Wednesday, 21 May 2014

Afolayan woos corporate investors for October 1 in private screening

By Anote Ajeluorou

The intent was clear. Nollywood is in dire need of new converts. She is in search of new investors. It explained the complexion of the sparse audience made up mostly of top business executives and upwardly mobile Lagos types. They’d come with a new enthusiasm for the Exclusive Private Screening of Mr. Kunle Afolayan’s new offering, October 1.
  Only filmmakers Mahmoud Ali-Balogun (Tango with Me) and Tunde Kelani (Maami, Arugba) were the odd men out from Nollywood, and Delta State Commissioner for Culture and Tourism, Mr. Richard Mofe-Damijo, who sneaked in and out, a fitting explanation for the lack of activity in that state on the portfolio he has held for several years now.
  Filmmaker, Afolayan and General Manager, Terra Kulture, Mr. Joseph Omoibom were clear about the intent. There’s a desire to woo new sets of investors to the sector if only to project the maturity of the industry and be able to take it outside. The Cannes Film Festival in the South of France just opened, but like before, Nigeria, Africa’s largest filmmaking country, is absent. Afolayan’s October 1 and Half of a yellow Sun are the turning point cinematic experiences needed to open the global outlook for Nollywood. But their experiences show that Nollywood’s resources alone are not enough to take it to the next phase. Outside help is needed; and it’s in abundance in the corporate sector. It needs digging deep to unearth it.
  That was just what Afolayan and Terra Kulture boss, Mrs. Bolanle Austin-Peters are seeking to do with October 1, a new experiential film that takes Nollywood’s cinema inches closer to its destination with the Exclusive Private Screening. More of such screenings are being arranged for big business operators in the hope that the USD$2 million budget for making the film could be defrayed with ease. Afolayan told the audience, “It’s been a long journey, but thank God for his grace. The budget for this film is USD$2 million. How to recoup the money I don’t know. We made this film through our sweat and blood”.
  As usual, Afolayan said he got most of the money for the film from relations, friends, with support from a few bigwigs like Lagos State governor, Mr. Babatunde Fashola, Elizade Motors’ boss, Ade Ojo among others. It was why he and Austin-Peters were taking the filmic gospel to new investors, who he said were largely less enthusiastic about investing in films, just as they were non-cinema goers. He, however, noted, “But support is 30 per cent. I raised the rest through blood and sweat. Film is investment but it’s also art and recouping money spent isn’t easy. You people here don’t go to cinema. So you can write the budget off in big cheques. In any case, how many cinemas do we even have? So, we’re looking to go outside, but before then, you need to see what we can do”.
  Just before the screening, boss of culture promoting centre, Austin-Peters noted how proud she was to bring about the private screening of October 1. She stated, “This is a perfect blend of purpose coming from a highly talented man. It’s a fantastic movie. This is an opportunity here for us for something that is very unique, that has job-creating value for society”. Austin-Peters recalled her experience staging Saro the Musical last year and lamented how technology failed her coupled with its non-theatre performance environment, but praised the abundance of talent on offer in Nigeria, as October 1 film also evidently indicates.
  October 1 is a crime story told with ingenuity with a good dose of politics thrown in for good measure. To stop the serial murder of virgins in Akote, the departing British officer drafts in Danladi Waziri (Sadiq Daba) to resolve the crime before the Union Jack is lowered for the Green-White-Green to be hoisted up. Waziri’s finding, after a series of compelling and bizarre events, is as astonishing as it has had reverberating judicial consequences for the Nigeria that soon emerged from October 1, 1960 and till date, a Nigeria still struggling for a foothold on its true destiny as a nation state.
  It’s yet again Afolayan’s quality offering after Figurine and Phone Swap. Afolayan leaves no one doubt about his directorial abilities in this film that will make for compelling viewing experience when it eventually opens for the public. Like half of a Yellow Sun, it’s another look at Nigeria’s history at that crucial point of Nigeria’s independence and what that historic moment portended for the new nation. As he put it himself, “I want to document history for young people to learn about our history. As a people, how far have we learnt from our history?
  “This screening is to pitch the film for sponsorship. The film will go to cinemas around the world. Any brand pitching with us will travel with the film. We’re open to corporate sponsorship. The film will be shown in cinemas in Lagos and Abuja”.
  Unlike some in its rank of well made films, Afolayan’s October 1 boasts 100 per cent Nigerian cast and crew. The only foreign input is the colour separation and mixing done abroad.

Abraham’s 12 Golden Laws to a life of fulfilment

By Anote Ajeluorou

Bookshelves are replete with books on how to be successful in life’s endeavours, which enjoy huge patronage. An economy in dire need of revival with harsh business environment, runaway unemployment and inflation, like Nigeria’s easily fuels demand for such books, as elixirs for forging ahead and be above the pack. While some are pragmatic and can be applicable in real life situations, others are plain starry-eyed and have no life outside the pages of the books that contain them.
  But Victoria Praise Abraham’s 12 Golden Laws of Success (Holyseed Publishing, Lagos; 2013) takes a distinctively different path and approach in dealing with common principles that are familiar to avid readers of how-to-be-successful books. Abraham’s approach catalogues 12 rules or principles that are common enough – Purpose, Prayer, Preparation and Planning, Pursuit, Possibilities, Positioning, Product, People, Patience, Persistence, Peace and Praise – and turns them into workable tools for those willing to pursue success with persistence.
  She not only defines and exhorts readers as to what to do with these principles and how they can apply to their own life situations, she provides ready and real life models in whose lives these principles appear manifest. This is perhaps where 12 Golden Laws of Success is shoulders above the pack among book how-to books. Abraham brings in real life people, Nigerians, who have succeeded through walking through life’s thorny roads armed with one or more of these principles and came tops in their chosen careers or professions.
  This is Abraham’s masterstroke, her ability to bring real models, successes in their chosen fields and juxtapose them with each of these principles. She makes them speak to these principles in realistic manner that leaves the reader satisfied in that they’d passed through the same or similar roads and that he or she has company in current endeavor. This is uncommon facility and Abraham deserves praise for the seamless melding of principles and persons who had if unconsciously applied them to their own situations and come up tops.
  Also, Abraham also peppers his manual with Godly purpose or precepts to light the way for her readers. In other words, mere discovery of these principles and application of them should necessarily be anchored on a measure of godliness so they could be realized in one’s life.
  For instance, in Purpose, the author says, “Life requires that we all discover and fulfill purpose. It is common knowledge that most people rarely discover purpose either out of ignorance or just sheer laziness, and those who do sometimes never fulfill it. I find this very sad because without the discovery and fulfillment of purpose one cannot maximize one’s life and manifest one’s glory”.
  To hit home this point, she brings in advertising guru, Mr. ‘Lolu Akinwunmi, who says, “God showed me my path early in life; it helped me to do things according to God’s ways because I believe Him and His word. This is obedience, and when we obey Him. He rewards us, and my life and business have enjoyed the great rewards of obedience”.
  In Prayer, Abraham doesn’t seek out a pastor or General Overseer or their wives, as models. Instead, she seeks out an analytical and strategic mind in Mr. Opeyemi Agbaje, who confesses, “I was born in a Christian home and grew up understanding that God is the source of all success. I subsequently decided on our Lord Jesus as my Lord and Saviour since 1990 and rededicated my life to Christ around 2002-2003. I understand spiritual things more deeply, and have realized the practical importance of fasting, vigil and prayer to the life of a victorious Christian”.
  So, with each principle, Abraham brings a motivator to speak to it and through it to her readers. The aim is so her readers can fit themselves and their situations to these models and learn and be wise. A great educationist, Mrs. Folashade Philips speaks to Preparation and Planning; her story is truly inspiring and engaging! In Pursuit, she brings on Managing Director of Terra Kulture, Mrs. Bolanle Austin-Peters, a woman who has inspired innovations in art and culture management and philanthropy. And so till the last principle, Praise, when she brings Mr. Wole Oni, music producer and entrepreneur.
  Some sloppy writing or poor editing and even page omission mare the overall book package. Perhaps, another edition would do well to redress these observed flaws.
  However, Abraham’s 12 Golden Laws of Success is an innovative rendering of well-worn success clich├ęs. Her personal touch in following a different path makes her book a success all its own. Readers will find it enriching and elevating.

‘I’m grateful to Nigerian people for making me a writer’

By Anote Ajeluorou

French journalist-turned writer couldn’t conceal his excitement at the excellent turn of event in his career by harsh conditions in Nigeria when he was an intern back in the 1990s in Enugu. Unlike Joseph Conrad who saw nothing but heart of darkness, title of his uncanny genius a century ago, Pierre Cherruau saw Nigeria’s difficulties and turned them into enduring fiction that pay tribute to the unflagging spirit of a country in transition.
  And, at the recent Port Harcourt UNESCO World Book Capital 2014 opening, where he spoke at the International Authors’ Forum, Cherruau spoke about the warmth and openness of Nigerians and how Nigerians generally endeared themselves to him, taking him as one of their own. He’d barely arrived the Alliance Francaise in Enugu in 1994 when the strikes induced by the June 12, 1993 crisis began to bite real hard. He was stuck, and he couldn’t travel.
  According to him, “I didn’t plan to write books. I was a trained journalist. It was during the 1994 strikes. I finished reading all the books I had; I had no money; there were no mobile phones as now; I wasn’t connected to the outside world. Then I began to think, What should I do? I have to say, Thanks to Nigeria. No electric light (NEPA); no fuel. I decided to write, and my first work Nene Rastaqouere came out. Other are Lagos 666 and Chien Fantome.
  “Nigerians were very open-minded; they took me to their villages and showed me things”.
  Cherruau is a much-travelled journalist and writer in Africa, who has worked and lived in many countries. These experiences, he said, have reshaped his personality and outlook both about himself and the continent usually regarded with mixed feelings back in his native Europe. Now, some 20 odd years since he wrote his first novel set in Nigeria about a hardworking woman who endures so much just to make a living, Cherruau submitted, “The experience in Enugu was very unique. When you are in Africa as a European, you discover so much about yourself. If I write about Nigeria today it will be different because things have changed a lot. There’s no one Africa, or even one Nigeria; there’s diversity and complexity, as expressed in the music, art, dance, lifestyle.
  “I try to be objective in my journalistic work, but not necessarily in my novels. My novels are like bridges between Europe and Africa although we have to be modest about our achievements in this regard”.
  Florent Couao-Zotti, another of the two international authors and a neighbouring Beninoise, said he came from a family that loves literature and read a lot. While growing up, he said there would be gatherings in the family, and they always discussed foreign authors from France, Russia and other places. But what led him into writing was as dramatic as it was profound.
  According to him, “It was raining one day and my mother asked me to leave the rain. I didn’t; it was a thunderclap that scared me out of the rain and I fled into the house. My father asked me if I was afraid; I said, Yes, and thought that I was going to die.
 “But I thought that before I die, I must leave something behind, as a legacy. The writers I’d read had already died. So, to escape death and be immortal, I started writing so I could leave my thoughts behind, as my legacy”.
  His first novel, Les Fantomes du Bresil (The Ghosts from Brazil), chronicles Brazilian returnees of the 1950s and how they segregated themselves from the local population and married among themselves. Couao-Zotti said they bore a feeling of betrayal against the local population for selling their ancestors into slavery, and kept to themselves. But for once, the unthinkable happened when one of their girls married a local, and all hell seemed to break loose.
  However, Couao-Zotti, who has written several other novels in French, couldn’t quite say whether he has succeeded in immortalizing himself the way he’d envisaged it as a small boy with his writings. But he said he derives immense satisfaction from his writings. Although Beninoise reading population is about 40 per cent out of 10 million people, Couao-Zotti’s target audience, as a writer are readers outside of his country, especially everyone speaking French the world over and through translation of his works.

Wednesday, 14 May 2014

At play reading, funding for theatre tops agenda

By Anote Ajeluorou

That theatre is under funded in Nigeria is no longer news. That several propositions have been made on how to inject funding to booster it is not new either. What is perhaps novel is how theatre funding ties in with a productive economy, something that has eluded Nigeria since the late 1980s when industries started closing down one after the other due to poor management of the economy. The result that has resulted ever since is that Nigeria has become the marketplace for productive economies of the world.
  In other words, Nigeria does not produce anything of real value to take to world markets, but she consumes whatever is thrown at her, even second, third hand products. As a result, there are too few viable corporate bodies operating profitably on the local scene that ought to invest in Nigeria’s arts and culture business of which theatre is an integral part!
  Before reading started, the core of the play was performed by students of Creative Arts Department, University of Lagos in Agit Prop-style, minimalist production that compresses the entire play into some seamless scenes, as obtains in theatre for development for economy of funding purposes. However, this style was criticised, as being inappropriate for the grand historical thrust of the play in view, as it tended to diminish the historical grandeur it evokes.
  According to notable poet and essayist, Odia Ofeimun, who chaired a recent play reading event, “There can be no performance without a thriving economy that derives from established industries functioning optimally. Any governor that canvasses self-sufficiency in terms of productive industries in his state or collaborates with a neighbouring state government will be the one that creates real wealth revolution in the country. If we have a proper Minister of Culture, who presents a proper budget to the National Assembly, we ought to have the National Troupe doing at least three plays a year, with one being a historical play.
  “I wish we had proper minister of culture who can properly present our case for proper budgeting. There’s a lot of cultural activism in One Kingdom One Monarch. We need another play from the playwright, Uwaifo”.
  2004 winner of The Nigeria Prize for Literature Prize in the prose fiction category, Solomon Omo Uwaifo, a trained electrical engineer, had on Thursday last week submitted his second play One Kingdom One Monarch to the critical gaze of theatre buffs made up of National Troupe of Nigeria (NTN), the media and other players at Cinema II, National Theatre, Iganmu, Lagos. The idea is to test how realisable the play can be as a performance piece when staged. Exposing it thus to theatre experts through short performance and reading would help tighten its loose ends so the playwright can go back to rework it ready for the stage in time.
  According to NTN Artistic Director, Mr. Martin Adaji, comments on the play “are not intended to dampen the enthusiasm of the author; whatever opinion they give on the play, take it in good faith. But the comments should be fair”.
  While speaking further on the economics of theatre production, which has been in dire straits for a while now in the country, a senior member of NTN, Mr. Anold Udoka praised One Kingdom One Monarch, as a culturally rich play that deserves full-scale performance so its grandeur could be realised. According to Udoka, “One Kingdom One Monarch deserves to be given all the dialectics of verisimilitude on stage. We should be faithful to the author otherwise the message may go the other way. The excerpt performed is not good. We can compress it so the is tactile to drive the imagery.
  “I like to watch my plays with eyes shut and listen to their voices create visual imagery for me. The excerpt failed to give me what the play is about. So, you don’t have to change the format because of money or the economics of theatre production. We have to do it full-scale. From what I see, the play can be changed to a musical, a dance drama if need be, but to realise the historicity of the play we need to give the play its full-scale performance, not abridge it”.
  An audience member, Mr. Lawrence Amu, bemoaned the dumping site for world products that Nigeria has become, arguing that it was why local companies cannot sponsor cultural productions like One Kingdom One Monarch that have the capacity to lift the spirit through value-orientation. He stated, “Nigeria is everybody’s market instead of being a producing nation that she started with at independence. Now Nigeria is sinking; oil is killing us; we cannot produce anything to sell to others. Sometimes, we wish we can turn off the pipes. We need to produce. Benefits of production can sponsor these plays”.
  Notable actress and NTN member also attested to the culturally rooted aesthetics of Uwaifo’s play and said it should stand alone as an immense work of art, adding, “The play is rooted in culture and we must ensure that the cultural elements in it are preserved and highlighted. We ought to stick to that which we are as a people and not try to imitate others”.
  For Adaji, “The play has a lot to offer us. Behold, a classic is borne, I say! There’s a little more to be done. The sky is big enough. To realize this play, a director must of necessity dig into the aesthetics of Benin people to come up with a good play. The aim of play reading is not to produce; the playwright can only be guided by the comments. Whether he accepts them or not is his business”.
  Ofeimun, also playwright majoring in dance drama, acknowledged the huge cost implications staging One Kingdom One Monarch would take, saying, “Only a government putting money down can make this play happen. Unfortunately, we don’t have the kind of sponsorship needed to produce this play”.
  But a cultural activist, Mr. Femi Robinson, argued that failure of government or corporate bodies in supporting cultural productions was largely the failure of cultural workers to do what is right for the sector, adding, “We are not doing certain things right; we don’t know our culture any more. There’s a lot of history to be excavated. Government must put money in drama because if there’s no drama, there is no culture; no culture means there is no tourism and development”.
  For Josephine Igberiase of NTN, the difficulty with core traditional plays like Uwaifo’s One Kingdom One Monarch is sourcing the money to put it on stage. She estimated that no less than 80 persons would work on the play as cast and crew, which could cost as much as N20 million to put it in stage. But she stressed that the play has great value, and that it would add to cultural awareness beside other entertainment values to be derived. She recalled the staging of Fela! On Broadway, saying she didn’t see any of the Fela we all knew in it. Igberiase also said Saro the Musical that made the stage last year was all showmanship designed to make cash!
  Chairman Ofeimun introduced a novelty to the play reading when he asked the readers – Steve Ogundele, Williams Ekpo, Efe Orhorha, Muyiwa Odukale and Sobifa Dokubo – to comment on the excerpt and what they’d read. Although it caused a temporary unease, the actors quickly rallied. Ogundele said he was glad to be part of the reading experience, adding, “I know Edo (Benin) plays, how they can be poetic. One Kingdom One Monarch will elicit the usual passion and emotions that plays from that part of Nigeria – the music, the mellifluousness of the poetics and language. It’s an effort that is highly commendable”.
  Ekpo said he loved Benin plays even if the play made him jittery. Adding, “It promises to come out fine”.
  Orhorha noted, “I’m blessed to have read the play. It’s historical and one must not joke with it. It made me jittery reading it. It’s beautiful from the little we read”.
  Odukale noted, “I started out playing Rotimi’s Ovonramwen Nogbaisi. One thing with Benin plays is that there’s always war, fighting. Benin plays and songs are always amazing. Most Benin plays have elevated language and it didn’t come out in the excerpt”.
  Although Dokubo commended the playwright for “couching nice sounding lines that are deep”, he frowned at the performed excerpt, saying it was symptomatic of the current rootless fad plaguing Nigerian hiphop music, as Agit Prop theatre tends to suggest.
  Finally, the playwright Uwaifo expressed how thrilled he was at seeing the ‘Agit Prop’ interpretation given to his play and the comments made generally. “Not much criticism made of the play”, he said. “I’m very much pleased to have been assisted by everybody, including Odia. Every writer must subject himself to critics; I don’t know everything. I’ll try if I can reduce the play, but my problem is that it’s very culture-centred play”.