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Archive for the ‘Ma’ami’ Category

Over the weekend, Tunde Kelani and his dedicated crew completed their 170th slate. And with many more characters and scenarios to shoot, the production of Dazzling Mirage is not even yet on the home stretch. This gives you an idea of how many minute fragments it takes to compose a feature-length film. As each “slate” identifies a new camera position, a new angle from which to gaze on the action of the scene, you can also get a sense of how much time is involved in capturing these small fragments. In the past, Nollywood producers could not afford to take the time on set necessary to shoot a scene in such detail, which gave early Nollywood films their characteristically slow pace: long takes with lots of dialogue. Kelani, on the other hand, who was trained as a cinematographer, has always had a particular appreciation for storytelling through image making.

Kelani adjusts the settings on the monitor, checks composition and lighting. © Connor Ryan

Kelani adjusts the settings on the monitor, checks composition and lighting. © Connor Ryan

A cast with notoriety: Lala Akindoju, Taiwo Ajai Lycett, Bimbo Manuel. (And Bisola Ojo - continuity.) © Connor Ryan

A cast with notoriety: Lala Akindoju, Taiwo Ajai Lycett, Bimbo Manuel. (And Bisola Ojo – continuity.) © Connor Ryan

Dazzling Mirage - Sarafa Abagun

Cinematographer Sarafa Abagun changes the lens before second take. (Seun, Sarafa, Jelili, Kelani.) © Connor Ryan

Sarafa Abagun, pictured above, got his start as an assistant cameraman at Nigerian Television Authority (NTA) in 1979, almost three years after Kelani had become a cameraman for the nation’s only television station at the time. In 1995, Sarafa left NTA to freelance on commercial advertisements and to work with Kelani’s Mainframe Studios shooting footage for BBC and Reuters. I asked how shooting for a film like Dazzling Mirage differs from shooting an advertisement. As it turns out, there is no difference. In terms of capturing a particular style of image and using a certain set of standard shots, the film “language” is the same, as Sarafa put it.

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I would like to thank culture journalist Derin Ajao for her very comprehensive profile of my work in the Daily Times last week, the publication of which marked more than 18 months since I first set foot in Nollywood. As I begin a new job next week, it seems to be the right time to retire this blog.  I hope that FindingNollywood.com continues to serve as a resource and a discussion platform for Nigerian cinema enthusiasts in the years to come.


A Nollywood adventure
Fulbright Scholar and film researcher Bic Leu talks to Aderinsola Ajao about finding and loving Nollywood.

ARTICLE | MARCH 2, 2012 – 6:21AM | BY ADERINSOLA AJAO

Stumbling on a Nigerian movie in Ghana set Bic Leu on an exploration to Nollywood. For the young American studying abroad, the films she saw back in 2005 would leave a lasting impression on her even after her graduation from Tufts University, where she studied Art History, Business and African Studies. The economic recession and a stint at the New York-based Museum of Modern Art would seal the inevitable return to Africa; this time to Nigeria, to find out more about the booming film industry.

“From what I knew of Nollywood, it was started by Nigerian entrepreneurs without any government support or any kind of international aid, or any type of formal sector intervention. I thought that was fascinating and I was just wondering at that moment – about 2008, 2009 – why it wasn’t getting the international recognition that it deserved. I really (wanted) to explore that more as an alternative mode of development and to move away from that traditional aid model and towards more sustainable market initiative,” Leu said.

Applying for and receiving a Fulbright grant was, for her, “the perfect way” to realise that dream. Leu hailed her mentors at Tufts as being “very knowledgeable” about Nigerian film and providing her with helpful information prior to her departure. With everything else in place, Leu contacted Duro Oni, Theatre Arts Professor and Dean, Faculty of Arts at the University of Lagos, who agreed to sponsor her.

TOUCHDOWN

In September 2010, Bic Leu arrived in Nigeria and Mission: Nollywood was well on its way.  “It was so much more than I expected,” enthused Leu, whose Nollywood adventure is recorded on the weblog ‘FindingNollywood.com’. “When I landed in Lagos, I didn’t know anybody. I was here because of that curiosity, that passion to discover how the film industry works. ‘I don’t actually have any plans in place! What am I going to do?!’” she thought.

It however proved a smooth ride for the inquisitive scholar as she was easily accepted on film sets. “The practitioners are so open to outsiders coming in and learning about it. The level of hospitality that I’ve been shown has been really overwhelming. I can’t go to Hollywood and knock on Stephen Spielberg’s door and say “Hi, I’m Bic, I’m a scholar and I would like to follow your set for a couple of weeks. I probably won’t even get that far; I’d probably meet with the assistant to an assistant to an assistant…” joked Leu.

Within two weeks of her arrival, Leu was in touch with Nollywood scholar and professor, Onookome Okome, who was doing a sabbatical at the Pan African University in Lagos. Okome linked her up with ace filmmaker, Tunde Kelani, who was then shooting Maami. “That was a great start,” said Leu, of her first location visit. “Once you got on TK’s set… everybody’s so connected and open, so willing to introduce you to their colleagues.” From Kelani’s set, she moved to Funke Akindele’s Jenifa set, to Emem Isong’s and Desmond Elliot’s for Kiss and Tell and to Daniel Ademinokan’s for the DaGrin biopic, Ghetto Dreamz, getting the chance to observe, interview and record as the months passed by. “That was such a great introduction to the film industry,” Leu reminisced. Her exploits on these sets were not limited to research though. Her presence incurred a few acting roles: a spot in the Jenifa trailer, her hair makes an appearance somewhere in Ghetto Dreamz and, “I believe my wakapass in Maami is on the cutting room floor somewhere,” Leu said.

IMPROVING NOLLYWOOD

Work on these sets was also very professional and punctuality was not to be messed with, she said. Leu initially thought it was “complicated” for Elliot and Isong to be shooting two films simultaneously. That impression soon changed. “In reality it was like this machine; some days we pumped out like 40 scenes a day, which is insane. And it worked!” This time it sounded like a confident boast.

For Leu, the productions she tracked were far better than her first Nollywood encounter in Ghana back in 2005. “This is much better. When I came on TK’s set, he was very excited about mounting a RED camera, which allowed him to shoot digital images that were indistinguishable from celluloid pictures and of course at a much cheaper cost and much more accessible in post-production.” It was an epiphany. “That was when I realised that this is really not the Nollywood of the low-budget production: the guerrilla filmmaking that I’d been reading of. This is really the start of this revolution to increase capacity in the industry and look at different re-distribution methods.”

With the conversation tilting towards distribution, the issue of piracy reared its head. “In terms of distribution, I think the way a lot of filmmakers have been able to tackle that is through cinema-only release,” Leu replied, referencing the newfound love for premieres and cinema screenings. “As soon as they release their films straight to DVD then the pirates will illegally duplicate them.”

More cinemas will lead to better quality films; a standard that will help the industry’s international image and also boost employment, Leu argued. In her words, Akindele’s intention to upgrade production quality influenced the hiring of DJ Tee as director on the third Jenifa installment. “She really wanted to improve her production value, show at cinemas and probably at film festivals. The downside to this is that there really aren’t that many cinemas in Nigeria. I think maybe nine or ten, and for a population of a hundred and fifty million people; that doesn’t cover the demand that’s out there and also the cost of access.

ALL GOOD IN NOLLYWOOD

Despite the many challenges on film locations, I couldn’t resist asking if Leu and her research questions didn’t end up an unnecessary nuisance for the cast and crew.

“I would just wait in between takes,” she said. “Basically I tried really hard not to be a distraction.” Working out what times would best be suited for questions also helped. “100% of the time they were super happy to enlighten me about what was going on in between takes,” Leu said gleefully.

A number of things stand out for her, especially the on-set professionalism and quality of output in Nollywood in spite of the same challenges referred to earlier. “What stood out to me was that in spite of the challenges of filming in Nigeria, the cast and crew just really bound together to make it work. My few challenges were pretty standard throughout all of the productions,” she said, listing disruptions from area boys, extra-long scenes, generators and corrupt district officials as challenges unique to Nigeria’s film sector. “For them to exist here and for us to be one of the most productive film industries in the world, that’s absolutely fascinating to me. (The practitioners) not only surpass them but also produce such work that captures the imagination in Nigeria and anywhere else.”

For a much-disparaged industry, Leu’s praise for Nollywood is hugely encouraging. She defends the industry even in relation to other African films, especially at festivals like FESPACO.

“The more I saw of FESPACO; obviously the African films that were shown were very different from the Nollywood films that were shown. In terms of production quality, their history is very different than in the Nollywood films. They showed like maybe three Nigerian films (at FESPACO); Kunle Afolayan’s film (The Figurine) was the only one I watched and didn’t fall asleep,” Leu said with a short laugh.

“I feel like (the films’ improved quality) really speaks to the level of audience engagement that Nollywood has been able to cultivate. Everybody has this mindset that they’ve really come up with a few movies that people actually want to watch.” According to Leu, the storylines were also “solid”, making special mention of Kelani’s collaboration with Nigerian playwrights Akinwumi Isola and Femi Osofisan.

And the relevance of these stories to the audience?

“I would say that the Nollywood films that I’ve seen have really portrayed society’s reaction to certain socio-political conditions that have happened. It certainly shows that our filmmakers and our creative professionals are definitely aware of the nuances and what’s going on in politics and the socio-political environment and are able to translate that very articulately on film.”

WORK IN PROGRESS

Are these nuances apparent in the productions, I ask, especially with the overuse of words rather than non-verbal hints in the plot. “I believe it’s something that they’re working on. The film industry has its roots in the Yoruba tradition, which is a lot of talk, so I don’t think it’s bad as long as it’s portrayed in a way that’s also visually engaging, that moves the story along. I believe that the roots of why the Nollywood films are talky have a very valid and cultural reason,” she argued.

During her stay in Lagos, Leu coordinated Nollywood-themed seminars both within and outside the academia. She commented on the probable disconnect between Nollywood as theory and Nollywood as practice. “I don’t see the link as particularly strong just because we don’t have any formal film studies programme at the universities here. A lot of these professors who are speaking about Nollywood are coming from either the English departments or the Theatre Arts department, so I feel like maybe the film practitioners feel it’s not speaking directly to them. Not to take anything away from the point that we’re making, the industry hasn’t been established long enough for there to be a very established culture of film criticism. As you know, many newspaper articles about Nollywood, it’s not really like an in-depth article, it’s mostly gossip.”

We both agree here and I ask if the academy is not trying too hard to intellectualise the popular. For Leu, such international exposure can only be helpful to sustaining Nollywood’s growth. “There’s a whole field of scholarship talking about popular arts. So, for me to take modern Nigerian cinema and to have it taken seriously on the international stage, you do need people to intellectualise it. You need to do more academic papers published in reputable international journals to speak intelligently about what’s going on in these industries. You need these papers to be cited in doctoral theses that are written all over the world. And you need this scholarship to come from Nigeria.”

Such scholarship need not be overly critical, though. “Constructive criticism is really important to any industry. It’s just that that discourse needs to be encouraged. The more that literary discourse is encouraged and is publicised, the more the industry will be respected internationally.”

THE END?

Leu’s research year ended in July 2011 and she was swiftly snapped up as Head of International Relations and Project Management at Del-York International, a media and communications company with a focus on capacity building for economic development and international branding of Nollywood. She described this experience as “really exceptional” for Nollywood scholars, who usually have no chance to test their research findings. The Del-York experience was specifically helpful to Leu, whose interest was in how Nollywood directly or indirectly provides employment across different professions. “I was going to take that to Del-York and truly implement this job creation model.” As part of the outfit’s training curriculum for aspiring media practitioners, Leu also introduced a weekly roundtable called ‘Filmmaking in Nigeria’, inviting Nigerian practitioners to discuss the history of Nollywood, distribution and piracy, entrepreneurship, on-set challenges and the like.

By the end of her research period, Bic Leu had come full circle from the stuttering newcomer to a fulfilled researcher with positive impact on the lives of aspiring filmmakers. “It’s great to be a part of that and not to just look on as a scholar,” she said with pride.

In November 2011, Leu co-curated the first Nollywood film Festival in Sao Paulo, Brazil. Aimed at bringing Nollywood deeper into an international audience’s consciousness and titled ‘Bemvindo a Nollywood’, the festival featured discussion panels around the Nigerian Video Film sector. Nine Tunde Kelani films were screened during the event. “For me, it’s interesting seeing how Nollywood films are seen abroad and to form this partnership, this really shared cultural exchange, it’s awesome!” she gushed.

Bic Leu is currently in South-East Asia preparing for a new job back in the United States. There is little doubt though that her love for Nollywood will someday bring her back to Nigeria.

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After a 20-hour journey from Lagos via Johannesburg, we arrived in São Paulo, Brazil on Thursday 17 November 2011 to celebrate the inaugural edition of the Bem-vindo a Nollywood Film Festival – honoring the works of veteran director Tunde Kelani. The Nigerian delegation consisted of me, Kelani, Ma’ami production manager Jamiu Shoyode, and Arugba and Ma’ami associate producer Hakeem Adenekan. Nollywood expert Prof. Jonathan Haynes graciously paused his Guggenheim Fellowship work to join us from New York.

Arriving at the Cine Olido, the main site of the "Bem-vindo a Nollywood" Film Festival in São Paulo, Brazil. © 2011 Mainframe Film & TV Productions

The Brazilian coordinators (counterclockwise): Vanessa Lopes, Roberta Astolfi, Alex Andrade at the welcome dinner. © 2011 Mainframe Film & TV Productions

Olusegun Michael Akinruli, founder of the Instituto de Arte e Cultura Yoruba, met us at the airport and became our knowledgeable guide for the first few hours in São Paulo. From the beginning, the trip was meticulously orchestrated by my Brazilian co-curator, Alex Andrade of Kinopedia Ltd, and his associates, Vanessa Lopes and Roberta Astolfi.

Meeting with José Roberto Sadek, Secretary of Culture of the City of São Paulo. © 2011 Mainframe Film & TV Productions

José Roberto Sadek, Secretary of Culture of the City of São Paulo, displays his gift from Kelani of Mainframe classics. © 2011 Mainframe Film & TV Productions

The next morning, we met with José Roberto Sadek, the Secretary of Culture of the City of São Paulo. Along with the Cine Olido – the Festival’s main venue – he also oversees 12 theaters, 60 libraries, and approximately 600 cultural programs per month. Sadek applauded the Nollywood financing model for its “accountability to the audience”. Since most Brazilian films receive government funding, filmmakers don’t feel the need to make a profit and follow popular tastes.

Eder Mazine (far right), President of the São Paulo Film Commission, presents gifts to Hakeem Adenekan and Tunde Kelani. © 2011 Mainframe Film & TV Productions

L-R: Hakeem Adenekan, Tunde Kelani, Eder Mazine, Jamiu Shoyode, Bic Leu, Jonathan Haynes, Film Commission rep, Alex Andrade at the Cine Olido. © 2011 Mainframe Film & TV Productions

Next, we encountered Eder Mazine, the President of the São Paulo Film Commission. Mazine emphasized the need to attract more foreign productions, such as Nollywood, to the city as film shoots engender economic growth by creating widespread employment.

Tour of the Cinemateca Brasileira. © 2011 Mainframe Film & TV Productions

Tour of the Cinemateca Brasileira. © 2011 Mainframe Film & TV Productions

After that, we were treated to a comprehensive tour of the Cinemateca Brasileira, the second Festival venue and the largest film archive and audiovisual conservation center in Latin America. The Cinemateca is housed in the renovated municipal slaughterhouse, where specialists conserve and restore foreign and national films produced since 1895. The institution is home to an astounding 250,000 rolls of film and 35,000 titles; its library boasts over 23,000 items. To my Nigerian colleagues, the most amazing discovery was that the public could access everything that the Cinemateca offers for free in perpetuity.

With Tunde Kelani at the cinema inside the Cinemateca Brasileira. © 2011 Mainframe Film & TV Productions

The tour of the Cinemateca confirmed to me that all I have done has been worthwhile. I may not be rich in the material sense, but I now realize the importance of going back to rescue what I have done and what the [Nigerian film] industry has done. — Tunde Kelani

At the premiere of "Ma'ami" at the Cine Olio. © 2011 Mainframe Film & TV Productions

Tunde Kelani with filmmaker Abel Success Erebe (far left) at the premiere of "Ma'ami" at the Cine Olido. © 2011 Mainframe Film & TV Productions

The evening ended with the official Brazilian premiere of Ma’ami, hosted by our friends at the Secretary of Culture at the Cine Olido. Prominent Nigerian-Brazilians attended to pay respect to Kelani, including Abel Success Ebere, director of Black Night in South America (2007).

L-R: Jonathan Haynes, Jamiu Shoyode, Bic Leu, Hakeem Adenekan, Tunde Kelani. © 2011 Mainframe Film & TV Productions

The second day began with me moderating a roundtable discussion on current issues in Nollywood at the Cine Olido – featuring Kelani, Haynes, Shoyode and Adenakan. The topics ranged from funding and distribution to location management and international diffusion of Nollywood films.

Festival co-curator, Alex Andrade, poses a question on Nigerian film preservation. © 2011 Mainframe Film & TV Productions

One of the most thought-provoking questions came from my co-curator, Alex Andrade, who asked about the preservation efforts of Nigerian films and “what we can do to ensure that we see the movies that you make.” Kelani and Haynes both agreed that an ideal Brazilian-Nigerian partnership would consist of the Cinemateca Brasileira managing the technical training of archiving and preservation and a private sector player, such as oil and gas giant Petrobras, providing the funding. Perhaps this initiative will get kick started by the next annual edition of the Festival.

A performance by the Orquestra de Berimbaus at the Centro Cultural da Juventude. © 2011 Mainframe Film & TV Productions

View of São Paulo at night from the Centro Cultural da Juventude. © 2011 Mainframe Film & TV Productions

After the discussion, the delegation took a break to enjoy a performance by the Orquestra de Berimbaus at the Centro Cultural da Juventude.

National Black Consciousness Day celebration at the Museu Afro Brasil. © 2011 Mainframe Film & TV Productions

Our last full day on 20th November coincided with the National Black Consciousness Day (Dia da Consciência Negra). As such, we visited the Museu Afro Brasil, where a full-fledged celebration featured a food festival and a live concert, which eventually invaded the pristine halls of the Museum.

"Metrópolis" interviews Kelani outside the Polo Cultural de Heliópolis. © 2011 Mainframe Film & TV Productions

"Metrópolis" interviews Kelani outside the Polo Cultural de Heliópolis. © 2011 Mainframe Film & TV Productions

Community leaders lead us on a tour of the Heliópolis favela. © 2011 Mainframe Film & TV Productions

Community leaders lead us on a tour of the Heliópolis favela. © 2011 Mainframe Film & TV Productions

With Heliópolis community leaders. © 2011 Mainframe Film & TV Productions

Later on that afternoon, we toured Heliópolis, the largest favela (or shantytown) in Brazil – home to 190,000 people. Rising above its poverty and infrastructural challenges, Heliópolis is a success story of community organization. In 2007, community leaders successfully petitioned the Municipality of São Paulo and the State Government to fund the construction of an education and cultural center (and the third venue of the Festival). Built by renowned architect Ruy Othake, the center includes a gallery, a theater, and classrooms for over 2,000 students.

Heliópolis community leader (right) presents Kelani with a gift. © 2011 Mainframe Film & TV Productions

Touched by the perseverance of the Heliópolis residents and community leaders, Kelani declared the tour of the favela and the subsequent screening of Ma’ami in the community theater as “the happiest moments of my life.”

With my Brazilian co-curator, Alex Andrade, at the Polo Cultural de Heliópolis. © 2011 Mainframe Film & TV Productions

At the end of our tour of the Heliópolis favela. © 2011 Mainframe Film & TV Productions

I feel extremely fortunate that my Nollywood immersion has come full circle. After being introduced to Nigerian cinema in Jonathan HaynesLong Island University office, my education was cemented on the set of Tunde Kelani’s Ma’ami in Abeokuta in October 2010 – just two weeks after my arrival in Nigeria on the Fulbright grant. I am so honored to complete my Nollywood research with these two amazing individuals, as well as be joined by new friends who have supported me along the way – Alex Andrade, Jamiu Shoyode and Hakeem Adenekan.


***

Press coverage (Nigeria):

Press coverage (Brazil):

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Tufts Magazine — my alumni publication — ran a recap of my year in Nollywood in their Fall 2011 issue, which you can access here. However, much of the published article was edited for length, so I’ve taken the liberty of including the original version below.

A video shop at the Nigerian Film Market in Surulere, Lagos. Photo © 2011 Bic Leu

NEXT STOP: NOLLYWOOD
Nigeria’s Booming Movie Industry

By: Bic Leu, A07

“I think that if you all are half as fast as I am, we can be done in no time!” is director Desmond Elliott’s rallying call to cast and crew in the midst of a grueling shooting schedule that packs two feature-length movies into eleven days. With such speed and arguable efficiency, it is no wonder that Nollywood, as the Nigerian film industry is popularly known, was recognized by UNESCO in 2009 as the second largest film industry in the world in terms of production volume–almost on par with Bollywood and far eclipsing Hollywood.

I arrived in Lagos, the heart of Nollywood production, in September 2010 on a Fulbright grant to research the industry’s social impact. This marked my return to West Africa, where I have frequented since the age of 19 – first as an exchange student at the University of Ghana and then as a participant in a Tufts-organized research trip to investigate corporate social responsibility in the Ghanaian gold mining industry. However, this most recent immersion in Sub-Saharan Africa’s most populous megacity – home to at least 15 million inhabitants – proved to be more stimulating and challenging than any of my previous experiences in the region.

Over the next ten months, I followed four Nollywood productions–Tunde Kelani’s Maami, Muhydeen Ayinde’s The Return of Jenifa, Elliott’s Midnight Whisper, and Daniel Ademinokan’s Ghetto Dreamz– through the filming, post-production, and marketing stages in order to track the transactions first hand. I had hoped that my on-the-ground observations would demystify the size of the industry by showing me the process and parts needed to produce a film, total unit sales and revenue, as well as the long-term effects on the lives of Nigerians, such as job creation and poverty reduction.  I discovered that Nollywood’s impact goes beyond what could be measured by numbers.

The industry’s commercially accessible format distinguishes it from other African cinema cultures–in particular that of the Francophone countries, where filmmakers produce highly stylized “art films” driven by socio-political messages.  Francophone African films are primarily funded (and thus shaped) by the French government and distributed internationally to film festivals and other noncommercial channels.  Nollywood films are self-financed, with historically little government subsidy or foreign aid. While African audiences rarely see most of the Francophone products, their Nigerian counterparts are characterized by a capacity to transcend local ethnic and national boundaries to be voraciously consumed by millions of viewers across the continent, the Diaspora, and everywhere else in between.

Nollywood’s emergence in the late eighties coincided with a national economic crisis that depleted filmmakers’ access to expensive celluloid film stock. This led Yoruba traveling theater artists to record their live performances on videocassettes, which were sold by electronics dealers in the markets. One such dealer wrote and funded a feature film shot entirely with a VHS camera. The result was “Living in Bondage” (1992), Nollywood’s first blockbuster, with sales of more than 750,000 copies. Today the independently financed movies continue on VCD and DVD, with an increasing number of cinema releases. The predominantly straight-to-video release format allows films to be produced cheaply, for $USD 30,000 to $USD 200,000, and quickly, with shoots lasting three to four weeks. They retail for a mere $USD 1.50 to $USD 3.50 and are voraciously consumed by millions of viewers across both the African continent and the diaspora.

Since the industry’s humble beginnings, production volume has reached epic proportions. The Nigerian National Film and Video Censors Board, the federal regulator of the industry, received 1,612 local films for censorship classification in 2010, which averages an astounding 31 new releases per week. Given filmmakers and marketers’ disregard for government regulation, this number does not include the scores of “un-authorized” films that bypass the Censors Board on their way to market release.

The set of legendary director Tunde Kelani’s Ma’ami was my first opportunity to jump in at the ground level.  I joined Kelani and his crew on location in Abeokuta, about 100 km north of Lagos, for the three-week shoot of his eighteenth feature film in October 2010. Since establishing Mainframe Productions in 1992, Kelani has consistently released movies like Thunderbolt and Saworoide, which have cemented his reputation as the most celebrated director in Nigeria and have become favorites in Yoruba households across Africa, Europe, and the Americas. After pirates cut in the profits of his last film, Arugbá (2010), by selling illegal copies a few days after its release, Kelani resolved to tackle this copyright infringement by releasing Ma’ami only in theaters—a surprising move given Nollywood’s distinction as a video film industry and given the focus of its distribution networks on home entertainment consumption.

On the Ma’ami set, I was also struck by the widespread extortion that exists in movie-making in Nigeria. Kelani concedes that he keeps a budget line titled “community relations” for such occasions as when Nigerian Railways Corporation officials halted production to demand to see film permits, though the railroad tracks on which the scene was set had not functioned in decades and at that moment were covered by a bustling market. The demand was resolved after some crew members accompanied the officials to the local police station, where further “negotiations” were made to secure appropriate shooting rights to the train tracks. The community relations dilemma continued when our exit from the train station was blocked by a crowd of “area boys” (gangs of under-employed street youths) who demanded more “dash” (i.e. bribes) for shooting rights as well as the chance to meet the female lead, Funke Akindele, who is widely considered to be the biggest star in the Yoruba language film genre. I breathed a sigh of relief (and disbelief) when the Production Manager negotiated our safe passage for a paltry N1,500 ($USD 10), which was distributed among approximately 20 area boys after a nearly hour-long stand-off.

On The Return of Jenifa set in Lagos in November to December 2010, this shadow fund came into play when local area boys again stopped the equipment truck and demanded N20,000 (USD $134) per car to enter the private housing estate where we had planned to shoot a scene. Determined to continue the shooting schedule, director Muhydeen Ayinde and director of photography DJ Tee changed locations to a nearby hotel.  The boys followed us to the hotel, where as day turned into night and as the pile of their discarded beer bottles swelled, they grew increasingly insistent in their demands for more money. This disruption escalated into a rowdy fight and delayed production until midnight.

I was invited to join The Return of Jenifa set by Funke Akindele, who I met on the location of Kelani’s Ma’ami. After honing her craft on hundreds of movie sets over the last decade, Akindele’s career exploded in 2008 after the release of Jenifa. She wrote, produced, and starred in the Yoruba-language comedy chronicling the title character’s misadventures when she leaves her provincial village life behind to attend university in Lagos.  The low-budget movie took the country by storm, selling approximately one million copies and introducing such catch phrases as “bigz girls”–Jenifa’s backwoods terminology to describe the “in-crowd” on campus–to the Nigerian popular vernacular. The movie’s popularity can be measured in the culture of celebrity that surrounds Akindele wherever she goes.  On location, her every step was echoed by screams of “Jenifa!” from adoring fans. Crowds in the dozens gathered to intently watch, discuss and document Akindele’s every move as she performed the most mundane tasks in between takes–from napping to eating lunch.

In The Return of Jenifa, the much-anticipated third installment in the blockbuster Jenifa trilogy, Akindele hopes to use the momentum behind her celebrity to go beyond the sales success of the original. Akindele aspires to turn Jenifa into a franchise and a cult figure, much like Tyler Perry’s Madea. A self-described “youth ambassador”, Akindele plans to use Jenifa the character to reach out to young people living with such challenges as teenage pregnancy and HIV/AIDS on a future Jenifa-hosted talk show. In addition, plans are in the work for a Jenifa sitcom, followed by the establishment of a Jenifa Foundation to support youth with showbiz ambitions.

This celebrity culture followed me to the set of Ghetto Dreamz in late February 2011. The movie chronicles the meteoric rise and tragic death of Da Grin, the wildly popular 23 year-old rapper whose life was cut short by a car accident; some mythologize him as Nigeria’s own Tupac. By the time that I arrived on set, the entertainment blogosphere had been buzzing for weeks about the last-minute crew changes. Avid Da Grin fans were highly critical of executive producer Ope Banwo’s abrupt departure from the original director and his decision to recruit the relatively less experienced Daniel Ademinokan to direct and to write the script. Fans also disapproved of the acceleration of the production schedule to meet the April 2011 theatrical release date, which was designed to coincide with the one-year anniversary of Da Grin’s untimely death. Ademinokan completed the casting process in January; shot the film over three weeks in February and finished post-production in March.

Like Ghetto Dreamz, Desmond Elliott’s Midnight Whisper had an equally ambitious shooting schedule. The drama marks the first time that two language versions of the same film were shot at the same time: English and Ibibio. Producer Emem Isong aims to target the Ibibio-speaking people in her home state in the eastern region of Akwa-Ibom, while still making a commercially viable product for the rest of Nigeria. The two versions will be packaged as two separate films and will be released at different times in different markets. When I visited the set in early February 2011, the production schedule covered 246 scenes (123 scenes for each version of the film) over an eleven-day period. Despite the grueling timetable, the set was a lesson in efficiency. Elliott–one of Nollywood’s most popular actors-turned-directors–allotted two takes per scene per language. First, he shot a scene in English in two takes: one wide-angle and one close-up. Then, the Ibibio-speaking actors rotated in and he shot the same scene, again in two takes.  Despite frequent power outages and the interference of generator noise with the on-set sound level, the cast and crew maximized this system to the extent that they were able to shoot an astonishing 40 scenes in one day.  The intense work pace continued beyond the completion of principal photography as Elliott began production on his subsequent feature the very next day.

It is hard not to get excited about Nollywood. Since its inception two decades ago, the Nigerian film industry has grown beyond a novelty in guerrilla film making into a sophisticated industry grappling with growing pains of piracy, quality control, celebrity culture and doing business in the informal economy. I set out to measure the social impact of the industry and found that Nollywood’s reach may be impossible to quantify with mere numbers. My fieldwork revealed the industry’s substantial capacity to create jobs and alleviate poverty, which addresses the critical issues of unemployment and income disparity in Nigeria. A standard movie directly employs 50-100 people, but its overall job creation is several times this amount due to the linkages with collateral industries created to provide services during filming and post-production, such as the yam vendors who supply the set caterer and the DVD manufacturing plants that fabricate movie copies. Per the government’s conservative estimate that 1,612 local films are released per year, I calculate that Nollywood supports hundreds of thousands of jobs annually–which present significant development potential for a country that the World Bank has estimated to have a 25% youth unemployment rate.

Since my Fulbright grant ended in July, I have been given the opportunity to leverage my research to affect change in Nollywood. What started as an intellectual pursuit has grown into a passion project, powered by the amazing individuals that I have encountered over the last year. I presently serve as the Project Manager for Del-York International, a media and communications company that is partnering with the New York Film Academy for the second straight year to facilitate a month-long training program in media production in August in Lagos. I have helped raise scholarships for close to 250 Nigerian students to get trained in such courses as Filmmaking and Broadcast Journalism. The Niger Delta Development Commission and Edo State Government are sponsoring students in recognition of the Training Program’s approach to curbing civil unrest and spurring job creation in oil-rich, but socially troubled Southeastern Nigeria by teaching employable skills to vulnerable youth.

Furthermore, I have introduced a weekly roundtable to the Training Program curriculum, Filmmaking in Nigeria, in which Nollywood practitioners discuss the local challenges of filmmaking, thus empowering a new generation of media professionals who possess both the technical and practical skills to succeed in the country. Last Saturday during the inaugural session focused on the history of the film industry, my good friend Tunde Kelani educated the students on the influence of Yoruba culture on his work – using many examples from the Ma’ami set to illustrate his points. In a way, Kelani’s lecture demonstrated how my year in Nollywood has come full circle. Despite intermittent power supply and harassment from external forces, Kelani, like many Nigerian filmmakers, innovate with limited budgets and tight production schedules to produce content that holds the rapt attention of audiences across the African continent and beyond. 

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Last night, director Tunde Kelani premiered his latest feature, Ma’ami, to a packed house at Agip Hall at the MUSON Centre. The evening honored the re-election of Governor Babatunde Fashola as the Lagos State Government was a major funding source of the film. Governor Fashola gave the closing remarks after the screening – during which he highlighted the personal impact of Mainframe films, starting with Saworoide in 1999.

Per Production Manager Jamiu Shoyode, the film will premiere next weekend in Abeokuta.

Watch FindingNollywood.com’s behind-the-scenes coverage of the Ma’ami shoot.
Read
FindingNollywood.com’s behind-the-scenes coverage of the Ma’ami shoot.

Ma'ami' on stage at the MUSON Centre. © Bic Leu and FindingNollywood.com, 2011

Governor Fashola gives his closing remarks with Tunde Kelani. © Bic Leu and FindingNollywood.com, 2011

Governor Fashola gives his closing remarks with Tunde Kelani. © Bic Leu and FindingNollywood.com, 2011

With Tunde Kelani and Deji Ajose-Ojikutu. © Bic Leu and FindingNollywood.com, 2011

With Wole Ojo. © Bic Leu and FindingNollywood.com, 2011

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Five months after shooting wrapped in Abeokuta, Tunde Kelani is finally ready to unveil his latest feature film, Ma’ami – starring Funke Akindele, Wole Ojo, Tamilore Kuboye and Olumide Bakare. The invitation-only premiere will take place at Agip Hall of the MUSON Centre in Lagos on Saturday 4th June 2011 to celebrate the re-election of Governor Babatunde Raji Fashola, SAN.

The event marks the latest in a string of collaborations between Mainframe Productions and Lagos State. In 2008, Kelani celebrated Governor Fashola’s inaugural year in office with the premiere of Arugba. The premiere of Saworoide in 1999 honored election of former Governor Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, while Agogo-Eewo celebrated Tinubu‘s 50th birthday in 2002.

Ma’ami is based on Femi Osofisan’s novel of the same title and follows Kelani’s tradition of bringing Nigerian literature to the big screen. Past works include Koseegbe and O le ku, written by Akinwumi Isola; Thunderbolt (Magun) adapted from Adebayo Faleti’s MAGUN : The Whore (with Thunderbolt AIDS); and The White Handkerchief and The Narrow Path adapted from Bayo Adebowale‘s The Virgin.

Due to the threat of piracy, Kelani is only releasing Ma’ami at cinemas throughout the country.  He also plans to organize free mobile cinema screenings and lectures at universities throughout the Southwest.

Watch FindingNollywood.com’s behind-the-scenes coverage of the Ma’ami shoot.
Read
FindingNollywood.com’s behind-the-scenes coverage of the Ma’ami shoot.

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I finally have the time and the bandwidth to upload a few behind-the-scenes videos of the Ma’ami shoot in October 2010. Please view them below and click here to read my behind-the-scenes coverage of the shoot.


Above: Tunde Kelani directs Funke Akindele during a scene in Lafenwa Market in Abeokuta. © Bic Leu and FindingNollywood.com, 2009-2011


Above: Yinka Davies & Gani Kayode-Balogun, Jr. perform a rendition of Owo, a song by the late Fuji maestro Ayinde Barrister, during a restaurant scene in Lagos. © Bic Leu and FindingNollywood.com, 2009-2011


Above: Tunde Kelani directs a masquerade scene featuring Wole Ojo and Tamilore Kuboye on the last day of shooting in Abeokuta. © Bic Leu and FindingNollywood.com, 2009-2011

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Go out and buy The Guardian today, everyone! My article on New Nollywood’s innovative distribution methods is published under the Friday Review section. I’ve pasted the text below, or you can read the original web version here. Many thanks to Gabe for lending his editor’s eye to this piece.
Friday, 14 January 2011 00:00 By Bic Leu 

THE domestic and international media have been buzzing about the emergence of a New Nollywood. A wave of recent features — including Kunle Afolayan’s The Figurine and Chineze Anyaene’s Ijé — flout traditional Nollywood conventions such as low budgets and poor production value and eschew the Nigerian film industry’s straight-to-video format for a theatrical run. It appears that there is a new vigour among filmmakers to tackle the rampant piracy and poor distribution linkages that have plagued the industry.

Beyond piracy
Pirates have usurped Nigerian filmmakers’ profits at the end of the distribution chain for years by replicating and distributing films within days of DVD release. According to writer and director, Amaka Igwe, “Piracy makes up 82 per cent of the Nigerian market.” However, she identifies the real problem behind revenue generation as distributors’ ignorance about market supply and demand: “If people had a choice of buying the real copy, they would buy it, but they can’t find it.”

Igwe laments that distributors often print fewer copies than what the customers demand in fear that surplus inventory will remain unsold. As a result, pirates fill the gap with illegal copies.  Despite having completed work on six films, Igwe refuses to release any until a massive distribution system that she has been working on is unveiled in March 2011: “I’m not doing any new films, because that’s like pouring water into sand; you don’t get any returns.”

Revitalizing cinemas
Other filmmakers have turned to cinemas. Kunle Afolayan’s Irapada (2007) was the first Nigerian film to be shown at Lagos’ Silverbird Galleria. Instead of relying on the traditional system in which the marketer serves as the production’s main funding source, Afolayan subsidized his budget by negotiating product placement deals — which recouped 50 per cent of expenses before the film’s release.  Irapada went on to gross over N5 million at the box office and changed the industry’s perception of cinema release, a custom that had died out in the 1980s along with celluloid filmmaking in Nigeria.  Afolayan also screened the film at small venues like the National Arts Theatre as well as campuses across the country.

Afolayan expanded Irapada’s distribution model when The Figurine premiered in 2009. On top of the cinema release and product placement, The Figurine was one of the first Nigerian films to tour the international festival circuit, gathering critical acclaim in Berlin, New York, Rotterdam, Tarifa, and Kampala.

Afolayan’s equal mix of the artistic and the commercial attracted audiences to theatres in record numbers. He claims, “Many people who weren’t cinema-goers started going to the cinema because they were interested in seeing the film”.

It raked in N30 million during its eight-week theatrical run and was recognized as the most successful Nigerian cinema release at the time. On the back end, Afolayan has experimented with new distribution schemes.  When Irapada was distributed on DVD, Afolayan enlisted the help of a China-based disc replication firm for the encryption, which he believed “cut out piracy by 80 per cent”. He has big plans for The Figurine’s DVD release in February 2011: a subsidiary of the satellite TV service HiTV will distribute one million copies domestically and more abroad via website sales.

If Kunle Afolayan re-introduced cinema culture to the Nigerian audience, then Chineze Anyaene cemented its viability with her directorial debut, Ijé (2010). The film made N50 million at the box office last year, thus displacing The Figurine as the highest grossing Nigerian cinema release of all time. Next, Anyaene plans to distribute Ijé in Kenya, Mexico and the United Kingdom.

A grassroots approach
Veteran director, Tunde Kelani is thinking beyond cinemas. Recognizing that most Nigerians cannot afford the average N1,000-N1,500 cinema ticket price in the only nine functioning multiplexes in the country, Kelani is looking for more accessible alternatives. On top of the regular cinema circuit, he is working with the Lagos State Viewing Sports Center Association to use their 700-1,000 viewing centers to show his next feature, Ma’ami (2011), whenever there is a free slot in the programming schedule.

Kelani’s team, which includes Production Manager Jamiu Shoyode, is currently reviewing the locations. With an average capacity of 100 seats per center, Kelani hopes to reach at least 70,000 Lagosians by the end of Ma’ami’s release — although this conservative estimate doesn’t account for multiple screenings per center.

Kelani plans to charge N150 per ticket, hoping that the low price will encourage whole communities to see his film. The egalitarian approach also extends to the series of free open-air screenings that he is planning in conjunction with the viewing center release.  Kelani already proved the success of this method in 2009 when he reached over 2,500 people in 57 local councils at free outdoor viewings of his last film, Arugbá. He hopes to attract another sponsor to cover the costs for Ma’ami and to help him accomplish his goal of capturing “the masses”.

A high-tech distribution solution?
The Internet is also becoming a viable option for distributing Nollywood movies. In December 2010, telecommunications giant Glo joined its counterpart MTN in giving their subscribers access to DStv Mobile, a service that enables users to watch DStv live on their mobile devices. Available programming includes the Africa Magic movie channels that broadcast a never-ending rotation of Nollywood films.

Supporting this new Internet platform are two international submarine cables that were landed in Nigeria in 2009: Main One, operated by privately-owned Main One Cable Company, and Glo 1, operated by Globacom. The cables link Lagos to Europe and other West African countries with the goal of providing affordable and high-speed Internet services across the continent (though the author has yet to notice any improvement in Internet bandwidth).  Main One commenced commercial services in July 2010 and Glo 1 followed suit in October 2010.

The World Wide Web has the potential to become a virtual Idumota Market, though with a more manageable distribution chain than the real Lagos bazaar. The New Nollywood may not need to look beyond its laptop to reach the masses both near and far. Ultimately, the defining trait is innovation since piracy has become a catalyst for reinvention. Rather than fight in the trenches, filmmakers are sharpening their business sense, creating models for exhibition and distribution that demand rebranding the industry precisely because up-and-coming Nollywood fits in a future that, for now, is still running to meet itself.

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Tunde Kelani oversees the editing process with Hakeem Olowookere (Editor). Photo © 2010 Bic Leu

When I stopped by Mainframe last week, Tunde Kelani treated me to the first nine minutes of the Ma’ami final cut. Since then, the production team has been working around the clock to finish the film in time for FESPACO submission. I checked back with TK yesterday, and he expects to complete the first hour today. In the meantime, work on the sound and original score are progressing with musician Siji and composer Udy Frank.

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TK makes another appearance in the pages of 234NEXT this Sunday. See the below photo and article to read about the filming process and the distribution plan for Ma’ami.

 

Tunde Kelani shoots Ayomide Abatti (as Young Kashimawo) and Funke Akindele (as Ma’ami). Photo © 2010 Bic Leu

 

Kelani goes back to his roots

By Akintayo Abodunrin and Molara Wood

December 12, 2010 01:18AM

Foremost cinematographer in Nollywood, Tunde Kelani, bounces back from the setback of the heavily pirated ‘Arugba’ with a new film, ‘Ma’ami’, starring Funke Akindele. In this interview with NEXT, Kelani talks about the making of ‘Ma’ami’ and his plans to get the film to the masses.

How did Arugba do commercially?

‘Arugba’ is a flop. There is no doubt about it because we were really modest in our expectations; we bought the recommended holograms, 100,000 from the National Film and Video Censorship Board and we didn’t sell 50,000. We still have thousands and thousands of copies of the film. There is no way we can sell with that level of piracy. Right now, we have in our possession three pirated versions and then one London pirated version. All our films have been pirated but there had never been such an orchestrated attack, like that of ‘Arugba’.

How do plan to forestall this with your forthcoming film, Ma’ami?

I think that generally this is a reflection of the Nigerian society. The industry is suffering from lack of the necessary infrastructure so this is going to go on for a long time. I don’t believe the government at this time has the capacity to deal with it, especially now when elections are coming. If I carry a few samples of pirated films to any police station, I’m sure that I will meet more difficult issues that need the attention law enforcement agencies.

We have to adopt the physical division model in Nigeria where I have to release VCD or DVD and we have to physically move it from region to region, town to town.

Broadband internet access is at the moment less than two percent penetration in Nigeria. So, that suggests that we have to do physical distribution for a long time. The desperation in piracy since ‘Arugba’ has gone worse… I understand that in the market today on any release, in the evening of the same day the pirated versions will come in the market. It suggests that there is no way we can risk physical distribution of ‘Ma’ami’ so we have to come up with another model for making sure that it gets to the people.

Can you talk about your new strategy?

I’m passionate about reviving the cinema going culture. That’s why I initiated the mobile cinema project and I got support from the Lagos State Government. We screened ‘Arugba’ in the 57 local governments and development areas of Lagos State. We took the film on the road and it showed free, in the open air to Lagosians. I’ve been toying with the idea of developing at least 30 cinemas in Lagos State, working with the local governments. I’m already in discussion with the Association of Sports Viewing Centres in Lagos State and I’m hopeful that perhaps we can put together a chain of 200 such centres. Secure, comfortable centres that can seat a minimum of 100 people. This way, I plan to take the film to the grassroots.

What about the rest of the country?

First of all, my focus is on Lagos State because it is viable and accepting; and we have Governor Babatunde Raji Fashola who is keen and he’s been very encouraging and supportive. If this model works in Lagos State, then we can explore the possibility of exporting it to the whole of the South West and by extension the whole country.

What can be done to widen the acceptance base of the Yoruba film?

I don’t think that’s a problem because now we are moving into the area of indigenous cultural expression. Countries like China, Japan or India for instance, how [have their films] been accessible? The whole world has been waiting, but the film has to be of a reasonable quality and standard. Japan and India [make] films of quality standard, so that’s all we have to do. Already, some of the films we have produced (at Mainframe) have been subtitled in English, French and in the case of ‘Saworoide’, we did a Portugese subtitling. So that’s what we should do. Of course, I will be excited about the possibilities of meeting a great indigenous cultures like, for instance, Japanese and Chinese, rather than looking to following Hollywood. So for me, Yoruba cinema has a great prospect.

You’ve been filming ‘Ma’ami’ with Funke Akindele, Wole Ojo and the young man you are introducing to cinema for the first time, Ayomide Abati. What has that experience been like?

Filming ‘Ma’ami’ is exciting because it has some element of my childhood in it. For example, when we combed the whole of Abeokuta looking for a primary school that has a football field, I realised it was becoming rare because education standard has fallen so low that they don’t consider such development part of education anymore. I had to return to my own Oke-Ona United Primary School in Abeokuta and luckily we still had a kind of a field that we used 50 years ago. It’s still there but in bad shape. The buildings are still standing although they are crying out for [renovation].

Again, we scouted for possible appropriate locations but we didn’t find any, so we had to return to my own family compound; and for me it was like going back home. We had to repaint all the houses in the neighbourhood and our single interior set for Funke Akindele and the boy actually was shot in our own house. I found a boxfull of documents which my father had kept away. Going through these documents, I found a Christmas card that was sent to me in 1960 – from a girl and it was ‘With love from Yetunde’. I couldn’t even remember who it was! It was going back to my own childhood and my own neighbourhood and I knew the terrain like the back of my hand. That’s why making the film is special to me, I could see things from my growing up years.

There were reports you had dropped Funke Akindele from the film but she’s still in it. What actually happened?

It was a misunderstanding. After I had talked to her and released the script to her, I was coming from my ophthalmologist and there was a video shop. I saw the poster of a film called ‘Iya Mi’ and it was Funke Akindele on the poster. I was shocked because of the closeness between the titles, ‘Ma’ami’ and ‘Iya Mi’. For a moment I was concerned that it might mislead some of the audience because I had received a few calls from people asking me if the film was out. I was apprehensive that ‘Ma’ami’ might be mistaken as Part two of ‘Iya Mi’. I sent for the film, I saw it and what I saw was that Funke was not even playing the mother in the film, she actually played the daughter.

I thought something was funny… I decided that we were going to change her, to do another film entirely. She heard this news and came to me and explained her own side of the story. I thought Funke needed the film, she wanted to do ‘Ma’ami’. I thought she genuinely wanted to be in the project and I was convinced.

Of course, there is a reason why I decided to work with Funke Akindele because I have followed her career closely; and in (my films) ‘Narrow Path’ and ‘Abeni’, she had played minor roles, supporting roles. I was waiting for the right story to cast her. What was strategic for me, it was not a glamorous role and in the film, she had a change of costume only once; wearing the same thing again and again. She’s not the glamorous star that everybody expected. I think this was a challenge for her and she had to play convincingly the mother of a 10-year-old.

And the young man that you cast as her child – you know what they say in Hollywood: never work with animals or children. How was it?

Ayomide is a child in the neighbourhood in Oshodi where we live, he’s quite lively and gets along with everybody. But my worry… at this point I have to appeal to parents because we are gradually getting to a point where it is becoming very difficult to find young or adult Yoruba actors and actresses who can speak the Yoruba language. I think it’s becoming a challenge. For about two or three days, we were really disturbed – both the young Kashimawo (Ayomide Abati) and the adult Kashimawo (Wole Ojo) – because it’s now a problem and this is a result of when consciously parents discourage their children from speaking their own language or practicing their own natural culture.

I think that’s the result of an identity crisis and we had identity crisis on the set. I think that Ayomide has learned from that experience and I think he will be redeemed. But I think it’s a crisis in the Yoruba nation. There is no doubt in my mind that the children of the elite and the lower class no longer speak Yoruba in their homes. I doubt even the lawmakers, if any of their children speak Yoruba at home.

Can you tell us more about the making of Ma ami from a filmmaker’s point of view?

I think ‘Ma ‘ami’ is the beginning of another era because we are at a point now in digital media where we have access to great technology and it is the first and only film that I have shot digitally in what can be called 35 mm. You know they talk about shooting 35mm celluloid; this is the digital equivalent of it. In other words, we shot in 4K-to-a-35mm-censor. I think this is exciting. It is just like when I discovered photography in those days when I was young, I was excited every day of my life. Now, I’m excited all over again because of the various possibilities in the delivery of the content.

If there was demand and corporate sponsorship, we could get a 35mm print in celluloid for cinema release and we could do digital projection on any of the four formats since our original format was resolution 4K. For me, this is as topmost as you can get and I am happy I was supported by at least four companies. ‘Ma ‘ami’ is a high-low budget film. It [cost] around 150,000 dollars, but I’m hopeful that it will be worth something like 700,000 dollars. I have the objective to achieve more with less.

When can we expect to see the film?

Work is going on on ‘Ma’ami’ everyday and I still have some bits to shoot. We designed it in such a way that we rigged an editing system, work is going on everyday. We have a digital laboratory and presntly we are doing our first primary colour correction and then encoding into the editing format. The rough cut of the film is almost complete.There should be a workable version before the end of December because for Funke and some of the various expertise on the film, I have to enter the film for the Pan-African Film and Television Festival of Quadadogou (FESPACO). I think I’ll be in time to enter for AMAA which closes December 15.

You have been able to sustain a blockbuster career, what are you doing that the other filmmakers are not doing?

I don’t think the films can really be called blockbusers but at any time, they meant something. They show a progression and at any point, they have been experimental either from point of technology or digital media. If I thought that the future of African Cinema or world cinema will be in digital media, then I think I’m right because officially the year 2010 has been mooted by experts (as) the death of the chemical process of making films.

The collection of films that I have made have been successful , both universities both home and abroad use them as resource. Particularly for ‘Arugba’, there have been one or two universities that ordered copies for African Studies. For me, that has been a kind of satisfaction and encouragement.

You relocated to Benin Republic where you shot the ‘Abeni’ series and the ‘Narrow Path’ but you are back. What happened?

I couldn’t relocate totally because I’m one of the people who subscribe to the notion that ‘ibi ori dani si laagbe’ and it was clear throughout my career that I had options of staying abroad. I am happy and grateful to God that I have been created in Yorubaland and so far He has made it enjoyable. It is exciting for me, not only Yoruba culture but all Nigerian cultures. What happened was that I went there to see the Yorubas staying there and see how they are faring.

I didn’t stay just in Porto Novo, Akete, Isede, Pobe, Ketu; I went as far as Dassa up north , Sabe. I did spend quite some there, about three years. If you watch the ‘Narrow Path’ for instance, the marriage scenes, where they sing marriage songs, that is the song in that community. It shows that this is Yorubaland and these are Yoruba people. That was really exciting for me and obviously we reaped good things because the experience kicked off the Beninoise film industry. Now, they make a lot of home videos just like in Nigeria. I believe that our cooperation started that film industry up to a point that they make films regularly and I am not needed anymore.

Why don’t you do collaborations with other filmmakers?

It depends on the project. For instance, I would gladly co-produce any Nigerian film from other cultures if they will do things from their vast literary resources like ‘Danda’ by Arthur Nwankwo or any of Cyprian Ekwensi’s or any of Chinua Achebe’s work. ‘The Passport of Malam Ilia’, things like that. Most of [Mainframe's] works spring from literature because I read a lot when I was young; I love novels and literature and I will be willing to work with [other filmmakers]; it depends on the orientation, if they want to follow Hollywood. I don’t want to follow Hollywood, I’m an indigenous filmmaker, I believe in telling our own great stories and finding expression and taking the audience through my own cultural background. So I’m not really comfortable making a film the Hollywood style. The prospect of a co-production where Samuel L Jackson will play Sango, I don’t think it excites me.

Or because I want to penetrate international or American market and I would use Danny Glover as Kabiyesi in my story. That’s not quite what I want.

Mainframe recently collaborated with NANTAP and Dance Guild of Nigeria to stage ‘Yeepa! Solarin Nbo’. Can we expect more of such?

Yes, theatre has always been my passion because when I was in Form Two at the Abeokuta Grammar School around 1963, I was part of the excursion team that travelled all the way from Abeokuta to watch ‘The Palmwine Drinkard’ at the 0bisesan Hall in Ibadan. It was a privilege watching Kola Ogunmola on stage and it was a production of the University of Ibadan. It was the first time I sat in a theatre where I witnessed the effect of lighting; when the light changed to black or came on, my head was this big. It must have made a lasting impression on me. Again, I was privileged to have [seen] all the great plays, like ‘Oba Koso’ and ‘Kurunmi’, for instance, and ‘Danda’. For me, it’s seeing those people live on stage, appreciating them. Sunny Oti, Shodipo. The thrill I got looking at Duro Ladipo on stage or Ogunde on stage, I thought they were not human beings. It’s a disaster that we have not documented any of the great classics, so I would really have loved to do ‘The Palmwine Drinkard’ on stage for the 50th anniversary of Nigeria Independence but of course we couldn’t because of the shortage of time and then Lagos State came in at just the time for us to stage ‘Yeepa! Solarin Nbo’.

What was exciting for me is the the possibilty of doing the standard Yoruba presentation where you do an opening glee, because the Yoruba theatre which has influenced me was ‘Total Theatre’. Before we watch the play they will do an opening glee which is a song and dance routine – perhaps a summary of the whole play in dance. And at the end of the day, they will do a closing glee, so I conceived that and wanted to work with NANTAP and the Dance Guild of Nigeria to do an opening glee and to use Ogunde’s ‘Yoruba Ronu’ and ‘Petepete’ by 9ice to give it a contemporary touch. We tried to bring it back during the Ileya (Eid) festival with LTV and corporate sponsors because, coming out of the play, I am seeing things like people saying: I have never watched a Yoruba stage play in my life. People saying: we have never watched anything like this in 25 years. This doesn’t even speak well of the country.

It’s a pity, a shame really and I think somehow, we have to find a means of continuing and in my lifetime produce ‘The Palmwine Drinkard’ before all the original cast die. I know where the material is. One or two people are still alive and its been studied… I befriended Pa Amos Tutuola before he died, I visited him at Odo Ona, Ibadan, several times.

What next after Ma’ami?

I have a string of projects lined up. First, I will like to do an adaptation of Yinka Egbokhare’s ‘The Dazzling Mirage’, about sickle cell. Then I will have to quickly do another Yoruba film to pacify the Yoruba audience so I will do an adaptation of Femi Osofisan’s ‘Wuraola’ and then I will love to do ‘Cordelia’, which is another Osofisan stuff. This is set against a popular military coup and I have always wanted to do something about one of our military coups. Then I will do ‘Dog’s on Lions Trail’ which I have shelved for about seven years. It’s an adaptation of Kola Akinlade’s ‘Aja To N Lepa Ekun’. It’s interesting because all those five or six films I have mentioned are adaptations from literary resource.

We don’t have as much production anymore in Yoruba literature; will there come a time when you run out of resource?

It’s not possible because if I take to Ifa corpus, for instance, those are more than a thousand stories. Our ancestors have already done all the work and passed all these things to us. It’s another thing if we close our eyes and turn our back on it and never look. It’s not possible in two lifetimes to exhaust literary resource. We haven’t even touched any of Fagunwa’s works. Two pages of D.O. Fagunwa is about two films. It’s all there.

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