The Spirits Within: Tunde Kelani and the African Village Film

I am participating in a conference on Genre Beyond Hollywood this Sunday in Southampton. Here goes the abstract to my talk, the text of which I might add in its entirety once it is finished.

Nollywood has given rise to a multitude of nationally, and often regionally, specific genres, from the Hausa melodramas in Nigeria’s predominantly Islamic north to the Igbos’ Christian cautionary tales from the southeast. The work of preeminent Yoruba auteur Tunde Kelani betrays an enduring fascination with village life, the rhythms and turns of its peculiar communality. Hardly a genre in any common sense of the term – neither by traits necessary or sufficient, nor by social contract – Kelani’s “village films” can be situated within a longstanding genealogy of sub-Saharan cinematographies that deal with more traditional forms of dwelling in an age of postcolonial urbanization. This genealogy reaches back to filmmakers like Oumarou Ganda, Safi Faye, and, most prominently, Ousmane Sembène; in the Nigerian context, however, it is Chinua Achebe’s novel “Things Fall Apart”, which serves as the village film’s decisive model. What all of these sources have in common – thus grounding my claim to some shared genericness – is not only a similar setting, but also a certain, for lack of a better word, “interiorized” perspective thereon: They all seek to examine as well as criticize traditional village life not from an external or, as in the (Hegelian) spirit of Enlightenment, self-universalizing point of view, instead drawing their critical tools from within a locally specific cultural framework. More often than not, this strategy entails a kind of self-effacing on the part of the author, whose narrative agency submits to the – however aporetic and unobtainable – goal of a collective’s “self-narration”. With the help of Kelani, I will show that the village film does not strive to recreate its locale’s “physical reality” (Kracauer), but rather to emulate the villagers’ communal Being-in-the-World, which may even include ghosts and other supernatural forces. Far from sensationalizing the metaphysical (as many Nollywood productions are wont to do), Kelani’s village films reconfigure it as part of an everyday ontology that challenges Eurocentric notions of social critique and realism.

1 comment:

  1. Its is a very beautiful and deep angle at which you are looking at this. It is quite easy for anyone to look on the surface and label this work as 'village' or 'local'. In the deeper sense, this film documents a very rich existence, showing the everyday realities of a people with a unique culture, value system and social being.