Tuesday, March 23, 2010


Tunde Kelani, often synonymous to Mainframe Film and Television productions known for producing quality epic movies rooted in Yoruba culture, is one of Africa’s top cinematographers. He is celebrated for his award-wining movies such as Ti Oluwa Nile, O le ku, Thunderbolt, Campus Queen, Ire Olokun, Aja To N’Lepa Ekun, Kosegbe, Saworoide, Ayo ni mofe, etc. including the recently premiered “Arugba” which was inspired by the Osun Osogbo festival, and a series of other short features such as A Barber’s wisdom, A place called Home, Twins of the rain forest etc. Lagos Friday Telegraph recently had a chat with this renowned filmmaker, to talk about the making of the man who makes the movies. Here are the excerpts from the interview:

Growing up
I was born in Lagos but I grew up at the family compound in Abeokuta with my grandfather. I was separated from my mother at age five and I sort of missed everybody because I was the eldest child in the family and it was my father’s policy to send us to Abeokuta. Once you are five (years old), you had to go and so I waited for another three years before my sister joined me. I was very lonely and I was plucked from the heart of Lagos, our house was close to Tinubu Square, straight to the family compound in Abeokuta where there weren’t any electricity. I was afraid of the dark mostly because of the stories we were told. Unfortunately, the toilet was not part of the building so you had to go out in the dark to use the toilet. They told me different stories. We heard the story about dead people not leaving immediately, that they would be in the house. And we were dared to take a needle and stick it into the four corners of the house if we did not believe it. But of course no one tried to do that. I got to know a lot about Yoruba religion and festivals. My favorite of all is the Egungun because of its responsibility to entertain the Yoruba nation.

Did you return to Lagos after sometime?
Once I left, I didn’t come back to Lagos until after my secondary education. My father delayed me one-year so I could attend the Government College Ibadan. But in any case it didn’t happen so I ended up at the Abeokuta Grammar School. Which is an equally good school; sincerely I am so proud because Abeokuta grammar school celebrated a 100 years anniversary recently. I have no regret for not attending government college Ibadan. I believe that Abeokuta Grammar School is the best school in the whole of Southwest Nigeria.

Relevance of growing up in Abeokuta
It had a very positive influence. Bless my father, he is late now, who ensured that I grew up in the family compound at Abeokuta, otherwise I would have missed the essence of Yoruba culture. I know that scholars and researchers all over the world have tried to familiarize themselves with the Yoruba culture but there is nothing like the real thing. It clearly made me a different person.

Discovering the prowess of film-making
At the beginning I didn’t know I would venture into filmmaking. But just before I finished primary school, I discovered photography. I actually owned my first camera from primary school. Through out my secondary school, I spent a lot of time and invested a lot of money mastering photography. So by the time I left secondary school, I was more or less an accomplished photographer. Another thing was that I loved films; I saw all the great films such as The Lawrence of Arabia, The Helen of Troy, Elizabeth Taylor, etc. At first I didn’t believe they were acting. I thought they were there when these historical events happened, that sort of fascinated me. So I thought it would be another dimension of photography to do moving images. There was nothing wrong with my photography, except that I wanted to make the art more dynamic. So basically, that was how I got into making motion picture. I was employed at the former Western Nigerian Television Station where I was trained as a cameraman. Then there after, because of the need to learn how to make film I had to attend the London Film Institute. From my experience in the community, I saw the challenges of my people, thus for me, with my previous experience growing up and the closeness to my people and our culture, I could not ignore those things. I am just responding to my environment through filmmaking.

Major factors of influence in the process of discovery
Yoruba literatures, Nigerian Education, Chief Obafemi Awolowo (I looked up to him and wanted to be like him), Yoruba religion, Yoruba Philosophy etc. these are worthwhile rich experiences that will continue to influence me.

What does culture mean to you?
Your total being is your culture. The Yoruba culture is essentially a moralistic one. You can apply this to any other culture but what we know in our culture was the importance of a good name and a good character, “Omo Oluwa bi”, you have to bring honor to the family…why we are having so many problems today is because there is a cultural vacuum. People are cut off from their culture, therefore resulting to short of moral.

What is leading us to such cultural extinction?
An open society, influence from other cultures. When I was growing up, there was only one TV station; this TV was the first in Africa. Today, Nigeria has over 100 TV stations, only God knows how many radio stations, and then we have Satellite TV, mobile phones, Youtube, etc. all these have devastating effect on our indigenous culture because some other cultures are so rich that they propagate their culture and seek to dominate other cultures. Unfortunately, in our society, we tend not to like our own, and we seem to prefer those other culture to our own and it is a serious error because those other cultures that have preserved their own culture, like Asian countries, have developed while those accepting other cultures have remain undeveloped.

Any hope for redeeming our culture?
That depends on the political will of our leaders, which depends on if there is a conscious effort to start a process of re-orientation then there will be hope. On a personal level, I think families are compounding the problem. I think we are settling for self-colonization with the way the present generation of Yoruba people, especially women, are discouraging their children from speaking the Yoruba language. Therefore, they are making them 2nd class citizens of other cultures; they are doing more harm than good. Without your culture, then you are nobody. That is why Yoruba define the culture of nation with the language. When Yoruba talk of a nation, they say “Orile ede”. This means a place with its own language. If you remove the “ede”, it becomes “Orile” which means nowhere. So without your language, you have no root, and without your root, you are nobody. Some people think it is civilized or fashionable by not allowing their children speak their language but this is the greatest level of ignorance, it is shameful, absolutely repulsive.

The role of Mainframe Productions in ensuring the growth of the film industry
We are noted for using culture as a springboard, we promote our own culture and will continue to do our best. It is by doing and leading by example that other producers can follow. Though some producers like to make quick money, our way is the longest route but it will pay off at the end. There is more value in it.

Basic challenges so far
They include lack of cinema culture, lack of infrastructures e.g. good electricity and poor economy. All these make it difficult to reequip investment on our project. But we are trying to tackle some of these challenges by promoting the cinema culture through our movies. We also try to find other sources to make films. We are currently working on registering Mainframe Foundation which will be NGO based.

Mainframe Foundation?
Yes we are trying to get it registered so that we can make films on specific themes, like issues on children and women. We can actually get funds if we don’t operate as commercial enterprise.

Most Significant life-values
I think I am much particular about my character, integrity and passion for my work.

And back to photography, your first love?
Photography is a version of what I do. It is a wonderful medium because it comprises of other arts. But I find it boring these days compared to filmmaking.

If Not filmmaking, what else?
I will like to do things that will help me make money. Filmmaking is not as lucrative in the material sense, not yet. Just that it is tied to many things, such as national development, portraying values etc.

Most interesting experience in making movies
No one experience is the same. It is just like football, if football was all about scoring, going across the line and putting the ball into the net, it will be boring. But the combination of so many factors makes it very interesting. In filmmaking, no two stories are alike, the people you meet are different, and the environment you film is going to change. That is what makes movie experience different. Every one of these movies at that particular time is different. In a way, it gives some level of satisfaction in spite of all the problems associated with production.

How can government and corporate bodies support the film industry in Nigeria?
The role of the government is clear, the government is the regulatory body but they should create an environment conducive for film industry. I think it is the corporate bodies that we need to work together. I can’t help but be very envious at the attention the corporate world show Music and Reality TV shows. I just feel some percentage of all these can be channeled towards filmmakers. Take the screening of Arugba for instance; it will be wonderful if we had a brand that recognizes these films as films that should be backed.

Favorite food
Pap, moi-moi and efo riro (vegetable)

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