Acclaimed Paris-based Nigerian filmmaker Newton I. Aduaka started his film career in the UK in the 1990s. His first feature, the award-winning and much talked-about, Rage (2000) was the UK’s first hip hop movie and the first film by an independent black filmmaker to be released on the national circuit. Aduaka has screened his films at film festivals around the world and has won numerous awards, among them the Golden Stallion of Yennenga (the award for best film) at Fespaco 2007 for his second feature, Ezra, and the FIPRESCI International Critics Award for his third film, One Man’s Show at FESPACO 2013. His fourth feature film Oil on Water, (currently in development) was selected to be part of the Cinéfondation’s Atelier at Cannes in 2014.
What is your first film memory?
I’ve been asked this question often and each time I think of a scene with two lovers trapped in a burning building, arms wrapped around each other as they desperately try to find an escape through the flames. The scene is accompanied by swelling orchestrated music. I believe this was the climax of the film. I do not remember the title to this day, but each time I’m asked this question, this scene or snippet of a scene appears whole in my minds eye, accompanied by the soundtrack. It was a Bollywood movie; that I know. It was 1975 at a cinema called the Plaza with its huge auditorium in Apapa, Lagos. My mum and I cried a lot. That I remember.
Why did you decide to become a filmmaker?
It wasn’t so much a decision as, by successive moments of chance events and experiences. I was a science major at high school. The usual story: I was being groomed to become an astrophysicist, hence “Newton”! Cinema was something that was not an option, growing up in Nigeria back then, I had no clue that it was even a career. It never crossed my mind. I had dabbled in music; formed a school-band with three classmates and we went as far as recording an album. I was 14. I was part of that generation that, given half a chance, left the country in droves in the mid-1980s. I remember there was this catch phrase: “I’m checking out!” The country was under the iron grip of one of the many military dictatorships. The soldier-boys had occupied and clamped down on schools and universities. The socio-political and economic fabric of the country was in tatters. I arrived to stay at my aunt’s in the run-down North Peckham estate in London, which was then called “Home away from home” because of its sizable Nigerian community of exiles. I shot my first feature, “Rage,” there. The United Kingdom was a country under another form of iron grip, Thatcherite England. The Brixton riots had happened four years prior and the term ‘multiculturalism’ was the buzzword. I was lost and confused doing petty clandestine work, but I had the distinct sense that a new chapter of my life was about to begin. A year later, a friend had asked me to accompany him on an open day visit to a college offering a foundation course in film, video and photography. I went along, listened and fell in love. I went on to attend the London Film School, a very international film academy that exposed me to true world cinema by virtue of my colleagues who had ended up there from all corners of the world. Filmmaking immediately made sense to me; it reconciled my interests in the arts and sciences. Astrophysics is the study of the nature of the universe. Cinema, for me, is the study of the nature of being.
Which film do you wish you had made?
Name one of the films on your top-5 list and the reason why it is there.
Memories of Underdevelopment by Tomás Gutiérrez Alea, from 1968. For me, it is a profound and complex study of alienation in times of seismic shifts. An attempt to make sense of, and reconcile, the nature of memory, identity and reality in a life that is in state of flux. And an exploration of the numbing psychic shock that comes in times of great historic transformation, as what is known is swept away and uncertainty/reality sets in.
It is one of the seminal works of cinema that inspired my filmmaking. I guess, personally, my response to the film comes from having lived through a traumatic civil war and the military dictatorships that came after. The protagonist is a character I don’t particularly sympathize with, a complete hypocrite, but the filmmaker finds a way to make you empathize. Not that one accepts or tolerates the character’s behavior, but through him, one is asked to confront that part of one’s nature, which is difficult to accept, which we constantly evade and which becomes part of one’s subconscious fears.
Ask yourself any question you think I should have asked and answer it.
“Is Cinema important?” Yes, if it has something to say. And I don’t mean in terms of a message, and definitely do not mean peddling some moral or political stance for that matter. For me, it is important if it illuminates or resonates something that makes up the essence of this thing called human nature. Essentially, truth.