The purpose of the African Women in Cinema Blog is to provide a space to discuss diverse topics relating to African women in cinema--filmmakers, actors, producers, and all film professionals. The blog is a public forum of the Centre for the Study and Research of African Women in Cinema.

Le Blog sur les femmes africaines dans le cinéma est un espace pour l'échange d'informations concernant les réalisatrices, comédiennes, productrices, critiques et toutes professionnelles dans ce domaine. Ceci sert de forum public du Centre pour l'étude et la recherche des femmes africaines dans le cinémas.


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19 October 2015

British-Nigerian Remi Vaughan-Richards talks about “Faaji Agba”, her passion for cinema, and the two cultures she embraces

Remi at work
Conversation with Remi Vaughan-Richards and Beti Ellerson, October 2015.

British-Nigerian Remi Vaughan-Richards, talks about her recently completely work Faaji Agba, her passion for cinema and her production company, Singing Tree Films.

Remi, congratulations on completing Faaji Agba! Before we discuss your experiences making the film, talk about yourself, how you came to filmmaking, film production.

Talk about myself...ok, I have worked in the film industry all my life since I left the Royal College of Art in London many, many years ago (guess that was in the late 80's, early 90's - hard to remember it was such a long time ago). I started out in the Costume Department making fantasy costumes and props (sci-fi and King Arthur type period stuff), then got involved in the Art Department. Worked on films such as the first Judge Dredd with Sylvester Stallone and other big budget movies; the last one was Eyes Wide Shut directed by Stanley Kubrick. It was then that I realised I didn't like working on large productions because you are just a small cog in a huge wheel, I wanted to be part of a team, all working towards the same goal...went on to smaller budgets in the Art Department; also at that time I was a storyboard artist and worked for clients like the BBC and feature films—anyway to cut a long story short—I had always wanted to direct but thought since I had never gone to a proper film school (I did a post grad diploma in film and TV) that I would not be able to direct. Then it dawned on me that I had been working in the industry for so long on set, behind the scenes that what better education could a person have. AND THAT WAS IT!  I love my work, love what I do, wouldn't trade it in for anything else.

You navigate between Nigeria and the UK, talk about your work, your connections between the two cultures.

Remi at work
I am mixed race, my mother was Nigerian and my father was British. He came to Nigeria in the late 50's. He was an architect and one of the most creative modernist architects in Nigeria. Anyway, I am a child of two cultures and I embrace both cultures equally. I think for me the work I do in Nigeria has more meaning. I tend to make documentaries and films that try to impact change or highlight an issue...if it is drama I have a message underlying the story. I am lucky that most of the time I get commissioned to do the work I love. My training in the UK helps me work in the Nigerian environment, which can be very challenging. The understanding of the role of each department and the real role of a director is not really there yet—getting there but not quite. Here the director is a 'boss' not a sharer of a vision. The attention to detail is slim but some productions have understood it. I could go on but suffice to say it is challenging but rewarding.

You run Singing Tree Films as a Creative Director. What are some of its projects?

I have just finished a feature film for Ford Foundation called Unspoken it is a drama about 2 young girls - an 11-year-old child bride from the north of Nigeria where traditionally child brides are a norm, and a precocious, attention seeking 13-year-old girl from the South who ends up pregnant—the film is a cautionary tale. It is entertainment but also educational. The film is going on traveling cinema around Nigeria. And so far the response has been amazing! Especially in the north of Nigeria where the practice of marrying off girls at the age of 11 years old is seen as acceptable - but there are people there now trying to effect change. Other projects are an arts series on the originators of modern art in Nigeria. We don't have much records of our past and it is only now people are becoming aware that we must document, film, write about people who have made an impact on the society before it is too late.

Other projects.... Ummm many more  - oh yes, one job I loved was in a hospital for pregnant women, and kids up to age of 4. Established by Governor Mimiko of Ondo State in Nigeria. It was free for all pregnant women. I would say it was like the American TV series ER but a real life version. I saw too many incidents of women dying even though the healthcare was free because at the last minute some of them would go to "mission houses" run by "prophets" and their spiritual "nurses" instead of hospitals and obviously often times things would go wrong. I was so touched by the vision and dedication of the doctors and nurses there—incredible experience.

Remi at work
Faaji Agba has been in the making for six years, talk about your journey in making the film, the experiences with the musicians involved and the passion that saw you through the process.

Faaji 'baby'. It started in 2009, and wow I have finally given birth to her or rather him cause it is pretty much a male-dominated film, although I put the wives perspective into it where I could. How it started... Kunle Tejuoso, who created the Faaji Agba Collective is a friend and I would come to his shop Jazzhole and watch him working with the old-boys. Then I started filming and kept filming and kept filming...until I realised I had a story. It is a story about Kunle's passion reinventing and find these old master Yoruba musicians and also about the fact that once again in Nigeria we are losing our culture and heritage pretty damn quickly in our race to be like the generic "everyone" else. It was challenging because it was done with no money—I was pretty much doing everything myself, from camera to sound. A few times I could beg favours and pay for someone to help with the formal interviews but I was pretty much on stand-by 24-7 for when I had to film. 

The most difficult was when they were invited to perform at Prospect Park in Brooklyn, New York—then it was just me, except for the live performance. I finally got some sponsorship from the Goethe Institut, Lagos and from FHN Nigeria (a local oil company who loved the project), Tayo Amusan (The Plams) and my flights from Arik airlines. Oh and I must say a thank you to Andrew Dosunmu who also helped raise funds and got us the gig in NY. 

More challenges were when my guys started dying on me—hard ‘cause they had become like family, like my uncles. It was amazing to discover the history of Lagos and in fact Nigeria and our music from their personal lives and I feel very privileged that I was able to be part of their lives. Half the time, they forgot that I was holding a camera and were very, very natural with me. 

Some people like to say it is like Buena Vista but I don't feel it is, there are other films like Searching for Sugarman where someone goes hunting down a forgotten musician—but to me Faaji Agba is more, it is also about Lagos and the legends that once existed. If you are from Lagos or understand highlife, juju and afrobeat music or the development of the music scene here then you will find it more fascinating than just a film about Kunle doing a Buena Vista and finding some old musicians. If you don't have an interest in the Lagos music scene or history then you will find Kunle doing a "Sugarman/Buena Vista" interesting.... nuff said.  :)

I am now looking at how to take the film further—enter festivals, Kunle and I want to create a CD/DVD and a book; back to funds, funds funds!! Usual story. 

Well that's me folks!!

Conversation with Remi Vaughan-Richards and Beti Ellerson, October 2015.


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