The pandemic is personal: How students from the West Africa MTF Academy hub have been living and learning through the pandemic
There has never been a better time than now to interrogate the future of storytelling and by extension filmmaking. Daphne Atsutse sits right at the heart of this as an emerging filmmaker studying the craft of screenwriting at the MultiChoice Talent Factory (MTF) Academy based in Lagos, Nigeria.
Things however quickly changed in March this year when COVID-19 began to spread in Nigeria and Ghana, locking down countries and forcing the students to leave the academy and adapt to online learning from their respective home countries.
For 26-year-old Ghanaian producer and director Daphne, who currently lives in Lagos, adjusting to online classes wasn’t as easy as expected. “Given that [online learning] is currently the most convenient way to go [at the moment], it doesn’t come without its challenges. A lot of times I was logged out and missed some chunks of the lessons whilst trying to log back on due to bandwidth issues. There is also the problem of power cuts that can go on for days,” Daphne explains.
Paying attention to classes while so much was unfolding around her, from the rising COVID-19 numbers in the continent to the protests over the senseless killings of black people in America, also played a role in the struggle to adjust. The classes are nevertheless keeping her on track. Daphne’s interest in screenwriting was piqued during her university years but was sparked from a much younger age.
“I’ve always loved stories. I’ve loved to read since [childhood], a habit inherited from my dad. And it was always a beautiful experience. I had always wanted to make people see and feel the same, hence writing,” she explains. As one of 20 students representing West Africa’s MTF Academy Class of 2020, she has a rare opportunity to work with some of the best technical and creative minds on the African continent through the academy’s curriculum. Under the guidance of renowned Nigerian film veteran and academy director Femi Odugbemi, the chance could not have come at a better time.
In recent months, a number of film and TV crews have begun re-grouping as lockdown restrictions in their respective countries start to ease. This doesn’t necessarily mean that casting, filming and even film premieres will return to normal. If anything, creatives in the film and TV industries are now entering uncharted waters as they conceptualise a way to continue to tell stories in the middle of a pandemic and afterwards.
It’s also unchartered territory for the current class of MTF students, as a big part of their curriculum is practical - from attending MTF masterclasses led by award-winning writer, director and producer Aderonke Adeola, as well as celebrated film multidisciplinary Tunde Kelani and, to working behind the scenes on some top TV shows such as the hit TV soapie Tinsel, Unbroken and Brethren, as well as at the SuperSport studio set.
“I really cannot see myself doing anything other than writing and directing what I write. Having this really beautiful world assembled in my mind and playing creator just for a minute to bring it to life. That is always great satisfaction even just thinking about it,” says Daphne. Before joining the MTF Academy, she had just completed her national service at an independent commercial media and entertainment company in Ghana. Under her country’s law, all students that graduate from a tertiary institution are required to dedicate one year of national service to Ghana.
For now, however, all the work will have to be done at home and behind digital screens. For some it’s been a chance to refine their current skills or pick up on new ones, but for others like Daphne the work being done has been more on a personal level.
“The pandemic has got me thinking about what this all means for us creatives especially for us whose work almost demands that we [physically] meet to bring our ideas to life. I think it’s going to be quite interesting to see this,” she adds.
Despite the expectations that more time at home would have resulted in more time to create, the pandemic hasn’t been a lightning rod moment for many creatives. For some their ability to create has been painstaking, frustrating and other times it’s been endless. It’s nevertheless been a good time to re-watch, rethink and re-learn, and keep a close eye on how the world will turn out over the next few months.