|Patrick Sawyer (Keppy Ekpeyoung) in '93 Days'. Pic: c/o Bolanle Austen-Peters Productions..
As Nigerians, today, remember Dr Ameyo Stella Adadevoh, a frontline medic who stopped the deadly Ebola disease from spreading in the country, the film that recaptures the tragic story comes as a major memory till date.
Adadevoh (27 October 1956-19 August 2014) led a team of medics that stopped the Liberian index carrier of the Ebola disease, Mr Patrick Sawyer from leaving the First Consultant Medical Centre, located on St Gregory College Road, Obalende, Lagos Island. Adadevoh contracted the disease and died after her team failed to rescue Sawyer, who lost his life on July, 24.
When Sawyer was on admission at First Consultant Medical Centre, sources alleged that the Liberian Embassy in Lagos wanted him released to attend a conference. For insisting that Sawyer must remain in the hospital Adadevoh stopped the high possibility of the patient spreadong Ebola in Lagos, and by extension, across Nigeria.
Till date, the most notable remembrance of Adadevoh's national sacrifice is a film titled '93 Days'. Produced by Bolanle Austen-Peters Production (BAP) and directed by Steve Gukas, '93 Days' came three years ahead of what seemed like a recognition, by Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) of Adadevoh's sacrifice.
In June 29, 2019, Chairman of ECOWAS, President Muhammadu Buhari gave award of Excellence, which was received by Adadevoh's son Bankole Cardoso. Also, a street Amayo Adadevoh Way, Abuja was reported to have been named after the late medical consultant.
Released in November 2016, '93 Days,' while telling a story of how the dreaded Ebola was stopped in Nigeria also comes with the challenge of not leaving key factors out as well as making a compact film. But despite the challenges of selecting what key parts of the real story makes contents of 93 Days...the Ebola film, a proudly Nigerian story of courage is not missing.
As regards late Dr Adadevoh, played by Bimbo Akintola, there is no doubt that the film, in at least two or three scenes establishes her efforts in stopping Patrick Sawyer (Keppy Ekpeyoung) from leaving the First Consultant Hospital, Lagos. Also, her coordination and inspirational efforts of the entire health workers at the hospital is also well enacted. But in creating artistic contents out of these scenes, specifically, heroic strides of Adadevoh, the scenes appear too ordinary. If Gukas was avoiding melodramatising the scenes, I think he also under highlights the fulcrum role of the late doctor in the widely reported battle against Ebola.
Perhaps, compensating for that weakness are the motivational and courageous lines as delivered by Akintola. "We must do it together. Lagos is watching. Nigeria is watching. The whole world is watching," she tells frightened colleagues inside the feverish environment of the hospital.
In coordinating the creative contents of 93 Days, the director, Gukas, seems confronted with the challenge of compactness as the film brings same sides of a coin: so much details enacted as well as certain key events left out.
And after nearly two hours, leading to the end credits scrolling in from the bottom of the screen, 93 Days leaves one wondering if the efforts of Dr Adadevoh in the Ebola battle was exaggerated in real life.
Shown at Toronto Film Festival on September, 16, 2016 and later at cinemas across Nigeria, 93 Days as a straight jacket, historical film is almost spotless, even when viewed through the prism of strictest critique. But within the context of art as essence of filmmaking, irrespective of whether it's a biopic or feature doc, something seems to be missing in 93 Days.
Indeed, using the medium of film to refresh people's memory of a story that happened, almost animatedly, before everyone's eyes — constantly reported by the media just two years ealier — could be a complex one for any filmmaker. Confirming that complexity in 93 Days, is when the film leaves out the key factors of how Lagos State Government constantly released information. As much as compactness is key in telling such story within two hours of digital motion pictures, just one scene where Yemi Shodimu appears as Commissioner for Health, Dr Jide Idris, underplays those crucial parts of government.
In fact, a film about the battle against Ebola in Nigeria, is incomplete without depicting the constant speeches of Mr Babatunde Fashola, the then Governor of Lagos State. Fashola's image in the Ebola battle was similar to that of Mayor of New York, Rudy Giuliani during the 9/11 terror attack that brought the World Trade twin towers to grand zero.
Also, the contribution of the Federal Ministry of Health, is also missing. Specifically, the much acknowledged non-partisan and collective energy from both Lagos state and Federal Governments, which was a key factor, is left out of the film. Even, if 93 Days goes into the real politics of who does what, perhaps, the film would have expanded the argument. Complete silence of these crucial aspects of government deducts from the essence of such a timely film project, particularly within artistic context.
From the point where six health workers of First Consultant Hospital are quarantined, the texture of suspense is chilling.
More noted when expatriate doctor, David Brett-Majors (Alastair Mackenzie) leads Dr Ada Igonoh (Somkele Idhalama) to the ward and tells her: "Take a bed and start fighting." Dr Igonoh actually fights and wins, becoming the first of the quarantined persons to be freed of Ebola.
The power of a film medium is stressed in 93 Days as the battle for population figure of Lagos appears to have been won by those who promote 21 million as against the Federal Government's questionable and unpopular official figure of over 10 million. Constantly, Lagos as a city of 21 million people was mentioned across local and international spaces, in the film.
However, courage as a central and key essence of 93 Days is not lost. Even the making of the film itself, could be described as courageous effort on the part of the entire crew, given the controversy surrounding the concept from the beginning.
Austen-Peters told a select audience how she nearly rejected the idea of making the film when she was approached with the idea. But having been "inspired by Fela on Broadway (the musical)," much earlier, she chose to extend her love for any Nigerian brand to the Ebola film idea.
For Olakurin, 93 Days film teaches two lessons: having people do the right thing as exemplified by Dr Adadevoh who did not allow Sawyer to leave the hospital. He also argued that the film has boosted the image of Nigeria as a nation of filmmaking in the international space, after the film "enjoyed good reviews” abroad.
Also, the Nigerian brand as a factor has been the attraction for the director, Gukas. "I am attracted to things that show the best of Nigeria; 93 Days shows Nigeria in its finest hours," he said ahead if the film's nationwide release.
As much as 93 Days adds to the Nigerian brand as a resilient entity and promotes the depth of creative incendiary abound within the country, there are still spaces for future films on Ebola, perhaps to expand the strength of the creative landscape.
The challenges of merging compactness and art contents in 93 Days not withstanding, the effort of Austen-Peters, Dotun Olakurin, Pemon Rami and Gukas-led production crew intercepts a section of Nollywood mediocrity, that could have rushed to film locations and basterdised subjects of national interest under erroneous claims of making 'epic' film. After 93 Days, whoever is making another film on Ebola knows there is a standard to beat.
However, in FG's delay to profoundly honour Adadevoh, the wide vacuum created by Nigeria's insensitive attitude has been filled by the creative sector.