The movie industry in Nigeria is a force to reckon with in the continent and other parts of the world. But guess what? People make that happen, especially, those behind the camera whose faces we do not see so often. These people, more or less, control the multi-billion valued industry. One of them is Kunle Afolayan. His name is forever etched in the sands of time as one of the few whose works has helped change the way film making is done in Nigeria and has somewhat set a standard.
As the manner of Ibiene is, we sought to find out why Kunle the bearded one is considered a pillar in Nollywood and in this conversation he talks about his love for culture, funding in the creative industry, what is ahead for Nollywood and other issues.
Here’s how the conversation went;
Ibiene: From banking to camera-lights-action! What prompted you to move from a lucrative job to a seemingly uncertain path in filmmaking?
Kunle: I think it was the spirit. It was the ancestors that directed me (laughs).
I’ve always been a creative person and even while working in the bank, I wasn’t a font desk person. I was more in the back office; corporate affairs, administration, corporate communication person. From the onset, film and entertainment is something that I have always wanted to do even before I joined the bank. After studying business administration, the available platform for me to land on at that time was the bank. After doing seven years of learning, because for me every platform, position or place where you find yourself, make the best use of that very moment and learn as much as you can. This was what I did at the bank.
I left because I felt it was time.
I joined the bank in 1998 and did my first film in 1999 as an actor. After then I did a few other jobs but the banking job didn’t give me the flexibility I needed to explore more in that space. Also, when I actually started, my dream has always been to be a film maker and not really an actor. But acting fell on my lap and I decided to explore and of course when I was acting, I always felt I could do better and film making was what I really wanted to pursue. So, after the seven years in banking, I resigned and was at home for like eight months trying to figure what next and then I enrolled in film school in the UK and then studies, registered my production company “Golden Effects” in 2005 and then I started a new journey.
Ibiene: Where do you draw your inspiration from?
Kunle: I think it’s God, but more so, my environment inspires me. I like to explore what is available to me. First, I like to explore our original stories. I like to put to use nature, materials that are available here and you would hardly find in other places. Our culture also has a huge part to play. You see that in all of our films, even when it is an English language dominated film, you’ll still see that culturally, there is a balance.
The movie “Phone swop” for example is set predominantly in the east but you’ll still see cultural elements and values being paid attention to in the film. This is what you see in all of my films because I feel that I cannot speak English Language more than an English man neither can I do car racing or shooting of guns more than those who invented those things. So, these are some of the things that give me that inspiration.
Ibiene: You have worked with filmmakers from different parts of the world. What is that thing that sets Nollywood apart, the unique things about movies made in Nigeria?
Kunle: I think it’s our stories. Our stories are unique and also they are very original and that is why we conquered Africa. “Oyibo’s” (Foreigners) will still watch our films and find it hard to understand but Africans, when they watch our films, it is a reflection of themselves. I’ve had lots of forums and seminars with some of these people and I’ve come to realize that their mindset is completely different from ours. I was at a virtual event for filmmakers the other day and I saw that a lot of them are looking up to Nigeria when it comes to film making. The thing with South Africa is that they have all the technical know-how, experts but an average South African filmmaker can’t make an independent film. He will always look for grants from Government to do things, whereas, in Nigeria, a typical filmmaker will find the money anyhow and just do it. This gives you the freedom to express yourself the way you want, unlike a situation where you receive a grant and the donor wants you to tailor your expression in a certain direction. So, those are the things that make us different.
Ibiene: What goes on through your mind when you’re watching a movie (whether indigenous or foreign)?
Kunle: (Sighs)… Well several things. For some, I’ll watch and turn off after five minutes and there are movies I watch and I don’t want it to end. There are some I watch and I’ll be crying at that point I do not consider it make believe anymore. Of recent, I’ve seen some movies and I begin to discuss with my children “Can you imagine, how did that happen?” and afterwards, I say to myself, “I do these things so why was I so moved?” (laughs). I get so carried away because those are real. I saw a Korean series recently that opened my eyes to the difference between North and South Korea. There’s a particular on that focused on the historical period between Japan and Korea. It showed how Japan was so mean to Korea. When I was watching, I was remembering the Japanese people that I do things with and I started looking at them differently and was beginning to think these people were so mean –maybe they were going to take advantage of me too. (Laughs)…That is the power of content, of cinema! It is real and so good, you’ll completely forget that it is a film and these are the things that I try to do with my films as well.
Ibiene: In your 15 years plus in filmmaking, was there ever any point in time, you felt like throwing the towel?
Kunle: I think it was in 2013 or 2015. I can’t really remember. There was a time when I felt I should relocate but I chose not to because I just loved Nigeria and was always putting my best in all I do. But, I realised at some point that what I was getting wasn’t measuring up to what I was putting in and it was just a lot of frustration but I’m over that now.
Ibiene: You’re known in most quarters as Nollywood’s bankable film director. What would be your advice for upcoming filmmakers who lament the lack of funding in the movie industry?
Kunle: The thing is film is not just business. If it is something that gives you joy, you will not drop it no matter the excuse, even if the roof is coming down. For me, film making is not just about putting food on the table. It is what I breathe, sleep, everything! So, if you’re going to be in that space and at some point be successful, then you’ll have to withstand whatever it is that comes your way. As for getting sponsors, it is not something you have to do by yourself. There are people out there whose area of expertise is to talk and they can talk people into dropping their life’s savings to back up ideas. If you are a creative and you do not have the business know-how, approach people who can. There are agencies out there whose job is to help you put together a proposal and sometimes help you find interested partners or financiers.
For me, at first, I was like any other person out there. It wasn’t that there was any money anywhere but because most times when I talk to people about my project, I talk out of passion, like everything depended on that project that helped me. Also, over the years I’ve been able to build some sort of record. So, it’s not difficult to convince people anymore. All they need is to see what you have done. For my award winning film “Irapada” I had to raise money by talking to individuals. It was never automatic.
Ibiene: At some point last year you revealed the thematic focus on a upcoming film. Tell us a little more.
Kunle: Citation is a big one that deals with sexual harassment and trust me, it’s going to set a new standard from every level. We filmed in Nigeria, Cape verde and then we have actors from different parts of the world. We even introduced a new talent Teni Otedola. It is different because the subject matter is very key at the moment. It will be released this year and will definitely be on Netflix.
Ibiene: With the health crisis changing the world in every way possible, what would you say is the future of films in Nigeria?
Kunle: I think people are managing and getting things done even with the pandemic. We worked on projects even in the heat of things. I also know of people who are developing scripts based on this health crisis. This is why I tell people, this is not the time to be on your comfort zone, just put your creative energy to use. When you find yourself in any situation, think out of the box and figure a way to keep moving. We have all being affected too, especially for those of those that took bank loans to fund projects before the crisis.
Ibiene: What is your guide to coping with the pandemic?
Kunle: Just stay safe because it is when you’re alive that you can still be working. Also, in whatever situation you find yourself, especially one that is not planned for like this, the first thing is to relax and not freak out. Then engage people’s brains and then come to a conclusion on the way forward and action!
Please stay safe.
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