Director and cinematographer Dom West travels to Nigeria to film the documentary Streets of Lagos – by Slade Phillips
Dom West’s foundations in filmmaking all came from a childhood spent on his skates, and making skate videos with his friends. He is now an award-winning documentary director and cinematographer with Untitled Film Works in Sydney. West owes a lot to the sport and he is now at a point where he can create films that showcase the unknown culture and history of inline skating.
The idea behind Streets of Lagos was to create a short film that shines a light on the up and coming skating scene in Nigeria’s largest city, Lagos. What was once a niche sport that saw widespread participation across the globe in the late 1990s has now emerged as a booming subculture in Nigeria. Originally used as a way to navigate the city’s dense traffic, today, a select few use their skates as a form of self-expression, something which can be hard to find in what is one of the toughest cities in the world.
West connected with one of the local skaters in Lagos through social media and flew there for a week at the end of 2019. “It didn’t sound that great when I told my wife I was going to Nigeria on my own to meet someone I had only spoken to online,” he says. “Fortunately, I feel the skating community around the world is powered by mutual respect and trust. Everything worked out just fine.”
Shooting on the streets of Lagos, however, was stressful to say the least. West had to constantly be on his toes, be ready for anything to happen. “I spent most of my time on my skates, which made me feel slightly safer, but we often found ourselves in tricky situations that involved some form of negotiating to get us out of trouble,” he says. Each shoot location had to be assessed as to whether it was safe due to local gangs or ‘area boys’ that control each suburb.
“The local skaters would often have to pay bribes to the gang leader in order to allow for filming to take place. It’s usually recommended that foreigners travel with armed security in Nigeria due to the high risk of kidnapping, but for the purposes of this film I made the call to travel solo in order to fully immerse myself in the story,” says West.
Given these safety issues of shooting in West Africa and that West was working on his own, he had to keep gear to a minimum. He shot the majority of the film hand-held with a Panasonic GH5 into an Atomos Ninja V, paired with re-housed Soviet-era SLR prime lenses. Using a small camera like this with a stabilised sensor, combined with being on skates, gave West the creative freedom to shoot the story how he wanted.
“Since this project was close to my heart, I chose to handle the entire film through all stages of production including the edit and grade,” he says. “Colour wise, I wanted to keep the image true to reality, maintaining the gritty feel of the streets of Lagos with muted tones.”
The documentary recently received a coveted Staff Pick on Vimeo. But as always with these kinds of projects, West looks back and wishes he had more time on the ground to tell the story in more detail. Travel restrictions has put a lot of West’s projects on hold, so he’s turning his attention to Australia-based stories for the next year or so.
Dom West is known for his work on Netflix’s multi-award winning documentary series ‘Tales By Light’ (2015-2018) with Abraham Joffe ACS, and as director and cinematographer of short film ‘Blue’ (2019).
Slade Phillips is a writer based in Sydney.