Lancelot Oduwa Imasuen is one of the earliest participants in the home video revolution that birthed Nollywood. In a couple of months, the Edo State born filmmaker who can be said to have seen it all, will be celebrating a quarter of a decade as a filmmaker. In this interview with eelive.ng, he speaks about the industry and how he thinks it can attain its potential
You’ve been a filmmaker for a long time, what are your current interests?
I am paying a lot of attention to documentaries. That is very important to me because in next twelve months, I will be twenty-five years behind the camera as a Director and that is very humbling to me. Now, it is not is not just about making films but about creating more impacts. That is why I started the Benin Film Academy, trying to train some young filmmakers and to give them a platform – the kind we didn’t have. And it is so gratifying seeing lives taking shape just because one is trying to provide the kind of opportunity we didn’t have, the kind of push we didn’t have, the kind of platform we didn’t have, we are now able to create it for others. This morning, I got a clip of the work my students are doing, and I got very, very emotional. Probably, these guys would have been on the streets, but we’ve been able to create a channel for them, not just the talent but having opportunity to showcase the talent, so that’s one major thing we do.
As I said, I am taking more interest in documentaries. I just made The Benin Fruit Seller, about some unbelievably diligent guy in Benin who has innovated ways of selling his own fruits and like a joke, he’s popular. Popular, pushing his fruits in his cart, everybody thought the guy was insane, everybody thought he had a mental problem the way he dresses, the way he goes about selling his fruits, I was curious. When you are talking about the resilience, when you are talking about the resolute, never say die spirit of the Nigerian. This guy has, according to him, sold fruits to the high and mighty. People like the great Esama of Benin stops to buy his fruits. The first time that I showed the documentary to a number of people in Benin, see the amount of money he was given, I felt very proud that at the end of the day, we are using our craft, not just to entertain but to impact life.
Several other projects. After Invasion 1897 which was quite big, we are thinking of something new on that scale, something epic that we will soon be talking about. We’ve been busy.
If you look back in your 25 years in the industry, how much would you say Nollywood has evolved as an industry?
I think we have really evolved, there has been a lot of ups and downs in terms of conflicts which we are known for. Fights here and there. Some guys came up to say they are new Nollywood, some are old, the male/female dichotomy, a lot that has happened.
But in all there have been growth, it may not have been all encompassing, some years ago we didn’t have festivals like Irep and several other platforms that have come up. It’s just that commercially, Nollywood has suffered, when the guys that were selling cassettes, VCD, DVD were doing their own, they didn’t see beyond the immediate, so now the cinema came which is more like an elitist thing, so the fate that befell that other sector the DVD is also happening to this other one. So, I see that yes there is growth, but there have also been areas of retrogression, this is a conflict as far as I am concern.
In all reality, some guys would just come in with razzmatazz and you think something is happening but when you pause to actually look at it, you will discover that nothing really happened. Then there is the upsurge of social media which is being used to create a sort of façade.
So, you see all the beautiful cars, the big mansions that are on display today and people, especially ascribe a lot of these to Nollywood. But people do a lot of other things to acquire the wealth that they flaunt, where is the structure for this level of returns in Nollywood?
What are the things you’ll like to be done better?
Structure, all the things I been talking about – structure. If 200 movies are released at the cinema and only three made it, that cannot be said to be growth – only two or three sold two hundred million, three hundred million, look at the indices.
If somebody has a TV station and pumps advertisement all the time and the film sells one hundred and fifty million and I don’t have such, if I shoot my movie for five million naira and I only have five million to do advertisement and the movie sells thirty million, I will not agree that the person who sold two hundred million sold more than me. This is the reality, the industry needs to be organised, the industry needs to be recalibrated, the industry needs to be set in the right perspective, the industry needs records – how much did you put in this movie, how much came from the cinema, how much came from other auxiliary distribution alternatives? But the issue of razzmatazz, the issue of overtly over-bloated, egoistic projections of positioning seems to be beclouding the reality on ground. But the truth is, between you and I the Nollywood film industry is nothing more than a noise gun.
When you say structure, I like for you to be more specific, what are the specific things you will like to see, what are the structures? You’ve already talked about records, aside from that what are the other things you will like to see?
When I say structure, we can’t all be running to make films, what are the available means of return? That’s what I call structure, today 97/98% of Nollywood producers are crying inside, the returns are nothing to write home about, right now we are at the mercy of DSTV and few others, how many movies make money from the cinemas?
Haven’t you been so vigilant that they make noise and after three, four days at the cinema the noise fizzles out, haven’t you been that observant to notice that?
Having a structure must be of concern to the government, the film policy by government needs to be revisited. Look at the documentary on Oba Sonuga that we just watched, it took the government to prevail on the man whose documentary was made for him to handle the Lagos State Arts and Culture, can you beat that? How many state governments in Nigeria are aware that this is a sector?
I initiated what I called the Culture-nomics. A workshop I used to do in Benin, the economics of culture. I tried to say that it should no longer be art for art sake, it’s art for existence so we need this structure to be in place where we can make money back. If your return on investment is glaring enough, there would be enthusiasm amongst investors. As we speak, because a lot of them say Lancelot has been disturbing me, oya, Lancelot take this ten million – whether Lancelot gives it back or not they don’t care. But if someone gives me ten million and I return fifteen million, he will give me forty the next time. These are the things that are obviously lacking.
Because right now you are talking to people and they begin to call names that they see on social media, what of this person, the lies that they have read, the unrealistic madness that we’ve seen out there. That is why right now, 99% of the producers in Nigeria are afraid.