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Newton Aduaka, Nigerian Filmmaker Behind The Award-Winning Movie “Ezra”

Newton Aduaka speaks at TED2008 - The Big Questions, February 27-March 1, 2008, Monterey, California. Photo: Andrew Heavens / TED

Born in Eastern Nigeria in 1966, Newton’s family relocated to Lagos in 1970 at the end of the Biafran War. 

He set out to Europe in 1985 to accomplish a dream.  It was the dream of becoming an international film-maker.  Years after, Newton Aduaka has done about four internationally-acclaimed films, with one of them, Ezra, fetching him over twenty-eight awards.  Having been recognised world-wide, including the United Nations Organisation, Aduaka returns home to Nigeria, courtesy of the German Cultural Centre (Goethe) to showcase his works.  He told Edozie Udeze how the journey began, the high and low moments and lots more.

Can we share your experiences as a Nigerian film-maker in England?

At the moment, I live in Paris, France.  I left England fifteen years ago.  But England was where I went to when I left Nigeria in 1985.  So you’d ask, what are my experiences now in Europe?  But you should know, you’ll have a lot of things to share when you’ve lived in a place for a long time.  I lived in Lagos for a while before I left.  Soon after the civil war in 1970, my parents came over to Lagos from Abagana, my home town in Anambra State.  For me, the experience of being a film-maker, Nigerian film-maker based in Europe, has been a journey of beautiful highs, unique moments, moments of works, achievements to be where I am today.  There have been moments to tell stories, stories you have been so used to; your own stories; stories of my people told from my own sensibilities.  Because of my own culture, my own journey which has been influenced by what I’ve met abroad, I have a lot to share.  It has been this story of where I come from and the influence.  Yes, it has been good.

Would you then say you’ve been accepted in Europe?

Yes, I am established in Europe.  Yes I am.  I’ve been well accepted.  I have my space; I have my niche.  I have an audience in France, I have my own audience and followers in the U.K.  Even across Europe, I have been accepted because I have travelled a lot both for researches and for film festivals where I have been able to screen my films.  I have travelled to the US too.  But now it is my opportunity to be in Nigeria to showcase my films.  Like I said, life is a journey.  Now, it takes a German, in collaboration with Goethe, to bring me to Nigeria, to bring me home to show my works to my people.  That is the level of acceptance we are talking about.  The German is a sensible and sensitive man.  He said hey, man how come no one knows so much about your works here in Nigeria?  He then invited me home.  But it is very touching and I think it goes to show the level of love they have for good works; for quality films.  It is good that this show is going on here in this building (Nigerian Film Corporation, Ikoyi, Lagos).  This is an ideal place to show films.  The cinema hall is appropriate.  I only hope they will allow Lagos State Film Society to renovate it for use.  This is an ideal cinema hall with proper acoustics.  It is incredible; it is cozy.  When it is renovated, I hope they will give it out for proper use to showcase cinema and encourage people to come watch films here.  It is for films that are commercial but also have values for the people, for the whole society.

Let’s go to Ezra.  In it, you explored the life of a Sierra Leonean child soldier.  How did you get to that?

Ezra is a film that struck me at a point to do.  It was very strange.  I was about to adapt Helon Habila’s Waiting for an Angel into a film.  This was in 2004/2005.  One day, two weeks, a whole year, I was trying to raise the money to do it.  I came to Lagos to meet a lot of people who were interested.  I also went to Europe to look for sponsors, to look for money to do it.  In Europe, I got half a million Euro but the budget was for 1.6 million Euro.  And so it was not enough.  I got home to see what to do.  I couldn’t raise it.  Suddenly, I got in touch with a French who said ‘why don’t you do a film for us?’  I said oh, yes, this is like a gift to me.  So, he said to me, ‘do you have an idea what to do?”  At that time, there was a lot of talk about child soldiers in Liberia, Sierra Leone, Congo, Angola, Sudan, Somalia and so on.  I therefore decided it was a topic to pursue.  For me, it struck.  I was born in 1966 and I experienced the Nigerian civil war a bit.  Then I said I’d do a film on war, but from the eye of a child  a child soldier.  Therefore I wanted to enter the world of a child soldier and show the complexities of it all.  For me, it is phenomenal.  It was to show their lives, their love, their background.  It was to show their lost youthful years and how they have to carry on this trauma for the rest of their lives.  It is the story of how they fought the war, what they did to kill people; how the indoctrination began in the first place. I proposed it to him and he said oh yes, go on with it.   I went to Sierra Leone to do the research for it.  I talked to all kinds of people, psychiatrists, nurses, doctors, members of the diplomatic corps, child soldiers themselves.  In fact, I spoke to over 150 of them.  I had interviews with so many people to find the essence of this story I am about to tell.  So when I came back I had plenty of stories to tell.  I wrote the story based on a lot of information to rely on.  Then we went to shoot the film in Rwanda.

Why did you choose Rwanda to shoot the film?

We went there because of their war experience.  We went there because of the story of the genocide.  The scenes were good and they have a lot to showcase about conflicts and wars.  Rwanda had just finished their own conflict and was ready to open up to the world.  They had the infrastructure there to shoot film.  So Rwanda was chosen based on that.

In One Man’s Show, what were you trying to teach humanity?

One Man’s Show was me trying to come back to show the other side of life.  In Rage and Ezra, I talked to the young people.  You see, I turned 50 this year.  For me, therefore, it is to show the man in his middle age.  A kind of retrospective show, looking back to take stock.

Now talking about sacrifice, how much of it does your family make each time you are away from home?

Luckily, for me, my partner comes from a home where her parents are artists.  She understands my work.  She was born into it.  So, it is easy for her to know and understand what I do.  She is used to it.  So, when I am away on duty she tries to adapt.  It is for me then to take responsibility.  When I am not working, I am at home.  My wife is French.

How much inspiration do you get from your wife to build your ideas?

Oh, we talk a lot.  She is like my first critic.  Once my script is done, she is the first to read it.  She digests it and tells me what it is; how it is.  She is the first to see what the film will be like and so on.  She is there for me, always.

What of your children?  Does anyone of them show interest in film making?

Yes, my second son is the one who is close to it.  He blows the flute and he is just eleven years.  It is a fifteen century musical instrument.  So, I keep encouraging him.  He is likely going to go into a musical school very soon to take a proper tutorial.  I was also into music when I was at the Methodist High School, Lagos.  We formed a band then but when I turned 18, I felt I wasn’t really going to be a musician.  I love music but this is the sort of art I have chosen.  But my older child is more into Mathematics.  He is more suited to be creative in the mathematical way.  They are all creative people and you have to be creative in whatever you’ve found yourself.

You have garnered so many awards.  How has it been like so far?

Since 1999 the most successful one is Ezra.  It has given me 28 awards all over the world.  With Ezra, it was awards galore and each film festival I attended, I’d always come home with one or two awards.  It is good; it is a part on the back.  It was so thrilling when the United Nations gave me an award because of the way I dealt with the issue of child soldier in Sierra Leone.  Don’t forget that the problem of Sierra Leone also mirrored what happens in other parts of the world.  Rage dealt with the issue of youths trying to find their niche in England.  It was the first underground hip hop film to be shot in England and today it has been so recognised.  And lots more.  The awards are like oh carry on with what you are doing.  It is so encouraging.


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