Business as usual
Following the dealings of Mauritanian fixers ferrying migrants by sea, this film shows the human cost of irregular migration in West Africa. Interrogating the role of fixers as facilitators of the voyage across the sea as well as the casualties that occur, this asks if they are very different from 16th century slave catchers.
In the 16th century, slave trade decimated much of West of Africa causing long lasting devastation and disruption. The 21st century migration out of Africa seems to be following a similar path. At the centre of both are the people who benefit financially- slave catchers of old and fixers nowadays. Our fixer, xxx, takes us to the inside of his business as he mobilizes a group of youth for a voyage. The boat is captained by xxx, who risks his own life on a small boat that will cross the ocean. The film draws parallels, highlighting similarities and differences and asking the questions: Why is it taking place today? Are the experiences and results the same? On the one hand is the involuntary migration of the slaves in shackles being forced to the Western countries for unpaid labour then, and the contemporary voluntary migration to Western countries that is happening now – this time as cheap labour. Today migrants disregard the dangers, warnings, authorities, and the reality of not being welcomed with open arms but yet spend a fortune and risk their lives to get to Europe by irregular means, crossing the Atlantic Ocean and Mediterranean Sea.
Chinedum Iregbu is a Nigerian filmmaker (director, producer, editor with vast experience in cinematography) and an alumnus of the Berlinale Talent Campus. He holds a certificate in Film Production from Gaston Kabore’s Imagine Film Institute in Burkina Faso, a diploma in Mass Communication from University of Jos and a Bachelor’s Degree in Film Arts from the National Film Institute in Nigeria. Before his foray into content production for TV, he directed a couple of shorts which include the award winning political piece In Dele Giwa’s Shoes, Question Mark, Dud’s Culture and Anfara which got multiple awards including Best Director, Best Videography, Best Edit and Best Score at the Nigerian Television Authority TVC Legacy Awards 2011, and also won the 2012 Emerging Filmmaker Award at the Silicon Valley African Film Festival USA. He has worked in different capacities such as Directing, Cinematography, Editing, Post Production Supervising, Quality Control Manager for notable organizations such as Soundcity TV, VillageSquare TV, Aljazeera, Goethe Institute, EbonyLife TV, M-Net, John Hopkins University, USAID, Rok TV/Iroko TV.
As a young Nigerian/African, the quest for the west always sound enticing and as such, the easiest way is always the hardest way. I’ve heard stories of the dangers of these migration routes, and I’ve also witnessed some cases of people I know whom till today are still missing.
In 2012, I collaborated with Sine Plambech, a Dutch documentary filmmaker and anthropologist to film a documentary on Becky, a young and vibrant Nigerian girl from Benin, Edo State, Nigeria. She had just returned from an unfruitful and tormenting journey to Europe, she narrated her ordeal in the desert, in Niger and then in Libya. And again in 2014, she decided to embark on yet another Europe by road journey and I was commissioned to film her from her home town to Italy where she was headed, but unfortunately after filming her in Nigeria and I was supposed to catch up with her again in Zinder so we can journey from Agadez through to Libya but she went off-grid once she arrived in Maradi, we kept on searching for her through a different network of migrants and fixers but to no avail and two months later, we heard about her demise. Prior to her death, I had heard stories of the horrible experiences that people go through while on this journey, spending months on the road, risking their lives, squandering the small savings they would have used to start up a small-scale business back in their hometown just to chase shadows.
Her death was a very painful death and an eye-opener for me first as a human and as a filmmaker to start the campaign against this irregular migration and that yearning gave birth to some projects: Artworks, poetries and documentaries that somehow did not see the light of day till Business as Usual. Today, I’ve seen a lot of youngsters vowing to leave the country due to the harsh economic condition or out of their own myopic reasons or purely out of greed without minding the risks, the dangers and the financial implications that come with taking the journey. One thing always comes to mind whenever the thought arises, if it were that easy and rosy, then the fixers would have travelled out as well, these thoughts and more are the driving force for this project, to inform, enlighten and educate.
Business as Usual is an observational film but not in its entirety. The style of the documentary is poetic and cinematic and as the theme is on migration, which connotes movement (in pains and shackles), through the desert and sea, the camera work will be mostly slow movement shots, takes will be precise and images will be carefully juxtaposed. The camera will be used to establish the intricacies of the characters’ jobs in a subtle way. Sound bites of every location, every event, and every discussion/conversation will be recorded so as to keep the film alive. Thus, this film is a philosophical meditation on deeper concerns and questions as a Nigerian and an African on why people choose to take these routes? What awaits them when they finally make it to Europe? Will they ever leave the refugee camps over there before being deported? Is the risk worth the trouble? Will they ever make back the money used in embarking on the journey? What are the motives of the fixers; are they good or bad people? Are they helpful? Or are the fixers just exploiting people without any iota of remorse and facilitating a journey of uncertainties just like our ancestors facilitated the slave trade out of cowardice & sheer stupidity.
Nenrot Akinrowo is a passionate producer based in Abuja who studied Scripting, Producing and Directing in Nigeria’s National Film Institute. After film school, she has worked on documentaries, feature films, TV and radio spots, TV series and short films. She has travelled around Nigeria, making documentaries and films. She was in Ghana in 2019 for Generation Africa’s Producers’ Workshop. Nenrot has worked on projects sponsored by organizations such as Save the Children International, USAID, Search for Common Ground, Aliko Dangote Foundation, EbonyLife TV. Nenrot is a unique filmmaker, with lots of ideas and enthusiasm, and her passion for her job is remarkable. She is a conscientious hard working person who pays attention to details. She is flexible, quick to pick up new skills and eager to learn from others. Nenrot is always ready to adapt a story on screen.
Don Edkins is a South African documentary filmmaker and producer based in Cape
Town. He has produced documentary film projects that have been broadcast around
the world, such as Steps for the Future, Why Democracy? and Why Poverty? earning
multiple international awards, including an Oscar for Taxi to the Dark Side, and the
Special Teddy Award at the 63rd Berlinale for Steps for the Future. The Peabody
awarded Why Poverty? Project, with documentary films from 21 countries, was
screened globally by 70 broadcasters. He is Executive Producer of AfriDocs, a free-to-
view VOD platform and broadcast strand across Africa that screens the best African
and international documentary films. He is currently producing a new documentary film
project with African filmmakers across the continent, Generation Africa, around the
theme of migration. He is a mentor for the Berlinale Talents, Durban FilmMart, and
Docs by the Sea in Indonesia, and a member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
Tiny Mungwe is a documentary film and arts producer. She currently works at STEPS
(Social Transformation and Empowerment Projects) where she produces Generation
Africa, a pan-African anthology of 25 documentary films from 16 countries in Africa, on
the topic of migration. Mungwe’s films include Akekho uGogo, a 48 minute
documentary about urban youth culture, which screened at several festivals including
the Durban International Film Festival, Apollo Film Festival and DOKANEMA Festival.
Her short film script Evelyn was selected for the National Film and Video Foundation
(NFVF) Women Filmmaker Project and she directed another short film in the program,
Daddy’s Boy. She has written for some of the highest rating South African television
dramas such as Muvhango and Matatiele, and was one of the directors on the series
Uzalo. For several years she worked as a festival organizer and programmer for four
international festivals, namely Time of the Writer, the Durban International Film
Festival, Jomba! Contemporary Dance Festival and Poetry Africa. During that time she also worked on the program for Durban FilmMart (the co-production market of the festival) and Talents Durban (a career development program for emerging African filmmakers in partnership with Berlinale Talents). She continues to work as a program curation associate for the Durban FilmMart. She also programmed and curated the city of Durban’s inaugural book and art fair, ARTiculate Africa.