A common danger in allowing projects like film productions linger is that when the finished products eventually see the light of day, they may have continuity problems what with the loss of spontaneity. Yet, those who have mastered the visual medium utilize surplus time to their advantage; thoroughly integrating all the key elements of brilliant storytelling, thereby creating magna opera.
That is the case with 76, made by Izu Ojukwu who is popular for directing the 5 Amstel Malta Box Office (AMBO) movies – Sitanda, White Waters, Cindy’s Notes, The Child and Alero’s Symphony – plus Images of Another Day, an Amaka Igwe Production and Showdown (2000), an action film, which was one of his earliest films.
76, which was in production for seven years, is set in 1976 when Nigeria’s former Head of State, the late General Murtala Mohammed, was assassinated. It combines actual events with fictional elements and tells the story of Capt. Joseph Dewa (Ramsey Nouah) whose heavily pregnant wife, Suzzy (Rita Dominic), is broken when he is accused of partaking in the coup that killed the military leader.
Ojukwu is renowned for making high quality films with acceptable technical standard whenever he works with a compelling screenplay. 76, which he co-writes with Emmanuel Okomanyi, is undoubtedly his best work yet. The story is intriguing and even some of the actors who play cameo roles are exceptional, not only because the actors’ are fabulous thespians but also for the reason that their characters were well-developed at the screenwriting stage.
The film shot on 16mm has top-notch photography; of course, Yinka Edward is always equal to the task. Set design by Pat Nebo, who also plays a supporting role (Col. Aliu), is excellent. Sound is breathtaking too as both soundtrack and the music of that era plus military songs spice up the flick. The costumes and props are evocative of that period, inducing an infectious wave of nostalgia on viewers who grew up at that time and those who have seen pictures from 40 years ago.
Some movie stars keep reinventing themselves. Rita Dominic is outstanding as Suzzy. She should really consider acting in an Igbo language film where she will speak her Mbaise dialect, which she also deployed admirably as Clara in The Meeting.
Kudos to Ramsey Nouah for looking like a young officer and playing his role estimably. Chidi Mokeme as Major Gomos and Daniel K. Daniel as Corporal Obi are equally convincing in their performances. 76 reveals Memry Savanhu (Eunice) and Adonijah Owiriwa (V. M. Jaiye) as capable actors. Without saying much, Eunice’s body language communicates her feelings at any point in time.
One of the most significant but understated revelations in 76 is the fact that soldiers, by their training, are expected to accord due respect to civilians whilst discharging their duties. In 76, officers’ wives do not genuflect before military men, but stand up for their rights and those of others, receiving ample regard from their husbands’ colleagues in the process.
However, the blatant disregard shown to people in this country almost on a daily basis by men in uniform is grave cause for worry. The video of the manhandling of Uzoma Okere by naval ratings a few years ago, which is at variance with the image of the military painted in this movie, readily comes to mind.
Who dares question a military officer who decides to jump a queue or drive on the lane that is exclusively reserved for BRT buses in Lagos?
The producers of this movie use every opportunity to express their gratitude to the Nigerian military for supporting them as they researched and shot the film. More institutions should aid film-makers to produce stimulating and entertaining films.
The props in 76 also remind museums to ensure that the antiques under their care do not deteriorate whilst prompting organizations and individuals to imbibe the safe-keeping of archival objects and materials.
The film is applauded for highlighting office politics, which is self-seeking, more often than not. Eunice, standing up for Suzzy, after reality bites, indicates that all the rivalry and strife that keep humans from being their brothers’ keepers are pointless.
There are a few grammatical errors in the dialogue. Col. Aliu says, “… more than 5 high-profile investigation …”, rather than ‘investigations’. Suzzy says, “I am tired of hearing that.” Statements involving the senses are usually not written in the progressive tense. Though there are a few exceptions to this rule, its usage in this film is not one of such exceptions.
76 got 4 awards at the 2016 Africa International Film Festival, AFRIFF, and is set to win several others in the 2017 award season. Who says excellence does not pay?