Ahead of its Canadian premiere at the 2018 Hot Docs Canadian International Film Festival, realscreen presents an exclusive clip of Shasha Nakhai’s directorial debut Take Light.
As Africa’s top energy producer, Nigeria exports millions of barrels of oil that go on to power industries and vehicles around the world. However, for more than 50% of the country’s population, they have no access to electricity, and those who do often only get a few hours of power a day at best. Take Light looks at the web of Nigeria’s electricity crisis as told through the perspective of a charismatic electrician.
Produced by Storyline Entertainment’s Ed Barreveld, Take Light has its world premiere at the upcoming Cleveland International Film Festival on April 8. After having its Canadian premiere at Hot Docs ’18, the film will hit the festival circuit with screenings at the Atlanta Film Festival, and more after that.
Realscreen caught up with Nakhai ahead of Take Light‘s Canadian premiere on April 27 at Hot Docs ’18. The Toronto-set festival runs April 26 to May 6.
The following interview has been edited for clarity and length.
What was the genesis for Take Light?
Take Light is inspired by my experiences of living in Nigeria for 15 years. As I was growing up, electricity (or rather the lack thereof) was a major concern. I remember going into our backyard shed with a flashlight in the middle of the night to turn on our diesel generator. I remember being fanned to sleep by my parents during week-long blackout periods. Power was very much a defining factor of life in Nigeria, even for a privileged oyibo [non-African] like me. The problem affected everyone, rich and poor, and it continued to affect me in ways I couldn’t even imagine, long after I moved to Canada at age 15.
Moving to Canada opened my eyes to understand how ridiculous the situation really was. After returning from visiting my parents I would tell my Canadian friends about life in Nigeria and they would listen wide-eyed and laugh in disbelief. I began to realize that people outside of the country really had no clue about what life was actually like in there. The impetus for wanting to make this film is rooted in the unique perspective I gained from moving between two worlds.
Why do you think there is an appetite for this type of story?
There seems to be a rising wave of international appetite for more diverse kinds of stories and content from Africa. We are starting to see Nigeria represented more and more on the main stage.
In Canada, my home now for more than a decade, when the average person thinks of Nigeria they think of militant Islamic group Boko Haram, they think of money-seeking email scams, they think of refugees desperately trying to make it to European shores. With Take Light, I am presenting a different image of Nigeria to international audiences.
What challenges did you face with production?
How much time do you have? Seriously, a lot. That’s just a given when you’re working in Nigeria. You have to be open to changing your production schedule all the time, able to go with the flow, and have a lot of time set aside for waiting in Kafkaesque scenarios. We spent entire days trying to get on a flight due to aviation fuel shortages.
Nigeria, and more specifically the Niger Delta, is a very difficult place to shoot. As much as I would like to present it in a different light, it would be irresponsible to pretend that it isn’t dangerous, and more so if you don’t know what you’re doing. In addition to the stifling harmattan heat, lack of power and soot air pollution, Nigeria’s security forces were waging war against militants in the creeks just outside of Port Harcourt, where the majority of filming took place.
We were well-aware of the strong underbelly of crime and militancy in the region, and hints of it would surface from time to time – the paramilitary presence at our hotel, walking past a gang of surrendered militants and their huge weapons arsenals on parade for the press, a doctor at the hospital we filmed at getting kidnapped two weeks after we stopped filming; just a few examples.
But my connections in having grown up there, and ability to speak Pidgin were key to the film’s success. Everywhere you go in Nigeria, you have to deal with the local community. Whether that’s community leaders, youth chairmen, gang leaders – every community, neighborhood, and village has someone who’s in charge. And you always have to go through them before you film anything on their turf.
Many communities in the Niger Delta have a strong distrust and curiosity in what foreigners are doing there, and justifiably so, given their history with colonialism, foreign NGOs, and extractive industries. Getting over that initial distrust by taking the time to explain ourselves and diffusing hairy situations with humor was crucial to getting anything done.
Can you name two or three elements that you think will make this documentary appeal to audiences?
Firstly, I think a lot of people internationally will be surprised at the Nigeria they see in Take Light. In my opinion it is quite a fresh take on issues that are mostly covered in journalistic fashion.
Secondly, the tone. The rich and layered imagery and poetry in the film will really resonate with people. Much of the film has a dreamlike, poetic quality that makes it stand out. And it’s funny! There are some funny moments and I think the humor really makes it feel different.
Lastly, the characters in this film are all amazing in their own ways. With people like Martins, it is about keeping the candle lit in times of darkness and despair, about fighting to remain a good person when corruption is the status-quo, and harnessing the power of humor and religion to make it through each day. He is a remarkable and kind human that I think people can draw inspiration from.
What did you learn during the production of Take Light that will be valuable to other professionals in the industry?
Personally, I learned to get better at being more agile. I also learned how to delicately dance between staying true to my experience, while at the same time making that experience accessible to an international audience. I made sure to collaborate with Nigerian filmmakers and get rough cut feedback from Nigerians to help reinforce those decisions. Sometimes you have to listen to your gut.