Charles Novia is undoubtedly one of Nollywood’s most prolific movie directors and producers. A creative entrepreneur with a passion for perfection, this creative force behind some of Nollywood’s critically acclaimed works like Atlanta, Husband and Wife and Cinderella turned 40 on November 20. Novia who runs November Productions, an outfit that has had a tremendous impact in the movie talks about the events that shaped his life.

I Owe It To Mummy And Dad

I consider my mother, Madam Clara Uwaifo, a rare breed. Mama is a devout Christian and trained Colonial teacher who suckled both my tender childhood and my talent from an early age. She knew I was gifted and ensured that I never lacked from 3 what gave me joy the most-books. A mother’s love beyond comparison propelled my art, my person and my world. Thankfully she is still alive at 78 and her midnight prayers for her children still heard in heaven.

But my dad David Oghogho Igbinovia is late. I am a product of his seed. Though I grew up with my mum, being born in the polygamous fad which was quite the vogue at that time, I loved him, even if I never really got to see him daily. He was a brilliant economist and astute politician who had a large heart and helped the needy a lot. We both were on the road to great father and son bonding in my early adult life, when the cold hands of death snatched him in 1995. He appreciated my talent and knew I was a gifted writer. In all my life, I have never wept the way I wept at his lying-in-state. A cathartic but uplifting sorrow, but that was the new beginning God planned for me. Shortly thereafter, through an epiphany, my surname legally changed to ’Novia’ from Igbinovia.

Benin City Shaped Me Too

The great Benin City was the city of my childhood, the city of my art. It was and still is a great city of culture and tradition. I remember the wonderful times I had as a child in the city, with family and friends. Street games, childhood fantasies, earth houses in most parts of the city and the rich history at every point of the city you went to. In Benin of those days, everyone knew everyone, no matter the population-a perfect communal bonding. The arts and culture of the city triggered a burst of my creative talents from childhood. Benin was the centre of my world…still is culturally.

Television Sparked It For Me

From my child’s eyes, I would watch, enthralled, as the moving pictures spoke millions of words to my soul. From the days of Black and white television set through to colour television years later, the programmes, people and power of television created a new vista of fantasy and joy for me. I wanted to be in it and my kiddie mind would wonder, as many did then, how it was that the small square box could fit in a multitude of people all at once. I started watching the station in the 70’s as a child. Brilliant programmes from the creative pool in the station such as ‘Hotel De Jordan’, ‘Bendel Playhouse’, ‘Music Panorama’, ‘Pot of Life’ and fantastic programmes from their national network service like ‘Mirror in the Sun’, ‘Masquerades’, ‘Spacs’, ‘Village Headmaster’ and other locally produced programmes stirred my ambition to be true to my true calling. Thus, in 1983, I found myself cast as a child actor in my first major TV drama produced by Mr. Emma Edokpayi. Thereafter, roles started coming in! I was somewhat of a known child actor in Bendel State then. The stage, TV and arts were my world. In NTA Benin, I was first nurtured. Years later in 1994 through 1998, the NTA network service in Lagos, would harbour my talent and groom me for Nollywood, after retaining me at the completion of my Youth Service. Despite what NTA may seem like now, it was once the best place for any artist to cut his or her teeth.

But Before My Stint At The NTA

In late 1989, I gained admission to the University of Nigeria (UNN) to study a course I had stubbornly and steadfastly wanted to study all my life before then. For the next four years, I had happy and great times in that department under the tutelage of some renowned theatre greats like Professor Amankulor, Professor Ossie Enekwe, Professor Eni Jones Umuko and Prof Emeka Nwabueze and many more. The department gave me the creative leeway to burst out and even my stunned self could not believe how intense, powerful and awe-inspiring my stage performances and scripts were. Before long, I was a staple player in major theatre productions on campus. I assumed a ‘star-status’ on campus as theatre enthusiasts would hail me all over the campus. Looking back now, I am surprised I didn’t go overboard with all the adulations. No big-headedness as such. Besides, the department had a way of bringing you back on track if you dared do that. I managed to remain focused and kudos to UNN for 4 wonderful years in my life. They prepared me for career and life and for Nollywood, the platform, which gave me a leeway of expression and fame.

My wife, my treasure

My wife is a treasure…a rare gem among women. There wouldn’t be a Charles Novia in this magnification if not for Happy Novia! She understands my eccentricities and encourages my spirit with her support. For those who have some measure of Bohemianism in them, choosing your partner goes a long way in determining how your creative career will fare. The wrong partner and your career ambitions are stunted for life, possibly. So, in my earthly glory, Happy Novia shares in it all.

My Glasses, My Signature Look For A While

I don’t know if my eyesight was affected by sitting in front of the Black and White, Singer-Sliding-Door television we had in my house while growing up or if it was hereditary. I recollect that in 1983 or thereabouts, I was getting short-sighted. In the throes of a pre-pubescent window then, it would have been foolhardy for me to lose my ‘fine boy’ looks because of glasses so I kept quiet about it to my mum. The ‘effico’, nerdish look was not it for me then. Besides, I wanted my first girlfriend to like me as the ‘fine boy, no pimple, no glasses’ boyfriend. I should have saved myself the vain time-wasting as I never had a girlfriend till I was in Class 5 and my eyes were going bad gradually. Anyway, by the time I went for an eye-test, I remember the optician choosing one ‘pre-colonial Icheoku’ frame for me which I thought was cute. Besides, at that time I just wanted to wear glasses to see clearly. The nerdy-looking ‘coke-bottle’ lens and frames created some comic relief among my peers in school then! It was either my eyes or their ribs. I chose my eyes, jare! However, it was too late for the eyes to be corrected and I have been a short-sighted geek since then. But I see good! Contact lenses and laser surgery is not my thing so I guess I am stuck with this signature look for a while. Oh, about that first girlfriend in Class Five; the glasses did come off temporarily when we first dated but came back on when she broke my heart.

It Was Father Ofei Who Made Me Read Dramatic Arts

Father Ofei was a Priest at the Holy Cross Catholic Church in Benin. He came to our house one evening for a visit in 1982. Now, since the age of 6, I had started writing. I was a child prodigy who had written about 10 novels before I was 11. My proud mother would show all visitors all my hand-written novels and they would be amazed at what this child had written. When Father Ofei read some of my books, he stared at me in amazement and asked what I wanted to be in future and I said a Professor. I thought being a Professor was the coolest thing to be then. By that time, I was also doing some acting on local television.

“But I want to be a Professor in acting,” I continued.

“Why, that’s great! That’s what I read. I have a Masters Degree in Theatre Arts from an American University,” he said.

I was transfixed. Before then, I never knew there was a course like Theatre Arts. That day, I was happy. I knew that was what I would study and there was no hesitation years later when I was filling my JAMB form. Though late now, Father Ofei was a nice man who always encouraged me to ‘follow my dreams’.

The Trip To The Netherlands

In October 2001, I travelled for the first time in my life out of Nigeria to the Netherlands for a film festival. Before then, I had extensively travelled to many states in Nigeria and had a good idea of how the world outside was through the movies and books I had voluminously read through the years. But when I came out of the Schipol airport and saw the sheer infrastructural beauty of Holland, the orderliness, the premium the society placed on human life, the respect for one’s intellect, the power the people had over their elected government, the wonderful standard of living and many more things compared to our society in Nigeria which is far richer than Twenty Countries in Europe put together by the sheer volume of our Oil Wealth, I cursed and cursed all past and present leaders who had veered our post-colonial train into tracks of corruption and crass inhumanity. Further trips months later to Britain, America, South Africa and some countries in Europe did not and have not stopped the cursing. Thereon, a few of my movies became political, as a fight against the decayed system. “I will die for you’ my most ambitious anti-government movie erupted out of that first trip. The recurring question I ponder is ‘Will Nigeria change?’