African Realities in Italy
Fide Dayo, Nigerian filmmaker in Rome, in conversation with Angelika Stepken.
Dayo, you gave us the great opportunity to screen your recent feature film Minister at Villa Romana before any cinema venue. This film – as well as Ben Kross from 2011 – is dealing with the reality of african immigrants in Italy: their expectations, their every day life, their confrontations with racism and burocracy. Ben Kross was nominated for the Africa Movie Academy Award in 2012, category Best Film by an African Living Abroad. It is for sure not the easiest subject for a Nigerian filmmaker to enter the European film market. Quite the opposite, it is very courageous and – economically – also a risky project. How did you arrive at the decision to dedicate your films to the lives of African people in Italy? Who is supporting your production?
My choice of screening the film Minister at the Villa Romana was based on the story behind the villa itself , a gift by a great artist in 1905 as a home for artists.
Exactly, you hit the point. Confronting a social problem is obviously one of the most difficult subjects for a filmmaker, especially for an independent filmmaker like me. If I have to be honest Ben Kross is like any European citizen today, when I wrote the script in 2010, pension contribution in Italy was awarded after 35 years. As you know the film Ben Kross was to denounce a law imposed against the immigrant's pension contribution.
I believe more than 60 percent of the immigrant workers will not be able to reach 35 years contribution, which means loosing their entire pension contribution to the government. The funny thing is that most of the African countries do not have bilateral agreements with Italy in regards to immigrants pension contribution. Which means no support, and for this reason we cannot raise our voices to ask for justice. This subject speaks of huge sums of money, and speaks of injustice.
Now take a look at the European pension scheme today, After six years from the time I wrote the script of Ben Kross, in Italy pension contribution has risen to 42 years and it is the same if not more in most of the European countries today. The present generation is afraid, most workers today are scared as stable jobs remain only for few. The vision upon which my story was based, the immigrant worker Ben Kross is now a reality.
You are absolutely correct when you say my movies will not find it easy to enter the European market. Let me tell you something, we have more than eight million African immigrants in Europe, Nigeria is more than four million in Europe and about fifteen million accross the world, if 10 percent of this population watch my movies and the movies of other African filmmakers in the Diaspora and movies from Africa, we are set.
As you rightly say my story depicts the lives and problems of immigrants in the Diaspora. From my point of view they should be my first focus to market my movie. Instead, is the opposite, there are more Europeans at our premieres than Africans. I strongly believe the moment this barrier is overcome, we shall be in the position to market our movies worldwide.
I just came back from Athens where I presented my latest film Minister at the Nigeria – Greece Business Summit organized by (NIDOE) Nigeria in Diaspora Organization Europe, at the Athens chamber of commerce and Development.
Believe me, fourteen countries accross Europe were present with their representatives, so it was a huge opportunity to meet different professionals who will now carry the message accross their respective countries.
Making a movie as we know is not an easy task as I said earlier on, but the important thing is identifying what I want and how to overcome the obstacles ahead me, just as if I am the hero in the film. I consider my self as one of the fortunate immigrants who flew into this country for the purpose of studies with the governments schorlaship in a period which I would call the good days in my country.
Today I see corpses of immigrants that flow like water in the mediterenean sea, most of them from my country, some survive, but soon face the obstacles of racism etc.. African countries widely open their doors for foreigners to come and develop their infrastructures, while the Africans are seen as a threat when they cross the borders.
I have lived in Europe for such a long time and had the opportunity to travel around the world. So my movies are based on social problems in order to tell the world that an African immigrant is not a threat to anyone, instead he’s the one that is been raped off his rights. My two feature movies are based on the Africans who are already integrated to the system, they contribute immensely to the economy. So how can an African immigrant be of threat.
My two movies have been independently produced. I remember to have been confronted with this same question in an interview. I said we received no money from financial or governmental institutions. I am the sole producer of Ben Kross, it is a low budget film. I played several roles, writer, protagonist actor, director and music. My special thanks will always go to all the volunteers that make the film a success.
The film Minister is another chapter. The budget was quiet high as I had to call in professional actors and crew, but I still tried to save cost where necessary. This time I called in the actress that is the film's protagonist to co-produce the film with me. Producers are there to dish out money to make a movie with zero risk, I think my story has political influence and this might be a handicap for a producer. So for now I have successfully produced my movies with my own finances. I might change the form of my narrative prospective in my next movie who knows. We are now looking forward for the official release of the film Minister soon.
Your recent two films were not documentaries, but fiction and their structures – the narration, the locations etc. – is slightly different from what we perhaps call a European-American perspective of dealing with filmic time. There are jumps or leaks which do not follow a strict linearity of time. Could you tell us something about this difference in dealing with time, narration and film as media? Which filmmaking tradition are you relating to?
In this film Minister I integrated a social issue into a narrative structure, this style of narration shows a string of events occuring in space and time.
I understand your observation of certain jumps which do not follow a strict linearity of time. Yes, because of the content of the story I adopted a style to make the movie fast so as to keep the audience awake. The suspence and violence also reminds me of the film The Godfather also based on a social problem, even if the content is completely different. In a recent conversation you mentioned the presence of 8000 Nigerians in Tuscany and many thousands of Africans from many other countries living here. This is a reality which has almost no public voice. You told us that almost every community has its own association and that you yourself are the president of the Nigerian association. What do these associations do, supply, organize? And why is it so hard to be visible in a Florentine or Italian setting?
You see, the majority of the thousands of Africans resident in Tuscany prefer to spend their time in their seperate communities. We have come to realize that the Africans are only useful when they need us for public rallys. We have no voice in the local or regional government in Tuscany. The biggest problem we have as black people is always placing the blame of our situation on whites. So, I think we are gradualy coming to understand the impact of our unity.
The Africans cannot be visible, because the African market that was a reference point was closed down years ago, its difficult to find a public room where the associations or communities can hold their meetings.
Every day refugees from Africa are still crossing the dangerous sea to find their fortune in the North. How do the African residents in Tuscany welcome them? Can they be of any help? Can you talk about the youtube channel for black people in Italy that you are building?
Let me tell you my own personal experience, I founded a film festival called African Diaspora Cinema Festival in 2013 partnered and financed by the Region of Tuscany, the first edition was very successful. My vision of integration through African film festival in theTuscan region died which is a shame after the first edition. Now, you understand why the blacks are no longer visible in this region.
I think in the nearby future the exodus from Africa will stop, the refugees that find their way to arrive in Italy or other parts of Europe now understand that there is no more fortune in Europe. In our community we try to help and assist the refugees, especially advicing them to go to school and learn the italian language and a trade.
Finally, I have decided to create a web tv channel DAT channel. I think it is going to be a great opportunity. As the founder my interest is to see a channel where the blacks will have a voice.
You arrived in Italy many, many years ago to study architecture. After you finished your studies you switched to film instead of architecture. Why? Did you have any plan to go back to Nigeria when you first decided to study architecture in Florence? Meanwhile you are based in Rome with your own production company, your daughter was born in Italy. Any advice for young people who have just arrived here?
My main objective was to go back to my country after my architectural studies, the same is true with so many other Nigerians who were in the same university with me. But, unfortunately my country fell apart from instability after my graduation.
My influence as a filmmaker stems from the TV series Roots, based on the novel with the same name of Alex Haley, that I watched in the late 1980s. I would say it had a huge impact on me. However, it was not untill the late 1990s that I decided to drop my architectural profession to study film and pursue my career as a film director.
My advice for the young who just arrive is to take a look back at the tragedy of your trip, you made it, so many did not so you have to take advantage, give yourself a new challenge and promise yourself to take something back to your country if one day you decide to return.