One of Nigeria’s greatest filmmakers, Lancelot Imasuen, speaks to BLESSING ENENAITE about his contributions to the movie industry over the years, achievements and other issues
How would you describe life as a director and producer?
My life as a producer, director, and film-maker is quite demanding and does not allow me to rest because I spend most of my time moving from one set to another in order to achieve my dreams and aspirations. It is a life that takes a lot of time out of your life and does not give you space for yourself or your family. It is more about others and it is for you to make a living.
What are some of your most outstanding successes as a film-maker?
They are quite a lot. I was the first Nigerian/African film-maker to make a part one to five movie which was titled ‘Isakaba.’ The success of the first part gave birth to the production of the next part and so on. I was also the first Nigerian film-maker to book a place on Cable News Network for an interview in 2009 as a result of my work. In 2006, I am also sure that I was the first Nigerian film-maker to get an invitation by a Hollywood producer to direct a Nigerian film to be entirely shot on location in Hollywood. The movie was titled ‘Close Enemies.’ I went there with two seasoned actors, Zack Orji and Kate Henshaw. People describe me as the most consistent film-maker because I have had a 26 years span as a film-maker. Over the years, I have churned out successful movies in terms of numbers. I have over 300 titles as a movie director. I am the first Nigerian film-maker to have shot in practically every area in the world except Asia. At a time, my friends said that I was the most travelled Nigerian film-maker. In addition, I was among the first to expose Nollywood to major countries in the world. Generally speaking, I would say I have done quite well, blazed the trail, and produced blockbuster films.
So far, can you say you are satisfied with your works or what other feats do you wish to attain?
I am not yet satisfied because I believe my mates are still winning Oscar Awards, but I want to do more in the arts. I just launched my gospel entertainment network, a station that will be solely for the propagation of morals. Also, I want to float the Lancelot Imausen Centre for Global Culture and Entertainment. People mix up arts, entertainment, and religion. Some Africans think that as Christians, whatever cultural practices people are carrying out is fetish and equal to idol worshipping, which is not always true. As a Christian and an artist, I want to create a centre to balance it. I also want to make impact in the hospitality industry and positively affect the next generation by raising a lot of young film-makers and giving them the platforms we did not have to showcase their talent.
How would you describe your journey in the Nigerian film industry?
It has been exciting, challenging, and conquering judging from the kind of environment I find myself. The environment is not friendly if you are not from a certain background. I went through a lot of hard times when I first got to Lagos State and decided to join the industry. Getting funds has also been very difficult, including security because of touts here and there. These issues do not make the business to flow the way it should but we thank God for where we are today.
What is the most challenging movie that you have ever produced?
“Invasion 1897” is the most challenging movie I have produced.
Why did you say so?
It is because of the budget of the movie and the materials needed to capture the era. I built the ship the Oba (king) used for his deportation to Calabar in the movie because I could not get it anywhere. I had to fall an Iroko tree and spent close to N2million to build the ship. The amount was huge and it took me almost two years to finish the film. I started shooting the film around March/April of 2012 and we finished two years later.
Do you have any regrets about your choice of career?
I don’t have any reason to regret and I am happy that God has enabled me to play the roles I have played and still playing in Nollywood.
What are some of the most memorable moments in your career?
I have quite a few. The first would be the award I was given in Canada (Afro Global Network). The award was presented to me by the grandchild of Bob Marley and the award ceremony had other awardees like Yvonne Chaka Chaka, who won in the music category while I won for the motion picture. In secondary school, I used to be a listener of Chaka Chaka songs and to be a co-recipient of an award with her was memorable. Secondly, I cannot forget my first interview on CNN. Another memorable moment was when I got an award from the Oba of Benin. When I got the letter that he would give me an award of excellence as an indigene of Benin, I was so happy. I asked my 80-year-old father to pick the award for me because I was not around. That was the greatest honour a man could imagine in his 80 years of existence. After my dad shook hands with the Oba of Benin, he called me and said, ‘my son, this is just it for me.’ These are strong memories I cannot undermine. I cannot also forget in 2005 when I was invited to pick up an award tagged ‘Africa Most Celebrated Film Director’ by Heritage Magazine in Hamburg, Germany. My wedding was also a memorable moment for me.
Over the years, there have been persistent reports of sexual harassment in the industry. As a moviemaker, what do you have to say about that?
Where you work is where you get praise and condemnation. Some are just accusations while some are true. But the choice is for those that are involved. Any lady that knows what she wants can resist such as much as possible. Stars are made with time and people should not be desperate with what they want. It is a regrettable thing that someone would want to ask for something in return for what they give. People should be defined with what they want and should also be determined with what they want to achieve. People should also go through the right process to enter the industry which is through auditions and not by cutting corners or being desperate.
How can it stop since it’s becoming a stain on the movie industry?
Sexual harassment doesn’t just affect the movie industry. It is a global thing and it cuts across all spheres of work, including Nollywood. There are people who face sexual harassment from lecturers in the university and also when they go hunt for work. The solution is that people should be trained. This helps in boosting their confidence. It should also be spoken against and never encouraged in society.
Are you a member of the Directors Guild of Nigeria? If yes, what are some of the benefits of these associations that directors don’t know?
I am one of the founders of the Directors Guild of Nigeria. Myself and six men founded the guild 23 years ago. There are some persons that feel that they are bigger than the association. I would say that if you feel you are too big to join, teach them what you feel they don’t know for the benefit of all. The benefits are enormous and they can never be undermined.
How can film-makers control piracy?
It is not the business of film-makers to control piracy but the duty of the government to create an enabling environment that will discourage piracy. The police and other law enforcement agencies should fight, prevent, and control it. Also, the government should make enabling laws, including the strengthening of the copyright law which is presently going through readings at the senate. By God’s grace, the bill will see the light of the day.
What’s the funniest thing that has happened to you while filming or directing?
That will be on the set of ‘Exodus’ in 2005 which had actors like Clem Ohameze, Pete Edochie, and Patience Ozokwor on it. There was a forest part we needed to film which involved frightening an actor. I wanted to create fear in the actor and I needed perfection for that role. Hence, I stood under a tree and shook it very well, unknown to me the seeds on the tree causes irritation and body scratching. The English name of the tree is called Devil Bean. That day was hell for me and it was not funny at all because I cried like a child. Thankfully, the women around helped to reduce the scratching by pouring oil all over my body and I did not care if I was partly naked.
What do you want to be remembered for?
When I die, I want it to be written on my tomb that I was one of the men that redefined the art of filmmaking and one of the people that understood the use of motion pictures as an instrument of social rejuvenation. I strongly have faith in the use of motion pictures for the social rejuvenation of a broken society and remaking our world. Also, I want to be remembered as one who understood the power of storytelling to make a change in his environment.
What are your hobbies?
I like to talk. I am a motivational speaker. When I retire from film-making, I will be preaching on the altar or teaching although I am already into both of them. Then, I love travelling. I have travelled extensively as a film-maker, but I do not like the process. I just love to be in a new place.