This film is held by the BFI (ID: 19811).


A study of Northern Nigeria as it prepares for self-government.

The commentator introduces Africa as the 'continent of the future' before he outlines, through a map, the different regions of Nigeria. First, the film highlights the continuing traditions of Northern Nigeria. Men travel on camels, while at the market a snake charmer performs while women cook food. 'Old native hand industries are very much in evidence', most notably in the production of jewellery and glass. At the industries in Bida, the commentator explains how the region's government is 'reconciling' modern production methods with traditional skills. In particular, the film shows the training centres established by the government, for example at Abuja, where preference is given to 'traditional native potters'.

Further traditional industries are represented by the dye pits of Kano, and weaving. This is followed by footage of a big new textile plant 'established by the Northern region development corporation together with a famous British firm'. The commentator notes that 'the workers are nearly all Nigerian', and this is also the case at the canvas and rubber shoe factory in Kano, which uses 'homegrown rubber from Western Nigeria'. Next the film shows the manufacture of tinned food and bottles, highlighting how 'mechanised industry is more and more becoming a part of modern industrialised Nigeria'. Sweets and cosmetics are also produced, yet nuts remain the single biggest industry. After further shots of industrial production, the commentator emphasises the continuing importance of agriculture, through shots of the Fulani tribe.

The film next highlights the efforts of the government in controlling disease and in improving health care. An African doctor administers medicine while a local nurse looks after a baby. This leads to a section on education, showing the efforts made for both Muslim and Christian children. Scenes from a higher education college follow, followed by footage of 'mock meetings' conducted by the Institute of Administration in order to train members of district and village councils. It attempts here to explain how government works, showing the district council in operation. This is followed by scenes of dancing, music and sport. It concludes with a 'Sallah' - a traditional festival and celebration - and a regatta. Finally, a compilation of scenes reinforces the film's messages. 'The foundations have been well laid by other older hands. The people of Northern Nigeria face the future with confidence, knowing that with the natural resources of the land and by their own efforts they can justify the proud title of Giant in the Sun'.



In May 1959 West African Review wrote at length about Giant in the Sun. While highly praising the film – ‘the film has been generally acknowledged to be the finest example of superb colour filming yet to come out of Africa’ – it also outlined aspects of the film’s production history. It noted the role of the London-based production company, Victor M. Gover and Co., which as well as assisting ‘the local units in many ways’, also ‘makes special films at the request of the various governments concerned, of which “Giant in the Sun” was one’ (West African Review, May 1959, 384). An earlier report had explained that regional self-government was to be marked by the ‘world-wide issue’ of colour films about Northern Nigeria, such as Giant in the Sun, and stated that these were produced by a ‘British team assisted by Regional Information Service men’ (West African Review, January 1959, 26).

Giant in the Sun was directed by Sydney Samuelson, now a well-known name and established figure within the British film industry. Samuelson had founded Samuelson Film Service in 1955, which would become the largest film equipment rental service in the world, but he had also previously worked for the Nigerian Film Unit on some of their earliest productions, such as Smallpox (1950). He therefore had some experience of filming within Nigeria, although the production here was on a larger scale. For example, the Sallah spectacle in Katsina Town, involving 900 charging horsemen, camels, drummers, trumpeters, and thousands of spectators was specially staged, under the direction of the Emir, for the film. Samuelson described this staged event, which was intended ‘to show the world the colour of Northern Nigeria’, as ‘the most spectacular thing’ he had seen in his career (West African Review, January 1959, 26). He further explained that ‘the film (together with another “Our Land and People” to be shown soon) was shot in just over nine weeks’, during which time, ‘the team travelled about 10,000 miles, 6,000 of which were by road’ (West African Review, May 1959, 384).

The report in West African Review noted that the film ‘is delighting Northerners’, but that it would also soon be seen ‘on a British circuit’. Film historian Brian Larkin offers further insights into the film’s distribution. He explained that the film was a shortened version of the aforementioned Our Land our People, and noted that while it belongs to a ‘genre of films that seems aimed at introducing Northern Nigeria to an unfamiliar expatriate audience’ its main use was for ‘domestic consumption at mobile cinema shows’ (Larkin, 2008, 101). The film did though also play internationally. It was released in Britain in the autumn of 1959, but had been screened earlier at a party in London given by the Commissioner, Alhaji Abdulmaliki, on the eve of self-government before a group of 600 people associated with Nigeria (West African Review, May 1959, 343). The film was also advertised for hire from libraries across America and amongst its public screenings was a performance at the Washington County Museum in 1966 as part of a series relating to Africa intended for younger audiences (Hagerstown Daily Mail, 10 November 1966, 8). Film News, published by the Educational Film Library association in America, commented that ‘it is a fine thing about this film that, though made by the British as a report of accomplishment over the years of Britain’s protectorate, its approach is not “see what we have done,” but rather, the Nigerians have done this to prepare themselves for independence and membership in the Commonwealth’ (Film News, 1960, 18). In Britain, Kinematograph Weekly praised it as an ‘informative and interesting study of the way Northern Nigeria is being groomed for self-government’ (KW, 1 October 1959).

Northern Nigeria attained self-government on 15 March 1959, following the Western and Eastern regions which had achieved this in 1957. As well as producing and sponsoring films, the Northern Nigerian Information Service marked the occasion with the publication of an illustrated history of the region also entitled Giant in the Sun. The book features images from the film, references the same events and industries – indeed it opens with a description of the Sallah - and emphasises the industrial and social development within the region. It contains a foreword by the Governor, Sir Gawain Westray Bell, in which he praises ‘the British gift for empiricism and improvisation’ and notes ‘the trust and friendship which over half a century has held European and African in a common bond – a bond which is not to be severed at Self-Government’. The book praises the historical role of the British and concludes that ‘self-government will not bring any lessening of friendship between the North and its old masters’ (Baxter, 1959, 5, 62).



An accomplished colour documentary, Giant in the Sun was released to mark the Northern Region’s attainment of self-government in 1959. Yet, while the film played initially – and according to Brian Larkin, predominantly – to local audiences, it would certainly appear to address an overseas audience. The commentator relates Nigerian life to Britain – ‘as in Britain, the system is one of decentralisation’ – and identifies not with the locals, but with the foreign viewer, as he states that ‘to western eyes, perhaps the rules seem strange’. Furthermore, the film celebrates the historical role of the British in the industrial and social development of Nigeria, indicating, without any sense of the historical dissension between Britain and Nigeria, the ways in which Britain has helped pave the way for Nigeria’s move towards ‘full nationhood’.

Giant in the Sun serves as an example of an industrial process film, presented within an imperial context. In particular, the scenes of traditional and mechanised industry are used to represent the broader development of the region as it moves towards self-government. Brian Larkin argued that the industrial images do not serve ‘to reveal information’ but rather ‘spectacularize through the repetition of surface details’. ‘Cumulatively they create a visual mantra’, he added, ‘tying the construction of industry and infrastructure to the politics of national development’ (Larkin, 2008, 102). This association between industry and national development is further emphasised through the commentary, which defines Nigeria through industry – ‘mechanised industry is more and more becoming a part of modern Nigeria’ – and which highlights the role of the regional government in creating a new national identity that acknowledges both the traditional (‘ancient skills’) and the modern. The commentator explains that the Northern Region’s government is ‘reconciling…modern production methods with the older skills’, and these modern methods and industries are largely credited to the British (and ‘British firms’) working closely with the regional government. Industry is a signifier of national growth, and the conclusion once more emphasises the British role in these developments as, over shots of modern industry, the commentator explains that Nigeria is moving towards ‘full nationhood within the British Commonwealth’.

Although the film represents modern Nigeria through these industrial sequences, it also emphasises the prominent role religion plays within this modern society. It shows both Muslim and Christian celebrations and states that ‘complete religious toleration is enjoyed’. Larkin refers here to the ‘utopian ideal of a modern, yet still religious, Northern Nigeria’ (Larkin, 2008, 101). It also highlights the social advances within Nigeria, in health, agriculture, and education, showing African doctors and nurses, but also British educationalists. This confluence of British and Nigerian influences is further illustrated in a staged sequence, in which the British Governor asks the Premier to explain new legislation. This serves as an example of the drive to ‘Nigerianise the regional government’ and illustrates, with full independence just over a year away, the move towards an increasingly self-determined Nigeria (‘More and more jobs are being filled by Nigerians’). The film celebrates the historical role of the British within this process and in presenting these collaborative historical developments, promotes an ongoing relationship between Britain and Nigeria within the Commonwealth.

Tom Rice (April 2009)


Works Cited

Baxter, Ronald, Giant in the Sun: The Story of Northern Nigeria which Becomes a Self-Governing Region on March 15, 1959 (London and Tonbridge: Brown Knight and Truscott Ltd, 1959).

‘African Life is Focus for `Youth Series’, Daily Mail (Hagerstown), 10 November 1966, 8.

Film News (New York, 1960), 18.

‘Giant in the Sun’, Kinematograph Weekly, 1 October 1959.

Larkin, Brian, Signal and Noise: Media, Infrastructure, and Urban Culture in Nigeria (Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 2008).

‘Adirondack Library System Ready to Circulate New Films’, Times Record (Troy, NY), March 28 1962, 24.

‘Katsina’s “Sallah” Film’, West African Review, January 1959, 26.

‘Self-Government Day in North’, West African Review, May 1959, 342-343.

‘Giant in the Sun: Mercedes McKay’s London Diary’, West African Review, May 1959, 384. 




Technical Data

Running Time:
18 minutes
Film Gauge (Format):
35mm Film
Colour (Eastmancolor)
1870 ft

Production Credits

Production Countries:
Sound Recording
Northern Nigerian Information Service
BOWDEN, Dennis
GOULD, Terry
Production Company
Victor M. Gover
Technical Assistant
SONG, Abdullah







Production Organisations