What Makes Stories Special

In his book, Writing for Emotional Impact, Hollywood story consultant Karl Iglesias stresses the indulgence of the audience in film. In his words, “The emotional response of the audience is the most paramount and important thing when it comes to storytelling”. A statement packed with the true yet, in certain climes, understated definition of filmmaking.

Simply put, film should be participatory.

Film has transitioned from the nostalgia of unpopular culture to the bliss of popular culture. Film has been with us, lived with us, evolved with us, revolted with us. Film permits us to curate, express and pontificate ideas, culture and, above all else, the human condition.

The best films leave us with veritable questions and/or lucid answers, but never  confused or adrift at sea. The time, money and psychic investment of the audience should be considerably rewarded. Nobody, I repeat, nobody deserves to sit through hours of confused, incoherent, apathetic cinema. Be it within the hallowed four walls of a cinemas hall or in the dark corners of a room on a stormy evening. We (the audience) should be revered as collaborators in this agelong business of emotions.

As emotionally wired beings, we long for films to connect with regardless of genre or sub-genre. Films that pique our philosophy, satisfy our assumptions, assure our decisions or duel our ideologies in combat. Do we wholly agree with the submissions of every filmmaker? No, no, no. The best ones, however, like co-travellers on a journey, pull us in to inspect, admire and appreciate the multiplicity of the human condition.  

Sourcing from a rich pool of films that meet the bill, here are a few (for me) that strike key chords;

In Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy, Frodo, with allies, schemes through the treacherous maze of middle-earth, burdened with a destiny. We empathize with Frodo because that pretty much sums up our life’s journey— a destiny in sight and the pain endured in attaining it.  

Ace Nigerian filmmaker, Akin Omotosho’s The Ghost and the house of truth is a thrilling, compelling drama that probes compromise as a conflicting human trait, especially towards family and loved ones.

Richard Linklater in his Before trilogy presents what I like to describe as, an 18-year plotless romantic anthology of two people coursing through the throes of love, life and everything in between. A love story that painfully and thrillingly understands relationships i.e. its dreary downsides and blissful upsides.  

Kasala! by Ema Edosio mirrors the bedazzled fate of the unemployed Nigerian youth. Ema presents this as a comedy joyride involving four friends who trade the intent, purpose and strength of youth with frolicking and the game of chance.

Wes Anderson in Moonrise Kingdom concocts an audacious instructional material to parents and guardians. The film questions the priority of daring young adults escaping their troubled world. 

The faith-based, supernatural drama, God calling, by BB Sasore elicits the redemptive interest of divinity in scarred humanity. The film bares the persistent struggle with faith, obedience and call to devotion.

The guys at Pixar (a breed of storytelling demigods) have taken this business a notch higher. Their mastery is not just in their storytelling but how they engage the range of human emotions using subhuman elements. From cooking rats in Ratatoulie, to robotic romance in Wall-E, to the exciting, adventurous life of toys in Toy story, to an ant finding its place in the world in Antz… 

The list is endless!

Starve a film of a ‘human’ story and all we get is aesthetics. And aesthetics is what it is – insufficient to curate culture. Film, as long as it stays with us, should be seesaw-like between the maker and the audience. True to its genre and honest to its soul. 

Like a wise man once said “Filmmaking is about sharing what is within your soul”. This statement is insomuch valid in a world littered with pretentious cinema. Conviction and training are as important to the filmmaker as the passion for the craft. If you have to tell story, you have to believe the story. And if you must tell a story, you have to tell it right. As the saying goes “You cannot give what you do not have”. History (recent and past) glamorizes filmmakers who etch their souls onto their films. This honest and sincere offering tickles our fancy and interest, why? They reach out to us in ways exclusive to us.

All things considered, filmmakers and cinema devotees alike, stroke your arcs on the circumference of humanity. If you must study, study. If you must improve, improve. But your endeavour should be to the end that your stories are true and honest. And, with your films, touch humanity in a way filmmaking is at its most effective – PARTICIPATORY.


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