By Benjamin Njoku
Actress-turned-diplomat, Franca Aernan, has paid her dues in Nollywood. Through sheer hard work and consistency, she has risen to the top of her career and contributed immensely to the growth of the industry.
Aside acting and being a publisher, Benue State-born Franca has churned out four successful movies as a producer.
â€œMy dream is to produce many movies but the industry is not yet stable. I will return when the industry is fully settledâ€, said the star of Valentino, Coming to Africa, Sabina and many other hit movies.
For distinguishing herself in the industry, Franca was appointed two years ago, as the Special Assistant to the Nigerian ambassador to Mexico, Professor Baba, a position she held until the ambassador returned to the country to vie for the governorship seat in his state.
Now, still the Special Assistant, Domestic to the same ambassador who is now in Canada, Franca has been a force to reckon with when it comes to the Actorsâ€™ Guild of Nigeria.
She was past vice-president of the guild and rallying point for the Abuja chapter of the association. In this encounter, Franca shares her passion, journey and place of the Federal Capital Territory in Nollywood. EXCERPTS:
Yes, I have not been featuring in movies for sometime now. I took a sabbatical a few years ago to work as Special Assistant to the then Nigerian Ambassador to Mexico, Professor Baba.Â However, when he returned to the country to vie for the governorship seat in his state, I was still retained as his special assistant.
Now, as the Nigerian Ambassador to Canada, Professor Baba appointed me as his Special Assistant, Domestic. Thatâ€™s it.
During this period, as the national vice-president of the Actorsâ€™ Guild of Nigeria, AGN, North Central, I relocated to Abuja.Â But on getting to the Federal Capital Territory, I discovered that the location had not opened up for serious business.
And the fact that producers were coming to Abuja to shoot their movies initially meant a shortage of jobs for most of us who reside there. So, the frequency of featuring in movies was not there anymore. At that point, we decided to embark on sensitisation tour of Abuja. Even while I was working with Ambassador, I still found time to come around and sensitise my people, having left Lagos for too long.
At least, there is a noticeable change now. Film makers are beginning to come to Abuja to shoot their movies.
Recently, I returned to work when I featured in three hot movies namely, â€˜Abuja Marriageâ€™, â€˜Blend Arrowâ€™ and Titanic Satanâ€™.
I must say thatÂ part of the reason I have not been featuring in movies is not because Iâ€™m not available but principally because Abuja as a location initially was not very vibrant.Â It takes a lot of money and time to shoot movies there. But all that has changed now.
Diplomacy and Nollywood
When I landed that job two years ago, as the special Assistant to the Nigerian Ambassador to Mexico, I was off the screen for sometime. But I didnâ€™t stop functioning in my capacity as the national vice-president of the actorsâ€™ guild.
At a point, I took it upon myself to see to the welfare of actors residing in Abuja when I personally sensitised them concerning the need for them to make themselves relevant in the industry. I was working then in my capacity as the vice-president of the guild, and did not do much of acting.
Shooting movies in Abuja
Abuja is gradually craving into consciousness of Nollywood. Unlike what we experienced in the past few years, Abuja is presently becoming the hobnob of film making with many film makers trooping to the city to shoot their films.Â At least, over 50 movies were shot in Abuja in the last two years (from 2007). But half-way through 2008 to till date, the number dropped drastically.
We now have a situation
where one or two movies are shot at most. Reason being that at a time in Abuja, the actors were ejected from their meeting point, making it impossible for any film maker to ascertain their whereabouts.Â That was part of the reasons the producers stopped coming to Abuja to shoot their movies for awhile.
And again, this happened because the funds which they paid as dues to the national body and which they were entitled to retrieve- about 60 per cent of their contribution to hire a place that would serve as their meeting point. But this was not to be.
The national body under Ejike Aseigbuâ€™s leadership did not remit the fund to them. Monies, according to them, were paid into an unknown account.
And this being part of the problem, I took the matter up with Aseigbu as the vice-president. But I didnâ€™t know then that I was stepping on his toes when I confronted him.
Subsequently, the members wrote petitions against him, which I strongly supported. Not until I was made the interim vice-president by the Kanayo O. Kanayo led-caretaker committee, I had to use my personal money to hire a new accommodation for our members in Abuja.
I have featured in over 45 movies, including â€˜Human Cargoâ€™, â€œComputer Girlsâ€, â€œComing to Africaâ€, â€œSabinaâ€. I also featured in the now rested â€˜Ripplesâ€, and â€˜Wings of Destinyâ€, â€œSweet and Sourâ€™.
I actually started from the stage with the National Troupe under the directorship of Bayo Oduleye before I moved to NTA. Then, I was a very young girl . It was a period when TV dramasÂ were really appreciated by the viewers.
I started acting from there, and before I could know what was happening, â€˜Ripplesâ€ came on board, and I was invited to join the cast, followed by â€˜Wings of Destinyâ€.
And in 1994, when Nollywood emerged, the trend shifted. And by 1996, when I was in third year, Mass Communication Department, at University of Lagos, I started acting professionally.
Marginalisation of older faces in Nollywood
I once felt marginalised but the thing is that as people grow older, you discover that lead roles are not always meant for the older faces. The faces of the emerging stars sell movies at times.
Of course, there are some movies where older faces are required to play vital roles but these are very few movies compared to the ones the emerging stars are assigned to. For me, I advocate the need to use faces based on their individual merits.