Nollywood filmmakers examine Boko Haram

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A woman who was kidnapped by Boko Haram and recruited as a bomber at an abandoned building at a camp for displaced people in Konduga, Nigeria, on August 20, 2019. There is a growing trend among filmmakers in Nigeria to reflect on the atrocities commited by the group. (Photo: NYTimes)
In the moving Nigerian drama “The Milkmaid”, Aisha and Zainab are Fulani sisters taken hostage by Boko Haram militants, the extremist group that in 2014 kidnapped more than 250 schoolgirls from the town of Chibok. With sweeping landscapes shot in the state of Taraba, in the northeastern part of the country, the film, written and directed by Desmond Ovbiagele, deftly tells a story both hopeful in the possibility of reconciliation and harrowing in the journey to get there.اضافة اعلان

The film is the latest entry in a growing body of African cinema focused on the grim toll exacted by the terrorists of Boko Haram..

When Nigeria’s film regulatory board recommended that 25 minutes of footage be cut from “The Milkmaid” and then curtailed showings in theaters there in the fall, the producers and director sought to cultivate audiences in Zimbabwe and Cameroon. The drama eventually earned the prize for best film in an African language (the story is told entirely in Hausa, Fulani, and Arabic) at the 2020 African Movie Academy Awards. It was also Nigeria’s selection for the international feature Oscar, though the movie did not make the final cut.

Despite the censorship and truncated distribution, however, “The Milkmaid” and other movies in this emerging genre have found a diasporic audience abroad.

“‘The Milkmaid’ is anchored to a certain social discourse we’re seeing unfold currently,” said Mahen Bonetti, founder of the New York African Film Festival, which chose the drama as the opening selection last month for its 2021 edition. “We’re seeing a rise of extremism and religious fanaticism, particularly amongst youth, and witnessing the disintegration of families and bonds that once held communities together. And young filmmakers are being brave and telling these stories.”

The amplification of these stories, namely those of Boko Haram’s female victims, was especially important to Ovbiagele, who also produced “The Milkmaid” over the course of three years.“I felt we didn’t hear enough from the victims of insurgency and who they really were,” Ovbiagele said in an interview by phone from Lagos. “They’re not always educated” like the Chibok schoolgirls, he added, and “most don’t get international attention. But despite that, their stories deserved to be heard, too.”

And so, Ovbiagele sought to recreate the struggles and plight of Boko Haram victims the best way he knew how. After a community of survivors from northern Borno state relocated near his home in Lagos, he spent months gathering first-person accounts from survivors — women and girls who were piecing their lives together, he said. He also asked local nongovernmental organizations who were working with Boko Haram victims to properly assess the challenges faced by the survivors.

 The Nigerian movie business has its origins in local markets, where storytellers on limited budgets readily met the sensibilities of local viewers. Eager to generate profits and offset rampant piracy, filmmakers would quickly churn out shoddy productions.

Ultimately, Ovbiagele wants to continue making films he feels passionately about and hopes the film will impart a lasting impression on viewers —both in Nigeria and abroad. “I hope audiences will leave with a deeper insight into experiences and motivations of both the victims and the perpetrators of terrorist organizations and specifically the resilience and resourcefulness of the survivors.”