Wednesday, 13 August 2014

Exclusive interview with Kunle Afolayan

October 1 will open new chapter in my life –Kunle Afolayan

Kunle Afolayan is a celebrated Nigerian movie producer. His works like Figurine and Phone Swap, have received accolades from movie critics all over the world. He is about to release his latest work, October 1 and a book on his earlier works, Auteuring Nollywood, was launched recently. Senior Correspondent, Hazeez Balogun, was at his Lagos office recently and below is the chat they had together

You had a private screening of your yet to be released movie, October 1. What informed that decision?
It was for those who usually do not go to watch movies; we give them the opportunity to see the film first. Also, it is a means of making additional money to complete the film. The premiere proper will be on October 1 2014.
Is that a new way of making money with movies?
When you have sunk in a lot of money and you are heavily in debt, you have to come up with initiatives on how to make your money back. The conventional distribution channels in Nigeria are hopeless and the only guarantee structure is the cinema and the number is growing and so there are hopes there. The DVD market is out of it and the internet situation here is not stable enough to encourage streaming. We have expended over N200 million on that film, so even if we release it on all the screens in the country, we can’t make the money back. So we had to come up with ways of making the money back. I appreciate the effort and support of all these corporate organisations. Leadway has also shown interest
Tell us about your book?
Well, I do not want to take the glory because it is not my book. The book is about my works, but it is the intellectual work of my brother, Dr.Shina Afolayan of the Department of Philosophy, University of Ibadan. When I was working on Figurine, he came around and saw all the sleepless nights we put into it and I gave him the rough cut to see. He said ‘Kunle, even our father did not go this far with movies when he was doing it’. I and my brother are two different people so it came as a surprise when he said he wanted to write a book on it. Then he started talking to his colleagues and film critics outside Nigeria. It took about four to five years to put the whole work together. This is the first time there a book is written on a film maker and his work in Nigeria.
(more after the cut)

With the name, Auteuring Nollywood: Critical Perspectives on The Figurine, one would think the book is for intellectuals only.
I think it is for everybody. Before now, I have granted over 20 interviews to people who are writing their thesis on Figurine in schools. I met Professor Wole Soyinka’s daughter recently and she told me that she teachesFigurine to her students and she invited me over to talk to her students. Figurine opened a new channel in African cinema and what we have in the book are interviews of the cast and crew of the movie, and reviews of critics from all over the world. There is also a comparism of film ethics in the western world and Africa. The book is going to make a new impact just like the film did especially to those who are looking to study film, or aspiring to be movie makers like Kunle Afolayan.
There are a lot  of expectations from your next movie October 1, tell us a bit of what it is about?
The film, trust me, will surpass figurine. It is a film that will open a new chapter in my life as a film maker and an individual. What we put into figurine is not as much as what we put into October 1. The subject matter is also debateable. It deals with a lot of subjects including religion, where Nigeria is coming from and where Nigeria is going. It also predicts the future of the country. It will make people think, and also educate young Nigerians. All the heroes that fought for independence are featured in the film. I guess people should get ready to be thrilled.
When you start making movies with topical issues, you may start to have problems with the censors board like Half of a Yellow Sun, are you not scared of facing such situation?
It could happen to my film, but I am hoping and praying it does not face such situation. In a way, the film actually promotes the unity of the country. I can’t speak for the producers of Half of a Yellow Sun, but I believe that anyone who sinks such money and resources on a movie, the movie should be done with good intention. Since there is no subsidy from the government of any kind, I believe that the board should soft pedal a little bit. There is nothing negative in October 1, instead it promotes the unity of Nigeria.
How was it like working with veteran actor, Sadiq Daba?
We needed someone to act as a detective from the North. We wanted someone whose appearance will really represent the people of the North and who the people of the South, East and West can relate with. It was his picture that came to mind. I have not seen him in years, so I had to start looking for him. Casting helped a lot; you have to be very original in your casting.
Getting props for a film set in the 1960s must have been difficult.
We created most of the props ourselves. We bought the guns for the period and thanks to Pat Nebo and his team who made half of the components we needed, both the set and the costumes. All the antique vehicles we used, some of them, we sourced here in Nigeria. There were some we had to refurbish for the owners so we can use them. We thank God that we were able to pull it through.
You recently said you want to leave the country for good, are you still going ahead with that decision?
It is something that I have in mind. Sometimes you wake up in this country and you feel like the world is going to come to an end. It is because things are not in good shape. Take the killings for example, you will be in one hotel and you will be afraid that the place may be bombed. I just got tired of everything. In fact, some people saw me yesterday and were surprised and asked, ‘I thought you have left?’ Somebody also called me and said he wanted to give me a job but, he thought I had relocated. That is what this country do to a lot of people. A few of us will cry out, some of us will air our concerns in public, but many will pretend like everything is alright. I can’t do that. We have to look for a way to just keep ourselves and our families alive.
You were once criticised for telling a foreign media that you are not part of Nollywood, why did you make such statement?
I did not say that; maybe I was misquoted. If Nollywood is the name that people decide to call the movie industry in Nigeria, then I am part of it. If Nollywood is what they say is 20 years, then I am not part of that Nollywood because I have been doing film business for more than 30 years now. Some people read funny meanings to what I said, and that is why you do not see me taking part in the guilds and all their politics. I just concentrate on my work. Most of those people who are putting issues like that to heart are those who are not working, and an idle mind is the devil’s workshop.
You did some work for Africa Magic, some say the romance of Nollywood and Africa Magic is not good for the industry, what is your take on that?
I will say that the partnership with the industry is good because Africa Magic has a platform that is continental and it has helped to expose our works. They have helped us reach a wider audience and reach more people. It is an open market, if you do not like the terms and condition, you can take your contents elsewhere. Right now, why will they create more local channels if not because there is a good relationship with the industry?
Africa Magic is producing its own films, many think there will come a time, they will stop patronising independent producers like you.
They are creating their own content. As you know, they have so many channels, and they cannot wait for independent producers to fill their channels with contents. If they think what they are buying are not enough, it is right for them to produce their own. It is opening the door for more competition and it will open the door for more creativity and ideas.
How do you think the government should intervene in the movie industry?
I have said many things about this issue and I do not know what to say again. What is the use of saying these things and nothing is done about it. I think the government knows what to do with the industry, let them do it when they want. I am tired of saying these things. Many governments are looking for ways for movies to be shot in their countries. They look for ways to entice moviemakers. This is exclusive and I am yet to announce it; I am signing a co-production deal with the island country of Seychelles. It is a big deal for the country. They are holding a huge press conference there next month and I will be there. They are announcing to the world that they should come and shoot their movies in their country and they will get concessions.
Look at Britain as well. They just announced that if you shoot a film up to £1 million, you get a quarter of that amount back. These are things that countries do to support the movie industry. This is because they know the good that comes with movie making. They know the number of people that are employed per production. Here when you shoot a film, censors board want to have your head, the cinemas want to have your head and the pirates are there waiting for you. We know all these problems and the government knows as well, and they know what to do, there is little I can say.
Moviemakers are now pitching their tents with politicians, even you were criticised recently for supporting Aregbesola, is this the way to go? 
I have benefitted from some state governments, yet I am not a politician. I don’t go about campaigning for anyone. I can say categorically that Fashola is one of the best things that has happened to governance in Nigeria, yet I will not go about campaigning for the man. I have experienced what Aregbesola has done in Osun State. The place is where I pass to my village and I know that before the man got there, it was hell for us to pass through that road. I am also doing a documentary for the state, which is not even funded by the man. Through the documentary, I even got an insight into other things the man has done. I have the right to endorse whom I want to. Despite the admiration, I have for the man, you will not see me on stage, campaigning for him. I will be willing and ready to support him though.
There are many new faces coming into the industry, do you sense competition for your top spot?
At all. In fact, we need these new faces. For me, my joy is to have Nigerian films dominating the cinemas in Nigeria and not foreign films. We have 160 million people in this country, and we have not covered 10 per cent of the market potential. A creative mind will always be a creative mind.
What is your dream for the Nigeria film industry?
I will not tell you my dream for the industry, I will tell you my dream for myself. I want to remain here; I want to make film here. If it becomes too tough here, I will go out and make movies that will represent our people.
Why did you name your outfit, Golden Effect?
When I left banking, I wanted to start a company with my cousin, Yinka, who is with Glo now. We decided to use the name Golden, because the idea is to create movies that are golden. I was trying to use an indigenous name but could not come up with anyone.
One would have thought you would have continued your father’s theatre group. 
The man had 25 children, how would I, just one out of 25, take over his name. It is a family estate and I have to make a name for myself as well.
Many of your siblings are also into movies as well, one would have thought that you all should have done a remake of you father’s blockbusters. 
In the future we will. It is something that the family is planning to do.
All the moviemakers in your house seem to be independent, you hardly work together, why? 
If you understand the elements and ethics of films, you will know that brother or siblings do best when they act only as brothers in films. Go and look at the Wayans brothers’ movies. They only act as brothers. It is in people’s subconscious that they are brothers and are expected to be seen as such in movies. If I am going to do a film I can only play brother to Aremu or Gabriel. If such film comes up, I will gladly do it. Also, I don’t just cast just because someone is my brother. Tell me, in what part of Figurine would Aremu or Gabriel have fitted in? Samething with October 1 and my other movies. There is a film that will be part of my Seychelles project, Gabriel will be playing lead in it and that is because he fits the character and nothing else; not because he is my brother.

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