With youth unemployment continuously on the rise, curious documentary maker Fiona Whitty returned to Lagos for the fifth time to produce a thought- provoking documentary, where she followed the lives of three ambitious young people trying to make something of themselves in the multi-faceted city of Lagos. Here’s what she had to say during her 5 Minutes chat with Fourwall Magazine.
Why did you decide to come to Lagos and film a documentary about the youth, their lives and unemployment struggles?
This is my fifth trip to Nigeria. I first traveled to Lagos in 2008, which was funded by Simon Cumbers Media Challenge Fund, to collaborate with Nigerian writer, Rotimi Babatunde, to investigate the links between Ireland and Nigeria and social and political factors, which force people to migrate from their home of origin in search of greener pastures. I became particularly interested in young people and their struggle, because 70% of Nigeria’s population is under 35 and the rate of youth unemployment is rising. I felt there was a need for their story to be told and this situation to be highlighted for young people in Nigeria and abroad, since the young people are the ones who have to make changes to make their society better.
In 2011, I volunteered with DIFN to undertake a placement at Rhoda Youth Center in Lagos Nigeria, where I taught film and media with graduates age 18+ and began building and developing partnerships for my residency proposal. I was commissioned by Rhoda Youth Center to come over again in 2013 to produce a film and help establish a small community journalism team and was unveiled as an Ambassador for Rhoda Youth Center. I have now developed strong partnerships in Lagos with young people and that’s where the ideas for the film began.
Can you give us a synopsis about your recent film produced in Lagos?
The film (Working title, ‘All That Is Golden Glitters’) is a film following three young people and their challenges living in Lagos investigating art, culture, identity and migration in Lagos’s ever changing multi-faceted landscape. It was funded by the British Council and will be shown in Lagos and internationally next year.
Politically and culturally, what impact does this film have on the Nigerian Government and the international community?
I hope that this film will create more awareness about the real situations and struggles young people are facing in Lagos and will encourage young people to stand up for what they believe in and never give up.
I want the Nigerian Government to start recognising their youth and I want this film to be shown to the Nigerian Government as a case study of what potential young people have when given a chance. I hope that this film will have an impact by been seen by policy and decision makers who will be pressurised to put more funding into youth development and empowerment.
The film will be shared with the international community especially, to challenge prejudices and to create and facilitate more exchange.
How long did you spend working on this film project?
I spent 6 months planning, 3 weeks filming and will be spending about 1-2 months editing.
What is the underling message you’re trying to convey with this film?
Let everybody shine – Don’t hold them back.
In three words, how would you describe your three weeks spent in Lagos?
Insightful, inspiring, addictive (because I always want to come back!)
What will this documentary be used for and where can it be seen?
I will be returning to Lagos at the end of April 2016 as part of the British Council’s UK/NG Cultural Programme, to exhibit the film produced in different venues such as Freedom Park, CCA Gallery, The Shrine and on the streets in public places in Bariga.
What was the experience like working with young people who have dreams, hopes and aspirations in a city like Lagos?
The young people are a great example for young people in Europe to follow because it is now getting tougher for young people in Europe and even though young Lagosians live in one of the toughest cities in the world, every single young person I met has ambition and aspiration for their future. It really energised and inspired me to work with such creative, hard working and enthusiastic young people.
As a freelance filmmaker, what were some of the challenges you encountered whilst being in Lagos and coordinating project- related entities?
Time management was challenging for me during this trip. Although I know that the traffic is bad and I’ve experienced it before, this time it did really stress me that I wasn’t able to make meetings on time and was nearly impossible to book three meetings in one day. Because I was on such a tight time schedule I found it difficult to fit in everything I needed to get done. Being safe and secure was also challenging (Shanelle you experienced this with me:)) but I always had my friend and aspiring filmmaker, Badmus Hamed Olatunji, with me who made sure I was safe and secure at all times.
Can you give us an insight into other film projects you’ve worked on and in what countries?
I have worked on projects in Ireland, Italy, the U.K. and Jamaica. My films mainly have been around topics of migration. Asylum seekers in Dublin, Nigerian immigrants in Milan, Irish navvies who moved to London in the 50’s: I am interested in how cultures merge and co-exist. You can see my work on my website http://www.fionawhitty.com I am the other half of a creative partnership with Jenny Gordon called WhittyGordon Projects and we are currently making a documentary film in Kingston, Jamaica called Love, Lust & Longing, about single Jamaican women and relationships.
What inspires you to develop such films?
I think there has always been a bit of an anthropologist in me, curious to find out about people and culture 1st – 3rd world life challenges. Living in such a melting pot like London, I get inspired every day by experiences I have, travelling to places like Nigeria and Jamaica and experiences I have there, while walking, on the bus, conversations I have, people I see and meet. I love hearing stories and learning about people living different lives in different ways. I’m lucky to have my creative partner Jenny Gordan because we can bounce ideas off each other. There are so many films I want to make the list is endless. Just need a massive production budget and I’m off.
As a white women coming to Nigeria, how was you received?
I was welcomed and received so well as a white woman coming to Nigeria. Most people were surprised to see me and were caring about my safety, asking was I ok and making sure I wasn’t standing in the middle of traffic. A lot of men thought I was married to a Nigerian or looking for a Nigerian husband and were surprised to hear I was neither married nor looking! I was pampered and taken care of to the highest standard by my friends and colleagues. I will always promote Nigeria as a warm, friendly and welcoming country.
You’re so ambitious and daring, what’s the process you take for sourcing funding?
It’s not easy to get funding and is very time consuming. I do a mixture of funding applications and applying for sponsorship. It’s not easy and is very time consuming to find the grant, organisation or individual that fits your aims. I find funding to apply for online mainly or get passed on through friends. I’m an optimist and enthusiastic so I always try, even if I am knocked back and rejected, I keep on trying until I get it or move on to the next if I don’t get it and that’s my approach to funding. I think the simplest approach is you have to believe in what you do, see it in the bigger picture, find the right people to support what you do and convince them wholeheartedly that your project is worth investing in.
What are your long- term goals?
I want to be based in London but live and work in different countries like Nigeria and Jamaica. My aim is to set up sustainable film projects in Jamaica and London as part of WhittyGordon Projects. In Nigeria, my aim to establish an international residency exchange programme in Lagos next year. I am currently looking for funding, sponsorship and partners to get involved. The residency will be located on the mainland in Lagos. I will work with my Nigerian partners to select a group of young people to get involved in the residency as apprentices, where they will learn skills such as filmmaking, photography and film. Each year a small number of international artists from different artistic disciplines such as moving image, painting, writing will be selected by a group of professionals including artist/curator Jude Anogwih to partake in the residency, which will last for 6 weeks.
The selected artist will also run workshops with the young people as part of the residency. At the end of the residency the artist will have an exhibition in selected venues. The young people will be linked up with various businesses and organisations, which will support the programme by employing the young people to produce media and graphic material for them, supporting the sustainability of the project. My intention is that the residency programme will eventually become part of a larger cultural hub, linking with various other partners and individuals such as local performance artist, Segun Adefila and that the local community will become more and more involved and keep it running on an ongoing basis.
What led to the collaboration with curator Jude Anogwih?
I first met Jude during my trip in 2008. He was working at the Centre for Contemporary Art in Yaba. We just clicked when we met because we are both video artists and interested in the same topics like migration and identity. We talked about collaborating together on films and projects and kept in touch since I have been back in London. When the opportunity came to apply for The British Council UK/NG artist grant we thought it was the perfect opportunity to work together. I couldn’t have done this project without Jude and am very grateful to have met him and we plan on doing many more projects together.
What other film projects do you have in the pipeline?
Next year I am going back to Jamaica in January 2016 to continue filming the Love, Lust & Longing documentary and also shooting a film about relationships in London. I have always wanted to spend 6 months – 1 year making a film about area boys in Lagos, which I aim to do in the next three years.