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#16 – Minister: on Mutual Aid and Independent Cinema

Posted on May 20, 2016 in The Wall | 0 comments

Minister

#16 – Minister: on Mutual Aid and Independent Cinema

In the scene of independent Italian cinema oriented to an audience with a migrant background, Nigerian diasporic experience plays a role of some relevance. In several cities (Turin, Brescia, Padua, Rome) filmmakers have been trying to open up a local film market, sometimes mixing up with Italian technicians, most of the times recurring to an all Nigeria-born crew and pursuing the dream to export in Italy the Nollywood mode of production, based on a low budget economy, on the notoriety of local film stars and on a plot rich in melodramatic and special effects, sometimes justified by the presence of magic and witchcraft. The experience of Fide Dayo is somewhat part of this first wave of Nigerian filmmakers in Italy, even if his personal path is rather peculiar, from the city in which he chose to settle and base his production firm, namely Florence.

Once in Italy and finished his university experience with a degree in architecture, Dayo converted soon after to film, attending to some courses and practicing with some shorts and documentaries. His first feature, Ben Kross (2011), written, produced and played by Dayo in the leading role, on the misadventures of a Nigeria-born immigrant who for bureaucratic reasons can’t find a way to take advantage of his retirement benefits, was nominated to Nollywood AMAA Awards in the category of Best film made by an African director of the diaspora. This second pic by Dayo represents a very interesting prototype in terms of mode of production, as the filmmaker managed to combine his artisanal, independent, interstitional approach, in a way typical of many experiences of accented cinema (Hamid Naficy), with a more traditional approach, conditioned by the opportunities offered by regional funds and programs aimed to support locally film production.

The plot, only at a superficial glance, could evocate a black Cinderella cliché. Well, of course, the suggestion is there, accompanied by some indirect references to a very real black minister of the Italian Republic, that is Congo-born Cécile Kyenge, who held the Ministry of Integration during the brief government presided by Enrico Letta, from April 2013 to February 2014, attiring on herself political and personal attacks from the Northern League and other parties reclaiming the legacy of fascism. Kemi (Juliet Esey Joseph) is a Nigerian migrant with a double degree in fashion design and management. She happened to move to Italy in search of his lost brother Banky (Sidy Diop) when their parents died in a Christian church for a bombing. In Rome Kemi had an affair with a white Italian manager, ruined for a bad investment, and found herself alone with a baby girl, Buki (Amina Ekundayo).

One day at last Kemi finds her brother, who plays guitar on the streets, and meets at the same time a man who will change her life, fashion manager Nero of Nero Fashion (Christian Stelluti). Thanks to the introduction of a traditional textile, adire, manufactured in her region, the firm is saved from bankruptcy and she proposes as well some social measures to improve the condition of the employees. An echo of her success arrives to a young ambitious prime minister who chooses her in the government team for the mandate of Immigration, the very first black minister in Italian history. Her sudden visibility provokes a violent reaction coming from Riccardo, a politician who built his own position on an anti-immigrant agenda. The death of Nero provokes a clash inside the firm for the role of CEO, involving also his brother. Kemi will have to fight for the life and happiness of her dearest people.

Presented in a private preview, taking place in a downtown theater of Rome but still lacking a distributor for the Italian market, Minister was targeted for international, English-speaking audience. The choice of English direct sound with Italian subtitles sounds a little bit risky for the Italian audience, and not every Italian actor in the artistic cast showed to be at ease with this English-as-lingua-franca approach. Here and there, some inconsistencies complicate the plausibility of the plot, especially when it comes to deal with the fashion firm management. The resolution of Kemi’s double experience as a successful fashion designer and aspiring politician comes rather abruptly and could be interpreted as a capitulation to a fate of subalternity. Some characters of Italian natives are sketched with row profiles, such as the racist politician. Those limits do not take anything away from Fide Dayo’s braveness in this entrepreneurial adventure, from his ability to blend actors with different backgrounds, and from the impressiveness of the leading character, the very first prominent role for Nigeria-born and naturalized Italian Juliet Esey Joseph, launched in the late 1990s by Manetti Bros.

Let’s hope Dayo find soon a distribution firm interested to release commercially in Italian theaters his second work, starting in these days its path in the international market. We firmly believe that the mere possibility of a space for alternative, independent, grassroots way of production in Italian creative industries for Afrodescendant filmmakers is based first of all on the spirit of mutual aid among the most talented and gifted with resourcefulness, and the response offered in this piece by Sidy Diop, Olu Domingo and newcomers Amina Ekundayo, Taty Rossi and Jennifer Ogiegor is somewhat encouraging. The next challenge for this and other pieces coming from underground channels is the implementation of alternative platforms of distribution, focusing on potential audience niches interested in artistic productions that are expression of diversity in Italy, based here and outside the country.

Contributors: Leonardo De Franceschi

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