WE DON’T HAVE FILM INFRASTRUCTURES—SOLA FOSUDO
Sola Fosudo, popular actor and Head of theDepartment of Theatre Arts at the Lagos State University, in today's Vanguard Arts' continuing effort in re-directing intellectual interest to the home movie sub-sector, speaks on the actor/ actress performance standard in the industry. He spoke to McPhilips Nwachukwu & Ezechi Onyerionwu. Excerpts:
YOU are a veteran actor in the Nigerian home video and a fairly accomplished theatre practitioner. Our audience will like to know briefly about your background.
Well, I studied Theatre Arts both at the University of Ife (now O.A.U.) and University of Ibadan. Before then, I had the opportunity to be involved in drama presentations at the secondary school level and also at the Teacher's Training College.
So, one has always had the opportunity of expressing oneself on theatre at that kind of elementary amateur level, till I had the privilege of going to the university to study Theatre Arts, both as an actor like you mentioned, and a director among other things. But to tell you the truth, I don't like being referred to as an actor. As a theatre artist, there are so many things you do. If you say acting, you are actually restricting my level of involvement with the theatre. In fact, acting should be 10 per cent of what I do for the theatre.
Effect of television
I direct, produce, market, teach, etc. But acting is the most visible because of the effect of television. My colleagues in the industry, many of them are attracted by all these nomenclatures and fame. But some of us are doing it because we want to make an impact professionally.
As an expert in the field, can you tell us your assessment of the Nigerian film people, especially the actors and directors? Have they performed well professionally?
Well, the truth is that in Nigeria today, I am not sure if we have any training institute that is solid, that is recognized where training can be obtained or given, especially in the area of film production techniques where you train people as film actors, directors, producers, etc. There is none. In our universities, there are no departments that offer film and television studies, where people can obtain degrees.
So what we have are some departments like Theatre Arts and Communication Arts, etc. But I am saying to you categorically that there is no institution, institute or university department in Nigeria where film training - I don't want to join it to television, because I know there is one television school in Jos - can be obtained. But we also know the impact of that television college. It is used fundamentally as an in-house training facility for NTA staff; it is not as if it is a general place where anyone who wants to train as a television person goes.
So, what I am saying is that we don't have a place where we train experts in film production. What we have is a situation where we improvise with people that are available, who are not necessarily trained. That's why we have dabblers and stragglers. And this is an area that is very technical. We don't really have experts, what we have is a situation where people come from the sides. As far as I am concerned, we don't have trained film producers in Nigeria. I mean, not that we haven't had film in Nigeria at all – in the 70s, early 80s – some pioneers have tried to establish the real film culture.
We have had people like Eddie Ugboma, Hubert Ogunde, Ola Balogun who made some experiments with considerable degree of success. Even Soyinka has made one or two films. But they didn't go very far because the infrastructure to make the cinema culture thrive was not there. The equipment, the laboratories where these films can be edited and processed, were simply not there.
Also, if we want to encourage the film industry, at least cinema theatres should be built at least one in every local government area. In the cultural policy of Nigeria, it is there that government will encourage the building of performance centres. In Nigeria today where and where do you have halls where people can perform? We are over-centralizing everything. You build a National Theatre in one place, and then everybody should be coming to that place. Is that how to promote the arts? However, we shouldn't really be looking at government. The private people should be actively involved in the building of these performance centres. It's big business, the kind of thing that Ben Bruce has done. So we need such things to be scattered all over the place, not only in Lagos, but in every state of the country, so that we can make real films. So that the same time you are showing the film in Lagos, that same time the film is showing in Kogi State. But where are the infrastructure?
The people who started with those experiments in the 70s and 80s had to go to sleep after some time because they suffered so much to produce these films with little or no infrastructure. These people tried their best to inaugurate a thriving film tradition in the real western sense of the expression. But where are all these people today? So let us not delude ourselves that we have film in Nigeria. We don't. Or let me not be too harsh, you know everything is about motion picture, even drama on television and I'm afraid that's how far our film has gone.
So that's why they have now tried to coin it as Nigerian video film. Fine, but to say that we have film industry in Nigeria, there is some delusion there. And this is making us not to do the things that we ought to do. I appreciate that there has been a lot of effort by these same people that I have described as dabblers, who are just interested in commercial gains and not in the development of infrastructure or policies. We could say we have an industry because there is some commercial activity going on. But the question should be how?
So, against the backdrop of the lack of the necessary structures for the establishment of a thriving film sector, what contributions can a theatre expert like you make to see how the situation can be salvaged?
Even theatre itself as a sector of the big entertainment industry has its own problems. It's the same thing, the building of infrastructure and provision of structures where people who have trained in that profession can practice. Are there theatre buildings in Nigeria where theatre artists after graduation, can practice? The theatre itself is not doing badly within universities even today.
When it started, it started within the university, especially the English Language theatre. Those who started it, they are still around - Soyinka, Osofisan, Clark, etc. Don't forget that the theatre people are not really the film people, we shouldn't deceive ourselves. But in the absence of the film people, the theatre people can only do their best. For instance, I am relevant in the Nigerian video film, but somebody like me will never go near directing a film. And if we watch very well, the theatre people who are not really actively engaged in the Nigerian film industry. They are less than 10 per cent.
Theatre people were not there much because the people who populate that home movie industry are segregationists; they do all kinds of things, especially because they are not trained, With their attitude and peculiar character traits, trained theatre people cannot stand them. But because of the lack of opportunities for theatre people in the Nigerian environment, they have gone into other things including home movies.
For somebody like me, I can never give home video any serious priority over and above my other activities in the theatre. Once government begins to take the arts seriously in Nigeria, half of the problems of the sector will be solved. Government should realize the place of the arts in building an image for the country, apart from its enormous capacity to generate revenue. It is a matter of will-power.
The Nigerian film industry can be overhauled to compete favourably with what is obtainable in other parts of the world where it is enjoying prominence as both a foreign exchange earner and as a projector of cultural tenets. What we need is the kind of thing that happened in the banking sector not too long ago, where government woke up one morning and decided to sanitize the industry.