Tunde Kelani, no doubt, is a strong force in the movie industry. He is popularly called Uncle Tunde. After many years in the industry as
a cinematographer, he decided to manage his own Mainframe Film and Television Productions, an organisation that is esteemed by home-movie lovers. Kelani who has worked on most feature films spoke with YEMISI ADENIRAN about his passion for the job, the factor that gives Mainframe an edge over other film producing outfits, how best to move the industry forward, as well as the responsibilities of the youths and the leaders. Excerpts:
Was acting and all that it entails actually your childhood dream?
When I was growing up many years ago, there was no emphasis on the importance of science study as we have now. Once you were able to identify your strength in any line of career, you were expected to make yourself stronger and actually be in charge of whatever you believed in. And for people like us who came from a polygamous home, you were naturally expected not to be lazy or be laid back as you ventured to be an achiever. If you dared slack, you take the whole blame after all, you are not the only child of your father and he would actually not find anything missing, if you decide playing away your future. So, the onus actually lie in your hand. Anyway, I knew I love to entertain others and this I did very well when I was younger. It was on this that I built up what has today become of me.
What do you think can make one stand out and relevant in any chosen career like?
As far as I know, it is essential for anyone who wants to stay relevant in whatever he or she is doing to believe in what he is doing and also work well on that which you believe in. Put God first in everything, do not allow anybody push you around so long you know what you are doing and also have confidence in yourself. In addition, never allow somebody make you do what you don’t want to do. Be hard-working too, give change and improvement a chance in that which you are doing and seek relevant information and knowledge as much as possible. This will definitely stand one out not negatively, but very positively. A teachable heart of learning and endurance are again necessary for a person who wishes to be relevant in any line of career.
You just mentioned your belief in culture and tradition. Does this affect your way of life especially your appearance?
You can see quite okay that this is evident in what I wear. As a lover of African culture, I wear predominantly
African wears in different styles and this I exhibit everywhere I go as a matter of duty everywhere I go, even when outside the country. For me, if the Europeans could be so proud of their attires as to impose it on us, I see no reason why I shouldn’t showcase our own wears, traditions and beliefs to them in the most appealing way. And honestly, they have started buying our ideas. They no longer see or perceive us as black monkeys with empty brains.
But, why is it taking us so long to get to the level that is internationally accepted in the movie industry?
Well, it is not a mountain that is insurmountable but it is a process that demands a gradual approach. America’s movie industry, you know, is over 100 years old and so, it is very hard and unnecessary for us to want to rub shoulders with them. Hollywood and Nollywood cannot just be rated the same, it wouldn’t be fair trying it. It is like telling a 10-year-old boy to be reasoning and acting like a 40-year-old man. We are trying our best anyway and I must give kudos to our actors and actresses. They make us proud, even out there as they get better everyday. I’m sure when America was 10 years old, it wasn’t this developed. We are moving at the right pace, but piracy is also playing a role to slow down our growth. My appeal to whoever is concerned is to do something about piracy. If it wasn’t for piracy, I think we would have gone further than this. The rate of piracy is so high that a lot of people are afraid of investing in the industry. They are not so sure they would get their money back. We are just trying to make things work and I believe they are working gradually. I am sure sometimes soon, everything is going to be better than this.
What were your days as an undergraduate like?
I studied Art and Technique of Film Making at the London International Film School, London, and it was just like any other person’s school days’ life. I was living like every other student doing my assignments and writing exams.
No time to catch fun?
Of course, yes. There were lots of fun to catch up with but I made sure I played when expected and studied largely as that was my primary assignment. It would have been criminal of a person like me failing my exams at the end of the day, especially in a white man’s land. I tell you, we are more brilliant, gifted and stronger than they are. This I tried to show them then and I was respected for it.
Tell us some of the films you have directed.
In my capacity as a cinematographer and director, I have these feature films worked on to my credit. Efunsetan Aniwura (16 mm), Ireke Onibudo, Papa Ajasco, Vigilante, Ogun Ajaye, Iya Ni Wura, Kanna-Kanna, Mosebolatan, Taxi Driver 2, Fopomoyo, Koseegbe (1995), O le ku (1997), A Place called Home (1997), The White Handkerchief (short, 1998), Twins of the Rain Forest (short, 1997), Saworoide (1999), Thunderbolt (2001), A Barber’s Wisdom (short, 2002), Agogo Eewo (2002), The Campus Queen (2004), Abeni 1 (2005) Abeni 2 (2006) and so on.
You did not mention Ti Oluwa Ni Ile and Obuko?
That is why I said and others, it is not easy remembering all. There is also Yellow Card, a South African film produced and directed by Mainframe and, of course, the long-awaited Arugba that is coming out very soon.
A lot has been said about this film and people’s anxiety is raised so high. What are its peculiarities and why is it delayed for this long?
May be because of its traditional setting or the fact that Mainframe films are usually irresistible, I wouldn’t know. But, I can assure you, it is one film that is a must-get for every household. Just as Ti Oluwa Ni Ile remains evergreen in most homes, Arugba is one product of Mainframe that will stand the test of time again. It will definitely be the talk of town this year when it finally comes out. It is targeted for April or during Easter and like a bang, it will hit the market. But until then, let’s keep our fingers crossed and wait for it. Mainframe will surprise Nigerians once again with this film.
As an artiste, how would you describe 2008?
As far as I know, 2008 was a great year. It was the year we were able to develop more of our African styles and it was the year we were able to develop so many of the works we shall be showcasing this year and others that we are working on now. Besides, I thank God for everything. He has done many incredible, unwarranted mercies for me. For example, one travels either by road or by air every now and then, so one must thank God for His mercies. Each time one steps into a plane, that devilish feeling of either it was going to be the last journey or not usually comes at times like a light in a pan, but God was in charge throughout, taking one to one’s destinations and bringing one back safely. Above all, He gave us success in all our endeavours, so there is a lot to thank Him for.
How close are you to your dream?
I am still far but almost there. My dream is to promote the African cultures to the level of easy acceptability in other countries. I dream of having positive impacts on people, the youth especially and I know with God on my side, I will achieve it very soon. One thing Nollywood has done so far is that it has succeeded in reducing unemployment very drastically in the country. It has helped in keeping a lot of our youths busy and I guess, we are better for it.
Tell us about the pain you nurse personally about this country.
It is about the collapse of the educational system. The education I enjoyed was designed after the model established by the missionaries. The missionaries set a very good standard, a solid foundation. And as people began to set up schools, they tried to model them after those of the missionaries and even tried to make theirs better. So, there was healthy competition at the time. Today, however, nobody seems to care. Even parents seem not to care any longer.
What do you think is responsible for this?
In my own opinion, I believe the responsibility is supposed to be jointly borne by both the Nigerian Government and the parents. Unfortunately, the government insisted that it could do it all alone and that marked the beginning of a major decline in that sector. Money, I believe, is not all that it takes to properly educate children. For now, bribery and corruption have become a common place because the law is less effective. There are virtually no suitable norms to guide the society as everyone seems to be running after money and power. What follows is the collapse of morality in the nation. People in high offices who are supposed to be role models in the society misbehave and everything appears to be in disarray. Take our universities for example, new ones keep springing up because there appears to be no clear-cut yardsticks for establishing academic institutions. And blindly, parents who have shifted their trust on money, put their children in these institutions just to oppress their counterparts.
And what becomes of the products of such universities? A man with a Ph.D obtained in Nigeria today will not be offered a job in England to teach in a respectable English school based on his certificate. They will first have to test him. Whereas a Ph.D white man or anyone from England would get a job free here without any stress. So, what is the real value of the education the children of these days are receiving? Many cannot even defend the certificates they have obtained from the secondary schools to the universities since they got their result from special centres. You see why we have a lot of youths as prostitutes, touts and fraudsters?
What do these developments portend for the country’s future?
The future of Nigeria is no doubt in the hands of the youth. Unfortunately, these youths are not yet groomed and so, their future without any curse or biased feeling is not yet bright. All our so-called leaders of today tell the youths that they are the leaders of tomorrow yet, there are no plans that suggest that they are preparing these youths effectively for the task lying ahead of them. It is so sad and very unfair, what do they have to hand over to these youths?
Even our votes no longer count. How can they when people in power feel they know everything and so they can do whatever they like? This is the reason why in Africa and Nigeria in particular, once a person finds and tastes the soup of power, he never wants to leave. He wants to remain in power.
What then do you suggest as the best ways forward?
For the leaders, they must be up to the task their positions dictate. When the leader is not up to the task, his subjects will kick against him because examples teach better. They must work harder to give good governance. They must desist from appointing ministers or commissioners by the mere fame of a name. They shouldn’t break the laws they made by themselves and they should practice what they preach. They should be good models to their followers. They should cater for the youths as we have in other developed countries; a nation with no worthwhile youths is a nation with no future.
For the youth, they should be hard-working, determined and focused on neat businesses that will bring clean success their ways. Even when the government is yet to offer them job opportunities and finance to support their ideas, they shouldn’t give up. They should depend on God and their abilities, soon they will realise that hard work pays, after all.
If you had the chance to rewind the hands of your life’s clock, would you have chosen another career?
To be candid with you, I will not. Honestly, I am enjoying what I am doing and the impact it is having on people’s life. I am a pastor in my own right and I use the medium in my capacity to pass messages around. So, I don’t see any reason why I should be envying another career. I am fulfilled and contented with what I have turned out to be.