A magazine for Africans and friends of Africa...Our Voices, Our Vision, Our Culture

Family Feud: A Reason to Die Looks at Communities in Conflict
By Olayinka Fadahunsi
Lovers of Nollywood, Nigeria's home-grown video film industry, have learned to tolerate the mediocre production values and uncertain audio-visual quality of pirated videos, often the only versions available at African storefronts and supermarkets. This makes it especially gratifying to launch this Nollywood Premiere review column with a look at A Reason to Die 1 and 2, a rural action thriller directed by Chika Onu and distributed by Sanga Entertainment that aspires to a higher caliber of video production.

A Reason to Die's promising storyline, by screenwriter Ifeanyi Okafor, revolves around an age-old struggle between two communities⦥uro;Aguri and Umuri⦥uro;to lay claim to a disputed plot of land. A thinly-fictionalized version of the real-life land conflict between the sister-communities of Umuleri and Aguleri in Nigeria's Anambra State, A Reason to Die explores the motives of kinsmen who choose war over diplomacy in such strained circumstances, and the inevitable results of such a conflict. Dimgba, an aging warrior who has successfully led Aguri's warriors into past incursions from their neighbors, is again forced to helm the village youths when fresh skirmishes break out and his family members fall victim. His Umuri counterpart, Chief Okwete (Clem Ohameze), more of a financier than a fighter, exhorts his town's youths into war by supplying them with superior weaponry, forcing a showdown between traditional African warcraft and cutting-edge rifles.

Zulu Adigwe (Dimgba) has an expressive, wizened face that is well-suited to his conflicted character, and he plays his leading role with impressive dignity. Most of his supporting cast falls short of his strong performance, however. Viewers familiar with Sola Sobowale will find her uncharacteristically subdued in this film, lacking as it is in opportunities for her to demonstrate the poetic incantations and fiery attributes that she is famous for in Yoruba-language films. Perhaps it was just as well that her part was relatively minor, since the script's attempts to translate important Igbo proverbs into English often lack poetry and subtlety. This suggests that a film as steeped in issues of culture and tradition as A Reason to Die may have worked better if shot in Igbo with English sub-titles. The dialog falters into cliché once too often, with actors often straining to give their words gravity and impact.

Much more impressive than the dialog though is the packaging of this DVD. On par with any Hollywood releases, the jacket features a synopsis of the plot, along with information like the feature's length, regional coding, and a complete list of the major credits, including stars, producers, and the director. The back of the case even features a bar code and contact information for the distribution company in the United States, standard attributes for Western releases but notably lacking on most Nollywood videos. The DVD also features proper chapter division, allowing viewers to skip to exact parts of the film without tediously fast-forwarding or rewinding.

Despite this superlative packaging quality and its relatively original plot, A Reason to Die still displays one of the classic weaknesses of Nigerian video films: convincing special effects. One scene, in which Dimgba's troops are inoculated with African insurance against gunshots by a dibia or ritual specialist, is unintentionally comical in its depiction of the dibia testing his medicine. Other scenes depicting supernatural activity are just as unconvincing.

With the recent news that Nigeria has peacefully ceded the portion of its oil-rich southeastern peninsula named Bakassi to Cameroon following a long-running dispute, the video film's moral about the ultimate cost of fratricidal violence is timely. Such stories resonate throughout the continent, and screenwriter Ifeanyi Okafor's attempt to tell a nuanced story of greed, sacrifice, and redemption within the genre's tight conventions should give viewers a reason to buy this DVD.

Sanga Entertainment also deserve a commendation for introducing world-class production standards to their product line. Outside of the obvious profit motive, it is puzzling why both the first part of this video and its sequel could not have fit on one DVD. Perhaps future Sanga Entertainment releases will correct this problem. Other releases from the company, including trailers and story summaries, are available at www.africamotion.com.

Rated 'R'; contains violent scenes inappropriate for younger viewers.

Nollywood Premiere reviews the best of Africa's burgeoning video film market. Check www.africanmag.net for regular updates.