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Why I have soft spot for female characters – Tunde Kelani

Veteran filmmaker and cinematographer Tunde Kelani had his latest film ‘Cordelia’ selected for screening at the 30th New York African Film Festival last Monday. In…

Veteran filmmaker and cinematographer Tunde Kelani had his latest film ‘Cordelia’ selected for screening at the 30th New York African Film Festival last Monday. In this interview, TK, as fondly called, speaks about the movie as well as the successes and challenges in the creative industry.


What’s the story behind ‘Cordelia’?

‘Cordelia’ is a casual glance at our recent past. I would have loved this film to be shown throughout the country on May 29 when the new administration will be sworn in to office. It’s just a glance backwards and one of the things that happened during the military dictatorship. When coup happens, people experience different things. In this case, it’s a university professor who has a troubled home with his wife. He goes for a lecture and meets a young girl who’s introduced to him that morning in his office and then 30 minutes later, there’s an announcement of a coup. A certain Colonel Nwaeze Peters was mentioned. The girl that had just been introduced to him was Peters’ daughter. Before long, students started to riot because the man was mentioned as being part of the coup and they know that his daughter is in the university. They wanted to lynch the girl, so the university professor tried to save her but he was roped into the coup. So, he suffered a lot.

From that point, the story went on for about 24 hours where this man could not go home. He was arrested and his house raided, but luckily, Nwaeze Peters managed to escape from the coup plotters and he raised the force that went out to stop that coup.

Luckily, the professor was saved as well as Nwaeze’s daughter. The Head of State was murdered and the ruling council now asked Colonel Nwaeze Peters to take over the government. To compensate the professor, he was offered an appointment in his cabinet, but after thinking about it and the struggle for the university, he turned down the appointment. That’s the story.

When will the film be available to the public after being screened in the New York?

Well, we will decide about that. We have several options. The objective is to get it licensed in any of the platforms.

Most of your films have huge considerations for female characters. What exactly are the reasons behind this?

That’s actually interesting but it is not something I was conscious of on my part. But generally, I feel that we have not given the African women or recognized their importance in our societies. They have contributed so much to the development of social lives, but they have never been accorded enough recognition. Most of the times, they stabilize the home, and even the community.

Generally, in Nigeria, for instance, they are underrepresented in nation building, politics and other areas. The United Nations gave a quota of 15 percent and in Nigeria, I don’t think we have achieved 5 percent. But generally, I seem to have a soft spot for positive female characters in the story that I tell. From Maami, Arugba and even Cordelia… somehow, I don’t know how it happened, but it seems that I always give consideration to women.

People still feel that the creative sector remains an untapped goldmine in Nigeria, do you agree with them?

It’s already happening. When Nollywood came, it was not given a chance and the government had to do a catch up when they saw that the sector was growing. A lot of initiatives came up during President Jonathan’s administration, the Project Act and all of that which tried to fuse, inject funding and capacity building into the industry. There is undeniable fact that the creative industry is going to be huge and it is going to contribute significantly to the Nigerian economy and it’s already happening.

In what ways is it happening?

It has already happened in music. Suddenly, you can see Nigerian musicians given global recognitions. Most of their musical shows are selling out in Madison Square, in 02 Arena and it has caught the whole world by surprise. Suddenly, everybody is looking towards Nigeria and collaborating with Nigerian musicians. The same thing is happening with our movies; with the investments coming into through streamers like Netflix and Amazon Prime. You know, everybody here is not too far behind, and technology has a role to play. We started from a point where we called it ‘Agbelewo.’ And you can see again, of course, we now have limitless platforms, not only NTA anymore. Everything is now mobile. And then, of course, internet or YouTube, all of these point to the fact that there is going to be huge demands for content. It’s all about content these days and almost everybody I know in the industry is working. All these platforms are going to demand infinite contents, and that’s going to provide a lot of jobs for the young generation.

Do you think all these have substantially addressed the issue of piracy?

As pioneers, we suffered. I almost lost my business due to piracy. But then, technology has changed again, from the traditional CD DVD into the digital form. But the kind of piracy we have now is totally different. If your film is good, and it’s used in any of the streaming platforms, chances are that the pirated copy will come out the third day. But this is not sold, mainly these are shared for free. So that’s the prize of anything going digital because it’s open source, you cannot protect it. In fact, when we released Ayinla, everybody in a way had it on their mobile phone and they were even showing me on their mobile phones.

Luckily, what happens is that if you are licensed by any of the streaming platforms, chances are that they will pay you bulk money which is maybe substantial to cover part of your production.

Piracy then and now, which one is worse?

Well, it is something we still have to look at. It’s not piracy, but the issue of copyright, the intellectual property. That’s the kind of thing we should be looking at now because you can get anything at any time. There are some sites where you can download Nollywood’s latest film.

What’s the profitability aspect of the trade? Is it something to be proud of?

Yes. We can’t compare. Things are better than what it was.

What’s your take on the content of movies produced in Nigeria? This is because a lot of people are worried that they portray get-rich-syndrome, prostitution and other criminal acts.

Contexts come in different forms depending on the taste of a particular audience. So, every content tries to find its level. The reason why those contents do very well is because of the demand. If it’s the audience demanding those things, I think they won’t be in existence. I think it’s a consumer issue. Every producer knows his particular audience. It’s all business. If is it not paying off as a business, then they would have stopped making the films. On the other hand, Nigerian films have gone global. There are films that have performed beyond expectation. Look at Kunle Afolayan’s Anikulapo now, it is seen in more than 36 countries. That has never happened before.

Nigeria started from the bottom of the ladder and now we are competing globally and there has been a lot of attention. Definitely, there has been growth in our industry, but we still have infrastructure deficits. If America has 13,000 cinemas, we don’t have 500. That’s a huge gap. And then there’s been a lot of investment in infrastructures. Cinemas are growing and then there has been a lot of capacity building, training and re-training programmes for both professionals and the new generation. So, Nigeria is climbing so rapidly that it has been a surprise and it caught the world by storm.

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