Tunde Kelani is a veteran filmmaker, photographer, cinematographer, and a movie producer. In this interview with Weekend Magazine, he talks about his career spanning four decades, among other issues in the industry. Excerpts:
Weekend Magazine: You have been a filmmaker for over four decades. How far would you say Nigeria’s film industry has gone?
Tunde Kelani: The developmental process in the industry is not peculiar to Nigeria because the whole business of making films is technology driven. We started with black and white without sound, and then later sound came and color was introduced.
In Nigeria we made films and took it abroad for editing. We did that, back and forth, until we no longer had the money to do it as a result of the Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP). Nigeria’s currency lost its value and for a while we all thought our career had come to an end. None of us could afford the foreign exchange then to maintain it. Then the economy changed and video came, in the ‘70s, to the Electronic News Gathering System (ENG). Suddenly foreign films were available on video and before we knew it, Nigeria adopted the video camcorder in making films. It was ridiculous because it was analog with the lowest resolution.
Later came the digital era, then high definition and suddenly we had the technology that was almost as good as film. So, the whole world is migrating to digital film making.
WM: You have continued to remain relevant in the industry. What does it take to accomplish that?
Kelani: There is no secret to it. You continue to upgrade your knowledge or practice at every point. Film making for me is something to learn forever. You learn until you die because of the rapid advancement in technology. Now mobile cinematography, film making, and television is rapidly advancing. Most of what we do, especially for certain media content, can be done on the mobile phone. I can never stop reading and will continue to read a lot.
WM: To what extent do you think the film industry has contributed to the economic growth of Nigeria?
Kelani: Its contribution is obvious. There has been a lot of development within the last twenty years. The statistics says it contributes over 209% of Nigeria’s GDP. If you take the totality of the entertainment industry, it is a lot.
WM: Do you agree that the government doesn’t patronize the film industry?
Kelani: Lately the government has been supporting the initiative of the Central Bank apart from the Bank of Industry initiative. We didn’t have anything like that before, but now government has intervened in the sense that if you qualify as a film maker, you can have access to a single digit loan. It is more liberal than what we had before because it is very difficult to take a loan to make a film. You cannot use credit bank loan for a cultural product, but now things are getting better.
WM: What is your take on the rate of piracy at present?
Kelani: Piracy comes in so many forms. It is not only film that is being pirated in Nigeria. Every product is being adulterated. There are worse cases in other areas. We all have to continue to fight in ensuring piracy is reduced. It is devastating because most of us lose our businesses. All my films were pirated at the same time and I have not recovered from it. I think film can now be consumed on other platforms like cinema, Mobile App, and others. I think the field is open.
WM: Is it true that the cinema has curbed piracy?
Kelani: We need to take a look at the kind of films shown in the cinema. Only the elites and some of the middle class go to the cinema. About 80% of Nigerians still don’t have access to the cinema, so, we need to develop our markets. We still have a long way to go.
WM: What would you describe as the most aspect in your four decades old career?
Kelani: It’s work at all times. Sometimes, you are away for long periods of time. Every time you decide to make a film, you have given up everything.
WM: How did your family cope?
Kelani: They are part of it all. I was mentored by Hubert Ogunde and nothing really mattered to him than his work. Everybody you saw around him was involved in his work and had a part to play. I am also lucky and privileged to have people who support me and I will ever be grateful to them. They are my wife, the children, my friends, my collaborators and benefactors. They are many.
WM: Recently, the Minister of Works and Housing, Babatunde Fashola, said that many Nigerian movies promote money rituals and kidnapping. Do you agree with him?
Kelani: I agree with him. Not just the movie industry, but the whole society. We supported the idea that people could make money by ritual, but it is not true. Nobody can make money outside of what belongs to you. I think all of us need to battle that negative narrative. We need to tell young people that it is not true. There is no ritual that can fetch anybody money.
WM: What project are you working on currently?
Kelani: We have a couple of films that were never released because of piracy. I can’t name them now for that reason. Very soon I should be back on the fold for production of those film.