WHY I RELOCATED TO ABUJA— FRANCIS DURU
For several years, Nollywood fans have become very close to one of its fine faces, Francis Duru. The reason is not far fetched because he has been involved in some of the best films of those good old days including Rattle Snake, Dust to Dust, Silent Night, etc and many titles of the current dispensation.
From his years at the University of Port Harcourt to his sojourn in Lagos, Duru did not leave anyone in doubt about where he is coming from and where he is headed.
When all was about to fall in place, Duru left Lagos where many believe is the entertainment hub of Nigeria for Abuja where he has been living with his family. Why did he take this decision?
Everything in life is dependent on the foundation and back ground. I have a very firm foundation in the theatre business before I even went to the university.
I had a stint with Paul Worika's theatre group. Paul Worika was the man who did Basi & Co with Ken Saro Wiwa. I also had something to do with Wili Wili Traveling Theatre. Looking back now I see that that kind of foundation was necessary for anyone who wished to be in theatre arts.
Then it was at the University of P.H that my skills were refined by great minds like late Amatu Braide, Columbus Irosoanga, Dr Emma Ogah, Ejiofor, Sam Dede, Prof Ola Rotimi. I had the opportunity to meet the late Zulu Sofola, Prof Femi Osofisan and a host of others.
Meeting with these people was not just to sit and talk but much academic value was added to what one had. I also had opportunity of working with some of my seniors in school like Ejike Asiegbu, Dike Nwachukwu, Hilda Dokubo, Uche Ogbonna, Bob Manuel Udokwu etc.
I believe that picking from all these areas gave me the solid base because as they say dog no dey born goat. If you come from such background you have no choice than to behave it.
What I mean is that you can not identify with these kinds of people and give out something below standard because they have constantly identified with excellence anytime in anything they do whether as director, or actor and all.
Decadence in art .
This is very true. It is very horrible that upcoming artistes do not think of work first before thinking of the issue of stardom. To a large extent, you don't blame them because decadence in arts, faulty culture and tradition which is eating deep into the fabric of our lives is dealing with Nollywood as well. People become stars just on posters.
People feature in 20 movies and their face grace posters and they have become stars. I have always said that we have 15% real actors and 85% superstars.
That 15% are the Sam Locos, the Bob Manuel Udokwus, the Sam Dedes; the Olu Jacobs et al fall into this category. Any time they are there no matter what. While you are on set, these things speak. Those who had core training persee. They glow. In Nigeria, it is all about the fame and not about the art. This is really unhealthy and I am not glad about this
How it all started
Rattle snake where I played the role of Ahanna was not by first movie as many people think. My first movie was The Missing Mask. It was directed by Ndubuisi Okoh for Catwalk Pictures. That was the first time I had to get into audio visual per see.
The whole thing about acting for me started in 1989 when I mistakenly followed my friend to an audition where Paul Worika was in-charge. I had the opportunity of reading and some one said why don't you just do it. Since I was just waiting for JME, I had time to do it and from then all things fell in place. I entered the University of Port Harcourt.
I got the role purely on merit. I tell you the story. Ejike Asiegbu was coming to Lagos from Uniport to do shows and in Uniport, one thing was clear that if you had the passion to do whatever you do very well, it endeared you to some of your seniors in school.
On stage, no one talks seniority except your art which speaks for you. Ejike was and still is a big brother to me. He told us to arrange and follow him to Lagos. And there was an ASUU strike which kept every one free from academics.
Then Sam Dede had given us a note to give to Sam Loco in case we might require any assistance. We met Uncle Sam Loco who took us around and we did some drama sketches on his programme called Clean Talk. And also Ejike was driving us around Lagos when the Rattle Snake audition came up.
Julius Agwu and I were the first and second after the audition and when the two of us blended what we did in the audition, it was magic and Amaka Igwe said hei, that's my Peter and that's my Ahanna. So it was purely on merit. The rest is hard work because that is what it takes to maintain, retain and keep your head down.
You see its just the grace of God because I ask myself how do I actually consistently maintain my decorum. I have a culture of discipline and it is that culture that has led me on. As a theatre practitioner, your discipline is next to that of the military and once this is eroded, it is all a mess.
Indiscipline is fast becoming a monster eating up Nollywood people. People have no respect for professional ethics. So much emphasis on the fact that they want to become stars. Stars of what?
Impression of University of PH theatre school
Discipline is it. , at the Crab you were meant to understand that discipline is the watch word. Secondly, you were made to have real passion for the arts. You must be passionately attached. Aside from these, you were expected to be a Methodian.
Actors from the University of Port Harcourt have a certain linkage in the pattern of acting. We took so much from our lecturers because they were open and gave us the opportunity to soak in the method. We were hungry for excellence and discipline.
We wanted to do the right thing all the time. We always made something out of nothing. Another thing you note is that seniors pass it on to the juniors who also do same. So I can say discipline, passion, dedication endear all to University of Port Harcourt theatre school.
I have not conquered yet. There are several aspects of the business that I have not been able to realise. I have not hit the money I feel should come out for the art. I want to be part and parcel of the flight the industry is about to make.
I can direct fine, but it is not extraordinary to me at least I went through the mill. My heartbeat is on distribution of movies. I sleep every night with a headache. How can I organise a distribution network to help push about 5 million copies of a film product.
I want to be part of those who take the industry farther than it has gone, I am working underground but distribution is the big problem. That affects every other thing in terms of standard and how much money and impact on the society.
I have met several people who would say we have colonised the world with our movies. However, we are not distributing very well, I want to be part of those who do this. We are deliberating everyday.
It is not all about productions. I feel that if I am producing, I should be making money out of it. I don't intend to slave for anybody. Could we sell one million copies of a movie across the world?
If we could and assuming we are selling 100 naira for one copy, we would have made N100m and if you remove about N20m for production and distribution, what other business would be as good as this? Which other business gives you happiness and so much fun while you are working and you make N80m after investing about N20m?
Film making and other forms of showbizness is great business and that is were my heart is.
Working with Sam Loco in every movie including Sergant Okoro is what I always look forward to. Apart from his fatherly presence, his humour, there are several things you pick from him as an icon he is. His presence overwhelms you.
Whenever I have an opportunity to play with him, it is very nostalgic. Sergeant Okoro was a set I would love to have repeated. We had a set of professionals who were at work. Ayo Binta Mogaji was my mother, Sam Loco was my father, Anne Njemaze was my sister.
Imagine you were planted in the midst of all these great professionals, it is an opportunity to always want to grab again and again, Sam Loco remains a veteran, a professional, evergreen, every time and day there is no time you call him and you don't get it as hot as freshly baked. His fatherly presence is super.
Lagos to Abuja
When I made to move to relocate from Lagos, the heat of Nollywood to Abuja, it was not intentional. I believe as a born again Christian, we say we are fearfully and wonderfully made, God has deposited in us natural endowment, variables in different forms.
When I came to Abuja, it was with a project to do some image laundry for Nigeria just as President Obasanjo was berthing in 1999. I realise I could actually go beyond acting. I knew I could articulate proposals. So when some one dropped an idea which we started pursing, it was almost done until when Jery Gana was reposted.
When he moved from Information, the project died.
Actually what got me interested in Abuja was when I became born again in the year 2000. I started attending discipleship training school of family worship centre ot the late Pastor Eno Omaku of blessed memory. The altar call made led me to Jesus.
I found out that there was so much light in what I do. I realised that the emptiness you had while you were in Lagos was caused by something. There was something I couldn't touch.
The day I became born again, I realised it was the cause of the emptiness that I was feeling. My being in Christ changed the entire perception of what I do. I had a new light and my drive, aspiration and all had been more defined.
Coming to Abuja to me was going to a new ground. I went through my wilderness period, obstacles here and there. When I knew I had made an impact in Abuja was when I got wedded to my lovely life.
It was at this same Ladi Kwali Hall in Sheraton Hotel. I said whao, I got a family here in Abuja,. It was all about the Nollywood culture where you are stuck in Lagos. I realised you could actually ply your trade wherever you are.
I can boast about it that I had done movies that stood me out like Silent night, Dust to dust, Sergent Okor. I had made an impact that I realised I must not be in Lagos. I must not follow the bandwagon. I am not a crowd follower.
I believe in my principles and policies. I don't believe I should do things because everybody is doing it. I have to sit down and analyse anything I do, I want to say Abuja is a peaceful place for me and my family. I have been able to raise my family without trying to impress anybody that identifies with what I do. I want to say coming to Abuja has been good to me especially because I found God.
My wife & children
I met my wife while I was graduating from Uniport. She has always been born again but I was not. I was the lost sheep who later was found. We have two children, we lost the third one about year ago. So we are blessed with a boy and a girl.
My son is an entertainer. I have seen the traits in him. He loves painting and also sings while the sister is my greatest critic. But my idea is that I will never direct them to professions but let them be all they want to be. You could be a lawyer but also be a very good IT specialist.
Francis Duru says he is privileged to come from Eziama Isiala Mbano, in Imo State.