-winning film writer. While Nebo will be leading the design team for the project, Kelani will be in charge of shooting. Working on the project will also hand Kelani an opportunity to make a visual representation of his own childhood, having spent part of his early life in Abeokuta. Kelani explained that latest advancement in digital technology will be used to film Ake. According to him, the final process of filming will be done abroad. “At that stage we have an option of either mastering in high definition or mastering in 35mm celluloid.

Today, there is a fusion of all the media. Films are regularly made from celluloid and may end up on either celluloid or digital video in high definition, or films can be originated from high definition and can end up on celluloid,” he told TheNEWS. Kelani considers himself the best person to handle the project because of his familiarity with the setting and materials. And he is excited by the prospect. “I believe I am working on a very familiar terrain. Part of me is in that particular project. I seem to know not only the geography, but also the people, traditions and cultures of that period,” he said. Yet the project will pose enormous challenges, largely because the landscape will need to be recreated, having changed considerably.

This will require time before actual shooting can commence. Despite this need, Kelani is unfazed. “Our technical team, just like other teams in the project, will give it their best shot. I am going to put my best into it,” he said. Adeniyi, writer of the screenplay, is equally thrilled. But his joy is somewhat muted by the fact that the project is coming rather late. “I think the film on Wole Soyinka is belated. Honestly, it is irresponsible of us, as a country, to be making a film on Soyinka in 2006-twenty years after the Nobel Prize. Even before the Nobel Prize, Soyinka deserved the film,” he reasoned.

Adeniyi explained that the film is endowed with great historical significance because of the Second World War and the Egba women's riot, which lie at the heart of the narrative. The women's riot, led by Mrs. Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti, reputed to be the first Nigerian woman to drive a car, was hatched under Soyinka's eyes. It not only resulted in the abolition of poll tax on women, but also the institutionalisation of the universal adult suffrage, both of which subsist.

The narrative also has in the foreground the Nigerian elite, headquartered in Abeokuta. Apart from a narrative aesthetic and lucidity of prose, which are rarities in Soyinka's literary works, Ake combines a beautiful child-view narrative with direct echoes from the war as heard or imagined down in Ake, one of the four quarters that coalesced into Abeokuta. “It represents a chapter in modern Nigerian history. The film is very significant for our collective memory,” Adeniyi noted.

But why make a film on Soyinka, whose writings many consider obfuscating? he said, “Well the obfuscation you cited is the more reason the film should be made. A film has a way of sending people back to the book. That is why more of Soyinka's works should be made into films. The narrative is there; the local milieu is fully described in the narrative. It is just a matter of transposing into language and actualising that in each medium. I don't think it is anything complex,” Adeniyi averred.

Yet, there are a few complex issues Adeniyi will have to contend with. One of such is funding. Although Backpage Productions is currently using some of its resources, the production requires a hefty N140 million. Raising this amount, explained Adeniyi, will provide a stiff test because he does not imagine a corporate concern investing a sum as huge as that in the film. There is also the likely challenge in the shape of adequate re-creation of scene settings. “That is where most of the expenses would go. We would have to recreate period automobiles, period property, period costume and period scenery. Most of those things do not look as they used to look when the story was set. So we are going to do a lot of re-creating,” Adeniyi explained.

As a story, the film will offer a variation to a few parts in Ake, the book. For instance, the gardener becomes a full-fledged character who leads a curious Soyinka through bushes of roses and pomegranates. The character will then introduce other characters absent from the original narration. In the screenplay, Soyinka starts school a year earlier than what was recorded in the narrative. “The author (Soyinka) informed me that he actually started school at two and half years, and not at three and half indicated in the book,” Adeniyi disclosed. In writing the final draft of the script, which has now lasted all of 17 years, Adeniyi has taken pains to double check on contacts and investigate relevant and extraneous sources. For instance, when he tried to speak with Soyinka's elementary school teacher, in Ife, Adeniyi was told he died a week before his visit to the former teacher's home.

Adeniyi met Soyinka when he translated D.O. Fagunwa's Expedition To The Mount Of Thought. Soyinka, who was impressed with the work, assisted in making corrections. When NTA approached Soyinka on the possibility of adapting any of his works for television, he recommended Adeniyi as scriptwriter. According to Adeniyi, inspiration for the script came from Ake itself. “I personally find Ake a very interesting narrative. And as a younger person, it was a story I identified with.

The conversations and the school ambience reminded me of my own high school,” he said. Adeniyi, 43, studied theatre arts at the University of Ibadan, where the founded a literary magazine, River Prawn. In 1986, Helot, his first play, was broadcast by the BBC World Service. His translation of Fagunwa's Expedition To The Mount Of Thought was published in 1994 by the Ife University Press. Adeniyi, has also been a British Council Fellow at Downing College, University of Cambridge, and a visiting editor at the Times Literary Supplement and London Literary Review.