BY ‘SEGUN ODEJIMI
On Monday, May 9, 2016, veteran filmmaker, Dr. Ola Balogun premiered his new documentary in Lagos. Titled River Niger, Black Mother, the documentary’s premiere attracted a gathering of Nollywood practitioners and enthusiasts.
According to a Vanguard report, Ola Balogun, while fielding questions after the event, slammed the current crop of Nollywood filmmakers saying most of them are not interested in making good films.
He said, “In my opinion, the present day filmmakers are not interested in making quality films. 80 percent of would-be filmmakers do not want to learn the art of filmmaking.”
“In the past forty years, none of them have ever come to tell us to mentor them. I can’t go about looking for who I would mentor. They don’t want to learn anything, rather they are interested in making money…the filmmakers are not interested in making good films. They have not seen any good film before, and they are not interested in making quality films,” he continued.
Dr. Ola Balogun is entitled to his opinion, but I must say that he sounded like he has not been following the goings-on in the industry, especially since the turn of the decade.
Forget the million Instagram selfies, clapbacks and red carpet craze, today’s filmmakers – actors inclusive – are hardworkers. They hustle big time! You don’t grow an industry into a $3.3 billion sector (according to 2014 figures) without hardwork and regard for making good films. Even the biggest Nollywood critic has to admit that there is a general consciousness to attempt to make better films. These films might not be on the roll at the Oscars, they might be missong for Cannes shortlists, but to say that 80% of these guys have not seen good films or not interested in making great films is an insinuation a bit detached from the truth.
When Ola Balogun and his ilk were making films, the exposure of Nigeria to cinematic technology may have been uninspiring, but that does not take away from the fact that the economic indices were not as bad as it is now, then. Piracy had not become a thing either. Nigeria was good, and it rubbed off on the entertainment sector. Thankfully, the cinema-going culture among Nigerians in the bigger cities is gradually growing, but it was almost non-existent ten years ago. These filmmakers still toiled through it all. Once they made their films, during the late nineties and early two thousands, they were immediately faced with the piracy monster. They hardly had other options. So, it is unfair to them when a veteran who should encourage them utters those damning statements.
Later this year, the prestigious Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF)’s City-To-City Sidebar will turn its focus to Lagos, Nigeria. According to the festival’s artistic director, Cameron Bailey, the Nigerian film industry’s creative and commercial cinema boom is what has attracted the focus of TIFF to it. You don’t attact that type of focus if all you turn out are trash films.
During his outburst, he said he regarded ONLY three people as actors in Nollywood. According to him, “One of them is called Mercy Johnson, she’s a very good actress. The other one is Liz Benson. Actresses such as Ini Edo, among others, are not actresses, yet they make a lot of money.”
Erm, excuis me sah, you obviously must never have seen Adesua Etomi. Or Kehinde Bankole. Or Nse-Ikpe Etim. Or Bimbo Akintola (when she’s on top of her game). Genevieve Nnaji is also a massive piece of skill walking in a lean body. Uncle Balogun, how could you have missed the skills of Wale Ojo, Tope Tedela, OC Ukeje, Deyemi Okanlawon or even Odunlade Adekola (even though the directors he has been subjecting himself to are doing a yeoman’s job of stocking him)? I agree with you that Mercy Johnson’s acting skills are on another level, but only THREE sir? Haba! I agree that there are a million and one wannabes in the industry doing what they like and not striving for quality, but that should not blind us to the ones who are knuckling down and doing the job.
You also allegedly said, sir, that none of them (today’s filmmakers) have ever come to tell you to mentor them an that you can’t go around looking for who to mentor. That’s very sad, if true. Nothing wrong with you and the surviving filmmakers of your generation setting up mentroship schemes and encouraging young filmmakers to take advantage of it. But, let’s even face the fact. How can you even mentor anybody when you sound so detached from what is going on in the industry?
Dr. Ola Balogun has done well. I’m eager to see his latest documentary, but if what he has said is the opinion he has about the industry today, he needs a re-orientaation. Nollywood is doing well and every Nigerian can, and should, be proud of it. Not condemn it.