Aquilah Njamah, a Hollywood award winner and film maker, is one of the Njamah acting siblings, including John and Empress. In this interview with nfc, he speaks on his grouse with Nollywood and other issues
Q: Aquilah, you seem to be one of the film makers who publicity shy and detest blowing their trumpets. What is your reason for this?
A: Apart from the fact that it is not my nature to be ‘loud’ about myself, I have so many things to do and not just talking for talking sake. I have noticed that people who talk too much or are usually loud about themselves don’t end up well, they easily lose tracks and that usually has great consequence on their career. That is the reason why I have always been quiet. I am naturally like that and I hope it is pardonable.
Q: Is it because your sister and colleague, Empress, had it tough in the media that made you to decide to run from public glare?
A: Not really. As a matter of fact, we are three in the the family and each of us has his or her life to live. John plies his trade his own way and for Empress, my sister, I think she also has her selling point. If she comes to me for advice, I offer the little I can and life continues. My nature has nothing to do with her lifestyle. I have my own career to pursue and most times, I go on location to do my job. Everyone in the industry knows that I don’t like to use my siblings in my own productions, so I don’t see why their lifestyle should affect mine.
Q: Why don’t you like using your siblings in your productions, are they not good enough?
A: Not at all. You all know John and Empress Njamah are both talented actors, but I don’t believe in nepotism. If you must achieve your professional goals, then you must avoid using square pegs in round holes. On several occasions, movie producers that appoint me as director have sought to use Empress in their productions and what I tell them is “go and talk to her yourself, if she agrees, fine and if not, the work must continue.” But if you ask any of my siblings, they will tell you that Aquailah won’t even manage to use them. Everyone has to pursue his career individually, irrespective of blood relations.
Q: So, how do you intend to pursue your career?
A: I think the most constant thing in my career is change. I have a feeling that we should have changed from the video format and to achieve this, I keep embarking on research and training. I equip myself with books and other forms of training. I am poised to market a change in Nollywood. I want to pursue my career by being focused and unmoved by distractions.
Q: You started as an actor in the late 80s and suddenly, you moved into film production and directing. Was it because your siblings were becoming famous as actors?
A: As you rightly said, I started as an actor on stage in 1987 before I went back to school to step up my game. That was because I was not satisfied with the way the movie industry was going. I started to shoot movies professionally in 1996 and it really impressed a lot of people as I have always wanted to make a change. Acting is a notable thing in the Njamah family, but I choose the type of actors, directors and crew members I work with. Personally, I don’t like people coming on set with inferiority complex. I think Nollywood has not reached the stage where stakeholders go to sleep. We need a change.
Q: How soon do you think Nollywood can get to its destination?
A: Nollywood is just the second best movie industry commercially, but it is not there yet technically. It is due to the way we release films.
Q: So, what happens to its quality?
A: Yeah, our films are selling somehow, but at a point, our viewers got tired of recycled stories. I have been making efforts, but it is not something I can do alone. Like Michael Jackson said while alive, “you have to start with the man in the mirror.” To shoot a movie, you must have plenty of money. What happens if you are shooting for a month an somehow, you run out of cash? Nigerians like to manage, but I don’t manage when it comes to my job and I think that is one distinct quality I have. To achieve what you want in a movie, you must invest in it. There are no creative items any more in the market and that is bad. Nollywood has not reached the stage where it would have a film poster with no actor’s face on it. We can get there with time. We have cut down our level of creativity for lesser jobs. We love to shoot with peanuts and that can’t help the industry to grow. Nollywood is ailing, as a matter of fact.
Q: Did you pass through anybody’s tutelage to become a movie director?
A: I want to say that I used to be a production manager in the early 1990s and after I watched the way films were being directed, I decided to make a change. I did not pass through anybody’s tutelage to become a director, I only attended courses, even abroad. I also attended seminars and read books to step up my game. I have learnt so many things and apart from camera shots and angles, I can tell a story without sound and so on. The record is there and I can do crazy things on set.
Q: Do you agree that your elder brother, John, paved the way for you in the industry?
A: Yes, I can say John paved the way for us because he had been there as a child-actor and a star at that. He won the first ever award as a child actor in Nollywood. He is a good international actor now.
Q: How does your mother feel having three actors as kids?
A: She feels blessed and highly favoured. The acknowledgement she receives alone makes her feel proud as people identify her as the mother of the popular film makers, John, Empress and Aquialah and I can say she is a good actor too.
Q: With the drive in you to make a change in Nollywood, do you intend to vie for an elective post in one of the guilds someday?
A: Why aspire to be a king when you are already a kingmaker? I don’t believe being at the helms of affairs in any guild and this is the only way I can propel a change. When I won the Hollywood award as a director in 2007, I did not win as the president of Directors’ Guild of Nigeria (DGN), I won as a member and the award has inspired others. I can still propel a change without playing politics. I could even do a story on the politics in the movie industry someday and with that, a change can be at the corner.
Q: So, what is your stake on the way politics is being played by your colleagues,; Kanayo O. Kanayo, Segun Arinze, Ejike Asiegbu and others?
A: All the people involved are my friends and we all know how to resolve matters. Politics is a dirty game that can make friends turn enemies. As a matter of fact, when I hear that somebody was contesting, I laughed, picked my phone and asked why he was doing so. It is sad. They all know me as somebody who will say the truth at the right time. I’m not scared of anyone.
Q: Is it true that you womanise a lot?
A: And what do you think? Would you say D’banj also womanises? Anyway, I love women because they are loveable, but that’s not enough to say I womanise. I only enjoy their company and owe nobody any explanation that I like the opposite sex.
Q: Is it true that you sometimes take advantage of upcoming actresses sexually?
A: I will never harass any actress sexually but I think I have had my own share of dating a number of them in the past. I have outgrown that now and it can’t happen again.
Q: How do you unwind as a busy person?
A: I try to unwind at the right time. I take my work very seriously and when I want to have fun, I do it to the extreme. I love to catch fun.
Q: So, how soon are you getting married?
A: I have had my own share of emotional trauma and that era is gone. I will do so at the right time, when the right person comes. I believe there is a man for every woman and vice versa.