’76 is my first insight into Nigerian film making and although Izu Ojukwu’s movie doesn’t categorically sit within the usual ‘arthouse’ style we can expect from lower budget filmmakers, it does have moments of intrigue and interest despite a number of technical issues.
Set in Nigeria and inspired by events from 40 years ago in 1976, we follow the life army officer Captain Joseph Dewa, portrayed by Ramsey Nouah, and his wife Suzy, played by Rita Dominic. Although they are expecting the joy of their first child, they have other concerns as her family doesn’t approve of their relationship because of their different cultural backgrounds and he’s being pursued by rebellious soldiers who want him to help with a coup to take back their country. While Joseph doesn’t intend to be involved with an assassination attempt on a high-ranked General, he’s eventually trapped within what’s happening and the fallout is that a distance starts to grow between him and his wife.
Having looked into the circumstances of how Nigerian films are created, it’s generally clear they are done as cheaply as practical with a straight-to-DVD style of approach. With this in mind, Ojukwu’s choice to shot on film is a big one and not always what we’d expect to see. From a technical point of view, there definitely are a number of complications throughout that mean you’re disappointingly distracted from the events taking place. Much of the first half of the film is lost among an over-baring soundtrack that from time-to-time literally drowns out what the characters are saying and even though I had an idea of the basis of the stories, I feel vital character connections are missed because of this and, in turn, many moments became confusing.
The longer, more lingering distant shots are where ’76 finds it strength as it allowsRamsey Nouah’s Dewa to act and react off what’s happening. These scenes, especially in the middle of the movie, really start to relax and open up the narrative to play out more naturally. They bring a welcome calmness despite the intense situations they depict with a true cinematic touch.
Within the truth of the story is some devastating reality and so with other technical issues that includes out of focus shots and occasional over-zealous editing, it was frustrating not being able to fully engage with the film as much as I wanted to. However, always one to look for positives, Ramsey Nouah as Joseph Dewa and Rita Dominic as Suzy are natural performers full of morality with full commitment to their situation. I think this was an important story to be told and while it doesn’t necessarily hit the creative heights of some similar stories, Izu Ojukwu does achieve it honestly and with heart.
3/5 – ’76 review by Dan Bullock, Toronto International Film Festival 2016.
’76 is awaiting a release.