Most people don’t know a lot about recent Nigerian history. In a way, Jide Tom Akinleminu‘s When a farm goes aflame find a parallels in that wall of not knowing things. And he finds it about the people he loves. Much of his documentary is an epistolary one. Sometimes, his mother Grete or Titi writes to her parents. At others, her father Akin writes to Grete, Jide, and the rest of the family. One of the former letters talk about the contract killings in Nigeria during the 1990s. This led her to decide to take herself and her kids back to her homeland of Denmark. The documentary shows that she is one of a few Danish women who married Nigerians and moved to Nigeria. Which, hold up, wait a minute, how did these people end up meeting in the first place?
When a farm goes aflame, at this point, seems like it misses a lot of missed opportunities to explain two points of Nigerian history that, according to my light research, isn’t official ‘history’ yet but can be. But there may also be reasons why Jide made the documentary we ended up with. First, this serves as an unofficial sequel to Jide’s previous film, Portrait of a Lone Farmer, which may have covered that history already. Second, it’s admirable that Jide chose to tell a more personal story. A story of those letters back in the 90s, and whether or not Titi wants to look back at that past even while getting a cancer diagnosis. And if viewers can pick up anything historical or sociolopolitical within the frame, good on both him and us.
When a farm goes aflame also is capable of capturing and sublimating emotions that few documentaries are able to. There’s a lot of history that I wrote and deleted. But the short end of it is that Jide has a few half brothers from Akin’s side. Jide finds one of his half brothers, Bunmi. And Akin gives him an ultimatum that if he talks to Bunmi, he will disown Jide. Jide follows that audio conversation with a shot of Bunmi. I, of couse find, the humour in this, but the encounter steers back to the tragedy side of tragicomic when the half-brother tells Jide about the former’s chronology of events. A story like this may seem navel gaze-y under other hands, but the revelations here are truly shocking without being exploitative.
Watch When a farm goes aflame on OVID.
- Rated: NR
- Genre: Documentary
- Directed by: Jide Tom Akinleminu
- Studio: Film Five