Playwright, arts and culture activist, Benson Tomoloju, is among stakeholders that are calling for cottage theatres to be set up in local councils across the country. The founding father of the National Association of Nigerian Theatre Arts Practitioners (NANTAP), told OMIKO AWA that doing so would ensure that movies and plays are seen by greater number of people beyond what is presently the case.
The Nigerian cinema scene is no longer as busy as it used to be during day of the Herbert Ogundes. What could be responsible for this?
We have to reckon with the times concerning the Nigerian cinema and cinema going habit, cinema at this time being referred to as a theatre, where motion pictures are shown as the prime base of the entertainment sector.
In those days, there was great enthusiasm about the movies, as a novelty within our cultural environment, from the mobile film unit that started it all in the colonial offices, to specific cinemas like the ones we had in Ibadan, Jos, Kaduna, Benin, Kano and others cities, which did not have so much competition with other genres, not because the theatre was not there, but because it stood on it its own pedestal.
There was a clear-cut dichotomy between going to the cinema and going to watch Herbert Ogunde; the feelings were different, and the tendency at that time was that the cinema provided the western side to the performative essence of the movie, not only Asian, but also Indian, Chinese and American because we also saw the American Cowboy movies that attracted people to the cinema.
There were also movies from Australia, Europe and other parts of the globe, which brought a great variety for the people to savour.
The indigenous movies had not started effectively at the point we are talking about in the 1960s for instance. I cannot remember if there were any indigenous movies until the Kongi Harvest, Ola Balogun series, the Jab Adu series and the others.
Anyway, there was a direct influence from what used to be seen in terms of western movies on what emerged in terms of indigenous movies, so they sort of clicked.
Ogunde, Ade Love, Ade Afolayan, Baba Sala among others carried their stage theatre popularity into the cinema and their fans also followed them there with great excitement and high level of enthusiasm, as it was in the days of western cinemas.
To some extent, indigenous films took over until foreign exchange and the economic crisis of the late 1970s and the 1980s cut down the momentum of the flow of investment into indigenous films.
But after sometimes, the pioneers felt frustrated and started cutting corners, using reversal celluloid straight to video, which were not quality films.
The social environment also became very unsuitable, and moving out at certain hours of the night to watch movies became dangerous.
In other words, having to face anti-social behaviours, including armed robbery and others kept people indoors.
Thereafter, people decided to sit down in their homes and watch indigenous home videos in Yoruba, Igbo and later Hausa, as well as other languages.
This lasted for some time until Ben Bruce and others began to open exclusive cinemas, which constitutes a positive development, even though still elitist.
However, these exclusive cinemas are still working for the investors, but what we would advocate is the popularisation through a democratised process, the culture of movie going, through the establishment of cottage cinemas in the complex of cultural centres across the country.
That way people in the neighborhood can stroll to the cinemas nearest, watch movies of their choice and stroll back home.
But there is a consensus that the cinema is gradually returning. What could be responsible for this?
Firstly, the investment community is opening up to innovative ideas and we also have a kind of nostalgia among the new entrepreneurs.
Besides also providing jobs, new movies are coming in telling African stories, giving people the need to beat the jinx of unemployment and profitably engaging professionals.
What is the place of satellite and paid television stations in this dispensation?
They are an advanced form of home video backed by technology, so, it serves the same purpose as you are buying a videocassette, slotting it into your video machine and watching with your family.
The only criticisms concerning this new fad in technology is on the movies they show, which gives room to all comers and they are not effectively standardised.
In fact, most of them are shoddy; the story telling is loose and lackadaisical.
So, basically, they have to work on their standards. It must be said that some productions are of good quality, but they are in the minority image wise, conceptualisation, performance, eloquence, linguistic aptitude and even culturally.
Of what effect are these on our cinema culture?
It does not really have an effect because home video viewing has crystallised in its own way to the point that people have to sit in the comfort of their homes to watch, and so, whether there is a cinema or another competing factor is not important, cinema is a culture on its own.
Home video has now assumed a cultural dimension, but movies should also be made to show and reflect deeply, our cultural dimensions, local tourism, outdoor recreation, and communal feeling because it is next to watching a play. We should consolidate on our cinema going culture and make use of the cinema culture to tell our story.
Some countries have successfully used the cinema to tell their stories. How can we make the cinema to play a role in nation building?
The cinemas have been of great importance in the propagation of conflicting cultures.
For instance, the Americans used it during the cold war to sell the idea of democracy and liberty to citizens of USSR, especially the younger ones during the cold war, and when the curtain fell, these young Russians quickly embraced the US culture.
We as well can use it to present our culture to the people in the Diaspora.
For example, We can present the best of our culture, including the language to those who are waiting to receive it, including the Yoruba in Brazil, Trinidad and Tobago, Cuba, and in the US. Already, some of them are beginning to embrace traditional religion, having festivals and taking part in exchange programmes.
This makes room for economic and business explorations and consolidating Pan-African solidarity, which will help us when it comes to collective bargaining in operations of universal scale.
The cinema can be useful in that it can be established outside our shores and those who love our culture; who even take our culture as their originating culture will be able to reconnect through the movies. It is a testament in cultural diplomacy.
In other words, we could use cinema to sell our culture, mould opinions and launder the nation’s image. But are we prepared for all these?
I will say at the administrative level; at that point of intellectualisation we are prepared. It is at the base of practice and indoctrination that we are not prepared and this is as a result of our educational system through which people pass and get into the kind of all-comers, all-robust kind of marketing of skills.
But now, we have to re-orientate the professionals on the patriotic aspect of the profession because in some other countries, the practitioners are told outright, ‘our country comes first.’ The Indians are busy showing their culture to the world through their movies.
Of course, they are not forcing their culture on any one, but they beautify it and its so attractive that you would want to buy these products. Importantly, in packaging their productions, they make it of such high quality that you cannot ignore, but rather would want to emulate what they are doing.
On their part, the Americans are showing crime movies, and movies that have to do with the planet’s exploration as a reflection of their power and massive technology background.
As we keep on enjoying what comes from abroad, we have to build our own heritage and propagate our culture.
And to do this, we have to modernise it so that it can be attractive to other people too because once it is attractive, it would have multiplier effects on the business and economic climates within and outside the country, especially given the fact that we have a great variety in terms of culture.
Our plurality should be seen as an asset, and as an asset, we can develop a better link with other countries.
A Nigerian movie should be seen as a Nigerian movie, and not as Igbo, Yoruba or Hausa movie.
Even if the signifiers are Igbo in terms of the cultural elements, there must be something about it that is greatly Nigerian.
A good number of these emerging cinemas are not purpose built. Does this not detract from the enjoyment that the cinema is supposed to offer?
The environment and the structure of the cinema is supposed to be a relaxing, and not something that one just hops out of the vehicle and dash into.
Managers of cinemas must be timely in rolling out movies at advertised time belts, just as it is important for them to provide conducive places for movie goers to relax while waiting for the next show.
While waiting for the next show, it is also a good time to engage in very health discussions on what you expect, or have enjoyed so far.
The structure of the cinema has to be one that keeps one relaxed, there must also be reasonable proximity between the car park and the foyer.
At the foyer, there should be friendly faces that assure you of your safety.
While a cinema should be a place where one should be relaxed, and not a noisy environment, there is a certain form of rascality that goes on in entertainment halls.
This requires some kind of orientation so that these people see the need to allow other moviegoers who are not noisy to have an enjoyable experience.
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