Gambia’s Film Industry in Focus as ‘Wiri Wiri’ Keeps Tongues Wagging




    Ever since the much talked about Senegalese drama series Wiri Wiri found itself on the pause button, many away from the land of cheb bu jen were left with a tinge of disappointment. Based on the few episodes I happened to watch by default, I understand full well why keen followers of the spellbinding television story here in Banjul felt nostalgic, leaving tongues wagging from the workplace to the market.

    How I can forget about that particular moment when an elderly man in a commercial vehicle had to be reminded on the phone by a certain member of his family not to forget about buying cash power so they would not go without watching the irresistible show Wiri Wiri has become?

    Whether that situation is indicative of the gaps that need plugging in our own creative industry or not, the truth is that the situation has left me with so many unanswered questions. As a matter of fact, I have to make it crystal clear that  music, movies, drama and other facets of entertainment  by their  very nature know no boundary particularly when the story mirrors a society that has virtually little if any significant socio-cultural differences with us here in Banjul.

    At the very heart of Wiri Wiri lies marital dispute, conflict of interest, rivalry, family fued to mention but few. The issues embedded therein are daily life stories that affect you and I. In other words, they do have a spillover effect on us here. That is very much evident by the buzz the show generates any day it’s on TFM. From the pairs of shoes that are seen at my neighbour’s verandah on certain days, you need not be told that it’s Wiri Wiri in town. It echoes memories of the once popular telenovela series called MARIA DE LOS ANGELES. During those black and white TV days, kids and grown-ups alike would brave the dark moving from one house to the other just to have a glimpse of the very charming Maria, her ever sobbing mother Roselinda, the one handed Redamas Basanta, the ruthless Orquidea Cordoba Escalante and co. Nostalgic stuff for those of us who were in our teens in the early 2000s. Episodes of that internationally acclaimed Venezuelan Soap Opera are now in the bygone era.

    Despite the teething problems grappling our local film industry, all hope are not lost. In recent times, the performances that have been taking shape at the Ebunjang Theatre by the new crop of stars offer a glimmer of hope; enough evidence to suggest that we as a country are not bereft of artistic talent.

    In fact, just a couple of days ago, a home-based film on traditional wrestling shot in Kombo Manduar and entitled ”Kan la si” bagged two awards at the Special Movie Awards 2016 whilst a documentary on the Kankurang Masquerade also won a gong at the same event .The two high quality works are the products of a three-month Motion Pictures Arts Certificate Programme MPAC organised by the National Centre for Arts and Culture with the support of UNESCO for twenty-five Gambians in 2015. That cohort of trained filmmakers have since the completion of their course organised themselves into a professional body determined to change the status quo and make their mark on the local film industry.

    Notwithstanding that encouraging development, I can state without a modicum of doubt that the terrain is not without some fundamental downsides. One of the reasons backpedaling The Gambia’s drama/film industry is limited patronage on the part of the public which is further compounded by the fact that professional training programmes for the different players in the film industry come few and far between. This country is blessed with some super smart and highly experienced actors/actresses and directors but how many of them can claim to have their lives changed by their trade as it has been the case in some of the neighbouring countries. Over the years, our veterans have given us a lot but in return they have nothing substantial to show for their strides.

    Admittedly, the issue of quality both in terms of content and logistics remains a challenge for scriptwriters and producers but the elephant in the room is the perennial culture of self-doubt and the reluctance to bankroll movie projects conceived and hatched here on the home front. Unless that is addressed, we will continue to have our eyes firmly transfixed elsewhere at the expense of our own stars.

    I am also of the strongest conviction that  had it not been the deeply entrenched stereotype of branding talented ones amongst us as buffoons, we could as well have in our shores highly gifted comedians capable of brightening our day during stressful moments and happy times equally. No wonder we are spending colossal sums of money on others without necessarily yielding the desired results. As the saying goes, we must think global and act local.

    By Famara Fofana