What makes him special? Well he started directing at the tender age of 17 and he has recorded a number of firsts to. Besides he has mentored a lot of artistes and taught his passion for the arts to students who are doing well today. Lancelot Imasuen though claims he’s satisfied, but there are certain lapses in the entertainment world that still bother him. Find out what these are and his ideas for a more profitable entertainment industry in this interview he granted Samuel Olatunji. Excerpts:
Do you think your collaboration with Stingomania can do justice to the Dagrin film project?
It depends on what you mean by Justice. As for me, my reputation is such that whatever I choose to do, I put in my all into it , because I don’t like to settle for less than quality when I can produce high quality. If the quality is not good enough, my name can’t be on it. I’m of the opinion that when you want to look into an epic work like this, talking about the deeds of some heroic individuals, you must have more than enough to put on the table . When works like this is being reported, you will not get the full gist.
If you watch films like Izakaba, you will see that they are works of history and if you have been following Nollywood for a while, you will agree with me that this is one of the most successful works in Nollywood’s. It’s historical , because it was successful, artistically and commercially. As an individual, I don’t see anything stopping me from delivering good quality work, with hopes that all the necessary assistance needed will be rendered especially in the area of location.
Locations like Mushin are very much needed in this project and I have never shot there for once. So, I’ll be needing assistance from a whole lot of people that actually mean well for the project, because we want to go deep with the story. We have been able to gather some artistes, but in terms of the structures on ground, in terms of artistry, in terms of liberty, artistes dived into areas that we want to create. I believe it will be a huge success, that I can assure you with God on our side.
So, what should we expect?
A lot of what Lancelot Imasuen is known for. Great films that have come out of my stable as a producer or as a director. Movies like Izakaba, Last burial, Private sin, Home in exile, Behind closed doors and so on. These are all hugely successful films not to talk of other ones that just came. So, I think if it is Nollywood, then we hold the magic wand.
Do you agree that you are the most uncelebrated producer/director in Nollywood?
Yes. It is a replica of the kind of society we find ourselves in . In Nollywood, if there are history students, if there are observers or keepers of history, they would know these things I’m about to say. In Year 2000, I shot a total of 29 movies and of that, about 27 of them were hits. An independent Internet Nollywood critic has just voted me as the number one Nollywood director in a decade. If you visit nollywoodcritics.com you’ll see for yourself. I was the first to be invited to Hollywood to film the first Hollywood collaboration as a director and that was Close enemies.
The likes of Akeem, Chris (the one in Sometimes in April), Samuel Rotibi that was in Nicholas Cage’s Lord of Wars and so many other seasoned actors were in that movie. From Nollywood, we had Zack Orji and Kate Henshaw. We played with Hollywood crews and we delivered. It was successfully completed under my direction . A documentary by Canadian film makers titled Nollywood Babylon, saw the Nigerian flag flying high at the prestigious Sun Dance Festival not just the Canne Festival. But the film featuring me as the main protagonist was in competition for the documentary at the Sun Dance Festival and I was a special guest of honour at that event.
Were you in a documentary or your work was in a documentary?
A documentary was done on Nollywood where I featured as the main character , following the success of Nollywood. Sun Dance Festival is reputed to be the most prestigious film festival in the world. Even we were privileged to grace the CNN Screening Room slot. I had the opportunity to meet the man that used radio to introduce Nollywood to the Chinese audience.
It was a program by an American documentary maker called Market Radios that had about 12 million listeners. In fact, when they aired it , a friend was driving and when he heard me, he had to park and he called me, screaming, that’s my guy! that’s my guy! I’ve shot in Holland , in several cities in Germany , in Italy and you put all these things into consideration and look at the number of celebrities that are directly the products or became celebrated by the reason of our touch. You should also not forget that before this part one, the part two syndrome heated Nollywood.
There were films that were deliberately requested because of the success of the part one. We also championed that tendency when we made Izakaba. The part one was a hit and parts two, three , and four were sensational . We hold the record of being the first to produce a four-part film that was a huge success. Is it in the academies where tests and projects were done on our works? Or the fact that we made an Edo film globally accepted. Also, it would interest you to know that my last Edo film, Ebuwa, was premiered in Benin city with over one thousand guests in attendance .
It featured about thirty-two Nollywood stars. I am not sure anybody has been that honoured, from RMD to Liz Benson. Liz Benson even came out and said, “I wouldn’t have done this for any other person other than Lancelot. Benin was agog the day we held that movie premier. From there, we moved to Sheraton Hotels in Abuja to premier a language film. Then to Toronto in Canada , New York ,Boston , Atlanta , and then to London . Who also has that record? But in Nigeria , there’s immodesty. One day, a journalist called me and asked, do you know you have produced more award-winning actors than any other person? From 1998, there is hardly any award ceremony in Nigeria on films that I was not nominated or given a prize.
At my last count, I won 34 awards plaques from every part of the world just doing this Nollywood film, yet some people still feel that when you speak, you are saying rubbish, but when the records are there about this intimidating achievements, what more is left undone? I told somebody, there is no more record that I am hoping to break or achieve especially now that Nollywood is being accepted in cinemas. I was one of the people that took Nollywood films to the cinemas.
So, we are hoping that people will take their time to be more conscious of history and see where we are coming from, because anybody that refuses to know where you are coming from may never be able to know where they are going . I was the recipient of the best film maker of the year award in 2004, a recipient of Rivers state best Nigerian director, recipient of Africa Heritage Magazine most celebrated Nollywood person in Europe. So, I’m not trying to sound immodest or ungrateful, I want to say I am grateful to God but it is pertinent that we look back and see where we are coming from so that truly, the labours of our heroes past or present, will not be in vain.
What other things would you have wished for ?
When we did our CNN interview, I didn’t go there to talk about Lancelot. I went there to talk about the Black Race, I went there to defend Nigeria . I have told the world that Lagos is not different from New York ,because we have the good, the bad and the ugly.
When I finished a presentation in Canada , some white guy met me and said, for the thirty minutes he listened to me, his impression of Africa for 31 years has been erased. Some of us, speaking frankly have been ambassadors to people. I don’t want to mention names nor their positions. Those using our hard earned money to propagate this country from the angle of the African race which Nollywood has. They’re reputed for being the voice to the voiceless.
Before Nollywood, it has always been a poor image of Africa where people still believe that we live on trees, that there are no cars here, that it is only when you come to Europe that you wear clothes but through Nollywood, that was totally changed. Everything available in New York is right here in Lagos as well. Of course, there might be some lapses in government and all that , but there is no better way, as of now, to highlight the achievements of the government of Lagos state in terms of infrastructural development in the state .
The world must know that there’s an ultra modern toll gate between Brooklyn and the Bronx in New York like the Lekki toll gate. So, deliberately, the Lagos state government must commission things to highlight that. You see, calling some set of people to see these beautiful deeds will not be as good as a documentary will be. A documentary is even seen as propaganda.
Just like we are talking about branding, there is no other sector in Nigeria that is worth celebrating as far as branding Nigeria is concerned other than the Nigerian film practitioners. These people must be celebrated. Genevieve was recognised by Oprah Winfrey. Which governor did they mention, which first lady was mentioned? Something was done to attract that recognition. Presidents of African countries barely celebrate birthdays or whatever, without seeking Nollywood faces. A lot of money dished to Nigerian parties or spent on events is not enough without them. They even offer to pay Nollywood celebrities to appear at these events. Artistes are a major selling point for these programs. Then I ask, who is Oyinbo? So, celebration can come from any source. I don’t know which state it will come from.
In year 2004, I submitted a proposal to Edo state government requesting that Edo state indigenes that have acquired international and national prominence should be honoured. All that was said was, oh that’s a very good idea and later, it fizzled out and nothing was done. Heroes must not be made of the dead, they must not die before you celebrate them. It’s not even about age or status, or family background. It’s about the achievements of that person. Between 2004 and 2006, I shot all my movies deliberately in Benue city so that my people who also have interest in this business can join. That everything will not start and end in Lagos .
What other level of patriotism do they want? Nollywood has produced opportunities that elicited positive comments about Africa.
Though we usually feature the bad sides in the movie, like rituals and all that, but the overall message is what matters most. Government can begin to promote some of these projects. As they are making noise about tourism, how many movies have they deliberately promoted about the Obudu Cattle Ranch? They just come and do documentaries on the Argungun Fishing Festival. Do you know that could be converted into a very huge film?
Doesn’t that result in competition or a feud between you guys behind the camera and the guys in front of the camera, seeking popularity?
You are misrepresenting me. If I’m working on the street and I expect everyone to be calling Lancelot, then I’m a fool. I don’t know whether you have seen a script conference before, you’ll see the mental stress we pass through. I have not collected a dime for this project , but I spend my money. So, a man cannot go through this and not be recognized. Maybe it is the boy that will play Da’Grin that will become the talk of the town that he looks and talks like him. You cannot say that a man who has put all of these together is asking for too much.
For instance, during an awards ceremony, the recipient mounts the stage and says, oh thank God for my life, I have always known that I would be this big, I have always known that I can do this, it was from my mother’s womb that we started acting and all that but he has forgotten the people that helped and taught him to act in that film.
Okay, so is it that they need to appreciate your works better?
I’m recognised. It’s not just because you want to speak or appreciate people that matters. What matters is how much you really appreciate the person . How much do these persons’ contribution mean to you is the talk about celebration. All artistes in Nigeria know the impacts I have made in their lives, so how come tomorrow, when they become bigger you are the person they scream, and howl at. I am so comfortable doing what I’m doing, I’m so happy doing what am doing, I’m so proud, doing what I’m doing. Sometimes, when I check my Facebook page, there are things I want to print out.
A guy sent me a massage that I should please accept him as my friend on Facebook and if not , it’s going to be big trouble not for any other reason, but because he had seen my works on African Magic and this guy doesn’t even know me. Though I get messages from people who say they want me to link them up but for the ones that genuinely appreciate your works , they say “how do I get more of your films? I love you, you have done well”. You see, before a director is noticed, he must have done a great job , but it takes just one film for an actress or actor to be noticed .But it takes several films for a director to be recognised. There must be a level of patronage before you’re noticed.
Some people say that in Nollywood, actors and actresses do not give the guys behind the camera their due respect.Is that true?
For me, I’m a director and I’m appreciated. I say that with all sense of modesty. I am appreciated and acknowledged by actors. To some of these people, they feel it doesn’t matter. If anybody has had any impact on your life, when you acknowledge the person or you give him or her credit, it makes you even a better person than taking all the glory. So, I don’t want people to comment on that. I’m highly appreciated and acknowledged. Let’s take a look at these two things, appreciation and acknowledgement.
A lot of artistes may just appreciate you. Appreciation goes beyond just speaking it, there is an action attached to it. Acknowledgement comes maybe when an artiste is granted an interview and he makes mention of the name of a person that has had an impact, one way or the other on his life. Their appreciation maybe light. You go the extra mile to push some people to their promised land. I was joking with one of these Glo ambassadors. I said look at you, you are collecting millions now , but you cannot give me five hundred thousand .
You that in 2001 you were somewhere and I called you to be part of my cast , because I knew you were good and that you could act. You got there but didn’t show up. You said shame no let you comot inside motor, because people were too many but now you’re a superstar. I was almost on my knees begging her to come but look at her now, she’s a Glo ambassador. It’s not as if I want something, as a matter of fact, I live a very comfortable life.
I eat what I want and lodge in the best hotels when I travel but as humans, these things get to you sometimes. If you give a car to a fellow that made you a superstar, I think it’s worth it. It is only when there is an event or an award that we remember someone. The bond is not there. If a colleague calls you up and asks why he/she has not been seeing you in the movies for the past 3 or 4 months, I think it’s no big deal.
So, the stars have not been arrogant to you in anyway?
No, they can’t be . There is no Nollywood star that can be arrogant to me. It is not possible. When I say it is not possible, I say it with all sense of responsibility. I will not even allow such thing to come up in the first place.
So how far do you think Nollywood has gone? Do you think Nollywood is doing well?
Well, we have done well. The industry has been able to attract the good , the bad and the ugly. It’s about time we separated the men from the boys. Time will do this. There will be time to say today we are making films, there will be time to say this is what we can do, there is a time to say because I now know what I can do, this is what I am doing. So if you ask me how many movies I have made, I will tell you I have made five or six movies, then you will say but you have made over 200 films and I will say some were made because that was the way it was.
There were some that were made to show your talents and now there are those I am making because I am aware of who I am, what I am, my capacity and the acceptance that has come from them. , So, for Nollywood, I see it in that progression. We are going back to the cinemas now big time. The world has not seen anything yet. Now it’s not going to be that we don’t have money; the technology is here now: the computers, getting like minds to believe in the dream. We will hit it really big.