Lagos, Nigeria’s iRep, one of Africa’s few documentary-specific film festivals, has closed its fifth anniversary edition showing more than 40 films curated around themes and issues in Africa.

Executive director Femi Odugbemi said, “We have rekindled awareness of the power and possibilities of documentary to provoke debate, highlight issues, explicate human experiences and explore histories and cultures.”

The festival’s screenings included three films directed by Kim Longinotto: Love Is All, Salma and Rough Aunties.

Other programme highlights include Jean Marie-Teno’s Leaf In The Wind, Irene Loebell’s Life In Progress, Terry Davis’ Colors: Bangin’ in South Carolina, Uli Gaulke’s Comrades in Dreams, Michael Matheson Miller’s Poverty Inc., Dayo Balogun’s Project Rebranding Nollywood, and Ryan Mullins’ Chameleon.

In addition to screenings, the festival also included workshops, conferences and networking platforms. iRep also held a producers roundtable event to connect with each other and visiting industry experts.

Rob Ritchie, screenwriter and former head of the screenwriting department of the UK’s NFTS, spoke to an impassioned group of aspiring screenwriters. Other training opportunities include a workshop with German crowdfunding expert Paul Rieth.

The digital revolution

The festival’s first keynote was tied to his year’s theme of “Reinventing Documentary Filmmaking in a Digital Space.” John Ugbe, MD of MultiChoice Nigeria, a multi-channel, multi-platform Pan African media powerhouse. “The audience tells us what they want, it’s almost like the audience is developing the filmmaker now. There is a lot of emphasis on how much easier it is to create content and distribute it now, but if you don’t have a good story the audience will just move on more quickly.”

He added, “Habits are changing. It used to be if you had a 13-part documentary people would watch it over 26 weeks on TV. Now we have them binge watching over one weekend. And how does that affect the monetization of the content?”

Short attention spans are also to be considered, he noted. “Trailers are becoming even more important than the movies themselves.”

Digital technology also offers more ways to gather consumer feedback, nearly instantly. “With digital your information, your intelligence is not just limited to what he is watching, but for how long and what his viewing habits are.”

He closed by saying, “Technology will give us new opportunities but still the most important thing is your story itself. “

Fostering interaction

In a different kind of keynote, Dr Alan Channer [pictured], a Kenya-based film-maker and consultant, screened his 2006 film The Imam and The Pastor about Nigerian leaders from different faiths collaborating in the community, and spoke about the power of documentaries in conflict resolution.

“Documentary film can dissolve assumptions, it can eliminate prejudices,” he said. “Documentary film can create mutual understanding.”

“It’s not such a big festival but it’s about conversation, we have the theme of Africa in self-conversation, we want people to interact with the filmmakers,” said iRep co-founder/director Jahman Anikulapo.

Indeed Channer met a young Nigerian student filmmaker who has a documentary project about cults, who he is now working with after talks at iRep.

Partners on the festival include Goethe Institut, British Council, Ford Foundation, Africa Magic, Afrinolly and Freedom Park.