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Origins and Beginnings

(A review of ‘From Reversal Film Making to God’s Bedroom and Back – Untold Story of the Nollywood Revolution’, by Matthew Olusegun Simpa)

By Chris Akwarandu

WHEN Thespis broke away from the throng of the Greek chorus and said lines outside the crowd, he never knew he was starting an age-long revolution.

When William Shakespeare began the process of creating drama in genres, he never knew he was deepening the course of dramaturgy for all time. When Stanislavsky was introducing method acting, he never knew there will be an army of followers, including me.

When Matthew Simpa nursed the ambition of writing this book, he never knew he was erecting the foundation stone of an odyssey into the world of Nigeria’s filmic representation act.

This book is not about the origins of movies in Nigeria nor is it about history of movie making in the country but an excursive odyssey into the labyrinth of the world of image representation in a society that has not been ready to receive the creative imagination of those bestowed with the God-like qualities of transforming story-telling into an audio and visual art form.

The book From Reversal Filmmaking to God’s Bedroom and Back – an apt title in any case-by Matthew Simpa is not necessarily the untold story of the making of Nollywood but one man’s recollection of an epochal journey traversing the proverbial seven seas and lands, meandering through dark tunnels, thorny paths and rocky landscape, in search of inner strength and personal realization. It is a huge effort made by one man for many. It is a beam of light, lit by one man for many to see and realise their dreams. It is a tale told by one man, for many groping for illumination; for the possible explanation of the tides in our individual sojourn through the movie making mountains. It is one man’s giant step and a lightening jump for Nollywood practitioners and historians.

Matthew Simpa couldn’t have found starting this book easy. First, could it be a historical purview of Nollywood’s starting fits and spurts? Second, could it be the lucky break in being part of reversal film making, its pitfalls and strengths and its dramatic eclipse? Third, could it be a first-person narrative of a journey started without real foundation of where it was leading? Fourth, could it be a heroic image making of a pioneer?

He chose the third; not because he was sure of his doubts and weakness but he was sure of his inner capacity to be a frontiersman.

From the history of the world, frontiersmen and women are sturdy, self-willed, adaptive, forward-looking, inventive, pain-bearing, creative and able to have nine lives. That was how the United States of America was made. That is what we are lacking in Nigeria. These are the qualities that Mr. Matthew Olusegun Simpa represents. He is a frontiersman.

The book From Reversal Filmmaking to God’s Bedroom and Back: Untold Story of the Nollywood Revolution is Matthew Simpa’s first book; divided into 19 chapters, full of deep personal reflections and industry knowledge.

From the first chapter, Matthew Simpa takes us through a photographic exercise of his journey of discovery of his own personality and learning. That shows his quest for knowledge and sharpening of his skills.

The second to the sixth chapters detailed the days of reversal film experimentation in Nigeria. Through his book, broadly written, students of film making will know the meaning of reversal film making; an art in which films were shot in positive to be exposed positively as well, instead of the usual negative that is developed into positive. He told the story through his active participation in those days at MeshFilms. Their efforts at reversal film making made fringe observers of the industry get wholly involved.

They deepened the process of film distribution through the cinemas made popular by the kings of film making: Chief Hubert Ogunde, Chief Ade Afolayan, Dr. Ola Balogun and Chief Eddie Ugbomah. Mr. Simpa and the Producers, crew and Actors of Meshfilms worked with people who seriously were interested in making films and getting them to the people.

From chapter four, we begin the tortuous process of film distribution and exhibition. How did they manage to get the films to the consumers? How did that period improve theatre-going? What was the level of remuneration for Artists at the time and now? What type of films were made? It was not really about reversal film making but about how our story telling process shaped the history of film production in Nigeria and how people like Simpa grew the genre from a stage dominated art to filmic one with less resources. The Ogundes and the Ugbomas who could process their negative films abroad, made popular and effective, our story telling abilities. But the crew of Meshfilms and others like them, exposed the silent art of making do with what you have to achieve what you intended.

Matthew Simpa

Simpa’s journey through the not-so-lucrative world of film making took a dramatic turn from chapter 10. This is a period metanoia, a new awareness and a tangential reformation. Drama is a product of religious ritual. All drama is ritual. All life is ritual. Therefore, Mr. Simpa’s spiritual revolution could have been to find meaning in his quest to live the life of a great personage created by a Supreme personage. He may not have been fully aware of the essence of this stage in his life, but the events that followed forced him to enter deeply into this spiritually coated odyssey.

During this stage, Simpa got to the nadir of human suffering and psychological development. He was mired in self-abnegation to achieve self-realisation. Those that will read the book from chapter eight to 18 will encounter a man’s Calvary journey that equally ended in crucifixion in chapter14 and now his resurrection, which ended the book and continues his founder’s pedigree as builders of the emerging Nollywood rocky landscape.

The arrangement of the book makes it possible to read through the metamorphosis of a quest-driven Matthew, to a family man – Mr. Simpa; to a legendary Mr. Matthew Olusegun Simpa from a not-so-sure student of film making, to a practicing Filmmaker and Distributor, a lover of beautiful women, to a Pastor, to a Businessman with wife and to an experienced Film-preneuer.

The book, written in lucid language and thought process does not have any pretensions. There are no hiding spaces for a jejune character, incapable of carrying his cross at each point in time. Mr. Simpa bares his anguished soul in his searchlight exposition of a guiding light.

Without mincing words, these hundred and fifty pages of documentation might sound personal and judgmental, but it could have been written by a sage and illuminator.

By the time you take out moments of concentration to read this illuminating book, you will come to the conclusion that film making requires being educated in it, allowing yourself to be initiated and make out time to learn in all conditions and circumstances; being prepared to go through metanoia spiritually and professionally and in the end allowing growth to take place for you.

I wholeheartedly recommend this book to all students of film making and dramatic arts, managers of the film genre; spiritual guides and emotional cupid drivers.

It’s a good book!

*Sir Chris Akwarandu is an actor,  television producer.

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