BY ESE DIBEBI
Pa Francis Adetunji Oladele died yesterday at his Oyo town country home aged 81.
Here is a profile of the man who is widely regarded as one of the pioneers of what is today referred to as Nollywood after producing the first indigenous film in 1970.
Born to Oyo parentage, he worked in Nigeria first as a photographer and later as a photojournalist with the Daily Times before traveling to the United States in 1955, where he studied photography at the New York Institute of Photography. He worked briefly with Technicolor (USA) before returning to Nigeria to work as the Pioneer African Head of the Film Unit of the then Western Nigeria Television (WNTV).
An adventurous arts promoter, Francis Oladele was dissatisfied with the stranglehold of government officialdom on the arts. His determination to express his innate artistic talent left him with no other option but to resign from the Western Nigeria Television, WNTV. He later established what has come to be known as Calpenny Nigeria Films Limited, also with a pioneer status, on September 21, 1965. He complimented this efforts with the establishment of Kongi Club at Adamasingba in Ibadan, which became the rallying point for artistes, like Wole Soyinka, Dapo Adelugba, John Pepper Clark, as well as Tunji Oyelana, who actually honed his artistic stage performances as the Resident Artiste.
Apart from being a pioneer in the Nigerian feature film industry, Francis Oladele achieved another first for Nigeria by deciding to make films based on the work of successful and internationally acclaimed Nigerian writers. By indicating a creative preference for historical epics he also established for the Nigerian film industry the vital link between great literary works and film. This adaptation of novels into film not only assures future feature film-makers in Nigeria of a storehouse of material as manifested by the prolific output at Nigerian writers, but also serves as an inspiration for future writers who can now write with the wider and more immediate cinema audiences in mind.
Francis Oladele’s first film was Kongi’s Harvest (1970), based on Wole Soyinka’s dramatic epic of the same title. Shot on location in Nigeria at the turn of the 70s with a Nigerian cast and a mixed technical crew of foreigners and Nigerians, it was directed by the Afro-American actor, Ossie Davis. Oladele followed this trend up with the production of Things Fall Apart (1971), also based on an amalgam of Chinua Achebe’s novels; Things Fall Apart and No Longer at Ease, shot under the title Bullfrog in the Sun due to the raging civil war at the time.
A notable film-maker with Pan-African vision, Oladele introduced several innovations into African film industry by bringing in notable film practitioners of African descent into his crew, in addition to picking the actors and actresses from outside Nigeria. For the lead roles, he chose John Seka of Sierra Leone and: Princess Elizabeth Toro of Uganda. Both Kongi’s Harvest and Things Fall Apart enjoyed good box-office responses in Nigeria and Things Fall Apart was well received particularly in Atlanta, Georgia in the USA.
He equally produced documentaries for the United Nations, as well as the war in Congo, featuring the Late General Murtala Ramat Mohammed. These are apart from several other documentary efforts, like Ballard Dubar, Meet Olu. He also did a major documentary on the late Head of State, General Murtala Mohammed, sponsored by the United Nations.
His last feature film effort was the production of Eye of Life (1988), a multi-million Naira film project, which, however ,could not be released due to the sudden devaluation of the Naira by the Babangida administration in 1988. As a prolific writer, he wrote and delivered several papers at conferences across the globe. His works have continued to attract scholarly attention by students and researchers in the area of film production, both at home and abroad.
Courtesy: Jahman Anikulapo