'Suffering and Smiling' Movie: Dan Ollman

Suffering and Smiling by Dan Ollman

The mass suffering of the people of Africa has long been ignored by more affluent governments elsewhere. This neglect is compounded by the fact that much of that affluence has come from plundering the natural resources of the African continent – with little thanks or reimbursement to the people who live there.

Dan Ollman's atmospheric Suffering and Smiling highlights the situation in Nigeria. Lone voices cry out against the injustices suffered by the general population while the country's rulers maintain a culture of corruption, self-gratification, and ruthless domination of the people they purport to serve.

Suffering and Smiling takes an unusual approach to the problem, as the vitality of at least one segment of Nigeria's cultural history is expressed in the film through the words of African singer and activist Fela Anikulapo Kuti, who started singing about Nigeria's problems following the country's independence in 1960, his son Femi, and their family. Yet, although much of the local population revel in the drive of the music they seemingly accept their situation, taking no action to improve their lot.

On the other hand, Suffering and Smiling also shows that many Nigerians are deeply concerned with the country's sociopolitical situation, and are committed to bringing that issue out into the open regardless of the dangers involved.

The film's music is particularly effective. With its unique lyrics (that defy “classical” musical structure), the singers and their fellow musicians manage to express their strongest views on Nigeria's political climate with unequivocal clarity. The subtitles – even if at times unnecessary – never impinge on the effectiveness of the message and, in fact, complement it quite well. (The 65-minute documentary has dialogue in English and Yoruba.)

The shrine built in memory of Fela (who died in 1997) is an important symbol demonstrating that at least one small group of Nigerians is willing to commit themselves to help that country's disenfranchised majority.

Suffering and Smiling is presented as part of London's Human Rights Watch International Film Festival from March 21-30. It will be screened on Saturday, 24 March at 19:00 at Clapham, and on Wednesday, 28 March at 21:00 at the Ritzy cinema Brixton 08707 550062.

© Rosemary Westwell

Suffering and Smiling (2006). Dir.: Dan Ollman.

Arts Critic Rosemary Westwell has written for several publications, including “The Independent” and “Musical Opinion.”

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  1. Sam says:

    I´m very interested abaut this. I have a question…please, could write me the letter of this Fela Anikulapo Kuti´s song? suffering and smiling? thanks.