Saturday, 13 October 2012

weekend special. Jide Kosoko fights climate change (exclusive interview)

 My war against climate change – Jide Kosoko
Jide Kosoko is one of Nigeria’s movie icons. He started his own drama troupe in the 70’s and he has moved with the times, as drama went to TV, later to cinemas, and today home videos. He has produced hundreds of movies and also raised countless protégés. At the moment, he is working  alongside the United Nations(UN) to create a docu-drama which talks about the worldwide issue of global warming. He spoke with me in his Lagos office last week.

We know you have been going across the country shooting a documentary. This is quite unusual for movie makers, what is it all about?
It is an assignment from the United Nations Development Programme(UNDP) to produce a docu-drama on the climate change. I am sure you are aware of the universal challenge of climate change. It could result into a calamity. This is why I have the joy being on the project. It is not just about the money, there is the need for me to contribute my quota in the education of the people on all the problems we might face. It is just starting; we don’t know the extent it will go. With little education here and there, people should get involved in activities that can at least safeguard us and help us make corrections. That will make the effects minimal.
You will be surprised how little things we do can go a long way. Desisting from putting refuse in drainages, and avoiding burning bushes and all that can change things. We are all aware of the desertification going in the North. There are many more problems that we face due to climate change. I am happy that you are a reporter, you know all these things. Look at the recent one in Lokoja, it was terrible. Flash floods sweep away homes and people. Go and ask how many people lost their lives. These are thing that are caused by global warming. We should know that we are in big danger. It is happening everywhere. It has happened here in Lagos, it has happened in Ogun, and Oyo. There is need for us to ensure that we all fight it.
So what is in the documentary?
It called the ‘Battle for life’ we graphically show how erosions are taking babies away. There was a case we gather that a woman with her children on her back were washed away, we will try to depict all these in scenes to show people how dangerous these situation is. There are a lot of things we are infusing into this production. Because it is going to be a not-for-sale production does not mean that it is going to be low budget. We are using the best equipment, and they will be handled by the best hands we can get.
At the village setting, we have dramatized activities such as bush burning, indiscriminate clearing of bush for farming purposes, mismanagement of animal wastes and the use of traditional African stove amongst others. The modern urban setting have dramatized activities revolving around carbon dioxide emission from old and extremely smoky vehicles, generators, small scale business operators like vulcanizers etc. The industrial setting has dramatized focus on activities factories and large industrial complexes, gas flaring etc.
The Narrator, who serves as agenda setter, appearing at the beginning, middle and end of the docudrama, equally employ visuals from expert opinions in speeches and lectures. These are inserted during his narration.
The Battle for Life will no doubt be an opener for a vast majority of Nigerians. It is intended to be entertaining, educative and informative.   
Is this your biggest effort yet?
I will say yes. Not in terms of reward, but in terms of challenges. It must be in details and it must be explanatory enough. I am passing information and people must understand that information easily and quickly when the watch the drama, so It is very technical. There are a lot of research involved. Not just in terms of the effects of global warming but also in terms of viewership patterns, and getting to know how quickly and easily can we pass the message. We need to understand how to explain the problems in lay man’s term without losing the real point, Global warming even to foreign producers is difficult to explain, so you can see the scale of what we are trying to do here. But we have a team of good researchers and directors the whole crew at large that will make it a success.
A docu-drama will get to the grassroot, movies have become an easy language to reach the average Nigerian. But carbon emission is caused by huge factories and owned by very rich people, how do they get to see this docu-drama?
This drama we are doing will cut across all people. Either it is the people in the industry or private individuals. In fact we lay more emphasis on industries. But I must tell you that there many things we do domestically are really dangerous. For example, using water to take off the fire in a stove, that is a very bad thing to do. You see that smoke that comes out of that stove when the fire goes off, that is very toxic smoke. They are contributing immensely to global warming. That is why we are educating everybody. Be you a bank manager, or a pepper seller,  we are all contributing to the global issue. When the problem comes, it is on all of us. There is no issue that you have money and you can run away. It is happening globally, there is nowhere to run to. It is better we stay at home and ensure that we do things that should be done and not pollute the air. That is the only way out.
This project is far different from the regular Nollywood film which has more of ritual killings and love stories. Many talk of Nollywood rebranding, is this your way of doing things different in the industry?
I have said it many times that there is need for producers to redirect their minds towards giving educational programmes. In fact I am using this opportunity to tell every film producer to insert at least a scene or a statement about climate change in their production. It is very possible. Not everybody should shoot a complete film on climate change. But in any movie we are shooting, we can put a little scene that talks about the climate change issue. If it is just to show someone throwing garbage in the drainage and the drainage and someone reprimanding that person. “Hey don’t throw that thing in the gutter, it’s not good”, a scene a simple as that can go a long way. Imagine we have similar scenes in many other movies. People will get the message quicker. 
One other thing about the ‘Battle for life’ is that it is highly entertaining. It is funny, witty, full of drama and suspense. We make sure that it has all the element of a very good movie, so that in a bid to pass the message across we do not bore the viewers. It is easy for us to just dive deep into the message and talk about all the bad things, but that way, viewers may easily tune off. We make sure that we captivate the interest of the viewers as well as get their attention.
Nigeria clocked 52 recently, and Nollywood seem to be one our few achievements as a country, what do you as a veteran think Nollywood still lacks and what can be done to improve?
First of all let me address the issue of the name Nollywood. You should know by now that I don’t subscribe to that name. The movie industry in Nigeria should be referred to as the film industry in Nigeria. Nollywood or not, as long as people fail to agree with the proper history of movie making in this country, I will not subscribe to the label of Nollywood. I am yet to start putting things in proper perspective. When I am ready, people will know that there is nothing Nollywood about Nollywood in Nigeria.
What they are referring to as Nollywood only started only in 1992 with the film ‘Living in bondage’. What about those that have been making movies in celluloid since the 70’s. What about people like I and some others who took after them and started doing home video. We have done a host of home videos even before ‘Living in bondage’. So it will be unfair to go around saying that ‘Living in bondage was the first home video in Nigeria. There is a way of putting ‘living in bondage in the history of film making in Nigeria’. If you say that it came and improved the standard of making films in Nigeria, I will accept. But not saying it was the first home video in the country.
My film, ‘Ashiri nla’ and Bello’s film ‘Ashewo to re Mecca’ came out way before they shot ‘Living in bondage’. If they say that the film improved on our films, then I can accept. So when I hear the name Nollywood, I don’t really subscribe to it because they have made it synonymous to a history that is false and I will have nothing to do with that.
Ok, about Nigerian being 52 and the progress of the Nigerian movie industry
On Nigerian being 52, I congratulate myself and I congratulate everybody. Though there have been crisis left and right, we are still not divided. But if the unity will not move us forward, let us look for the right action to take. We don’t want blood shed we don’t want fighting. We should be a good example for other African country to follow. So if we decide to go our separate ways, we can do it peacefully. At 52, we have achieved a little, and it could be better if our leaders change their style and be more in tune with what the people wants.
When we look at Nollywood in all these, we do not have a choice than to move at the pace the country is moving. We have bigger problems which is the piracy issue. I must tell you, our inability to battle piracy has to do with the situation of the country itself. Since the country is the way it is, it is affecting every other aspect of human endeavour. We are still moving ahead though. We will continue to find ways of making better movies and good prices for our viewers and fans to enjoy. 
There is problem at Association of Nigeria Theatre practitioners(ANTP), just last week, there is power tussle at the Actors Guild of Nigeria(AGN), there is problem with the Performing Musicians Association of Nigeria(PMAN), there is problem with almost all entertainment association, Is that entertainers are rascals and can’t conduct themselves in a civilised manner?
There are problems in every association. Don’t single out entertainers. Go to the Nigerian Bar Association(NBA) you will hear of one problem or the other. Go to Dentists association, go to the house of assembly, go to the pepper sellers association, Okada riders association, you will find out that there are problems in every association. So don’t single us out. The reason why you hear about our own problems is that we are popular people and the press report about us a lot. What we are facing in our associations are similar to what other associations are facing.
That being said, we still need to have a solidified body. The Nigerian Film corporation is trying to fashion out a body called the motion picture council. I currently serve on the steering committee of the council. We need a council. The industry needs to be sanitised. It is only when we come together under one association, be you Hausa be you Ibo. That way we will not have multi association, what we will be working on are the guilds. When we are together, we will work in the right directions.
You are a very good stage actor, and dramatist, are you working on any drama production or do you see the art as dead?
We are still talking about the need to bring alive the theatre, it is something that is close to my heart. In fact there is a production coming up towards the end of the year. It is called ‘Ogun Awoyaya’(The boiling battle). It is the history of Lagos in the 18th century. It is about the fight between King Akintoye and King Kosoko. It is very historical. We will act do the drama in December for the last time, then we will produce it for film. We are trying to encourage our people to also do stage performances once in a while to keep it alive.
Who are the actors that took part in ‘Battle for life’
We are still shooting, so we still have many more actors and actresses to take part. But those we have on it now, are so many. We have Chinedu Ikediaze(Aki), Kate Henshaw, Nkem Owoh, Racheal Onigah, Ali Nuhu, Muyiwa Adegoke, and Olaiya Igwe are all on board. But like I said there are many more to take part. We have started already, we will be going to the North next to shoot, then to some villages in the East. Then we will move to the cities, Abuja, Lagos, Porthacourt, Kano.
Before now, you had slowed down on movie production
It has been a while that I produced a movie. I produced my last Yoruba film eight years ago. It’s not that I was being lazy or anything. I was studying the market. Like I said earlier, pirates have hijacked the market. So I want to make sure that I participate actively in creating a proper distribution structure, before I do another movie. That was why I am always involved in activities, and seminars that deals with creating solutions for our distribution network. What sense will it make for me to do a movie and I get just a meagre percentage from the profit, while some people are laughing to the bank.
You are one of the oldest and experienced actors in the country how has the journey been like?
Smooth, it is a learning process actually. I will quickly brief you. I started way back in 1964, when I was just 10 years old and that was the year I also had my first television appearance in a production titled Makanjuola, produced by Ifelodun Travelling Theatre, which had me as a member. It happened that one of our tenants, Dele Toyibo, an elderly person and a member of Ifelodun Travelling Theatre wanted to have a production on television- LTV Bar Beach. They needed a boy of my age then to play (the lead role of) a character called Alabi. So they invited children of my age, we were auditioned and I won the role. Since then, I have always been into acting. I formed my own group, Jide Kosoko Theatre in 1972.
How will you compare the industry then to what we have now?
When I actually started we did not have videos. There were no movies in Nigeria at all. The one we had then was the television drama, in fact, more of stage performance and my orientation is more of stage performance. If you want to compare what happened then and now, you will see there are a lot of changes. When I started, we were only on black and white. A few homes had television. That was the period when you saw people watching a particular production through the window of any home. You may be going somewhere else but when it is time for that programme you just go to any house and stay by their window to watch. But since then there has been a lot of improvement. We now have the home video.
What embarrasses you most as an actor?
That comes almost all the time. When you see all these area boys, especially when you don't have any money with you to give them, it could be embarrassing, you know.
A lot of actresses complain about producers demanding for sex before giving them roles. Is it true?
That is very bad. I have never done it before and if there are producers doing it and I will say it is very bad. Though some people may not see it as something bad, as they feel it happens in every industry. Personnel managers do it to their staff. Teachers do it to their students, politicians do it among their people, government officials do it, journalists do it. But they are all professional abuse on the ethics of their professions. And as I had said earlier, it is not good. But frankly speaking, as a producer, even if your intention is not to give her a role because you want to have sex with her, you can come across somebody you love, is it not possible? It now depends on who that actress is. If she's not complaining that she slept in your office to get a role, it's nothing. But honestly, I find it difficult to believe that producers demand for sex before giving out roles. It's funny

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