In this exclusive interview with ISAAC OLAMIKAN, Lancelot Oduwa Imasuen better known as the governor in Nollywood circles talked extensively about his job creation inspired Benin Film Academy and its multiplier effects.
Your brainchild, the Benin Film Academy, BFA, is a training school as well as a market for talents. Which other aspect of showbusiness are you into here?
What you saw yesterday was the unveiling of a brand new Programme by the students themselves. Why did we do that? As a team we thought it wise that training is not just enough. We say in this place, we discover, we harness and we expose which is the predominant thing about this thing that we are doing. You don’t lit a candle and hide it under a table. That’s why at the BFA we keep the students even when they have graduated. There are those that graduated two years ago yet the relationship is still intact.
We have a WhatsApp group where everybody participates. Myself, being the director of the academy, the assistant director being the former head of department of Theatre Arts, Igbinedion University, the Administrator, Mr. Osagie Earliece and all of the students. We jaw jaw, we interact, we send them out, we give them information; we consistently nurture them and engage them. We have done two film projects now where they are the only ones that featured. The first one is titled Sacrosanct and the other is family first. These are big movies using only the students and one or two big stars to attract attention to them. We want to follow the dictates of the Edo State government’s policy of creating jobs and we are shooting on top of our voice that “hey, look towards this end, the creative sector.”
The entertainment industry can in one swoop create over 200,000 jobs in Edo State alone. Yes, we have the capacity, directly or indirectly. After our training we have actors that can compete anywhere in the world. We have directors that put that kind of job together. We have production managers. Infact, we have all cadres of production business here. We also let them know that talent is not enough. When you discover that you have talent, you have a product where you can showcase your talent you need to market it.
That was why we did the media unveiling yesterday. Afterall, the programme would have just gone on like that. But we said no. We must be able to monitor, open all spheres. We are making total practitioners here because it is no longer arts for art’s sake it is now arts for existence which means people should be able to make a living from practicing. We are opening all the windows for them to discover themselves, to be trained, to completely improve themselves that is what we do. Like two of our students today, we send them to film festivals, we send them to workshops because relationship is intact. It is not I have graduated “that’s all.”
No. Once you come to Benin Film Academy the relationship here is forever. Those that are interested. Once your interest is sustained we must continue to engage you.
Considering the scarcity of sponsorship and finance how are you ensuring that your graduates are not frustrated out of the system?
We are very conscious of that. That’s why we are shouting. I am just preparing letters for all the local government councils chairmen in Edo State. We are reaching out to people. First, this people, Benin Film Academy students, must get trained. Subsequently, we send them for auditions. We have our members in Asaba doing very well, also in Enugu etc. It is not just here. We have students from Akwa Ibom. We have had from other places. The major reason that Benin Film Academy was set up here in Benin was first, to cater for production and professional needs of people around here, upping the ante taking production value up. Like the programme on TV.
I do most of my films here. Only last year, we saw Kabat Esosaigbon doing a couple of movies here. When they come here they will find ready talents. When they come here they will find very well improved and ready to go crew members. When they come here they will find professionals on ground. We want to believe that some day people will take it up from us. The more production they get engaged in the more their interest is sustained and the more exposure they get. We are begging the state government, we are begging corporate Nigeria, we are begging wealthy individuals to say “listen. The battle to rescue this state from banditry, criminals, notoriety and other stuff that we won’t be proud of starts now.”
Two or three from the streets is a win for the society. It is not only acting. We are training people in cinematography. A lot of them are working. Self employed. We are training people in editing. They are working. They are available for churches and others. We are even calling on churches to begin to invest. It is not just always “praise the Lord. Halleluyah.”
A man that does not have food cannot shout halleluyah. If you watch most TV programmes they are appalling. We want churches and private organisations to understand that things have gone beyond put up camera and begin to role it up and down. It has to be professionally handled. That’s the kind of young minds that we are creating. We are believing that good hearted Edo people, corporate Nigeria and the government will key into this thing that we are doing here and give the needed support so that the chain doesn’t cut off somewhere.
Is this programme certified?
You know that we are affiliated to a university. The Igbinedion University in Okada endorses the certificate. It is not a Lancelot Imasuen only thing. This programme is taken from the highest as far as academic pursuit is concerned. This is an area we must begin to pay attention to. Giving skillful young Nigerians the opportunity to get engaged by way of training and retraining. We do Master Class workshop here. Segun Arinze has come to speak; Monalisa Chinda has come here to speak; Kenny Mparu has come here to speak on distribution. We keep engaging our own and even sometimes that our Master Class we open it for people from outside to participate. Before the year runs out with the university we are going to plan a major international workshop on digital content and distribution with huge international presence. The Benin Film Academy is very well affiliated to Nigeria’s first private university.
Everything that we are doing here has been certified by the senate of the Igbinedion University – our course outline, our curriculum all of them has been certified. By the end of this month we are going to graduate some students that have passed out for the past one year. We will be holding a major graduation ceremony where one or two of their movies would be released. Any time you call for their academic records you will get it at the Igbinedion University archives.
You did mention that the short drama about depression that was shown in the series during the media unveiling won an award
The three minutes film was enlisted for the Lekki International Film Festival where it won the best short film award. That’s the kind of exposure that we are talking about.
In terms of resource persons who are those driving this project?
We are loaded. The man teaching cinematography here is unarguably one of the most loaded in terms of international exposure and education. We call him Osa-g. He is from IWO(Idahosa World Outreach). We are not just getting classroom teachers we are getting practitioners. There was a time we wanted to fly a drone and drone just take shots and you come and edit. I told him that I want to get real time from the drone. As the drone is flying like aeroplane we will be getting signals. We have Ben Olaye who is taking acting as a practitioner. They are not coming to tell the students what they are thinking. They are coming to tell them what they are practicing. The man taking directing is Tony Agboga, a practitioner a director. Osa Earliece is taking script writing. He wrote Invasion 1897, he wrote Adesuwa.
Deliberately, as a matter of policy, we cannot engage you if you’re not a practitioner. What we are doing here is hands on. We cannot engage you if you are not a practitioner. You don’t give what you don’t have. Every now and then we bring hands on great professionals for our Master Class and that’s what sets us far ahead of our competitors, if there is any around here.
Have you gotten a deal with Edo Jobs?
We have not signed any formal agreement with Edo Jobs. They understand our standing as the foremost film and production academy within the South South. They consult us every now and then. The governor and his team are also aware of what we are doing. They must begin to look elsewhere and one of the most potent elsewhere is the creative sector led by the business of film. The movie the king of arts and we have everything infused in it.
Tell us more about SOW
Part of our creation is what we call the Benin Poetry Club. I am a product of extracurricular activities in the secondary school. My dramatic exploit today and my interest was because I belonged to the drama and literary and debating society while in secondary school. But now, I discovered that all of these things are almost non-existent. Thus we founded the Benin Poetry Club. We will be hosting a concert which is what is done all over the world. It is a major employment opportunity too. We are going to host the concert at the National Orientation Agency Hall on Boundary Road here in Benin what we call SOW that’s Season of Words where these boys are going to hit themselves up with words to keep you on your toes. We want to give them exposure.