Stories by Ilemona Oseni
If things had played out they way he had worked it, foremost filmmaker and one of Nigeria’s best known cinematographer Tunde Kelani would have be rolling in monies now. In fact what the native of Abeokuta in Ogun State had planned to do from proceeds of his latest film Maami was to head abroad to purchase equipments; return to prepare for the release of Dazzling Mirage, a film he has just finished working on and then plough what is remaining in furtherance of his live theatre revival project. But all those have become mere dreams. Pirates have struck once again. They have left TK, as the filmmaker is simply called completely distraught and downcast.
To say that the director and producer of some of the Nigerian movie industry’s critically acclaimed films like Arugba, Ti Oluwa Nile and Saworoide is unhappy, is to be stating the obvious. Maami, TK’s film about a struggling single parent who sees it as a sacred responsibility to raise her only child, Kashimawo, which the graduate of the prestigious London Film School released on DVD just this Monday has been pirated. The pirated copies are sold side by side the original version at a paltry sum of 100 naira. A lady movie enthusiast revealed on social media yesterday that she bought a copy ‘from a fellow who sold it in wheel barrow for 50 naira’’.
A visibly angry Kelani, who appeared completely downcast as he held copies of the pirated movies, confirmed that the movie has been pirated and it is sold on major streets in state capitals across Nigeria. Kelani said he has been receiving calls from many of his loyal fans who have been drawing his attention to the activities of the pirates who recreated the imprints and the jackets of the film and dubbed the movie on cheap DVD for sales. He clarified that the original copy marketed by Ajimson Integrated Services Limited is mastered on DVD, contained in a jewel box and laminated.
Reacting to the incident, Kelani said: “Sadly, this may be my last release in Nigeria. Barely 24 hours after the release of Maami on Monday, they have pirated the film such that it has flooded every nook and cranny of Nigeria. Interestingly, everyone quote this miracle data about the development of Nollywood and its contribution to the Gross Domestic Product. What a lie?’’
Continuing he said: ‘in the last ten years, I have tried everything to survive the attacks. I have relied on donors and well- wishers to continue to make films but each time I loose all the investments, therefore I cannot continue to live the rest of my life in this dangerous place called Nigeria. I cannot continue to loose hard earned monies. How many people will I keep telling that the movie didn’t do well in the market? It is like pouring water in a basket. I cannot continue like this’’.
Disturbing as it appears, this will not be the first time pirates will be dealing a heavy blow on Kelani and his works. They also pounced on his work in 2011. Pirates had a feast on his critically acclaimed movie Arugba while he waited eagerly to earn huge revenue from the film. They massively reproduced the film, put it out for as little as ’50 naira’ and that threw the award winning producer of Oleku, and Campus Queen into huge debt. Not only that, most of those who founded Mainframe Production with him, had to leave because as Kelani explained, they could not understand why they will be investing huge sums in making films and there will be nothing to show for it at the end of the day. Even Kelani almost closed shops then.
The filmmaker once declared at a press conference that he was calling it quits and would no longer produce films again because pirates have not allowed him to reap from where he has sown. ‘’I had thought of calling it quits with the profession because of the activities of pirates. We are 22 people that started Mainframe Productions but now only three of us are left. The others left because of what pirates are doing to the industry. When you produce films, pirates will not allow you to make the money back. We spent about 20 million to make Arugba and we made nothing back. I may call it quits. In fact I am done with making films’’ he lamented then.
But Kelani did not carry out his threat to stop making films. Being a passionate and die-hard practitioner and one who was passionate about making films in indigenous language, Kelani stayed on. With the few support he got, especially from the Lagos state government, Kelani made more films including Maami and Dazzling Mirage, which has gone very far in post production. It was even with the support Kelani got from the Lagos State government that he produced Maami, which features popular actress Funke Akindele and Wole Ojo in lead roles.
If Kelani stayed on even after he declared that he was no longer going to make films for pirates to feast on, it doesn’t appear from the tone of his conversation with a group of journalist during the week, that he would rescind his decision to stay on this time. ‘Sadly, this may be my last release in Nigeria. I am tired and I don’t think I can stand this any more. I mean, like I said, I have tried everything to survive the attacks. I have relied on donors and well- wishers to continue to make films but each time I loose all the investment. See all I put in packaging the film. Nothing is going to back to me in terms of gain because no one, with the level of poverty in the land, will see a movie selling for 50 naira and will go and buy the one for 500 naira. So I quit’’ he said even as he expressed his joy in the interest of his children in other endeavours because according to him “they have witnessed all the insecurities and uncertainties in the film industry and I don’t blame them for looking at other careers for development’’.
And for aspiring filmmakers, Kelani who feared that Nigeria would continue to experience the menace of pirates and that investors would suffer due to lack of infrastructure, especially when physical distribution channels are infested by pirates whose dangerous activities are left unchecked, advised that they should seek other media if they don’t want to ‘’end their career in penury’. According to him: “I pity young Nigerians aspiring to become filmmakers and my advice to them is to seek other media if they have the talent or they can go to agriculture because Nigeria one day will need to feed itself. Nigeria that Fela Anikulapo called BBC, the Big Blind Country is finally here! I will go and practice my art in any country that offers me citizenship’.
Indeed piracy is one issue that has remained an albatross of the Nigerian creative industry. In spite of the many successes it has recorded including adding to the country’s GDP, the creative industry is threatened by the high rate of copyright piracy. Nollywood producers have year in, year out pleaded with the Nigerian government to curb piracy of their films when they are released on Video CD or DVD so that they can increase sales, but even the Nigerian Copyright Commission (NCC), the government institution capable of reducing if not putting an end to the copyright piracy seem unable to tackle the scourge. Today, pirated copies of most Nollywood titles are shipped into Nigeria, mostly from China in packages of twenty films recorded on one DVD and sold in the mainstream Nigerian market at less than one dollar. Indeed, the activities of copyright pirates have ruined most movie businesses and it has forced a number of practitioners to seek other source of livelihood. There is a story of a prolific movie producer and director who quit the business to take up a job as hotel manager in Asaba, Delta State. There are many other cases no minding the whole noise about filmmakers earning millions. Stakeholders who are concerned about the seeming brain drain in the creative sector wants government to urgently address the numerous factors that have impeded effective implementation and enforcement of intellectual property law in Nigeria. They also want the NCC to be revitalized and enabled to effectively implement and enforce the copyright laws, as it ought to be enforced. They reasoned that until then, there will be more cases of filmmakers like Kelani threatening to quit the scene while Nollywood as an industry may remain in its present lull, unable to save itself, heading speedily to the eventual demise of Nigeria’s only indigenous industry.
Omo Elemesho in contention for 2014 AMAA’s
Omo Elemesho, the movie by Adebayo Tijani is in contention for the 2014 Africa Movie Academy Awards, which hold in Yenegoa, Bayelsa State on May 24. It is the only film in Yoruba that made it to the final leg of the AMAA’s that is regarded as Africa’s answer to the Oscars. The near two hour long movie, which revolves round Omo Elemesho (Yewande Adekoya) who has the ability to unravel mysteries and solve challenges, secured four nominations including nomination for best movie in African language, best visual effect and best costume. It also earned star actor Yomi Fash Lanso a nomination in the best supporting actor category. The AMAA’s is indeed the biggest reward system for African filmmakers in the continent and those who practice in Diaspora. It is held annually in Nigeria since 2004. This is the 10th edition of the award and so far, only a few movies from Nigeria in indigenous languages have made it to the finals of the prestigious award schemes. Films like Aramotu, Arugba and Apadi have made it to the finals of the AMAA. A source in AMAA however revealed that over 20 films produced in Yoruba made it to the final stages of the AMAA’s but only Omo Elemosho made it to nominations, which was announced in South Africa. Two leading Yoruba actors Funsho Adeolu and Fathia Balogun were in Johannesburg, South Africa to witness the nomination event.