‘Yoruba video films come from a tradition based on thorough knowledge of theatre'
Sola Fosudo, a university teacher and actor par excellence, is one of the most significant voices in the thriving Nollywood industry in Nigeria. He has starred in many box hit movies and is a favourite of many movie freaks. Last week, in the wake of the Lagos State University students' unrest, the movie chieftain, sitting tiredly in his office tucked away in the Faculty of Arts building of the main campus, spared time to review the business of Nollywood and the attendant government policies that guide the administration of the industry. He spoke particularly about the Yoruba movie industry, which he says, has attained a remarkable technical improvement
I WANT you to take a look at the Nollywood industry where you have made a significant mark and tell me your impression, especially about the Yoruba films.
Oh Yoruba films?
Okay, I sincerely think that Yoruba video films are gradually making stronger impressions than before. And this is so because they have learnt from their past mistakes. They also have been influenced by the English films and the high standard that English films have brought to the production of films. Through the use of very good locations, very good cameras, the use of very colourful costumes, Yoruba video films have been able to achieve this. And some of these improvements were absent at first in the Yoruba films in the early days when they started. But when the English films came, they emphasized glamour to a large extent and the Yoruba video film producers learnt a lot from them. These film producers now bring in all these elements in their own film productions.
Beyond all these, one major advantage that Yoruba video film producers have is that they are coming from a tradition that is based on the thorough knowledge of the theatre because many of them grew from the old theatre groups of Ogunde, Baba Sallah, Adejobi and all that. And normally, they go through training sessions. They normally discuss and develop stories in a very artistic way so that they can be very dramatic. So, coming from that background, Yoruba movies have now some kind of advantage over the English films. Presently, because they have these added advantages of good stories, well told stories and well directed stories plus very good technical qualities which they have imbibed from the English films, they have made impressive marks. So, they have these attributes to their advantage; and in my mind, I think Yoruba video films have made some remarkable improvements. I commend them for that.
You have spoken so proudly about Yoruba films. What do you think of language barrier. It doesn't disturb you that the market scope of the films will be hampered by language use of the actors and actresses?
Yes, it used to be before. But now, all the Yoruba films are sub-titled. I told you that the producers learnt a lot from the English film makers because when they came into the scene, people began to discriminate against the Yoruba films saying that they were limited in terms of audience reception. But that criticism did not last for too long as the film makers resorted to sub-titling their productions so that those who do not understand the Yoruba language could as well follow the story and dramatic import of the story. Just like you and I used to watch a lot of Indian films but understood little of what the stories were all about. But as soon as the films were sub-titled, we enjoyed the films the more.
Even when you do not follow all the sub-title texts beneath the screen while watching a film, sometimes the actions tell you the story. So, that's what I mean. Now that there has been an improvement in the technical quality with the use of good cameras, good locations, good actors and good costumes and well told stories, what else do you expect? When all these elements are in place, the film production is 30 per cent done. Now what remains are other things: the creativity of the actors, the coordination and creativity of the director etc. And these are the advantages that the Yoruba films had and still have.
Some years back, you got into a project tagged Film Festival, which was essentially focussed on Yoruba films. But somewhere along the line, the project nosedived. What happened to that vision?
You see, a lot of things happened. I really wouldn't want to talk about that film festival. But what happened was that, that time, I was consulting and managing the Satellite Town Theatre complex. Then, I was doing a number of things: I used to do Christmas shows, end of year shows, New Year shows, Easter shows etc. I also used to show football there. There was this African Cup of Nations tournament which I screened live there. And we also used to screen some films brought by individuals that time.
But I thought we needed to promote some of our films and that was how I came up with the idea of a Film Festival which was not really successful because a lot of movie producers didn't submit their films for screening while some did. But unfortunately, I had to travel out of the country when the festival started and the people I left behind could not really sustain the tempo of the festival and so, half way to the end of the festival, the thing just crumbled.
Also, a lot of people within the Lagos metropolis didn't know about the Satellite Theatre because it is within the region here. Some of the films that were exhibited during the festival were not well attended and that development helped to demoralize other exhibitors and other film producers and the project just died like that. So, one cannot say that it was a success.
But on other hand, I will not say that it was a total failure. After all, we had sponsors. Apart from NTA 7 that was promoting the festival, Chivita also helped to sponsor the festival because for every ticket that was bought, a Chivita product was given and that helped to bring in a lot of people to the theater complex. But, we didn't make the kind of effect that I expected.
I want to think that there is a way in which little efforts help to ignite very big ones. This film festival we are talking about happened in 1998 or 1999; and perhaps that was why some people have to come to the thinking that Nigeria actually needs cinema theatres because few years after that attempt, some people began to build state-of-the-art cinema theatres and gallerias; and of course, such measures have now helped in the promotion of the exhibition of films eventhough up till now, Nigerian movies are not really being exhibited. But I believe that as we continue to have more and more of such private initiatives, Nigerian films and home video films will be exhibited.
What do you think of this apathy to Nigerian films in the private cinemas and gallerias?
I believe that the medium the galleria for instance, uses is celluloid. Their machine is 35mm or 16mm projector. So, it is likely that those cinemas are not built for video projections. But I believe that very soon, some cinema theatres will be built which might have both the cinema and video projectors. They may as well have different halls in the same complex that will be showing different films at the same time.
What is your feeling about the copyright situation in the industry?
Of course, there is an agency that is empowered to handle the copyright matters.
I mean to what extent has the Censors board faired in its duties?
The decree that established the Censors board gave it mandate to watch movies and films and ensure that the contents are in good taste and do not abuse the cultures of the country and are also not against government policies among other provisions, while the Copyright Commission is to handle the issue of piracy.
But do you know that the Copyright Commission has been taken out of the Ministry of Culture and is now placed under the Ministry of Justice and President Obasanjo just did that few weeks ago? But I think that the Justice ministry should be able to help the industry to reduce piracy in the industry.
They have appropriate ways to apprehend people who violate the rules through their enforcement agents, and they also know how to arraign people before the law courts and get them sentenced.
The problem has remained that people empowered to do these
works do not really know how to go about arresting people. That's the problem. You know if you are given an assignment and you don't know how to go about the assignment, the assignment won't be done. But I think that one of the ways to bring a solution to this problem is to attain a certain sense of cooperation among all the parastatals.
There should be inter-agency
committees: inter-ministerial cooperation whereby some officers of the Copyright Commission, for instance, will work together with some officers of the Censors board and should be able to form a committee to look at the problem of the industry and proffer solutions as to how it can be moved forward together with some key players in the industry.
I remember that I was one of those people that suggested a council of practitioners. They have put one in place now, but the problem remains that people who have ideas and are knowledgeable are not invited to come and salvage the industry.