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With ’76, Nigerian Army Enters Nollywood

BY ESE DIBEBI

Moviedom in Nigeria awaits the premiere of a game-changing film rooted in the events of the botched 1976 coup. One of the most arduous tasks in the production of the movie, according to its Executive Director, Prince Tonye Princewill, was the effort to secure a working relationship with the Nigerian Army.

Meticulously executed, the pre-production period took two years including eight months of trying to secure all necessary permission from the Nigerian Army and seven months of shooting. The script was scrutinized and an officer appointed to supervise and monitor each step of the filming process, from beginning to the end.

The movie survived three Chiefs of Army Staff. Fortunately, each one of them who took over sustained interest in the film. Determined to make it work, the production crew and cast patiently followed every instruction and met every demand from the military authorities.

A large part of the action was shot at the Mokola Barracks in Ibadan, Oyo State. As the 200-member cast and crew stayed together for about seven months, bonding as a family was inevitable. Some of the striking human interest events that happened in the course of production were birthdays, weddings and passages. Chidi Mokeme and Debo Oguns, literarily got married on set (they just excused themselves for the weekend of their marriage and came right back to work, after the ceremony).

Princewill thinks ’76 is watershed of sorts in Nollywood, being the first time the Nigerian Army would encourage that level of involvement in a movie that comments on military history and an epoch in the Nigerian Army. Having opened the door, he is sure the imagination of other movie makers would be fired to follow the precedence of ’76.

’76 followed a painstaking process uncommon in Nollywood. “It took seven years to make this movie. We were not in a hurry at all. We avoided all the errors possible because we set our mind on a global audience from the first day. For close to one year, we were pursuing approval from the authorities of the Nigerian Army. The movie was shot at Mokola Barracks in Ibadan and the story of how the actors were made to fit into the environment should be reserved for another day.

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“At the end of the day, some of them had become so used to the character set in 1976 that it was difficult to bring them back to the present. Set designer, Pat Nebo, who also acted in the film did a marvelous job on set. You can see a One Naira note without it being copiously displayed. The table utensils, the walls, the cars were all set in 1976. This was not easy to achieve, but we did not settle for a substitute. For instance, it was difficult to get a 1976 Black Maria, but we persevered and finally we were able to get it.”

The big budget movie which costs about N100 million promises to earn more accolades for Izu Ojukwu as director. The award-winning director is known for his work in flicks like Mirror Boy and Last Flight to Abuja.

’76 features layers of sub-themes revolving on hope, honesty, trust and undying commitment which run like strong under-currents to highlight the tragic end of the main characters. ’76 is a love story that challenges the myopia of ethnicity and bigotry. It brings to the fore the suffering and tenacity of the average Nigerian woman-mother and wife.

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This is one movie, Princewill bets, that will generate different emotions not only because it is based on reality, but also for its careful combination of acted scenes with real life footage and archival material.

“At the end of the movie when the coupists were about to be executed at the Bar Beach in Lagos, we moved from a shot scene to a real life scene of when they are being executed. These were some of the tweaks done to give it more authenticity. We actually showed them being executed. We linked a shot scene that was acted to what actually happened. We delivered a smooth transition.”

’76 is the story of a young officer from the Middle Belt who gets into a romantic relationship with an O-level student from the South-eastern region. However, their relationship is strained by constant military postings. The soldier gets accused of being involved in the 1976 unsuccessful military coup and assassination of Nigeria’s late Head of State General Murtala Mohammed; and the heavily pregnant wife, gets entangled in an emotional dilemma.

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