Review by Joseph Bibby
Living among detritus and struggling through the days, families across poverty-stricken areas of Nigeria try to make the best future they can for their children, but in such unforgiving situations the talents of their young are too easily buried, and their dreams forgotten. Abimbola OGunsanyo’s ‘I’m Talented’ is a requiem to dreams, set against Nigeria’s economic troubles.
The documentary follows the aspirations of talented children growing up in destitute environments; focusing on such a universal and touching foundation as the dreams of naive children, in order to express the impact of the nation’s economy on its citizens. While this focus does over-simplify the problem of poverty in Nigeria it creates a deeper sense of empathy, interpreting the issue through innocent eyes, and allowing the audience to recognise the tragic hope of the children who fight to keep their aspirations alive with a seemingly oblivious optimism.
OGunsanyo avoids dramatisation, leaving the stories to be told anecdotally through the interviews, and while this does limit the scope of communication the film feels more personal for it, relying on the subjects’ delivery to illustrate the emotional significance. While at times the interviews seem as though they are treading water, the subjects are more than capable of showing the despair and anger that are born from their situations, as well as the strong sense of hope that shines through in the young talents.
Similarly to the storytelling, the visual style takes a very simplistic approach, focussing mainly on capturing the subjects through tight close-ups. This works well, but considering its short running-time the film never fully takes a moment to explore its surroundings and examine the derelict Nigerian landscape in its full beauty. It is possible that this is a conscious effort to avoid any embellishment of the story, as the film is set in juxtaposition to the extravagant and exaggerated ideals of western culture.
One of the young subjects dreams of performing on Nigerian Idol, and her visit to one of the highly stylised shows contrasts significantly with the rest of the film’s bleak setting. There is a an evident clash between the idealistic world presented in the media, and the reality that she finds herself in, and it is a potent conflict that highlights the misfortune of those living in poverty.
Having said this, there is still beauty present in simple and pure forms, with the singing and dancing talents of the children being shown at length: seeing a young man smiling and kicking up dust as he dances barefoot for a crowd is both visually striking and emotionally charged.
This isn’t a film that will teach you about Nigeria’s economic turbulence, but rather it is an unpretentious cross-section of life in conditions unthinkable to most, that has a simple and affecting principle at its heart. OGunsanyo aims for simplicity and plays to its strengths, creating a poignant portrait of impoverished life that is both saturated with anguish and glowing with hope.