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January 15, 2010

My fight to put Nollywood on global stage – Lancelot Imasuen

By Benjamin NJOKU
Lancelot Oduwa Imasuen a.k.a ‘D Governor’ is a golden fish as far as the Nigerian movie industry is concerned. A director with  superlative credentials, he has produced as well as directed quite a number of  movies in his 15 years of film making, and has been in the forefront of globalising Nigerian movie industry.

His films, including “Issakaba”, “Games Men Play”, ‘Games Women Play”, “Emotional Cracks”, “Private Sin”, “Critical Decisions”, “Woman in Red” and “August Meeting”, all testify to his uncommon craft in film directing. Imasuen in this exhaustive interview, recounts his effort to globalise Nollywood as well as appraising the emerging trend in the industry.

Your began directing  shortly after you left Radio Nigeria as a broadcaster. How has it been so far?

I read Theatre Arts at the University of Port-Harcourt. After graduation, I made a stop over at the Radio Nigeria as a broadcaster before I delved into the movie industry in 1995.

I have been an artiste all my life. I directed my first film titled, “Adaku”, an Igbo language film in 1995. You begin to wonder what attracted an Edo state born artiste to venture into directing an Igbo language movie.

First and foremost, the language of art is universal. I don’t need to understand Igbo language to be able to give direction to actors on set. The emotion is what I need to actualize certain aspects of the film. That was in June 1995.

And by 1996, I did  two more movies but in 1997, I did  a movie that brought global attention to my craft. The movie was entitled, ‘Yesterday.” It focused on female genital mutilation, which I called social cultural gang up against the women of Africa.

My first film actually brought attention to that movie, and the accolade was enormous. Thereafter, people started identifying with my art as a result of the movie, and several scripts started coming my way in droves.

As the man behind the camera, what is it exposing like Nigerian movie stars to the world scene?

In 2005, some group in Germany asked me to facilitate the travelling of Genevieve Nnaji and Patience Ozokwor to Germany, for the simply reason that they were nominated for wards. I was given Nollywood Most Celebrated Film Makers Award, while Genevieve and Patience Ozokwor were rewarded from the artiste’s perspective.

While I facilitated the trip and immediately we arrived Hamburg, attention was shifted to Genevieve and Patience. The people that had been talking with me all this while, upon sighting the actresses, abandoned me to attend to them. They hugged them, crowded around them, and nobody bothered to ask after me anymore.

I had to protest to the organizers concerning how I was abandoned. Severally, when I facilitate foreign trip for Nigerian movie stars, the reception accorded them always make me green with envy. While some of them would be  sleeping, I would be awake making necessary arrangements to ensure that the trip was successful.

But I must confess that, the artistes have never failed to testify to their fans that I’m the man that made it happen for them. I have had a very wonderful relationship with the various artistes I have worked with, because they know that I’m a no nonsense man.

There had never been any ugly incident in my career as a director cum producer. But for wanting to expose Nigerian movie stars to the international scene, I have had series of hitches, mostly coming from my partners who do not know what it took me to be Lancelot Oduwa Imasuen.

Lancelot Oduwa Imasuen a.k.a ‘D Governor

There are other things I may not want to make public, regarding the pains I had to incur as a result of my desire to globalize Nollywood. But at the end of the day, our celebration as movie stars are beyond the shores of this country.

Let’s know some of these pains?

For instance, if I facilitate a trip abroad for stars, and the show did not go the way it was planned, and because I negotiated with the artistes, I must do everything to pay them their agreed amount of money. Sometimes, I come home empty.

It has happened several times, apart from the fact that I also had to face accusations and counter-accusations from my partners. I remember an incident, where Genevieve was to make a trip with us abroad, the arrangement couldn’t work out, and my partners accused me of not delivering the deal, as a result, it caused us a lot of  upheavals.

You are using your Edo language movie ,”Ebuwa”to promote the indigenous languages. How is the project?

Wonderful!  My  first film was done in Igbo language. So, there’s always the need for us to go back to your first love. I took a crucial look at where I come from, Benin, the repertoire of the cultures of Africa. My coming from Benin, and also becoming a film maker is never by accident, but for a reason. I initiated celebrating and sustaining Edo language initiative.

Also, as a way of helping the Diasporas, I decided to be making high quality movies in my language, exploring themes that they can relate with, while subtitling the films in English.

Sometime ago, a lady called me from New Jersey to inform that for 26 years, she had not been in Nigeria, watching my movies makes her relate again with her local language. The testimony, I have gotten so far from the diaspora is tremendous. It’s one project I’m glad to undertake.

However, I’m graduating from not just making Edo language movies. I’m moving into the history of Edo people; the greatest of that kingdom. So, I’m focusing on historical things of Edo kingdom.

The first movie in this direction is entitled, “Adesuwa”, which tells the story of love, lust, pride and the strength of a Benin man. It’s going to be done in English, and dated back to 1752 when the actual incident happened.

It involves Obi Olise from Obulukwu who comes to pay homage to Oba of Benin. In the cause of the royal visit, Olise sees a pretty girl and falls in love with her. Unknown to him, the girl is betrothed to the Oba of Benin.

Olise has to do everything to get her attention. He brings some of her wares on credit, and promises to send the money to her in a week’s time. But this is not to be as the girl stubbornly storms his palace to demand for her money.

At that point, the king attempts to have an affair with her, which she resists, and in the process, he kills her, thus sparking off the  war between Obulukwu and Benin, and several wars fought by Benin warlords. I’m also doing other cultural inclined fictions. Particularly, the movie that got massive reviews in the UK during its premiere was titled, “Home in Exile”.

The movie is watched today in over 30 countries across the world. It’s running in cinemas in the UK, Ireland, and plans are in top gear to take it to Freetown in Sierra Leone soon. It’s another testimony to the fact that people should not judge our movies based on the qualities of the movies they have been exposed to.

The film, “Home in Exile” breaks those barriers with Kunle Afolanyan’s “Figurine”, which we ran simultaneously in the Cinemas in the UK. While the films were shown in the Cinemas, with picture quality, sound and artistry, impressive turn-out greeted their showing.

That is the future of Nollywood. There is a rebate of the new Nollywood films being propagated presently by the likes of Kunle Afolanyan, Lancelot Oduwa Imasuen, Tunde Kelani, Emem Isong, Desmond Elliot and others, making quality films that would boost the acceptance of our movies internationally.

Take for instance, Desmond Elliot’s Guilt Pleasures, which premiered recently at Silverbird Cinemas in Accra, Ghana. It’s is a case in point.  People thought showing our movie in Cinemas ever before going to the market would not be possible. Stephanie Okereke’s Through the Glass also toed the same path. So, those who are alleging that Nollywood is dying should pause for a while.

The industry is re-skinning, or what I want call “filtering”, and when this re-skinning comes through, only very few people will be able to stand the heat of the new Nollywood.

That brings us to the emerging trend, where the professionals themselves are taking up the challenges of making movies, in place of the Idumota/Onitsha traders who dictate the pace? Yes, actors are toeing the line. Desmond Elliot is now producing as well as directing films, so also, Uche Jombo, Ini Edo, Stephanie Okereke, Lilian Bach, name them.

Well, there is nothing knew in this direction. That the stars are now becoming producers and directors does not mean the professionals have taken over the industry.

It’s a good development but we need to watch the trend, because Africans have this mentality of getting over-excited over little things. Somebody asked me recently concerning the experience I had while premiering my language movie”Ebuwa” in the cinemas.

Ebuwa was the first Nigerian movie to premiere in Benin, Abuja, the UK Canada and USA and after two years the film has sustained me. It hits shelve recently. I would say the trend is good or bad, rather it’s an evolution. Let’s see where it leads us to. But again, we must caution ourselves concerning getting over-excited. It’s now clear that we can no longer do a global business in the Nigerian way, which has been the problem of Nollywood.

The romance between Indians, Nigerians and Americans in the business of film making is going to open our eyes to the fact that we can no longer do a global business in the Nigerian way. We must be able to globalise and that’s what I have been doing these years and nobody seems to understand me.

I have been trying to globalise Nollywood by attending international festivals, conferences and interacting with professionals from other countries of the world. It’s myself and Tunde Kelani who have been championing the cause of globalising Nollywood.