iRep International Documentary Film Festival

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Last month I visited Lagos for the iRep International Documentary Film Festival. The annual festival is held in Freedom Park, a park converted from the site of an old colonial prison and now a popular venue for the fast-growing Lagos cultural scene. Freedom Park is a space that plays host to a wide variety of cultural events, and it’s been a favourite spot of mine in the city since visiting there during it’s development. As my family and I were given a tour around the park I remember thinking how unique it is for the city: a piece of Lagos history, a forum for local musicians and artists to exhibit, and a scenic, green community space; designed for local people of all social classes to gather and enjoy culture. Little did I know then that the park would also become the venue for one of my own personal milestones – my first screening with a Q&A.

The film was due to be screened on the last day of the festival (Sunday), and so I took the opportunity to enjoy the festival and see some of the other films being screened. One film in particular that I enjoyed was Faaji Agba, a documentary about the highlife, palm wine and juju musicians who were playing before the beginning of the afrobeat movement in Lagos. The film sees the musicians as they are united for a tour of New York (a lot of fun – most of them have never left Nigeria), and aside from being very nicely shot and edited it’s a great story that makes for a fun – but also heartwarming – ninety minutes.

I was more nervous than I thought I’d be leading up to the screening – my father had widely publicised the event, both to friends and family and to filmmakers, and so the screening room was packed. While I really don’t enjoy watching my film (for the 20th time or since it was finised…), it seemed most people in the room did, and the subsequent Q&A lasted for about twice as long as the duration of the film! I was joined on stage by my main contributors and the owners of Drill Ranch, Peter Jenkins and Liza Gadsby, and so the discussion went way past the events on screen. The theme for this years festival was “change: documentary films as agent provocateur”, and so it was appropriate that the Q&A became a forum for discussing the major environmental issue that has arisen in the last year: that of the proposed superhighway through the forest and national park land near to Drill Ranch in Cross River state. I won’t go into too much detail, but to summarise the state governor Ben Ayade has set out plans for a road through the forest and to revoke land rights for 10km either side of the road, amounting to 25% of the area of the whole state. It’s a road that doesn’t make any sense; there is another road with a similar route that serves more people and is in dire need of repair, whereas this road seems to only impact the people who live along the route negatively. The most obvious explanation for the road is for access to the forest for logging companies, and the whole project is suspicious – logging has even begun without the legally necessary Evironmental Impact Assessment. Peter and Liza are part of a group that’s trying to halt the project, but it’s a difficult battle to fight against a state governor in Nigeria (more about the campaign here).

Photo courtesy of Jane Mote, from Twitter

While the future for the last of Nigeria’s rainforest looks pretty bleak at the moment, I think it’s important to have hope. A lot of Nigerians I’ve shown the film to say they are surprised that this amazing forest is in their own country, and so hopefully a few more might feel like it’s something work protecting. I also hope that giving Peter and Liza the opportunity to speak to some young  Nigerian filmmakers might have had some impact – who knows, maybe we’ll see some more films about conservation and the environment come out of Nigeria soon. And maybe they can create the conversations required to make lasting change. I certainly hope so.

A Bit of Birding in Nigeria

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Lagos is a busy port on the coast of one of the worlds fastest growing economies. Nigeria has been coined a “MINT” country, and its former capital and largest city is said to be the second fastest growing city on the African continent. But does this buzzing metropolis leave room for any birds to live among the chaos?! Absolutely.

I’ve spent this last 10 days with my family, visiting my father who lives on Ikoyi, one of the island areas on the coastal side of Lagos lagoon. When you think about living in the middle of a big city, you don’t usually think of there being a great deal of birdlife, but sitting out in the garden of my father’s house is actually really fantastic for catching a glimpse of some West African avifauna…

The first thing you notice as you look up is the sight of several birds of prey spiralling on warm vents across various heights in the surrounding sky. At any one time you can usually spot about five silhouettes of Black Kite, although the most that we’ve seen at one time is fourteen, which I find incredible considering the pollution and business of the city. What my father and I suspect, from looking at certain places where the Kites tend to fly around, is that they are using the warm air rising from generators behind people’s houses (in Nigeria the mains electricity isn’t 100% reliable) to glide from, and it means that the skies above areas with a lot of houses are filled with the distant seagull-like calls of the Kites from high above.

Every so often the relative peace and quiet of the garden is interrupted by the typically tropical, “gobbling” call of the Western Plantain-Eater, usually as a pair flies across to perch in one of the higher trees of the garden. Feeding on fruits and seeds, this member of the turaco family can be identified by its bright yellow, curved and long tail when perched, or by the white band across its tail when in flight. Quite a common bird across West Africa, I really enjoyed hearing the occasional “gobble” as they flew past while I was sitting by the pool – if I closed my eyes I could almost have been deep in the rainforest!

The most common of the birds in my Dad’s garden is what I think is a Red-Eyed Dove. While there were quite a few that visited the garden throughout the day, I have to say that as a result of my not being as interested in pigeon species as other birds, and that there are a lot of quite similar-looking pigeons and doves, I can’t be entirely sure of the species. What interested me more was a bird that my father said he had heard but never really seen that lived in a particularly large and thickly foliated tree, which sufficiently aroused my curiosity to the point where after it was mentioned I didn’t really sit still until I know what it was. After about an hour of taking blurred photos on a borrowed camera without much zoom, I finally managed to get a clear enough shot to identify the African Thrush. Quite a dull-coloured bird apart from its bright orange beak, what made the African Thrush stand out for me was the range of different songs it had, which helped me to confirm its identity by matching the sounds to the ones on a nifty little app I found called Bird Calls (by XLabz Technologies). The app was really helpful – you can search by country and then there are usually a few different calls or photos from a few different locations for each species, and I would highly recommend for anyone like me who is new to birdwatching.

Last of the identifiable avian visitors whose time coincided with mine in my father’s garden was a single Little Egret that checked us (or more likely the pool) out briefly before flying away, a nice little treat on my last day before flying back to the UK. We did see an owl one night while out for a midnight swim, but a combination of the darkness, my poor eyesight without my glasses and few glasses of wine meant that any attempt to identify it was shortlived…