VETERAN film maker, Lancelot Oduwa Imasuen is glad Invasion 1897, his epic historical film on the fall of the Benin Empire, has been a huge success. He told ENCOMIUM Weekly this much in an exclusive interview on Friday, May 8, 2015, at his Surulere, Lagos office.
The Guvnor, as the respected director cum producer is popularly addressed, also announced plans by a US-based group, Benin Club of Houston, Texas, to promote a theatrical tour of Invasion in Houston and Dallas starting from May 23, 2015.
20 years in Nollywood this year, Lancelot Imasuen, 43, also unveiled plans to celebrate his creative exploits in the industry, while addressing basic issues currently frustrating the sector.
Where have you been, Sir?
Since August 2014, we’ve been all around the world showcasing our latest effort, a historical film, Invasion 1897. We actually started here; from Abuja to Benin, carting so many awards. It was also showcased inside the British Museum, American government was equally part of the premiere. We had another premiere in Dallas, Los Angeles, US, where Invasion 1897 won a special recognition award, and in Canada. We had a big screening in London, where it was actually showed thrice. We are getting ready for a theatrical release by a major cinema in the United Arab Emirates. Of course, we had a good showing at the Africa Magic Viewers Choice Award, we had three major nominations but didn’t win anything. That was a surprise to many movie bugs and film enthusiasts. Recently, we embarked on university premiere tour of the film. It was shown at St. Andrew’s University, Scotland.
It has also been shown at the University of Benin. Next is Obafemi Awolowo University, Ife; Sir Gabriel Igbinedion University, Okada, Benin City, Edo State and several other institutions across the globe.
Putting all these together, is Invasion 1897 making the kind of money you expected?
Nice question. There are two ways to it. What we made is an art film meant to last the test of time. Don’t forget some are sponsored, it is not always about money. The most gratifying is that on May 23, 2015, a not-for-profit organization, Benin Club of Houston, Texas, US, would be celebrating the film. It would be shown in four centres in America. Of course, it is presently doing well at the Africa Magic/DSTV box office. The reviews have been quite tremendous.
How come we don’t seem to hear about how much Invasion 1897 has grossed, so far?
I think they only promote movies that have astronomical major break, so to speak. And of course, only one Nigerian film (30 Days in Atlanta) recently had that break. This takes us to the very sad aspect of our national experience as practitioners in the industry. Of course, we’ve had very big budget movies with millions of dollars expended in the production. But the return on investment was nothing to write home about in comparison to what was put in. What this means is that development of Nigerian cinema vis-à-vis Nigerian film is very low. The patronage of Nigerian made films in cinema is very discouraging. The issue is not all about making money, though. The question is have we been able to make quality films in terms of sound, picture, story? The answer is yes.
But have our few cinema guests been able to embrace our productions, if not for anything, for patriotic reasons? The answer is no. So, we still see more Nigerian films struggling in the cinemas. The entire atmosphere doesn’t seem conducive for the development of the African cinema when it comes to Nollywood here in Nigeria.
So, what do you think are the critical issues at play here?
I think we as a people enjoy and love anything foreign. We have a way of trivializing our own thing. Note that all Nigerian films that made impact in cinema have foreign colouraton. Look at Ije, 30 Days in Atlanta, An Hour Through the Glass…
This inferiority complex is still a burden here. But I’m happy that anybody who has seen Invasion 1897 appreciates the production quality.
Few days ago, I got a broadcast and a guy said, ‘I just rented Invasion 1897 through the Box Office and I must say this is how Nollywood should be.’ So, you get such commendation every time. Again, the number of cinemas here is still small. If 30 Days in Atlanta made over N100 million with just a few cinema, you can imagine how much the producers would have made if we had about 100 cinemas or more.
So, African films are not competing well with their foreign counterparts. We need to be encouraged if the industry must grow.
Lately, critical attention is being paid to the problem of piracy, what more should be done?
If you said, critical attention, I would disagree with you. Some of our colleagues’ works were pirated. Of course, it generated some outcry and one day some guys gathered and went to Lagos Government House, the governor addressed them and everybody left. Period. It is even worse. I know how many of those pirates who are still selling many more Nigerian films including The Meeting…I must say Nigeria is a lawless entity. Nigeria is a lawless country and as such, don’t expect any magic. I think fighting piracy here needs to be approached from a crude point of view. Any of the guys hawking movies on the road should be attacked and arrested. Those goods should be confiscated and destroyed right there. If on a daily basis, 10, 20 boys are raided and the works destroyed, they come out again tomorrow and they are attacked, once they can’t distribute these fake CDs, you’ve crippled their source. For the fact that they go on the streets unmolested, they go on the street unattacked and unchallenged, what you have now is what you would always get. That Governor Fashola came out and said this and that is not the solution to the problem. Are you sure he would even remember he met with some people? Government should also begin to see the industry as a means of improving their revenue. If you made N10 million in the cinema, many hands would be paid, government would also get its tax from the business. So, until they begin to see the economic viability of the industry and that piracy is as dangerous as fake drug and human trafficking, we would remain where we are.
Let’s talk about the premiere of Invasion 1897 coming up on May 23, 2015, in select American cities. Where exactly are you taking the film?
We are starting from Houston on May 23. It would be a very massive movie premiere. From there, we move on to Houston, Texas, then Atlanta, New York and Dallas. These are the cities we would practically invade with Invasion 1897 within the one month we would be in America.
What are your expectations from the American tour?
The film has given a voice to my people. This was what happened to us many years ago and nobody has made a film out of the historical experience. I’m expecting a massive turnout. I’m also expecting that Africans would relieve the experience that means so much to our people.
Who are you touring with this time?
Our cast and crew including the lead character, Michael Omoregbe as well as our resident makeup artiste, Stella Osula Onomolare.
We learnt you have plans to celebrate your 20th year in Nollywood?
That’s true. It is common knowledge that Lancelot Oduwa Imasuen has been a front runner in Nollywood for 20 years. So, major activities are lined up for the celebration. We are giving back to society. We are also organizing School-to-Fame projects in Edo; it’s supported by the Ministry of Culture and Tourism and Education. We also have public lectures.
20 years on, what would you say makes Lancelot Imasuen thick?
I think it’s consistency. I’m so excited I’ve been doing the same thing in the last 20 years. One has been very conscious of what one stands for. For me, if it’s not a quality production, my name can never be on it. I think that has been my modus operandi. Another factor is my undiluted belief in God Almighty and my resolve to succeed in whatever I have chosen to do. That’s why we would remain here.
So, there was no time you had contemplated giving up or doing something else?
I tell people I wouldn’t make any movie as expensive as Invasion again. There are times you want to resign because you see some measure of disappointment, especially when people are unnecessarily critical. They wouldn’t even care how much you put in without any form of support from government or corporate organizations.
When you consider the fact that the fortunes of Nollywood had been epileptic, so to say, other than consistency and God, what has been your staying power?
Focus and not being satisfied. Once you are not satisfied, you hunger for more effort, not minding the income but the positive outcome. I have made highly commercially viable films like Isakaba, Last Burial, Private Sin, Behind Closed Doors, Adesua, August Meeting…
When the cinema format of production evolved, many thought we wouldn’t adapt. You can see things for yourself. We’ve been upgrading, attending seminars, workshops, travelling, garneting international reputation and recognition. From CNN to BBC and other international media organizations, we have been profiled considerably. Whatever profession that brought me this far must be held sacrosanct.
It’s obvious you guys have come a long way?
That’s why the corporate world should take us serious. It’s not only about inviting our ladies to parties. The industry should be adequately funded. Creativity should be roundly recognized. Artistes are given endorsements and nobody remembers the creative hands behind the screen. It gets frustrating. If I were in the military for 20 years, I would be a General by now. If I were a lawyer, I would have been a SAN. To some of them, Nollywood is a joke. But this is life, it’s real, it is business. This is the face of Nigeria. One movie production can travel the world and change Nigeria’s perception in the world.
What’s your agenda for President Muhammadu Buhari?
I don’t see him as one who understands the industry but he should be properly advised. Film has become an integral part of development in Nigeria. Nollywood has become a measure of how we are perceived. Let me tell you something, we are casting right now, we can’t find artistes, all of them are on set, people are working. You can’t ignore such industry. So, I’m telling President Buhari not to make the mistake of ignoring the entertainment industry. It has contributed to the Nigerian economy as evidenced in the recent rebase. We employ millions of hands. I would also want the President to remove the industry from the Ministry of Information and National Orientation. We should all be in the Ministry of Culture and Tourism. He should even create a Minister of Entertainment headed by a knowledgeable person. The industry would attract investment and foreign exchange.
What are you offering the public after Invasion 1897?
We have been involved in several other productions. One is entitled Star Rhyme, it features comedians, another one is an office soap, all the series are in the office. It’s entitled, About Tomorrow. We are also going on set for another soap called Back Home. So, it has been a very busy year for us.
When you review your career as a film maker and entrepreneur what are you most grateful to God Almighty?
I’m grateful that He has sustained me. This started like a joke while I was in secondary school. I’m happy that God wanted me to be part of the generation that revolutionized this business that parents are now calling for their children to act. I’m so grateful we created something from nothing and it has become a global phenomenon, a global brand.
There are many Nigerians outside our shores in show business, drawing from our home experience. I’m so grateful to God that I’m among those that started this thing here.
Sunday (May 3) was my eight years in marriage, the children are doing well and gradually we are moving into the social circle the way it should be and well recognized in the land. For all of these, we give glory to God.
– UCHE OLEHI