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ECOCINEMA AND ENVIRONMENTAL HEALTH ADVOCACY: A STUDY OF ERIN BROCKOVICH AND MOOLAADÉ

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CHAPTER ONE

BACKGROUND OF THE STUDY

1.0     Introduction

Environment has been defined as the totality of the physical, economic, cultural, aesthetic and social circumstances and factors which surround the desirability and value of property and which also affect the quality of people’s life. The environment therefore is not restricted to the natural world of plants and animals but also the social interactions between humans as it relates to culture, arts, traditions and religion as well as the interactions between man and the ecosystem.  The exploitation and exploration of the natural resources to satisfy the numerous needs of man produces and exposes man to dangerous unhealthy elements. Thus, it is this interaction between man and his environment that produces environmental health challenges. Environmental health disasters exist in virtually all countries and continents of the world including Africa. Industrialisation, pollution, human need and greed are the sources of environmental health disasters in the world. Since the dawn of industrialisation, economic indices have been regarded as the primary principle for measuring success and progress. As a result, the environment is punitively exploited by humans everywhere.

Granted, we have benefited from industrialisation and technological advances. But these technological and industrial developments have been accompanied by an increasing negative impact on the environment in terms of its pollution and degradation. Industrialisation bears the seeds of environmental damage aided and abetted by both need and greed of man. Activities such as manufacturing, processing, transportation and consumption not only deplete the stock of natural resources but also add stress to the environmental system by accumulating the stock of wastes. The productivity of the industries, however, depends on the supply and quality of natural and environmental resources. While water, soil, air, forest and fishery resources are productive assets, the pollution of water, air, atmosphere and noise are the by-products of economic development, particularly industrialisation and urbanisation. “Green house effects”, “global warming” and “acid precipitation” are cases in point. Pollution is an “external cost” (sometimes called a “spill-over cost” or a “neighbourhood cost”). Untreated or improperly treated waste becomes pollution, increasing not only private costs but also social costs.

Environmental degradation often tends to become irreversible and imposes damaging costs on the economy resulting in output and human losses, loss of labour productivity from ill- health and loss of crop output. The ecological and social costs of such unrestrained pollution and degradation have put a big question mark on the perceived notion of industrialisation as a way of economic development. Industrialisation is on the increase which is undoubtedly necessary for civilisation, but so is the pollution due to emission of waste generated from these industries. The industrial pollution due to its nature has the potential to cause irreversible reactions in the environment and hence is posing a major threat to our very existence. Since the carrying capacity of the environment is not unlimited and some areas or ecosystems are more susceptible to adverse environmental impacts than others, unplanned and haphazard industrialisation has substantially increased the risk to the environment. A number of studies have shown that air and water pollution are taking a heavy toll of human life, particularly, in the developing countries through ill-health and premature mortality. Pollution control thus, assumes greater significance in the context of ensuring sustainable development through planned industrialisation. Within the social and cultural milieu, certain esteemed indigenous cultural practises like female genital mutilation encourage environmental health problems which in turn bring about maternal and child mortality. They continue up till this day because of long practice and acceptance as part of socialisation and cultural heritage by communities.

In cognizance of the several sociological and natural adverse effects of environmental health risks and disasters emanating from cultural practises, pollution and degradation engendered by industrialisation, several international conferences have been held starting in 1972 to protect the earth’s resources and humans at large. Several measures and agreements have also being ratified but as we have seen over the years, lip service have been paid to these standards of practise as agreed internationally to the detriment of the greater percentage of humanity and the fragile environment. To this end, a dynamic, integrated and holistic approach needs to be employed for greater awareness and abatement of these monumental challenges.

Art is as old as humanity itself and has been used to propagate human ideas, experiences, ideologies, feelings, hopes and expectations. From literary to the performative genre, art has played a central role in diagnosing and proffering solutions to several human needs as they occur at any stage of development. The theatre and its various media have been particularly exceptional in transforming and preserving human experiences, nature, failings, triumphs and aspirations into memorable and scintillating performances entertaining as well as educating. Having seen that the problem of environmental health risks or its symptoms cannot be solved by science alone, this project seeks to highlight how film and specifically, ecocinema as an artistic medium can be independently and corroboratively deployed in bringing succour and relief to a hurting world. For the purpose of this discourse, the films Erin Brockovich and Moolaadé will be examined carefully to buttress the objectives of this study.

  • Statement of the Problem

Over four decades, Nigeria has been drilling oil from the Niger Delta making huge returns locally and internationally from the sale of crude and other oil related products. In fact, Nigeria’s economy is built around oil than any agriculture or any other mineral. The 2006 UNDP Niger Delta Human Development Report states that:

Local people in the delta are acutely aware of how much wealth oil can produce. Oil and gas alone have generated 40 per cent of Nigeria’s national GDP over recent decades. Between 2000 and 2004, oil accounted for about 79.5 per cent of total government revenues and about 97 per cent of foreign exchange revenues (14).

But this has scarcely impacted the lives of ordinary citizens in the area as the report further explains, “the Niger Delta produces the oil wealth that accounts for the bulk of Nigeria’s foreign earnings. Paradoxically, however, these vast revenues from an international industry have barely touched the Niger Delta’s own pervasive local poverty. This has spurred formidable challenges to sustainable human development in the region…” (14). Instead it has caused them more harm than good. Oil exploration and production comes with several environmental health hazards and death as we learn from a study conducted by Jon Gay, Olivia Shepherd, Mike Thyden and Matt Whitman who note that oil contamination from drilling processes creates problems that destroy the lives of people living in close proximity to oil camps, wells, pumping stations, and pipelines. People living on oil-rich sites around the world are subjected to contamination of drinking water, top soil, and livestock due to toxic pollution that can result from the oil extraction process” (2). In the Niger Delta, pipelines, flow stations crisscross people’s homes and communities. The area is known for farming and fishing; but due to oil drilling and monotonous spillage, the farmlands have become infertile, the fishes and other aquatic life have been wiped out setting up a huge socio-economic gap in the area. Loss of lives as a result of fire accidents from blow out in oil wells and flow stations are well documented, environmental health hazards in the area though not well documented is unavoidably monumental. There are several cases of cancer, kidney failures, respiratory and heart problems, damage to liver, lung, and pancreas are well represented environmental health hazards directly linked to oil contamination in the region.

In view of the various human, social and environmental injustice and violations of local and international standards by the oil companies including Shell, Chevron, ExxonMobil, Agip and others, the Niger Deltans have resorted to all kinds of means to seek redress for the atrocities committed in their communities since the discovery of oil in the early 1960s. Several local and international advocacy, human rights and environmental justice groups, like Friends of the Earth, Social Economic Rights Centre (SERC), Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP), Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) among others have risen to draw attention to the region to bring Shell and other multinational companies to justice to the extent of carrying weapons, almost to no avail.

This project aims to find a broad and inclusive solution to the problem in the Niger Delta. The researcher discovered that most of the efforts of the diverse advocacy and environmental justice groups and movements are largely based on individual gains, selfish interests, ethnic and tribal bias. Some of the groups are mere political fronts. Also, a number of the activists are poorly equipped, lack understanding of the demographics of the area; others have been threatened, assaulted or killed and hence are treading with caution. Consequentially, the struggle for the emancipation of the Niger Delta environmental and health crises have largely failed.

This dissertation proposes that what is lacking in this communities and among the oil producing states is collective action. The Niger Delta people are divided along personal, ethnic and political lines not to mention the magnitude of illiteracy, ignorance, pride, and fetish thinking among majority of the people. According to en.wikipedia.org/wiki/collective_action, the term “is traditionally defined as any action aiming to improve the group’s conditions (such as status or power), which is enacted by a representative of the group.” Thus, except the Niger Delta people agree on all issues relating oil extraction and the justice system it will be far from realising its dream of a environmentally healthy and wealthy status for which it is capable of.

There is power in critical mass; the process has to begin from the grassroots. Environmental health advocates, human rights agencies, civil liberties organisation within and without must work together via re-orientation, seminars, workshops on civil rights and privileges, timely and effective access to information, critical consciousness and education which can be achieved through ecocinema or in conjunction with ecocinema. Once the majority of the people buys into the dream, a positive revolution that will reverse the current status quo like it did in Brazil when Paul Freire developed and applied a method and concept of critical consciousness which ended the culture of silence and inaction that helped the socially dispossessed extricate themselves of internalising negative images of themselves created and propagated by the oppressor (in this case the Federal government and multinational companies) in situations of extreme poverty. By teaching and empowering the people of Niger Delta to read and write literally and read the world around them (politically, socially, intellectually, spiritually, economically and otherwise) to understand and take their appropriate place as a people, the “enviro-socio-health” injustices will be stamped out drastically. The process however will take time but will eventually as it did in Brazil work out great changes.

The same denominator of lack of collective action that faces oil producing Niger Delta faces the struggle against female genital mutilation around the world. Many African and Asian countries attach myths, taboos and other unconfirmed consequences for girls who refuse to be initiated into womanhood through female genital mutilation. Around the world, female genital mutilation or FGM is a common practice that derogates and devalues the girl-child and women generally. WHO fact sheet published recently on its website notes that, “more than 140 girls and women are currently living with the consequences of FGM” which include painful and/or irregular menstruation, pains during intercourse, complications in child bearing, cancer of the cervix and critically maternal and child mortality.

Advocates have tried to convince different groups of the health dangers of FGM, many hang on to their ancestral, religious inclinations and convictions on why it must not be stopped. Even scholars argue that the dangers notwithstanding, FGM should be encouraged. These school of thought even go as far as naming the practice by other names such as female genital surgery, female circumcision, female genital cutting and so on. However, we shall stick with the term FGM.  Another school of thought argue against the practice citing the above environmental health disasters as their basis. Consequent upon the clash of interest, the problem associated with FGM continue spread wide and deep among women around the globe especially in Africa.

The government and especially women should realise that the issue of FGM is particularly dangerous to their future as married women and their children and thus take a common step to end the practice. Again, collective action is the way forward. It is not easy a decision to take. Advocates, human rights organisations and other such related and interested bodies must agree and work closely together to end this barbaric practice and the symptoms that mediate it. Collective action can be taught using the films Erin Brockovich and Moolaade and the result will be outstanding. These two films depicts how collective action works in rural and urban setting achieving the environmental justice for an oppressed population.

 

1.2 Objectives of Study

Environmental health challenges are pervasive in our societies today. They permeate domestic life, industries and every area of human endeavour. Human needs, industrial technologies and greed carry the fermenting seeds of degradation. People in developing countries like Nigeria are unaware of the environmental health disasters they court as a consequence of their carefree attitudes towards the environment. The Microsoft Encarta Encyclopaedia asserts that “with almost 80 percent of the planet covered by oceans, people have long acted as if those bodies of water could serve as limitless dumping ground for wastes.” For instance, Adati Ayuba Kadafa states in his article Oil Exploration and Spillage in the Niger Delta at http://www.iiste.org/ Journals /index.php/CER/article/download/1789/1868&sa.pdf that “An estimated 9 million- 13 million (1.5 million tons) of oil has been spilled in to the Niger Delta ecosystem over the past 50 years; 50 times the estimated volume spilled in Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska 1989.” The thrust of the project is to raise awareness on the causes of environmental health risks, to orient people on the dangers of pollution and environmental degradation, to empower individuals and communities to unite and change their attitudes to their environment instead of waiting for and blaming the government, to use ecocinema as tool for seeking redress for environmental injustices meted out to communities by governments and the corporate world. The researcher believes that ecocinema can be used a potent weapon to combat the spread of environmental health risks. Alachi submits that film, a media of theatre has been recognized as a unique and powerful “form of communication that upholds social expressions and education as a means of fighting social evils and also stimulating development and communal consciousness among the lower classes” (162). Also relating the significance of film in problem solving, Chris Brooks is of the view that:

We must put in our hands the theatre as a gun, as a weapon…I think any weapon is good for defending oneself. But between m.45 and an m.50 (guns) I prefer the m.50. The problem consists of how to make our theatre a weapon potent and effective, with greater fire power (7).

This project is aimed at using ecocinema as a tool for advocacy to address the challenges facing these communities. A plethora of studies carried out have tended to blame government and the manufacturing sector for their corruption and negligence of the environment. The position of this project is that the people aid the system to disenfranchising them by selfishness of individuals, ethnic bias, illiteracy and compromise that brings distrust and disunity. Hence this dissertation projects a paradigm shift from the name calling and sees community participatory development and collective action as a way out of this problem. Although it analyses other films to substantiate its argument, this project is limited to the study of two films Erin Brockovich and Moolaadé and guided by the theories of Paul Friere and Augusto Boal. This project maintains that except there is a change in attitude from the government, the corporations, and individual communities, environmental health risks and injustice will continue to limit the potentials of these communities.

  • Significance of the Study

In recent times, academic research has gone from unilateral disciplinary approach to interdisciplinary, multidisciplinary, intercultural, multicultural and multidimensional quality in order to produce a balanced and holistic approach to problem solving. This thesis seeks such quality by introducing film an artistic or cultural construct as a panacea for medical and sociological catastrophe. The issues treated herein like industrial pollution, environmental injustice and gender discrimination cuts across continents, race, language, age and sex. These are contemporary environmental health issues that need urgent attention in this age where nature is on the verge of near collapse as human induced degradation rages on without any signs of abating.

Most times, the victims of these problems are helpless because the institutions that perpetrate these evil are the elites in government, and wealthy national and multinational private firms indifferent to the plight of the common man whose lives and source of livelihoods are eroded. Channels of communication and redemption are often inaccessible to them and for this very reason, illness, untold suffering and mortality increases. This project is significant and relevant to the point where it encourages individuals and communities to look inwards, unite and forge collective action as a way of seeking justice and accountability from the relevant institutions that perpetuate this act of environmental degradation and injustice rather than being indifferent. It promotes the instrumentality of entertainment education in this case ecocinema as a potent weapon to combat environmental health risks and environmental injustice an area that has not been paid attention to in the academia.

The value of the content of this work to researchers, human rights activists, health workers, academicians, students and lecturers within and outside the art spectrum is monumental as this will help forge greater dynamics and comprehensive problem-solving paradigm with reference to the Millennium Development Goals as well as the agenda of the Federal Government to make Nigeria one of the top economies by 2020.

Filmmakers, directors, theatre artists, students through this project will recognize new frontiers to channel their research and creative faculties as new themes, new methods and concepts are available to them for interpretation and re-interpretation. It is hoped that their horizons will be enriched and enlarged by this research work.

  • Rationale of the Study

The issues raised in this study are contemporary and relevant in a time like this when issues like climate change, global health crisis, human rights abuse, social injustice and discrimination are rife and concurrently threatening man’s existence. It is an urgent clarion call to all and sundry for all hands to be on deck in the task of human liberation from ecological and human rights abuse to a healthy society.

  • Scope of the Study

Environmental health risks is conceptualized as a broad spectrum comprising the resultant effect of environmental abuse and degradation as well as the complications resulting from the social environment and how both of them exists in destroying the health status of humans. We shall limit our focus on the problem of industrial pollution and female genital mutilation. The two films under review are Erin Brockovich and Moolaadé.  The choice of the two films is deliberate as they deal with environmental health risks from the ecological and social viewpoints as well as issues that impede social justice. The films also deal with the role and portrayal of women as agents of change and advocacy.

  • Research Methodology

The researcher employs the historical and literary methodologies in analysing and critically interpretation of this data used in the work. San Ukala in Manual of Research and of Thesis Writing in Theatre Arts states that historical methodology “entails the investigation of documented sources, such as books, journals, reports, films, video and audio tapes, archival materials…as well as oral sources” (12). He explains that this method is used to ascertain facts and occurrences in definite places and time. Literary methodology on the other hand, according to Ukala “focuses on written and printed library and archival sources, especially books, journals, theses, reports, literary works, such as plays, novels and poems” (13). These methods are necessary and were employed in this dissertation because of their relevance to the topic. Since historical materials and published works were consulted and used, it is only natural that the researcher adopts these particular methodologies other than sociological and artistic methodologies whose tools differs from those appropriated in this work. This dissertation analyzed books, films, journals, Newspapers, magazines and internet materials in order to establish and justify the argument of the researcher. The contemporary Modern Language Association (MLA) was employed in acknowledging works cited in the dissertation.

  • Theoretical Framework

In tackling the research problem of this thesis, it is noteworthy that a single linear disciplinary theory of reference may not cover the questions begging for answers. Hence, we must as a matter of necessity situate this research within the configurations of at least two theories. Thus, this research is directed by the compass or theories of Paul Friere (The Pedagogy of the Oppressed) and Augusto Boal (Theatre of the Oppressed). The imperative for adopting these groundbreaking theories is to bring the populace to see their collective problem for what it is and not as a means for self aggrandisement and to help them see one enemy. As long as they saw the corrupt system rife in government and other corroborating agencies as a common enemy, they will realise the need to work together and take action as a unit.

Globally reckoned as the father of education Paulo Friere espoused in his books The Pedagogy of the Oppressed and Education for Critical Consciousness that education needs to be participatory, informal and liberating.  In his review of Friere’s works, theories and practices, Richard Gibson states that:

Friere’s aim is to simultaneously strike four keys in the struggle for social justice: literacy, or as Friere says “the way we read the word and the world”, critical consciousness, the creation of liberation and escalating economic production as people come to understand their surroundings. He links literacy, education, production and social justice; a harmony arising from the interrelationships of the four. I suggest that what is miraculous or promethean in his project is not a singular contribution to any one of these factors in isolation, each of which has been detailed…I believe Friere claims his sense of literacy leads to critical consciousness (1).

Paul Friere as seen in the above was concerned about the large amount of illiterate people in his native Brazil and saw the situation as an impediment to development and a creation of a democratic mentality. He saw that the government capitalised on their weakness to deny them of basic statutory rights and privileges as citizens. Freiere stated his concern and the task that lay ahead of him in his seminal work The Pedagogy of the Oppressed “in 1964, approximately four million school-aged children lacked schools; there were sixteen million illiterates of fourteen years and older” (41). Consequently, he set out to activate a change in that regard, he sought to provide these illiterates with an alternative education system that will take place outside the traditional schools. And through the Adult Education Project of the Popular Culture Movement, Friere through the help of his colleagues instituted:

A new institution of popular culture, a “culture circle”, since among us a school was a traditionally passive concept. Instead of a teacher, we had a coordinator; instead of lectures, dialogue; instead of pupils, group participants; instead of alternating syllabi, a compact programme that were “broken down” and codified into learning units (42).

Pedagogy in Paul’s thinking was more than gaining the ability to read and write. It is for him, the ability of the masses to understand the prevailing oppressive settings in which most of these rural dwellers find themselves and take drastic measures to change their estate through dialogue and social cooperation. Some of the topics covered by this participatory teaching include nationalism, profit, remittances, human rights, and several others. Juma Nyirenda writing at  http://archive.lib.msu.edu believes that “Friere was convinced that learning to read for adults, should be a process in which contents and materials had to have a bearing on their daily reality; and a study of their concrete social reality should lead to a critical awareness of the possibilities for an action and change”( 4). In view of this, we can assert that education and literacy from Friere’s point of view when applied in the Niger Delta and among women struggling with the menace of FGM via ecocinema, their cases can be adequately helped—social and environmental justice can be realised.

Richard Gibson agrees to Nyerinda’s deconstruction of Friere when he elucidates that:

Reading, writing and re-writing is for Friere, a highly charged political process; an act which exposes the designs of the oppressors on the one hand, yet creates and recreates the newly literate on the other. Which means literacy must be driven by particular content. Friere sees the mechanical process of literacy as insufficient. It is not enough to simply decode print; what must be addressed is the relationship of power, signals of reality which are designed to delude or disclose and then to act on that understanding. In addressing mechanical decoding, Friere distinguishes between illiteracy and political illiteracy (18).

Literacy therefore is not a passive state but a liberating force from the shackles of imprisonment both internal and external, private and domestic; from the political, economic and social confines in which the elite (like the multinational companies in the Niger Delta) has reduced the people to puppets and biological robots using them to actualize  their own base desires. So words and invariably knowledge, is built on consciousness already present which is in Friere’s opinion, “…a consequence of men’s beginning to reflect on their capacity for reflection about the world, about their work, about the power to transform the world, about the encounter of consciousness itself, which thereby ceases to be something external and becomes part of them”(81). It is on the basis of self actualization, critical consciousness and participation, that Augusto Boal developed most of his theories of drama.

Augusto Boal began his sojourn in the theatre under the watchful and consummate eyes of John Gassner who equally tutored Tennessee Williams and Arthur Miller. After learning from him the Method Acting of Constantin Stanislavsky and Brecht’s acting techniques, Boal directed a few plays using the duo’s techniques but soon appropriated their acting techniques in his experimental theatre practice. Kee Escamp in his appraisal of the Forum theatre that Augusto Boal invented comments that:

Boal developed a didactic of progressive theatre techniques: experimenting with the use of theatre as rehearsal for social intervention. He viewed theatre as a laboratory and a platform for conscientization, awareness raising and problem solving ‘simultaneous dramaturgy’ was such a dramatic strategy: a combination of participatory propaganda and community generated theatre. ‘Forum theatre’ is another very efficient drama strategy (12).

As Boal worked with rural dwellers appropriating the participatory methods of Paulo Friere in the creation of performance and seeing the impact, he began to oppose what he termed the finished theatre of the bourgeoisie. He saw the precepts in Aristotle’s Poetics as dehumanizing to the audience in that they had no say in the theatre which supposedly is meant to affect their existence. Thus in one of his essays Poetics of the Oppressed, he argues that:

The bourgeoisie already knows what the world is like, their world, and is able to present images of this complete, finished world. The bourgeoisie presents the spectacle. On the other hand, the proletariat and the oppressed classes do not know yet what their world will be like; consequently their theatre will be the rehearsal, not the finished spectacle (254).

Augusto Boal sees the bourgeois theatre as an extension of the political elite’s oppressive policy of excluding and disenfranchising the rural poor from their rights to the means of production, thereby creating poverty and despair among them. Consequently, he used the forum theatre which was influenced by the prevailing circumstances in Brazil, which had just gone through a long period of military dictatorship. He used his forum theatre to preach liberation and nationalism. According to him, “what I believe is that we all should transform society and not abide by it, and not respect it completely” (12). Boal designed forum theatre much like the literacy programme of his friend Paul Freiere where the people can look into the different poor political, social and economic conditions that are starring them in the face, come to terms with these stark realities and using theatre as an interface proffer solutions. Expounding on the intricacies of his techniques, he submits that “one knows how these experiments will begin, but not how they will end, because the spectator is freed from his chains finally acts and becomes a protagonist, because they respond to the real needs of popular audience, they are practised with success and joy” (255). Ken Gewertz a journalist, who watched Boal developed a series of community based performances and workshops in Harvard University, with teachers, students, and community leaders and activists reports thus in the school’s online Gazette at http://news.harvard.edu/gazette/2003/12.11/15-boal.html:

The key to Boal’s theatre is the “spect-actor,” an audience member who is invited onstage to take part in the drama. Working mostly in poor communities, Boal serves as a facilitator to help volunteers create dramas around problems that affect their lives. At the performance, audience members are free not only to comment on the action, but also to step up on stage and play roles of their choice. In doing so, they discover new ways of resolving the dilemmas that the play presents. In follow-up exercises, community members learn how to translate these insights into social action.

Augusto Boal emphasizes the participation of the people for whom the drama or performance is meant for not necessarily only one member of the audience but as much as they are willing to act or ask questions or redirect the progress of the drama they are actually free unlike they are in the finished theatre of the bourgeoisie. He states that, “contrary to the bourgeois code of manners, the people’s code allows and encourages the spectator to ask questions to dialogue, to “participate” (255).

As the decades roll by, one is constantly intrigued by the manifold impact of Augusto Boal’s seminal work both academically and practically as an effective and affective means of social intervention for the rural poor. Theatre for development has spread all over the world as a liberating force and it is gaining deeper grounds as its impact in one community creates a yearning for other communities. In his lifetime, Augusto Boal took his forum theatre to North America, Europe and Asia but not to Africa. However, theatre for development has wormed its way to Africa changing the course of history and all together changing the destinies of the affected communities; this is possible because each community is taught and imbibes the culture of collective action.

There are several theatre groups using theatre for development in Nigeria’s tertiary institutions and beyond to enlighten and empower communities to rise up to face their problems through collective action rather than individual or sectarian attitudes. Ahmadu Bello University Zaria, with the establishment of the ABU Collective is often credited with the professional introduction of community theatre as David Kerr in African Popular Theatre admits:

The ABU Collective was established by experienced expatriate lecturers; Michael Etherton and Brian Crow, and by such committed young Nigerian theatre workers as Salihu Bappa, O. Abah and Tunde Lakoju… The collective was heavily influenced by the concept of ‘rehearsal theatre’, developed by Latin American drama worker and theorist, Augusto Boal. Boal emphasized ‘theatre as a discourse’ where, instead of polished performance presented to a popular audience by an elite cadre of artist, the theatre team actually collaborated with the audience in the creation of drama (161).

Since then, theatre for development has truly become a phenomenon for change in the hands of NGOs, aid agencies and governments who through a deliberate and fluid community based performances has brought desirable changes and enhanced development in these communities. Some critics have argued that film is not as participatory as the applied theatre or TFD because it is a recorded media. Iyorwuse Hagher also bemoans the cost implication of television programming as a barrier to an effective adaptation of TFD to film when he states that:

Another contradiction that has risen in the practice of TFD is the inability of adapting the theatre to media. Perhaps this is due to the prohibitive cost of operating a television or radio media. But more corrective is the fact that a media TFD programme might not be as participatory as required. However, in order for TFD to be more effective, it ought to adjust to television (110).

But we are no more in the 20th century. Today, advanced and innovative technology in media and entertainment has made it possible for even the poorest among us can afford a multimedia mobile device. Cheap cable television has been proliferated in the market. The new digital cinema is possible and cheaper than celluloid used in the former times. Theatre has got to adjust to the trend and through this means pass across community development message. In fact, the community can be brought together and shown films dealing with their situation based on the filmmaker’s research in the community. Such arguments as put forward by Hagher and other critics cannot stand in the light of this blazing fact as further pushed in Zakes Mda’s view:

At times scripted plays are performed to live audience or broadcast over the radio. At others, small format films and videos are used. All these lack elements of popular theatre such as peoples’ participation in creation and performance. However, insofar as they are modes of theatre whose objective is to disseminate developmental messages or to conscientize communities about their objective, social, practical and economic situations, they are modes of theatre for development (48).

From Mda’s words, we understand that film cannot be discounted as a crucial strand in TFD. It is cheap, accessible, comprehensive, reusable and operable. The average filmmaker in Africa understands the potency of the film medium to people’s psyche and employs it rather customarily to suit his goals and the aspirations of the target community as David Kerr notes:

The film maker’s concern with the audience is linked to the very influential role which art has in Africa shaping popular opinion. There is a feeling of responsibility towards the public especially since illiteracy makes the literary means of communication difficult. As Traore puts it, “Cinema in Africa is a social political school. Cinema when there is no means of education in the service of the people can help them become more conscious of themselves” (193).

We have learnt from Kerr and Traore that film, specifically ecocinema is a necessary strategy in the quest for social and environmental advocacy—its use is rather timely and inevitable to say the least.

  • Definitions of key concepts

Ecocinema: is a coinage from two different words eco (pertaining to ecology) and cinema which deals with films collectively. Ecocinema can be surmised as the cinema or films that deal with ecological issues. It is further defined by Scott Macdonald at http://ncadjarmstrong.com/ as a branch of ecocriticism that “actively seeks to inform viewers about, as well as engage their participation in addressing issues of ecological importance, raising awareness, and at times, political action. As decades go by, the need for sustainability in health, livelihood, safety and economic prowess echoes throughout conferences, forums, seminars and workshops as our environment moves towards the brink of extinction as consumption of the natural resources threatens the very capacity of the earth to

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