When It Comes To Professionalism, Nollywood Is Sick - Francis Duru
The name, Francis Duru is a popular name in the Nigerian movie industry popularly called Nollywood. Ranked among the pioneers of Nollywood, the third largest movie industry in the world, at a time, he went on “sabbatical,” relocated from Lagos to Abuja and took to evangelism. Francis has since returned to his first love, acting. In a chat with TOPE OLUKOLE in Abuja, Francis x-rayed the industry and concludes that his dear Nollywood is very sick.
What has been happening to Francis Duru?
Everything good, working and trying to make the best of what I have. I try as much as possible to either maintain the record or improve it. That's what life is all about. I am moving.
Sometime ago, you were off the scene, but now you are back doing what people know you for. How has it been?
That was about five years ago and it is a long time really. I am fully back and fully rejuvenated. I am stronger and better.
What actually informed your sabbatical?
I relocated from Lagos to Abuja and that's the centre stage of Nollywood activities. I had to create other things for myself.
At a point, there were insinuations that you were a pastor and that was why you left acting?
Well, I don't think being a pastor should make one leave his calling. When I relocated to Abuja, I found God and while waiting, I did some other things that were entertainment-related — things like management and anchoring of events.
A lot of people actually believe that life is much better for you in Abuja and that you are really making money there.
I don't think this is all about making money but about getting fulfilment from what you are doing, having job satisfaction, contentment and what you describe as happiness. Money does not bring happiness. The truth is that I am much at peace with myself in Abuja. I am not trying to impress anybody. The environment itself is peaceful. The serenity of the city makes so much sense.
When you came down to Abuja, there was nothing much happening in terms of movie production? How is it now?
To be candid, productions are now coming to Abuja virtually on a daily basis and I believe it is a mental shift and a change of mind-set. Because if you ask me why some people run to Asaba or other places to shoot, I will tell you it's just because some others are doing it. Abuja has all it takes to have a great production — the environment, the security, the serenity and the location. You have everything here. Abuja is happening now.
What will you ascribe to the influx of productions in Abuja? Is it just the location?
Just like I said it's just a mental shift. Somebody tried it and discovered that it came out well. Or where else in Nigeria would you get the kind of infrastructure(s) that are in place in Abuja. Abuja has virtually everything you need to make a good and urbane movie.
How will you describe yourself and your career while you were in Lagos and now?
As you can see, I am much better and bigger, both physically and in my career. There has been tremendous progress in life, both spiritually and mentally. There has been change and expansion in my life and when God endows you with a family to look after, it is a divine responsibility. Now, I have a family to call my own. I am a father of two.
Are you looking forward to your own production?
I wouldn't want us to be limited in our scope. It is a funny tradition when you say your own production. This is a funny mentality. I might decide just to stay with acting. What is the basis of my own production if I end up enslaving myself to people? To think about my own production, I must think about my market. Our market is not large enough to multiply my sweat, energy and money 100%. If I can't get that, then why do I have to go through the trouble? Another thing is also my drive. We must be able to recognise where our drive lies before we jump into doing things. My drive is towards acting. Talking about market, the censor board came up with a new frame work on distribution that has pitched marketers against the board.
Do you support the frame work?
I support it as long as it covers everybody. As long as it accommodates the structure that has kept Nollywood alive. Whatever policy we formulate should be able to bring everybody together. The first thing we have to do with the framework is to re-educate our people, mobilise everybody towards accepting it and re-directing their thought towards it. So, nobody feels somebody is trying to outsmart him. This has been the problem. Aside this, the framework is a noble project because whatever will provide a large market for Nollywood is a noble thing. That's what the industry needs. For God's sake, we have a population of 140 million, why can't we sell 10 million copies of a movie? The framework is a wonderful concept but the problem there is how to effectively sell it in an acceptable way to the stakeholders.
How do you see Nollywood today?
I have told people that the only option Nollywood has is to get better. It can never get worse. Forget about the wobbling and 'fumbling' here and there. These experiences are the things that you put together to move forward. It is only a sadist that will say we are not growing. See what we have done to Africa. I don't know the design of African magic, but if it was to ridicule our art, then they made a big mistake. It has really expanded us. Nollywood will never drop.
What, in your opinion, has changed in the industry in the past ten years?
I will beat my chest anywhere and say it loud without any regret or apologies to anyone that I remain a pioneer member of Nollywood. I may be an unsung hero of Nollywood but I know within myself that I started with the industry. From Missing Mask to Rattle Snake, if you want to call the movies that actually formed the foundation of the industry, you will find me there. Rattle Snake, Living In Bondage and Missing Mask are the foundations of the industry we now celebrate. If you were part of that league then, you are a pioneer. There are problems in the industry and they are problems of practice. The industry is really sick at present when it comes to professionalism. The watchword when we started was passion. Those who were part of the pioneering era still have something that's keeping them ahead of others and it is passion, which gave birth to discipline and character. If you have talent and you lack character and discipline, then it's all rubbish. We had this respect for professional ethics and that's lacking today.
Money came into production and ethics left. Professional standards are nothing to write home about in the movie industry. All we have in the industry today is empty, self-glorification; glory that's not merited. That's the difference between 10 years ago and now. Ten years ago, there was respect for one another, respect for the ranking in production. These days, you see an actress talking to a director as if the director is a worthless piece of paper. I am angry with what's happening presently because I did not just stroll into the industry. I am a part of Nollywood academically and professionally. I worked my way to where I am today. I am concerned about the health of the industry. For some others, it's just the money
As one of the pioneers in the industry, how do you cope with competition from people like Mike Ezeronye and Nonso?
My brother, I am an academician. There is no room for competition. We complement each other. It will be childish of me to begin to nurse the feelings of competition. They are small boys who just grew and that they are doing well does not say they should not respect those ahead of them. I respect my seniors. Now, get something right, it is not compulsory that they must respect me or do what is right. You have the right to do what you want to do. But for God's sake, there's no basis for comparison. I came from the stage and I have worked with not less than nine professors. It is left to a director to choose who he wants to use. The director knows the picture he has in mind and he's in the best position to determine who fits into it. I have never at any time felt any form of competition as regards them and that's the truth.