Soyinka’s Childhood Memoir, Ake, Hits The Screen

Nobel laureate Prof Wole Soyinka’s childhood memoir: Ake, The Years of Childhood, has hit the screen. The film, a feature on Soyinka’s path to greatness, was shown at the MUSON Centre in Lagos. The “special” screening drew notable names in the Nigerian art scene, reports EVELYN OSAGIE.

Like one destined for great things, three-and-a-half-year- old Oyewole woke up that morning with the intention of going to school. Without a second thought for “the arm-reaching-your-ears” requirement needed for admission into school, he sought out the “most essential” item required – books.

Not possessing any yet, he reached for his father’s big and advanced books; and then, to school, he proceeded. Behold, the son of the headmaster, “Essay”, and a civil rights advocate christened, “Wild Christian”, Mr Samuel Ayodele and Mrs Eniola Soyinka, who would later dazzle the world of art and literature. The rest is history.

Sit at ease and watch as history comes alive in the childhood memories of the Nobel laureate, Prof Wole Soyinka at Ake, Abeokuta, as captured by Back Page Production’s feature film, Ake, an adaptation of Soyinka’s memoir, Ake, The Years of Childhood.

Watch his early adventures into the world of the surreal, culture, hunting, humour and literature brilliantly interpreted and rendered by the child-actors, who played “Soyinka” in the film – Oluwafunmbi Oladele (4), Mofiyinfoluwa Oladele (6), whose part was the longest, and Jedidiah Ogunremi (11). View as his love for scholarship, nature and reflection grow as the film takes you back to the times between 1935 and 1945.

Discover the root of the symbolisms that embellish his works and you would be forced to read or revisit Ake, The Years of Childhood for scholarly guidance into Soyinka’s persona.

Such was the ‘delicacy’ offered to the audience to relish when the feature film, Ake, premiered at the Agip Hall of the MUSON Centre, Lagos.

Set in the 1930s and 1940s, the film seeks to recreate that period through restored locations and the automobiles of the era. It featured more than 300 cast.

The screening of Ake at the MUSON Centre drew a robust crowd, especially from the Nigerian art scene. Watching were arts enthusiasts and aficionados, such as Prof Femi Osofisan and his wife, Prof Adenike; Odia Ofeimun; former Director-General, Centre for Black African Arts and Civilisation (CBAAC), Prof Tunde Babawale; Mr Kunle Ajibade of The News and PM News; Director-General, National Film and Video Censors Board (NFVCB), Ms Patricia Bala; Lagos State Commissioner for Information, Mr Steve Ayorinde; former Association of Nigerian Author (ANA) President Remi Raji; former ANA Lagos Chair, Mr Chike Ofili and ace filmmaker, Mr Mahmood Ali-Balogun and Victor Olaotan of the TV sitcom, Tinsel.

Former Ogun State Commissioner of Health, Dr Olaokun Soyinka, represented the family and stood in for the Nobel Laureate.

Watch the film, break the symbols

The film aroused diverse emotions from the audience. Some said it gingered in them a fresh interest to read the book to see the modification introduced to story line.

For others, it was interesting to watch the characters they first encountered in the book alive on screen. Ofeimun belonged to this class.

Although, he agreed that a film is never an exact representation of a book, but in terms of providing the sense of folklore, he observed that the film presented him with the pictures of the key moments in the book. “I think the attempt to make a transition from childhood to adulthood and at the same time represent that women’s movement is precisely what offered a picture that you can say rounded up the book.

“I am not too sure that we are having the story in the same manner it came out in the book – usually filmmakers do a shift of focus. But we have two kinds of things going on: a documentary approach and a storyteller’s approach,” he said.

According to NFVCB’s D-G, “there is something about Soyinka’s books and plays,” after watching the film. “You need to think deeply to get out the meanings, because he uses a lot of symbols. Just watching it now, I can’t string it together, yet, I need to think deeply about it. It started with a young Wole growing up, then, being initiated, and the story shifts again to the women’s riot. I may need to revisit the book to under the symbols,” said Ms Bala.

But for Dr Soyinka, it was pure delight watching his father being brought to life on the big screen. He said: “I am excited as you are to see the film. I haven’t been aware of the story when it started. It’s a film that needed to be made. I thank Dapo for the energy he put in and the labour of love. Thank you for making the project happen and bringing all our family members to life.”

A cast of stars

Guests had the pleasure of meeting and chatting with the cast, featuring notable Nigerian actors and actresses, such as the elegantly- dressed Taiwo Ajai-Lycett, who played “Madam Amelia”, an outspoken Egba woman in the wake of the Egba women’s riots of 1945; music icon, Yinka Davies as “Mrs Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti”, one of the lead characters reputed for her involvement in the women’s riot; award-winning, writer and actor, Toyin Abiodun (Rev I.O. Ransome Kuti); former national technical director and head coach of the Super Eagles, who is currently a top ranking FIFA official, Chief Festus Onigbinde (who featured as Rev J.J. Ransome-Kuti, father of I.O. Kuti); Lanike Onimisi and Gbenga Ajiboye (young Wole’s parents); Yeni Anikulapo-Kuti who played “Mrs Odufuwa” Wale Adebayo of the Sango fame, who played the spirit man” and Jimi Solanke.

Other cast included Joke Muyiwa as the old woman from Ago-Owu; Afeez Oyetoro (Saka) starred as “Mr Latinwo”, a guest who regularly gulped down Mr Soyinka’s meals and was regular at lunch times; Yemi Solade as “Broda Pupa” from Burma; Bayo Bankole (Boy Alinco) in Papa Ajasco TV series featured as Iku, the rascal pupil of Abeokuta Grammar; the current British Council Director, Alex Bratt and diplomats from the British Consulate and French schools, among others.

As the film unfolded, one saw an audacious young Soyinka that was mischievous, yet eager to learn, one that was given to reading books. The deep understanding with which Oluwafunmbi and his brother, Mofiyinfoluwa interpreted their role as Soyinka added colour and enlivened the suspense and humour in the film.

The filmmaker’s experiment

The makers of the film made use of set replacement and extension by means of green screening, and combined child-view narrative technique with historic events, such as the Second World War as heard or imagined in Ake.

For the Executive Producer/Director, Dapo Adeniyi, after spending over a year putting the film together, the film screening gave the feeling of a cook who prepared a mouth-watering meal. “You put all the condiments, but still have to wait for the compliments of those who would eat the meal. The taste of the pudding is, as they say, in the eating! We have experimented a lot with innovative technologies in the effort to augment the supply of actual period props and set props,” he explained.

There were divergent views on the success of Adeniyi’s experiment with the storyline and scenes. Some praised the filmmaker’s efforts in bringing to life outdated vehicles and monuments long forgotten; others observed that some scenes were not properly linked, adding that the costumes, especially those worn by the women looked modern.

To these, Adeniyi explained further: “Scenes necessarily had to be axed or modified. Speeches – some affectionate speeches – are manicured in order to fit into frames of time and media propriety. But we pushed limits by ushering in a bit of verbosity bearing in mind that this was after all first, a Soyinka – as usual aesthetically overtoned with verbiage – on the one hand, and on the other a literary adaptation.

“Through the use of green screens also known as chroma key, buildings can be added to a set or replaced. An automobile could run on the streets of Abeokuta and Lagos, but were actually driven at a corner of England. This is a case of what you see is not what you get. It is the world of make-believe, isn’t it? We have also deliberately privileged old architecture in this production. Many Brazilian and colonial-styled houses were brought into the feature film to celebrate aspects of our oral history that we are losing very fast,” he said.

Nigeria history and monument

Besides the story of a young Soyinka, the film presented today’s audience with a few lessons from history as it highlighted some historical events, such as the background of the Egba Women’s Riots of 1945, which climaxed with the famed deposition of the Alake of Egbaland, the abolition of the poll tax on Nigerian women, the institution of the universal adult suffrage and the Second World War.

While capturing the sights and sounds of the period, the film also made a subtle case for the preservation of monuments, architectural forms and landscapes, especially those involving renowned figures such as the WS. A 300-page coffee book, Ake: Great Moments of a Grand Production, were also on display at the venue.

Other guests included Director, Lagos Film School; French Envoy, Pierre Cherrau; Eric Maydieu of Peugeot Nigeria; Segun Oyekunle of Abuja Film Village International; General Manager, FRCN’s Radio One, Funke Treasure-Durodola; Director, Radio Continental, Richie Dayo Johnson; Samuel Ebohon and Segun Adejumo.

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