‘Losing four actors and my mom stirred me to move on’
THE production of the world-class historical film, Invasion 1897 by veteran filmmaker, Lancelot Oduwa Imasuen has finally been concluded.
Shot in Benin City, Edo State and London, UK, the movie tells the sad story of the events that occasioned the invasion of the great Benin Empire in 1897, leading to the deportation of the monarch, Oba Ovonramwen to Calabar.
Invasion 1897, starring some of Nollywood best acts, including Segun Arinze, Paul Obazele, Charles Inojie also featured British movie stars like Charles ‘Chukky’ Venn, Rudolf Walker, Annika A’lofti, among others.
And unveiled to the media at the Silverbird Cinemas, Ahmadu Bello Way, Victoria Island, Lagos on Thursday, August 14, 2014, Invasion 1897, The Deportation of the Last King of Africa, hit the big screen, drawing applause from film critics and lay audiences.
ENCOMIUM Weekly shortly after the press unveiling anchored by former Big Brother Africa winner, Uti Nwachukwu and attended by some of the cast and crew, partners and Nollywood stakeholders, asked the brain behind the flick, Lancelot Imasuen how he got to this point…
You’ve seen it. Seeing is believing, like they say. Interestingly, you were in my house when the idea was conceived. ENCOMIUM Weekly was also the first to report it, Senator Daisy Danjuma set to release Nmulti-million movie on Oba Ovonramwen Nogbaisi.
So, I must appreciate the media because without you guys, we wouldn’t have been here today.
So, how does it feel to have finally realized your dream?
One thing is doing something, another thing is to do it well. For me as a film maker, what I always do is to sit behind and assess peoples’ reaction. And with what we’ve seen today (at the media unveiling of the trailer of Invasion 1897), we are excited that our hand started this project and completed it successfully.
What fond memories of the making of Invasion 1897 do you still keep with you?
We would talk about all these. The cast and crew have got a lot to say. Like somebody said, I got so angry with a lead character one day that they were surprised we still worked together. The fond memories of Invasion 1897 would unfold like a journey. I have been shooting films but I have never had this kind of experience. It comes in positive, negative and sequences of triumphs and challenges. In fact, it’s a book.
While shooting the film, you reportedly lost four members of the cast (though indirectly) including your aged mother.
When my beloved mom died, they didn’t tell me. In fact, I shot eight scenes that day, the highest we shot all through the production. Her condition was bad before we started. I knew she gave up for my sake. That time when my phone rang, I was scared to take the call, especially when it came from the crew (the Production Manager), the Director of Production. I never wanted to hear from anybody at all. The pressure was really much. When in a production, the first meat you bought was a cow, then two days after the caterer comes to tell you that, the refrigerator where she kept it was not powered. So, a whole cow got spoilt! How many times have you cooked with it? They said about two times! A whole cow! What about power generation. We bought a 24 KVA plant. We brought it on set, it could not power a 60 watt bulb (laughs). All the technicians who brought it are there with us. They can’t explain what was going on. You survived that. They returned it and bring another one. And everybody is excited.
Suddenly, you hear this bang, gbuum, the generator has gone berserk. It was emitting smoke as dark as anything you can imagine. I was just looking. My brother, it was a tortuous journey, but all of these, including the death of some of our guys energized us to move on with the project. That was why I insisted we observe a minute silence for each of them at the press launch.
Invasion 1897 has been applauded as one of the best creative efforts of new Nollywood, are you excited?
I feel challenged. After all, how old am I? It has been years of laboring to make creative statements. When we made Adesuwa, the excitement was quite much. But I told them the film was the John the Baptist, that Jesus Christ would soon be unveiled. I used to joke with Zik Zulu Okafor on this. The day I invited him to see the film, he was shocked. Obviously, there were mistakes here, we still want to do a better production.
The movie has been long in coming, considering the fact you started shooting about four years ago…
The idea of making this kind of gargantuan film has actually been long. I had since vowed I will not die if I didn’t make three movies that connect to where I come from and my people, a kind of my own message to the world. I was going to make this film on Oba Ovonramwen. I was also going to make Archbishop Benson Idahosa’s Fire in His Bones and a film on Chief Gabriel Igbinedion, the Esama of Benin. Now, we are here. When we got to where to raise the fund because this is not just some chicken project, the hand of God showed up. And I will say Invasion has been a project of practically three, four years, but spiritually 14 years.
We commissioned the script research in 2011. We got production consultants in every area of the job. I wanted to do things more professionally. The script almost took us one full year. We were supposed to have shot in December 2011, because we were trying to avoid the rains. It was the script that held us. It was only ready in December. We started in January 2012. The pre-production was three months. We filmed for 31 days in Benin. We waited for another one year eight months before we resumed shooting. Within that period, editing had started. From Benin, we moved to Lagos. We wanted to edit internationally. The funds weren’t just there. I was not given a bag of money to be spending. I must thank Senator Daisy Danjuma and the board and management of South Atlantic Petroleum SAPTRO for their financial support. HP, Task Systems, ENCOMIUM Weekly and FEVA TV were also part of the success of Invasion. We believed in this project. We later travelled to London and rounded off the shoot. After that, we edited it finally.
We had speculated that Invasion would gulp millions of naira with Senator Daisy Danjuma principally involved. How committed was she to the end?
You saw the company, SAPETRO at the media unveiling at Silverbird. Their hands started it and completed it. We are still appealing to them to come to our aid for the marketing because a lot has gone into the project.
Can you now tell us how much has gone into the making of Invasion 1897?
With the quality of Invasion 1897, would you say it’s a N10 million film? Let me guide you, the scenes in London were about 21 minutes. That translates to almost four hours of filming. What we spent in the UK alone was in pounds. The cost of filming there is astonishing, not to talk about post production. Post production here in Nigeria gulped over N10 million! We are not talking about post-post production. When I was building my house, I was noting down the cost, my late mother tore the exercise book and scolded me for calculating the cost of my building. It’s not done. What am I going to calculate? Is it the cost of taking about 200 people to London and spending about 30,000 pounds per person? Abeg, leave matter o.
Luckily, the Edo State government was also involved financially?
Edo State is not yet financially involved in the making of Invasion. We had written countless letters to them. We, however, appreciate the esteemed presence of the State Commissioner for Art, Culture and Tourism at the media launch (that’s Hon. (Mrs.) Aanena Elizabeth Jemitola). I know Governor Adams Oshiomhole would do something.
You shot with quite a large number of people?
We had about 57 crew members. And that’s the way to go in Nollywood. When Nollywood gets bigger than this, we would be paying some crew members per day for their services.
(The production manager, Wendy Imasuen cuts in), ‘There were times, we had over a 200 cast on set a day. We had over 1,000 cast and crew.’
Sometimes, we used the whole community. Communities were donating youths. We challenged government with the potentials of the movie industry to create jobs. We also discovered talents. You can imagine what impact this effort would make if sustained with government support.
Some of us are wondering where to place this exemplary effort. Is this Nollywood, Hollywood or Nolly-Hollywood?
You are at liberty to coin your word (laughs). This is Nollywood. You have known me for over 10 years. You have been interviewing me for over a decade, and you know we have been consistent. If you think Invasion is the zenith of our professional expertise, you are making a costly mistake. Our best is yet to come.
That takes us to the question of what next to expect from the governor?
Make we sell this one first (laughs).
You only unveiled the trailer and the poster at a press launch, when is the premiere proper taking place?
The world premiere tour of Invasion 1897 will start with the Toronto African Film and Music Festival on August 27, 2014. Invasion will be the opening film of the festival. There will then be a London VIP premiere alongside major Benin bronze works exhibition on September 13, 2014. The main premiere would be held in London at the Odeon Cinema in the same month. This would be followed by a special premiere of the movie at the famous Smithsonian Institute in Washington DC, USA on September 17, 2014.
Back home in Nigeria, Invasion would be screened at Abuja Film Festival, then there would be a special Nollywood premiere on September 23, 25 and 26, 2014. Similarly, Invasion would be premiered in Lagos on September 30 and start screening in cinemas nationwide from October 1, 2014. We would communicate any changes in the premiere dates.
Your point of view in Invasion is quite germane; does it tally with the view of palace historians?
To be frank with you, before we started, we told them our line of argument (our perspective). For the average Edo man, Ovonranwen wasn’t guilty. The Oba didn’t order his chiefs to kill the white guy. We also proved that the war invasion not massacre was justified. It is an argument that will linger and eternally change this whole idea of blame game. We were deliberate to dispel the massacre. It was not just unprovoked. There was a provocation. Even if you take them to court, it would be like, ‘you want to visit me, I said wait, you said you must visit me.’
So, they attacked them. The West has been very tricky with this story. We didn’t just go to what just happened. We looked at how we got to what happened.