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I am dissapointed with the film industry - Leila Djansi

By Joy Della Ocloo

I got to spend time with the elusive Leila Djansi. On the whole, she is a very interesting and articulate woman. Looks very young but will not disclose her age. She talks about her job, the African film industry among other little things. It was though getting her to grant this interview but it was worth the wait. Much of the interview I edited because it was long and will take forever to read. I put together the most interesting parts.
Enjoy.

I really want to thank you for making out the time to talk to me especially at such a sad time in your life. I am sorry about your loss.

Thank you. Joy. I'm glad my father has gone to rest. The last few years were not easy for him health wise.

Are you a strong person?

In some cases. Not this case though. I am sleeping with medication and crying a lot. My father was also my best friend and it's quite hard to imagine that he is dead. Death never held this much meaning for me before.

I am sure you will get over it with time.

That's what everyone says…maybe. We'll see.

You just dealt with a media rampage between you and Genevieve Nnaji before this… how did it spell out?

Oh my goodness. Not to be rude to Ms Nnaji but she is the last person on this earth to faze me. She is the least name brand I have dealt with among actors so in a way she is a child that went wrong, you don't cut that part off like we say back home but wash it off. It's all good. Its sounds rude but that is the reality. Bear with me. I am a bit blunt.

You were not mad at her publications?

I was mad at a few things she said…well, not Genevieve herself. She did not grant those interviews. Debra her supposed lawyer or manager, whatever she is did. I know that because she sent me a string of abusive emails which were copied and pasted in those articles. Then I was surprised that such enterprising young women could sit down and construct lies and turn vicious and vindictive. But Debra is Genevieve's rag doll so is if she is unprofessional enough to allow a paid employee redefine her image then she best take the fall for it. It's a situation of a goat and its owner. If you do not cage your goat and it tramples in your neighbors farm, you bear the brunt of his anger.

I hope no one understands you to mean you are calling Genevieve's management goats.

That's the beauty of life. We are all entitled to different forms of understanding. Some see the glass half full others see it half empty.

Is there really a lawsuit in progress?

When something happens immediately and you get angry, a lot of options come to mind. Then later you realize that the issue is really not worth your time and energy. The more you feed a greedy person the greedier they become so, docket closed and I will not talk about it anymore. I am sure we all have moved on.

Let's move on then.

Thank you Joy. I appreciate that.

How easy was your journey into Hollywood?

Ermmm, it has been a lot of favor for me. I got my break through Winrich Kolbe, he directed a great number of the star trek series. He pretty much took my hand and led me in. No coffee carrying or assisting.

That's good luck.

That's the favor from God.

What do you think of Nollywood and Ghallywood?

I am used to the name Nollywood now but Ghallywood just sounds silly. Pardon me.

Aside the names, what do you think of the industries?

I am a bit disappointed at the retrogression. I used to watch these movies some eight or nine years back. When I returned to them for Red soil, I was disappointed. The stories and everything except the cameras maybe went from good to fair. It is no longer the creative industry it started out to be. The artistes I used to watch, Liz Benson, Sandra were gone and some of the new faces, I have no idea what they are doing. I'll bet the casting directors put them there because they have a pretty face. I hear that there are power struggles within the practitioners, artistes living above their means among other stories. But then, I am not surprised. It's an industry in our beloved Africa. You know it and I know it that most Africa is plagued by corruption, greed, power struggles, battles for recognition; so an industry shrouded or growing within such conditions will by all means demonstrate traits of its parent culture.
Everybody who has the means wants to be a bourgeois. One Nigerian filmmaker told me that the top actors make huge money and the blues and greens, or extras make pitiful amounts. No structure protects the helpless or lower and middle class. Same in our home economy, the rich make more money and the poor make little or no money. My observation is that unless Africa begins to deal with issues within its foundations, our industries will continue to have issues. In the meantime though, since the film industries have a market and since people are dying to watch the movies, they should definitely keep at it. Hollywood did not get to where it is overnight. Not that they should aim to become Hollywood or any other industry for that matter, we should aim at finding a niche, finding an identity for cinema that comes out of Africa. And when we find it, let's uphold it and be proud of it. The talent is there, the wrong people just need to be kicked out somehow and the good ones retained.

Did you interact with the industry in Ghana?

I did. I shot a PBS documentary after the funeral and it was a bittersweet experience. Broken appointments, you know… oh come at 3 pm and when you get there the producer is gone to another state. Call me at noon and the phone does not get answered. It was annoying. I may sound contradictory here but what I noticed is that there is no discipline in the industry. None at all. And the inhabitants love it like that. You will notice that there is room for growth…successful development; but then the emergence of that will by all means bring discipline and streamline the industry. You really think the practitioners want that? No. they do not. What I got is that they are very satisfied to some extent with the mediocrity and the fame, no matter how localized. Seeking for a higher grounds and better recognition for our works is not paramount. The pride is boundless. I found myself laughing out loud at a time because the amount of pride exuded by our artistes is so much and then you look at the kind of movies they stand on so proudly and it's so funny. Seriously, it's a funny image when you look at it without prejudice or loyalty.

I like that word, loyalty. People insult my column because apparently I do not appreciate our industry. They expect praises all the time.

Are you surprised? Come on Joy. When I was researching Red Soil and the issue of child slaves, I came up against this misplaced solidarity. Why are you exposing Ghana, why are you writing bad things about your country…. Well then stop doing it!! Stop hiding child slaves, stop defending it. Yes, give praise where it's due but also you chastise a child you love and wish the best for. I'd say keep at it. A bitter pill cures ailments.
We Africans hate being confronted with the truth. We Humans beings hate being confronted with the truth but keep at it. You'll see the results after a while. I'll bet there are people who agree with you though?

Oh yes. That is the encouragement.

We are not disparaging our film industry neither are we saying that everything from America is the best. its like having an exams council like WAEC. it judges exams from West Africa, or nations law in the Hague... there is always a standard of measurement in any industry. So if we are going to make movies, we must be prepared to be judged by that standard. Movie styles differ from country to country, but there is always the unifying element of quality and narrative structure. The excuses we give in defense of our industry is too much.

I'm with you on that. You do not have a lot of imdb credits, a lot on wikipedia though.

Because the work I do does not receive screen credit. There are so many of us who do a lot of work on movies but not in a capacity to receive a negotiated screen credit. I edit and package scripts. I only produce what I write. Recently, it has been documentaries for educational institutions and PBS.

How long does it take you to write?

It depends on the inspiration. Tulips took about 4 months to write, Red soil took 3 years. We are working on its final draft now, I just finished a script on malaria for PBS that took two weeks…. It depends. Projects for work have deadlines so those must be done within a specified time.

What does packaging entail?

Attaching actors, directors and then finding distribution and money.

Tell me about tulips.

Tulips was inspired by my personal life. Without some of it's gory details. The courage to survive and become what I wanted to be and how luckily, I never got sidetracked although the temptations were there. The information in Tulips is that with a dash of determination and courage a lot can be achieved. it centers on Trokosi and female circumcision.

Considering the challenge of the production, where do things stand?

Production is in full force. My personal problems and some personal time requirement with our actress held things back. But we have a date and we are ready to shoot when the date approaches. The project has received too much publicity and that was not the original plan, so we are keeping it under wraps now and the next time you hear about Tulips will be during its release.

Any other projects going on in Africa?

A couple others. Its hard finding financing for projects sporting an African lead cast. So there is one other project, “the Coming” that might not take of as planned. But we'll see.

I was expecting to see a thick tall woman but you are so young. Will you reveal your age?

No.

Why?

People suddenly treat me differently when I tell them my age.

Young and successful, how does that feel?

Did I say I am young?

(general laughter)

Married or attached

Neither.

Why?

The little time I have I sleep. I do not have the time for extra activities.

you are not one of those Man-less women are you?

oh no. I just have not met anyone who...rocks my boat. Till then my time goes to my sleep. (laughs)

Who is your favorite Ghanaian actress and actor?

I really like Nadia Buari, she has a lot of potential and I adore Brew Riverson Jnr. I also like a good number of Akofa's colleagues who have taken a back seat now.

And in Nigeria?

Chioma. She is sweet and Kanayo. He has such a cute name and he is really good.

And in your industry?

Anthony Hopkins, Cate Blanchett and Nicole Kidman.

Have a favorite director?

Ermm… I respect Ridley Scott a lot, also Wolfgand Peterson.

And a favorite movie?

I cannot have one but I have seen Sarafina at least 20 times…more maybe and I love Alvin and the chipmunks. (Laughs loudly)

It has been great chatting with you.

It's been fun here too. I don't normally grant interviews but I guess I can make an exception with you and I am glad I did.

I am honored.