Editor’s Notes: Beyond the commercial theatrical options, there are some film events that try to bring film lovers together to enjoy the communal exhibition of a movie. In this monthly series, titled The Tentmakers, we will interview the minds behind such collective viewing in Nigeria, in order to document their origin stories, their thoughts on the current state of cinema and other related details that capture their events. They are the tentmakers, boosting the theatrical spirit and cinema culture however they can under tight budget, low costs and periodic events.
The previous issues are available here.
Since the launch of streaming platforms in Nigeria coupled with other economic and COVID-related factors, there has been a decline in the number of cinemagoers in Nigeria. As a result, the cinema culture which includes the collective viewership habit is slowly fading. However, a number of theatrical events have been founded to promote independent films, creating experiences for audiences to appreciate the magic of the big screen, and encouraging collective viewings. One of these is Screen Out Loud, which seeks to promote films around the world and encourage discourse around the moving image. The screenings are held once a month at the Alliance Française de Lagos/Mike Adenuga Centre in Lagos.
In this interview with the founder of Screen Out Loud, Aderinsola Ajao, she highlights the inspiration behind the initiative as well as her thoughts on cinema, Nollywood, the challenges she has faced, and her strategies for success in the face of the streaming giants.
What did you have in mind when you started Screen Out Loud? What were the circumstances that led to its conception?
Before I actively considered film programming, I was a journalist and film critic. My motivation for criticism and curation is similar: I reckon that there are people like me who would appreciate a chance to see films that we might usually only read about. Sometimes, a review is our only experience of certain films that never screen here. After attending Berlinale and FESPACO in 2012 and 2013, my passion for film programming took on more urgency, and I was able to pursue it when I joined Goethe-Institut. The Goethe-Institut has always organised film screenings, and it was great to get to be a part of that. Later in 2019, I started Screen Out Loud with support from the Alliance Française. They welcomed my idea of screening independent films that were not showing in Nigerian cinemas, and they have remained hugely supportive of the project.
What was the inspiration behind the name “Screen Out Loud”?
Horror films. And the future plan to have mobile or outdoor screenings.
What are the core goals of Screen Out Loud? How have you been able to carry these out for over four years?
I have enjoyed doing it so far and thankfully, so has the audience. Their continued interest and support are also key motivators to try and deliver each month, even when it seems impossible. The objectives have hardly changed: bringing new worlds to people through film, and encouraging discussions around the medium and its message. It’s summed up in three words: Watch. Discover. Share.
What are the major challenges you have faced running Screen Out Loud?
Funding, mainly, but I try to keep things within budget. Thankfully, we occasionally receive full or partial waivers for some of the films we want to show. The awesome team at Alliance Francaise, Ikoyi/Mike Adenuga Centre makes sure there’s no need to worry about venue and tech logistics. There’s also a wonderful group of people who have helped tremendously with the screenings: from moderating conversations to promoting the screenings, content production, guest management, audience expansion, and general troubleshooting. Everyone’s support makes the planning and execution far less daunting than usual. Screen Out Loud is definitely a community project, in that sense.
What is it like bringing people together in a busy city like Lagos, especially now that streaming platforms have emerged?
It has been incredible. I’m always pleasantly surprised. People attend the screenings for different reasons. Of course, there are some months with low turnout, but every screening is worth it. I think they also like the fact that it’s pretty much “come-as-you-are-but-come-on-time.” I believe some enjoy the post-screening conversations as much as I do. It’s pleasing to hear that they experience something different from the other films they’ve seen. Even the Screen Out Loud selection varies from one month to the other in terms of theme, genre, language, or format. Our documentary or animated film screenings always record a full house, proving that assumptions about audiences are indeed merely myths. You might like a drama or a comedy and be interested in other film genres too.
Regarding streamers, we have shown some films that are eventually available to stream on the more popular platforms. With some streamers, the algorithm can also be rather restrictive, reflecting only a section of the subscriber’s taste or preference. On the contrary, our screenings are most likely a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
How would you describe the benefits that cinema culture has over streaming to Nigerians? Why should people gather to see a film when they could easily see it on their smartphones from the comfort of their homes?
I think both cinemas and the streamers will continue to exist simultaneously and the audience will choose to see whatever they wish to see via whichever format. Not every film is available to stream and not every film will be in cinemas. Some films are best seen on the big screen; many film classics fall into this category. I believe many viewers also continue to enjoy cinema-going as a kind of discovery, social outing, or community activity. Streamers themselves still rely on theatrical releases for some award considerations and occasionally need big screens for their spectacular marketing events. While the argument that you can pause, rewind, fast forward, or download while streaming is a valid one, I’m not sure I’ve met anyone who doesn’t appreciate a seamless cinematic experience. It’s almost like watching the television as a group and someone sits on the power button at a crucial moment in the program.
What role do gatherings play in film as a cultural art form?
I believe it’s related to how we have historically told and listened to stories. You chose to participate in this group activity, where you might be entertained, enlightened, influenced by the knowledge exchange, inspired by the occasion itself or expand your frame of reference in a way that is not restricted to film, amongst other things. Personally, the Screen Out Loud audience expands my engagement with a film by sharing their own interpretation of it as informed by their individual contexts. For filmmakers in attendance as well, it is not uncommon for something in their film to resonate with the audience in a way that they had not even imagined while making the film.
What is the process of getting funding for the projects and activities of Screen Out Loud?
It’s no different from any other but to be honest, I have rarely applied. In 2021, the French Consulate in Lagos supported us with funding. This was extremely helpful in executing a significant part of our 2022 programme, especially “Extended Play”, a three-day event with a focus on film and music.
What can be done for the Nigerian audience to better appreciate cinema?
Personally, and broadly speaking, I don’t think that the Nigerian audience does not appreciate cinema. People might just have varying degrees of access, preference, interest, training, and taste. In terms of access and film education, school and community-based activities are a good idea and there are initiatives already doing notable work in that regard, and also in the area of professional development.
What roles do Nigerian filmmakers have to play in cinema culture? Why should filmmakers have cinematic experiences in mind even before making their films?
I think it’s consideration of the audience as a film’s ultimate target, acknowledging that the audience can be local or global, and anticipating that you want your film to make its mark on anyone who encounters it anywhere. I’m sure filmmakers want to make a good or relatable film as much as the audience wishes to experience the same. So, not to be prescriptive in terms of style, content or technique, but I think there should be a reciprocal sense of respect and value for accessibility, intelligence, time and money expended along all the stages of production.
What needs to be improved about Nollywood’s storytelling and filmmaking for an improved cinema experience?
There are already noteworthy improvements but speaking generally, it’s necessary to keep in mind that any shortcomings in a film are amplified on the big screen.
What was your last best cinema experience? Where did you see the film, and which film did you see?
Our February screening of The World After Us was excellent. The post-screening conversation was at the same time funny, serious and insightful. In the same week, I attended a preview of the brilliant documentary Boys On The Brink (directed by Peter Oke and Rume Onosode) at EbonyLife Cinemas. It is recommended for viewing, for sure.
What’s one thing you would change in our cinemas at the moment, for a better cinematic outing?
I might diversify or expand the programming, and pray to break even.
What is your selection process for the films that are screened at Screen Out Loud? What are some of the things you look out for?
We screen a range of independent-type films: arthouse, experimental, essay, video art, etc. There are no hard and fast rules. It’s almost always a film that I have watched and which I think will surprise or resonate somewhat with the audience, and be worthwhile for the post-screening conversation. Except in extraordinary circumstances, the films have usually not already had multiple and/or well-publicised screenings. Since we organise just one – at most two – screening(s) per month, the selection is usually decided months or up to a year before.
You can find more information about Screen Out Loud on their Instagram page.
If you organize such film gatherings and would like to be considered to feature in this series, kindly drop a short message.
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