Getting a close-up on the disabled
VETERAN REPORTERS KNOW that the best stories are discovered, not created. Really interesting story ideas emerge in the course of closely observing life and simply letting one's curiosity lead.
Africa Film Project (AFP) 2011 student Richard Ihediwa's latest documentary "Abandoned", which deals with the distress of being disabled in Nigeria, is a perfect example of this process.
"I come across the young men on the rollers virtually every day as they beg along the route I take to work," Ihediwa told TMP. "Once in a while I stop to give them some alms."
These "rollers", Ihediwa's documentary explains, are young men unable to walk and who get around seated on skateboard-like devices, paddling with their hands into traffic to beg. They are just one rather noticeable segment of Nigeria's large, mostly invisible, disabled population.
Ihediwa remarked that he has many disabled friends, and watching how society ignores them started Richard thinking about doing this story. Despite the large numbers of disabled in Nigeria, public buildings remain almost completely inaccessible for wheelchairs. Ihediwa noted that Nigeria is currently considering legislation, the Disability Care Bill, that could improve conditions for the disabled.
With his access to disabled individuals, such as his neighbor Hajia Aisha who appears in the documentary using a tricycle for mobility, Richard was able to find good sources for this story without having to travel far from his base.
Richard's personal connections to sources helped him avoid the cynicism that sometimes thwarts reporters and aspiring documentary journalists in Africa. Past AFP students have pointed out that African sources will often demand money for their interviews or will behave unnaturally when on camera.
Ihediwa met some resistance with new sources, but was still able to get the shots he wanted.
"Some of the boys on the rollers did not mind being recorded while they begged, but they refused to grant me an interview," Richard said.
"None of them requested money" he added. "However, they complained that some people have come in the past to take their photographs with promises to use them to help to raise funds for them, but never showed up again."
The roller boys told Ihediwa they believe journalists use their images to earn money for themselves, but Richard was able to convince the boys to participate by pointing out that his documentary would very likely gain the government's attention.
Another key voice in "Abandoned" is Sam, who is university educated and gainfully employed. Far from being suspicious of Richard's motives, Sam was anxious for the world to hear the sorts of challenges he faces every day getting around in his wheelchair.
"I did not find it hard to convince Sam to grant an interview," Ihediwa said.