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'The Supreme Price': Film Review

The Supreme Price - H 2014
Photographs by Joanna Lipper from the documentary film The Supreme Price

The Bottom Line

Stories of courage and righteous causes propel a good-looking doc.

Venue

Human Rights Watch Film Festival

Director

Joanna Lipper

Joanna Lipper introduces a second-generation pro-democracy activist in Nigeria.

In 1993, after years of military rule, Nigerians elected M.K.O. Abiola president. But he never took office—the election was nullified by the military, Abiola was eventually imprisoned and one of his four wives, Kudirat, took his place as a champion of democracy and women's rights. Soon, she was assassinated. Pairing this history with the present-day efforts of the couple's eloquent daughter Hafsat Abiola, Joanna Lipper's The Supreme Price takes viewers to a country where working for human rights comes with the very real possibility of losing one's life. Though it doesn't answer every question it raises and may occasionally confuse the uninitiated, the polished film easily stirs indignation and will be welcomed in educational venues.

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Though she is just one of scores of children the would-be president fathered with his wives and many mistresses (the film doesn't sugarcoat his relationship to the women who depended on him), Hafsat makes an obvious point of entry to the family's career in public service: After living abroad for many years, she left her own husband and children to return to the family compound and work for reform.

In bouncing between the causes Hafsat supports today and the related campaigns her parents waged in the '90s, Lipper isn't always clear enough for viewers who have no knowledge of the nation's history. Crucial turning points—like Kudirat's efforts to rally world support for her jailed husband—are clearly drawn, but we miss some context that viewers doing post-film reading may wish Lipper had explored.

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To be fair, the film has an awful lot of ground to cover, as 75 minutes aren't really adequate to tell the stories of three individuals, summarize Nigeria's political history, assess the global importance of its oil reserves and look to the future. And that's before we interview others in the Abiola family, where at least one of Hafsat's brothers is sufficiently conservative that he would oppose her hypothetically running for president on religious grounds. In the end, The Supreme Price works best as an introduction, stirring the curiosity of Westerners who likely hear little about Nigerian politics on the news, despite the country's vast (misallocated) wealth and importance to global trade.

Production company: Vertunmus Productions

Director-producer: Joanna Lipper

Directors of photography: Richard Sands, Joanna Lipper, Lisa Rinzler

Editors: Geoff Richman, Tina Grapenthin, Ali Muney

Music: Nathan Larson

No rating, 75 minutes