Popular movie director, Lancelot Oduwa-Imasuen is one of the success stories of Nollywood, having started as a film maker 20 years ago. The native of Edo State spoke to SAMUEL ABULUDE on his adventure and how some of the nation’s problems can be solved through film making.
Congratulations on your 20th anniversary as a film maker, how do you feel about this?
Naturally, any person that has stayed in a particular business for a length of time like this should really feel happy and have reasons to thank God. I see it as an uncommon grace. The most interesting thing is that this would give me the grace to re-assess myself and also see how I am perceived and received by my colleagues in the industry and my fans at large. By and large, the feeling is good and I thank God for everything, particularly the gift of life. I made my first official movie in 1995. My first film was Igbo. That is why I remain grateful to the Igbo people, because they gave me the platform to rise in the industry. However, the fact that I am celebrating 20 years in Nollywood doesn’t mean that I have been an actor for 20 years; I have spent 32 years of my life as an actor. As I revealed to people during a thanksgiving service to mark the celebration two Sundays ago at the Overcomers Church, Grace and Faith Ministry, Lekki, Lagos State. I have been around for 32 years meaning that I have been into acting since childhood. This has been my life. If I am not writing poems, I would be reciting. If I am not singing, I would be acting or dancing. I would rather be on stage or be in the street performing. For me, arts have been my world. This is why I am committed, because I don’t have anything to fall back on. This is my only source of income and I have to be serious with it. It was like we were entering into the wilderness when we started, but I was determined and dedicated. If Nollywood, two years ago, celebrated 20 years and I am marking my 20 years in the industry two years after, you should know that we have been around for a while.
How do you feel about what you have done over the years as a movie maker?
I thank God for the success I have recorded through my works and talents in the course of pursuing my career. My first film was ‘Adaaku’; my second film fetched me the sum of N100, 000 naira also through an Igbo man who believed in me inspite of the fact that he didn’t know where I resided. This was in 1996. I asked him why he gave me the money, because I never expected such and he replied ‘Young man, I think you are a Benin man, the only thing you people do is to go abroad. Maybe you should use the money to travel abroad.’ I felt sad and changed my orientation about my career. I feel proud. The kind of support I receive from my people in Edo State is overwhleming. In fact, they feel that this industry is Ibo-owned; they are extremely happy to have me as their compatriot. I have also produced ‘Isakaba’, ‘Last Burial’, August Meeting’, ‘Ibuka, King of the Forest’ and ‘Last Prophet’, among many blockbusters that changed the face of Nollywood. I have also directed many great works that have made the industry proud.
What is next in the horizon for you, after 20 years?
There are lots to come. I think this is just the beginning of what I intend to deliver. If you listen to what people have been saying about my career, it will tell you about where I was coming from and the kind of relationship I have built, especially among my colleagues over the years. Though, I am known to be an actor and a film director, I am happy to inform you that I have stepped up my game to a corporate businessman. Now, we have begun to look at the other side of arts. It is about what we are going to bequeath to generations to come. I want to match my artistic strength with the technicalities of film making. I want to look back to the works I have done that have fetched me recognitions and laurels in year pasts and also to check whether I have attained my zenith. I have not started and people aren’t seen anything, because I still have the strength, age and the energy to give more. I have already set an agenda for myself to achieve all these and I have also finalised with my team the next step on how to achieve outside production, because we want to solidly redefine the entire picture of the essence of what we are doing. We have included branding and marketing into our responsibilities. We are determined to seek other relevance in the industry and the country at large. Though, we have done quite a lot, yet we want our impact to be felt more in our society. This brand is aimed at drawing government’s attention to what will benefit our environments. We need to share our experiences with the youth that are coming behind us. A pure intellectual book on my works so far written by the Head of Department of Arts, Professor Agba, will be published next year.
Are you trying to rest acting for your new venture?
No. I have decided to raise my game and also add more value to my life. Gone are the days when filmmakers are seen as mere entertainers, especially at political gatherings and party campaigns to thrill people alone. This must change. We have to be part of the policy-makers. I have to say this and I believe many will agree with me that we are more connected to the people than the politicians; we influence than the political office holders. If our films can make people stay glued to their seats and make them laugh and cry without seeing us face-to-face, we can make things happen. It is not about being interested in politics, but those that are there don’t have two heads. What I am more concerned about is being more visible in the mainstream of the socio-economic life of our country. We have the pedigree, brand and followership to make things happen positively. For example: The ministry that controls the entertainment industry is under communication. This is an aberration; we need to form a pressure group to fight against this and move it finally to culture where the industry would function optimally. Also, what stops the government to always take along some key Nollywood practitioners whenever they are travelling for national assignments; why is it that Nigeria does not have a bilateral production agreement with other countries to make our works institutional? Government is completely ignorant of the business and a lot of people who have represented our sector are ignoramus. So, we are dancing Akada dance on the same spot every time.
Is this not an indictment on the Actors Guild of Nigeria (AGN)?
They are giving their best, but we need to speak out and fight against all odds as an individual. If everyone refuses to keep quiet on this matter, I am sure there will be a great change. It is not ideal Nollywood practitioners are not included in the economic team of the country. Entertainment and cultural imperialism have gone beyond what it used to be. My new film ‘Invasion 1987’ has been shown in about 12 states in America and will be shown repeatedly over there by popular demand. I am competent and serious about what I am saying. The social media has also made things easy to articulate one’s point for a positive change. Few days ago, some tax officers came to my office for questioning to ascertain the operations in my office. They asked me to state the number of my staff and I responded that I have none. I made them realised that whoever they see with me are up-and-coming actors and they are not on salaries. This is how things will continue to be if necessary steps are not taken. I want to urge my colleagues in the industry that we should all stand to fight against this problem. In fact, I have written a letter to the Lagos State government on this matter for a round table discussion, because this is my only source of income and I am running it at a loss already. They collect Valued Added Tax (VAT) from the cinema and also pay entertainment tax. Tell me, how does the tax I pay come back to enhance my business? It is a question that Lagos government has to answer. I can tell you that nobody makes 100 per cent profit on this job. In the next 20 years, I want to be in the forefront of policy formation. We want them to help us build structures so that we can produce more stars, because the ones we have now are already fading away. Here, a star must die before another springs up, just as it happens in our political system. Honestly, I would say that entertainers, especially filmmakers have solutions to Nigeria’s problems.
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Do you think the industry has the capacity to shoulder this responsibility?
Yes. We are enlightened, exposed and talented enough in impacting positively in the nation and beyond. Lack of structure has made us handicap and that is the reason we still find junks in the industry. This will make us do away with trivial things, because right now, everybody is looking for what to sell. That is why you see funny and irrelevant titles of films today.
Your success speaks for you in the industry; what has kept you on top of your game in spite of the challenges?
I see this as a rare opportunity to represent the industry and my country outside the shores of the country. I think it started among the musicians, but mine surfaced around 2002 in Germany with Ngozi Ezeonu and Empress Injama. I was really impressed and this spurred me to embark on another trip with Aki and Pawpaw to some countries in Europe through the support of my partner in Germany. We went to Germany, Belgium, Holland and Italy; it was a nice trip. We took many actors abroad for the first time. Julius Agwu was on tour with us. We came back and had another trip with Basketmouth, Jim Iyke and Patience Ozokwo. This was how Nollywood actors started visiting abroad with the personalities behind being celebrated in foreign lands. I could remember vividly the trip with Aki and Pawpaw, it took the intervention of the policemen to drive people away when the duo were sighted by fans in one of the African communities called Antwerp, a city in Belgium, just as Amsterdam and Italy were locked down. You would take me for a drunk if I reveal all this to you looking haggard in a village; that is the reality. I also went on another trip with John Okafor. About 21 actors benefited from my initiative and I thank God for the success it has recorded so far. I am really happy because I am succeeding. Unfortunately, we are in a society where people don’t appreciate what we have done.
What is your take on the restoration of cinemas?
I am happy that we are beginning to see many cinemas coming up. I am part of the movement to bring back cinemas, because we film makers stand a lot to gain from it. Our greatest challenge is that Nigerians don’t appreciate their own. The patronage of Nigerian films is the worst and these films are better than what they watch in terms of content, but they want Nigerian films to die. I am confident that if we celebrate ourselves, we will all benefit largely from it. People are quick to criticise us, but this is the same industry that produced actors that are being celebrated all over the world. I am what I am today by the virtue of what I have done. We need to do away with this notion. They claim we produce ‘yeye’ films, but they go crazy when they see the actors and actresses that produce the wortless movies. Nollywood has employed over 10 million Nigerians directly or indirectly. It will be good if we encourage the business now.
What are the things people don’t know about you?
I think I am greatly misunderstood, because they see my loud voice as being a troublesome person. People don’t know that I just want a sane society where everything around me is in good order. I always want people to know what is right and take time to do it without being pushed. People are not aware that I am a very emotional person; I cry a lot. I am very emotional and that is what drives the passion.