By EBELE ORAKPO
The importance of a people’s language cannot be over- emphasised. Language has been described as an ethnic identity, therefore, any tribe that loses its language has invariably lost its identity.
As the Chinese say, if you want to colonise a man for life, teach him your language. Last year, a report by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) revealed that the Igbo language might become extinct in the next 50 years. To halt the trend, various Igbo groups are now battling to save the language.
In Nollywood, the battle is being fought by the Igbo Film Forum (IFF). At the recently held Igbo Premier Film Festival in Awka, Anambra State, the National President of IFF, Comrade Harris Chuma, filmmaker, producer and director, spoke to HVP on his vision to signal a rebirth of the Igbo language movies.
About the Igbo Film Festival
Basically, the festival was designed to sensitise Igbo filmmakers in Nollywood on the need for a true rebirth of Igbo Language films. We have a clear mandate in IFF and that is to campaign vigorously to see that Igbo Language film is given a voice again and Igbo Language is also considered as a medium of expression.
You can see that there is a total decline in the speaking and writing of Igbo Language .There have been so many predictions that in 2015, Igbo Language will definitely go into extinction.
Having said that, film makers in Nollywood are duty-bound to ensure that our language does not die. To ensure that our language is used in the films to express/ sell our culture, the festival theme for last year which was the inaugural edition, the first ever Igbo Film Festival in Nigeria was Igbo Language Film: Challenges and Prospects.
Champions of the cause:
I wouldn’t give the credit for the upsurge in the production of Igbo language movies these days to myself. I am playing a part in the struggle. We have those that are not even in Nollywood, who are championing the same cause. People like Professor Pita Ejiofor who chaired the opening ceremony of the festival, in Awka, has been in this battle for the past six years.
A former Vice-Chancellor of Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka and Founder/National president of Suwa kwa Igbo social-cultural organisation based in Anambra State, Professor Ejiofor has travelled wide with this message, campaigning for Igbos to remember their language. He has been there shouting, screaming, sensitizing everybody in Nigeria and beyond that Igbo Language should not die.
I have been there too but in my own case, being a practitioner in Nollywood, it makes it very easy for me to convince the Igbos, on the need for them to demand for Igbo content on TV and cable networks like DSTv, Hitv, MyTv. . .
Low patronage of Igbo language movies:
Any producer who claims there is a low patronage of Igbo Language films is not being truthful. The reality on ground is that Nollywood of today survives based on indigenous language films. The champions of the Nollywood of today are the Yorubas and the market for Yoruba language films is booming. Hausa language films are also selling, so any Igbo film maker who claims that there is no market for Igbo language films is not telling the truth.
In fact, there is even a new market trend and you know how things work here in Nigeria. People embrace new things easily. English language film market is almost dead, that is why we are rushing to the cinemas.
For you to teach your child the Igbo language, you need to do works in Igbo Language to use as tools so the market is there. It’s a virgin market, people are waiting to buy not even to rent. So my advice to them is that they should go to location, make Igbo Language films. There are several ways of going about this in terms of marketing and distribution. After shooting, you do the premiere in Igboland to attract personalities, people in government, politicians. You know politicians love such platforms to make political statements so there are several ways of going about it.
I am using this opportunity to call on my colleagues in Nollywood to start making movies in Igbo Language, not because Harris Chma will take the credit tomorrow. It is because of our culture, where we come from. I am seeing a new Nollywood. This festival has opened my eyes to so many things. We had a lot of scholars, professors from different universities that attended the event.