I recently had the pleasure and honor of interviewing award-winning Nigerian filmmaker David Akwara. What follows are excerpts from that interview including film industry insights, his inspiration to drive positive change for Africa and the success of his most recent documentary film The RISE.

Meet David Akwara

David Akwara is a young man who is hungry for collective progress, by this he means human, economic and infrastructural improvement. As a filmmaker from the Niger Delta region of Nigeria, David also studied in Accra, Ghana. Having these two points of reference helped shape his views on the merits of collaboration.

Earlier in his career, David aspired to become a lawyer to help the more vulnerable among his people and to advocate for human rights. He took drama classes to build his confidence and his public speaking skills as he worked toward his career goals. It was in drama class that the power of film as an art form clicked. He recognized film as a tool to communicate, drive global policy and create change.

What makes a good film?

As art advances, society advances in the same direction. According to David Akwara, a good film relies on the message. While art often mirrors society, it can also lead society in the right direction. The message portrayed by a filmmaker can have an enormous impact on global discourse. The impact may be positive or negative depending on the aim of the filmmaker.

A good film must be factual and able to stand the test of time. The facts together with the message can offer a new or better reality. As audiences apply messages from the film to their own lives, profound generational change can take root.

Advice for aspiring filmmakers

Upcoming filmmakers improve upon the work of legends. While artists often revisit work from the past, they adjust and improve upon them to produce better works of art. Before starting a new project, a filmmaker needs to understand what is taking place in society to recognize how their work might be an impetus for change. 

Upcoming artists should become avid readers and stay up to date on regional and global issues so their films can suggest plausible solutions. Filmmakers should think about how they can contribute to and be part of the solution. While filmmakers should think about commerce, they should focus on their art from a legacy perspective.

The RISE: a journey to Africa’s financial independence

The RISE is a pan-African film that documents the implementation of the Africa Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) agreement, one of 13 flagship projects of Agenda 2063: The Africa We Want. It tells the African story from the eyes of African women, men, and youth. It is highly ambitious, with a comprehensive scope that includes critical areas of Africa’s economy, such as digital trade and investment protection.

The RISE has been featured in dozens of film festivals across the globe, including Luanda Pan African Film Festival [Angola], Black Cat Awards International Film Festival [Bolivia], Africa Regional Seminar [Kenya], Southern Africa Embrace Foundation [Tanzania], and 5th Sylhet Film Festival [Bangladesh].

The RISE has also won several awards, been screened in more than 13 countries and achieved recognition on the global stage. It has been screened in front of 5 presidents during one event, as well as in Silicon Valley where it opened conversation for investment on the African continent.

Though the film has seen enormous success, the crew has faced financial challenges and issues acquiring travel visas. “Courage and belief have kept us going,” says David. “God is on our side.’

How have you used film to make an impact?

“40 Years A Memory” is another David Akwara film delivering impact. It inspires young people to take an interest in teaching at an early age. The film covers teaching in Africa and re-establishing teachers training colleges. It advocates for unity in education and takes a global perspective on education. Films like this and The RISE open conversation and foster an environment for innovation. They speak directly to policymakers, creating pathways for momentous change. In all projects, David hopes to touch African soil directly with his message by using film on a local level and engaging audiences on the global stage.

Article courtesy of: Mariam Muthoni Halati, Mount Kenya University, Kenya

Mariam is a Youth Advisory Council member of African Orphan Educational Foundation.