My Best Nigerian Short Films Streaming on YouTube. #1

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By the time you finish reading this piece, you might disagree with it. As humans with distinct cinematic tastes and cravings, disagreement over preference is constant. Listicles, of this nature, are conduits of personal obsession. As such, it falls prey to the subjective interest of who curates it. Thus, aside from beaming light on the originality and depth of some films crowned as the “best”, what a list like this does is inspire other lists. Thus, once you read this well-written and carefully curated listicle, you are encouraged to reflect and write, if you can, about your preferred short films streaming on YouTube.

YouTube, for the constantly expanding list of Nigerian indie filmmakers, has become a quasi-streaming platform. With more subscribers and viewers, the possibility of earning is certain. The possibility of earning aside, YouTube gives indie filmmakers an avenue to display their films for public appraisal. For the Nigerian cinephile with a well-justified disgruntled response to mainstream Nollywood production, Nigerian filmmakers’ short films on YouTube are a repository of adventure and discovery. The films are flickers of hope for Nigerian cinema.

These filmmakers with a penchant for experimentation, originality, and well-written storylines serve as a subtle reminder of what is lost in notable mainstream Nollywood productions. In curating this list, I gave preference to films that started showing on YouTube from 2022 to 2023. Here is a list of my preferred Nigerian films streaming on YouTube. They are films I have been patient to watch and rewatch. They are my favorite films, not the best films on the streaming platform.

Dika Ofoma’s The Way Things Happen.

After watching three of Dika Ofoma’s short films (The Way Things Happen, A Japa Tale, and Nkemakonam), here is one of the things I observed: Ofoma excels at stuffing a myriad of information into a single scene. In Nkemakonam where he pays homage to Old Nollywood, a singular scene bears the weight of the important aspect of the film. In A Japa Tale, Ofoma craftily allocated space for religious, political, and cultural issues to crawl into casual conversation. For The Way Things Happen, the film that introduced me to the filmmaker, Ofoma finds a way to smuggle heavy-laden conversation into an intimate scene.

The opening scene of The Way Things Happen features two lovers bantering over seemingly trivial but important issues in their relationship. The next scene is devoid of the calm and relaxed atmosphere of the first scene. Something has happened. The characters clad in black clothes give hints of the current situation. The lead actress’ face bears a hint of apprehension. And in varying the shots: Close-up shots for emotional scenes and long shots for scenes that hold fragments of her emotion, the movie makes us believe in the illusion being displayed on the screen.

Fathia Gimsay’s Ijo.

My fascination with Fatimah Gimsay’s Ijo is the acting of Charles Etubiebi and Genevieve Umeh. In a clime where actors often struggle to project their roles with ease, Etubiebi’s acting stands out. By playing Debo, who is suffering from well-internalized grief, his measured movement, and facial contortion in Ijo show a prolific affinity with the scripts he is working on. In watching Fatima Binta Gimsay’s Ijo, one gets a non-cliche definition of grief. Etubiebi’s facial expressions blur the line between illusion and reality.

Jude Hidian’s Walking Away.

Upon numerous watches, here is what I discovered: Jude Hidian’s Walking Away doesn’t avail itself to a single interpretation. What the film deliberately allows is for the audience to comfortably form any conceivable narrative. Is the film the story of a man who just lost a job? Has he just been rejected by his lover? As a compass and standing in place of dialogue is a song: Michael Kiwanuka’s I’ll Never Love. At first watch, I missed the intention of the film’s last shot. After walking around for hours, the film character gets to a crossroads. Like us, he is confused about which path to take.

Teju’s Tale

The year is 1956. And the location is London. In Teniola Zara King’s written and directed Teju’s Tale, the eponymous Teju, an immigrant Nigerian student, is in transit to her hostel. She is a nursing student. By alternating the camera’s attention between capturing Teju’s relaxed position in the cab and catching a glimpse of Teju’s new environment, the film’s cinematography slowly invites us to Teju’s reality. Without being overly extravagant with details, the cinematography and masculine voiceover frugally guide us into Teju’s story.

From her first encounter with a white man, the taxi driver, the film subtly introduces the issue it aims to address: the subtleties of racism. And it’s this subtle approach to approaching a historical and political issue that makes the film interesting. What Teniola Zara King’s written and directed film shows is not the regular representation of racist-incline acts. It’s the more feminine, deceptively gentle, and psychological aspect of racism that the film expands on. By asking prying questions and intrusively invading Teni’s privacy upon her arrival at her hostel, the white female aims to bully her into submission.

Tomb for the Abandoned.

Film posters and titles serve multiple intents. They act as an invitation – a marketing strategy, and a synopsis of a film’s plot.

Being images that our optical senses first notice about a film, they propel our curiosity and anxiety for a motion picture. In the newly-released, The Tomb for the Abandoned by The Critics Company, in selecting the film’s poster and title, the filmmakers of this short are attuned to the importance of a poster and title. The title which might be a product of vigorous search is poetically inclined. And in its poetically, it serves as an intricate yet detailed summary of the film’s plot

The film starts with an overtly political tone – the government has called for the closure of IDP camps. These camps, though rife with squalor and literally a tomb, are a haven for the refugees ostracized from their homes. Playing a frontal role in the short, which tilts towards a documentary-esque stance, is Dahiru, his friend, and other refugees. Although they share similar complaints – no food, water, and a decent house, Dahiru chooses to be vocal about their silent quibble. Besides the well-marked-out crisis that surrounds the daily existence of Dahiru, he has a hidden-from-plain-sight trauma. Death has denied Dahiru access to a close relative. Despite not meeting her, we meet her omnipresent presence and importance in Dahiru’s life. Her voice, fragile in texture, guides and controls Dahiru’s movement.

There is a noticeable political undertone in the earliest part of the film which gradually dwindles in the closing parts. Dahiru, confused as to where to levy his demand took his demand up: to God. Dahiru’s decision explains why the camera occasionally ogles the atmosphere. It’s a subtle way of saying help will come from above if we pray enough. In a well-framed shot that captures the squalor and peaked anxiety associated with the internally displaced people, the film is of a national yet universal crisis. For the Critics Company known for their prolific affiliation to and creation of VFX-studded films, Tomb for the Abandoned is a new pathway the team has decided to follow.

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