Africa’s Rising Top Model: Bertini Heumegni Surges on despite the Odds
July 9, 2012 | 0 Comments
By Ajong Mbapndah L
It is very challenging for Africans in the competitive world of modeling but there is no turning back for Bertini Heumegni who has emerged as one of the most familiar faces on
the New York fashion circuit. Cultural differences, rejection at castings, and sometimes racism are some of the odds that weigh against aspiring models from Africa but Bertini has slowly but steadily weathered the storm and ranks about the most promising representation for the continent today.
Born in Cameroon and a father of two, Bertini says his first break came from a chance encounter as he was spotted while serving as a bouncer by an agent of the famous Sharon Mulligan Agency in Cape Town. Not shy about the humble beginnings, Bertini reminisces that one of his first booking jobs was with Sting Sunglasses in from Italy for the face of Africa in 1998.Today Bertini has a very impressive resume with a career that spans from Cameroon ,to South Africa, Italy, France, the USA and counting.
Bertini has featured in commercials and events for Fresca and Pure Smirnoff in South Africa as well as for Guinness, and the telecommunications giants MTN in Cameroon. He has participated at multiple fashion events including the Johannesburg fashion week, American Next Top Model, Cape Town fashion week, New York fashion week, Fashion on the Hudson, New York African fashion week, etc.Agencies which have used his services include Sharon Mulligan, Storm Model, Supermodels, Next Models all in South Africa, Paris Models in France, Ricardo Gay in Milan, Cosmo Models, Boss models, Icon Model in New York and Grace del Marco in Spain.
Upon completing acting and directing classes at the H&B Studios in New York, Bertini chronicled his exciting life adventures into a movie called The American Dream.With himself as the star and Helene Faussart the lead singer of the group Les Nubians as co-star, the movie is a cocktail of drugs, love, sex, and betrayal.
After fifteen years of slow and steady progress in the industry, Bertini has grown in confidence and ambition and a perfect illustration is the recent launching of his own underwear line. Dubbed BH, initials for Bertini Heumegni, the model says the line is a fulfillment of a dream he was inspired with when Italian Associate Catherina Fiorillo suggested at a Milan Men collection event that his name will fit perfectly in the fashion industry. The response to the line has been awesome Bertini says as works towards launching the product across Africa, Europe and the rest of the world.
On what makes his line unique or why people should have a preference for it , Bertini in all confidence cites a number of reasons: The first underwear collection, with a 3 inch band, elastic straps adjusted to fit different categories of men, women could throw on in the night to seduce their husbands or boyfriends or in the morning after a night over and still look sensual, the waistband and leg holes are bonded to resist bunching,BH can be worn also to the beaches as swimwear, provides extra support and Stretching. As a model and fitness consultant Bertini says he has insight on what men like to wear and look good. The BH model he goes on has 90% cotton for comfort and slimming effect on the body, 10% spandex for extra support and stretching and 3 inches waistband and woven logo.
Asked if he had any words for aspiring models, Bertini recommends that they remain natural. What is perceived as a weakness may turn out to be your greatest asset. Who would have thought that my natural green eyes which made me a subject of taunts from bullies when growing up will eventually help elevate me to where I am today, Bertini quips. My cat eyes or hassle green eyes are now my strengths, no more my weakness .A lot of people make the mistake of sacrificing their African culture and roots Bertini says, but aspiring models from the continent should bear in mind that Africans are natural and exotic. The continent is full of talent he affirms and young people just have to believe in themselves, show dedication and patience, remain persistent in the face of unending challenges and success will eventually come.
On future initiatives, the New York based Bertini says besides promoting his BH line across the globe and especially in Africa with its huge market, he needs to honor modeling engagements while polishing up plans for a reality TV show that will be unveiled in the months ahead.
More on Bertini and the BH Line can be found at www.bertinih.com
The Powers Behind Nollywood
February 21, 2012 | 0 Comments
By Ayodeji Adeyemi*
It was 6.30am and dawn had just spewed like a silky fabric over the neatly tarred streets of Lekki Peninsula, a high-class urban district of Lagos. A convoy of vehicles rattling along Bajji Close came to a halt in front of house number two. Lancelot Imasuen, a movie director and leader of the team, hopped out of a Toyota bus and marched into the sprawling compound nestling a duplex. Minutes later, he shuffled out and started barking orders at his team. At once, his crew, consisting of technicians, engineers and cameramen, sprang to life. As they busied themselves setting up equipment, some of the young actresses and their minders converged beside a bed of shrubs. The little brightness in the sky which had filtered down from the balconies and windowpanes, revealed the apprehension on their faces. Though they were relatively unknown stars, they had big dreams which seemed to weigh heavily on their shoulders. The assistant director, a fair complexioned middle-age lady, clutching the movie manuscript, made a robust attempt at calming their frayed nerves, easing them through their lines. The promise of stardom seemed to have a stranglehold on the starlets.
Eventually, the film site, a luscious sitting room bedecked with paintings, antique flower vases and furnishings, was prepped up for the first shoot. Imasuen, stepping away from the camera, edged towards the artistes, explaining to them his concept of the role. After a string of rehearsals, frequently punctuated by the director’s dissension, shooting began. The three actresses wove their craft, summoning an assortment of expressions to their faces, as they eased into their respective make-believe roles. Sometimes their acting impressed the director who had ascended to the status of a demigod venting his approval from Mount Olympus with a nod. At other times, Imasuen demurred calling for a retake, eliciting muted grimaces from the artistes. Seconds stretched into minutes and minutes soon ran into hours. By the time the scene wrapped up two hours later, the director, turning to this reporter, says, “This scene that took two hours to shoot is just about a minute scene in ‘On Bended Knees’ – the title of the movie.”
From that point, Imasuen led his crew to another location still within the Lekki Peninsula where a similar routine was performed. Again, hours sped by like the speed of light. Soon, it was evening time and the cast and crew had to retire for the day. Imasuen retired into a posh hotel in Lagos Mainland. For directing this movie, he will be smiling to the bank. And he has done several like that in his over 15 years’ career as a film director. As at the last count, Imasuen agreed he had directed over 200 movies and was still having a lot more on his plate. His movies have also been a breakthrough, a launch pad for many stars. For instance, his 2005 smash hit ‘Behind Closed Door’ is credited as the movie that turned Nollywood heartthrob, Desmond Elliot, into an A-list actor. The same thing can be said of Chioma Chukwuka-Akpotha, another A-list actress, as well as several other big names in Nollywood.
Yet, Imasuen is little known to the average film lover. He belongs to that special class of star manufacturers. They are the fingers behind the camera, the unseen forces that can make or mar a star in
Nollywood, the third largest movie industry in the world. Imasuen’s obscurity seems to have been adequately compensated for with tons of cash he has earned for his directorial role. This, perhaps, explains why Imasuen can afford the luxuries of life. When he is not on locations, he shuttles between award shows and film festivals across the globe. Indeed, Imasuen lives a fairy tale life that the average Nigerian would literally kill to have. A recent icing on the cake for him was when the Canadian government, last October, honoured his efforts with a Media Merit Award.
But things have not always been that rosy for him. In his over 15 years sojourn in Nollywood; he has had his fair share of ups and downs. In the early days, he went through lengthy dry spells of not having any movie to direct. His breakthrough however came with ‘Twisted Fate’, a movie he produced in 1995 which earned him critical acclaim. Other movies followed in quick succession. And so was money and growing influence as some of the unseen directing spirits and forces behind Nollywood.
He is not alone. In the same shoes with Imasuen is Teco Benson, one of Nollywood’s top directors and producers who, though relatively unknown, have struck gold in the industry. But while Imasuen teed off as a director, Benson sauntered into the industry as an actor. He recalls that his first pay as an actor was N8,000 for the movie, ‘Forbidden Fruit’, produced in 1995. That might seem small, but Benson observes that it was more than his take-home pay at his former job as a civil servant.
After playing many minor roles in movies, Benson decided to go behind the camera in 1996. He started off as a film producer before easing into directing movies. This transition was seamless for him but he notes that he invested thousands of naira into movie books and attending workshops both within and outside the country. “I bought books on all branches of movie production, producing, directing, cinematography, acting for films and television,” he says.
Benson has so far directed over 50 movies and still has more in the pipeline. And what he missed in fame, he made up for in fortunes. Take for instance ‘State of Emergency’, a movie he directed in 2000. Never mind that it took a month to produce, it still sold over one million copies. “By now I guess the movie should have moved three million copies in sales,” he says. Hence Benson can afford to live a five-star luxury life. Apart from the fact that he lives in the exclusive high-class residential area of Lekki, he also cruises around town in flashy cars in his fleet.
Benson is not the only one living his dreams from behind the cameras. There is also Tunde Kelani, top movie director and British-trained cinematographer. Unarguably one of the most celebrated filmmakers in Nigeria, Kelani only last week just returned from a trip to São Paulo, Brazil, where he hosted a successful film festival. The festival, which spanned three weeks, had the top brass of Brazilian cultural and movie industry in attendance. Nine of his previous works (in Yoruba language) were screened, including the smash hits ‘Saworoide’ and ‘Agogo Eewo’ while his new movie ‘Maami’ also premiered to an appreciative crowd.
He is however not new to such successful outings. Kelani’s career in the movie industry has been nothing short of a five star. Even though his movies are shot using Yoruba as the dialogue language, they have been smash hits with the audience both at home and abroad. Little wonder Kelani globetrots from one film festival to another exhibiting and promoting his works. In the process, he also makes stars like Kunle Afolayan, who is now also a prominent producer in his own right, Sunkanmi Omobolanle, and Peju Ogunmola among many others who now adorn the Nollywood landscape.
Just like Kelani, there is also Tade Ogidan, ace movie director. In addition to making chart bursting movies and creating stars in Nollywood, Ogidan has also found fortune simply being behind the scenes. A former producer with the Nigerian Television Authority, NTA, Ogidan left the television station to start OGD Pictures Limited in 1990. He has since gone ahead to produce a string of jackpots as a number of his films have been screened in international film festivals. These include films like ‘Hostage’ (parts 1, 2 & 3), ‘Owo-Blow’ (parts 1, 2 & 3), ‘Out of Bounds’, ‘Saving Alero’ and ‘Dangerous Twins’ (parts 1,2 & 3). In the process, he also literally created a number of stars like Femi Adebayo and Stella Damasus while catapulting the likes of Richard Mofe-Damijo, Lanre Balogun, Yemi Solade, Bimbo Akintola and Bimbo Manuel amongst others into A-list actors. Ogidan’s latest film, ‘Family on Fire’, recently premiered in London to much applause.
The former continuity announcer with NTA Channel 5 equally has plans to screen the movie in many international film festivals. The edge this affords is that it opens more doors for the movie to be shown in many cinemas across the world. This, of course, is a jackpot for any film-maker worth his onions. Also in the same ilk with Ogidan is Amaka Igwe, a renowned film-maker. Apart from the fact that her movies were also screened abroad, she actually organises her own film festival which has become a melting pot for both local and international filmmakers and stakeholders. Her film festivals have since become prime market for sourcing Nollywood movies and television programmes. They are also a veritable cash cow that guarantees her a comfortable life.
Imasuen, Benson, Kelani, Ogidan, and Igwe however represent a small breed of directors who have found fortune by being behind the scenes in Nollywood. Though the Nigerian movie industry reeks of gold from afar, in between the glittering lines and the razzmatazz lies an industry that is tottering. Save for a few stars and even fewer directors, many in the industry are barely managing. If in doubt, one just needs to ask Dickson Iroegbu, an award-winning movie director whose current state aptly captures the unseen truth of the industry. Today Iroegbu, in spite of being one of the top directors and producers in the industry, struggles to make ends meet.
Pause and rewind to 2003 when Iroegbu was on top of the world. His lifestyle then was red carpet. His movie ‘Romantic Attraction’, which cost N3.5 million, grossed over N9 million, making a healthy profit of N5.5 million. In 2005 his movie, ‘The Mayor’, apart from being a box office hit, garnered four awards at the maiden edition of the African Movie Academy Awards, AMAA. It scooped up gongs in Best Picture, Best Original Screenplay, Best Director and Best Supporting Actor. In 2006, ‘Women’s Cot’, which he also directed, notched three AMAA. The categories were Best Cinematography, Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress.
At that time, Iroegbu’s life rotated around award shows, corporate events, movie locations and film festivals. But before anyone could say Jack Robinson, Iroegbu found himself at the bottom rung of the ladder. His movies that once sold millions of copies could not even sell 1,000 copies anymore. He thus became prone to poverty, which swiftly swooped on him like an ill-tempered eagle. This was the technical knockout that literally turned Iroegbu’s world upside down.
He is not alone. Tragically there are many film-makers like Iroegbu who in the past had been accustomed to seeing their movies sell millions of copies, but suddenly woke up in another world where their movies could no longer sell a paltry 3,000 copies. Hence their livelihood and lifesavings went down the drain. “In those days, making movie was like narcotics. You invested a million naira in a movie and you’re sure to make over N10 million, but suddenly an earthquake came and movies hardly sell up to 10,000 copies,” says Imasuen.
But was it really sudden? Hadn’t there been tectonic plate movement within the bowels of the industry to which many had failed to pay attention? So what is responsible for this seismic shift in the industry that is regarded as the third biggest in the world, just behind Hollywood of the United States and Bollywood of India? While many are wont to blame piracy, the real culprit is actually a combination of self-inflicted injuries, which came together to create a perfect storm. In essence, Nollywood became a victim of its own success.
Indeed Nollywood became a huge success almost overnight in what some have described as a freak accident. It was said that Kenneth Nnebue, proprietor, Net Video Links, who had excess capacity of blank videocassettes was at a loss over the surplus. His desire to unload the tonnes of imported videocassettes, monopolising precious space in his warehouse, berthed the idea of producing the movie ‘Living in Bondage’. The film which hit the stores in 1992 became a runaway success selling millions of copies. This soon became an eye-opener to many about the lurking goldmine in the local movie industry.
Learning from his experience, many hopped into the Nollywood bandwagon, especially those who knew nothing about the industry. Still, they all struck gold. This good fortune was due to the insatiable appetite of the audience for locally produced movies, which had themes that resonated with daily experiences. In fact, so unshakeable was the honeymoon between the audience and the moviemakers that the former gladly forgave the latter for the many mistakes and shoddiness embedded in some of the films they churned out.
As a result, film-makers smiled all the way to the banks as movies with production budget of N2 million raked in more than three times what was invested. Benson observes that those were the golden days of the film-makers’ influence, when they were regarded and treated like the kings of the industry. At that time, he said, the power balance between the film-makers and the artistes was tilted towards the former, as the early set of actors and actresses had not yet gained the limelight and the accompanying clout. “In those early days the artiste did everything to impress the movie directors. Even if you told them that a scene involved jumping from the bridge, they were willing to do so just to impress you,” says Benson who has directed over 50 movies.
But as the rat race within the industry intensified, with many more entrants joining the fray, something happened which many in the industry neither accorded the appropriate attention nor adopted the right strategy for. Technology improved and the VHS videocassettes, which had been the building block of Nollywood, became supplanted by VCD and later DVD. “Many of us in the industry were neck deep in the chain line of producing movies that we did not even stop to consider how the change would affect the industry,” says Iroegbu.
At first, the migration appeared seamless, as the film-makers opted for the new technology, which brought on board several advantages over the old videocassettes. What they however failed to take cognizance of is the fact that they had lost a chief advantage of the videocassettes, which was the difficulty it posed for the unscrupulous business of piracy. While pirated videocassettes content were of abysmal quality, pirated VCD content displayed the same crisp and sharp quality of the original discs. The reality was slow in hitting the local film-makers. At the beginning, they thought that the good news was that the pirates had not yet dipped their treacherous fingers into the pie of the local film-makers. “It was only Western movies that were pirated in those days,” says Iroegbu.
On the surface, everything appeared to be going on well as film-makers were still making big money, even though movie standards had started declining. They however failed to plough a decent part of the proceeds back into the industry to develop the appropriate structures. One of the neglected structures that would later come back to bite the industry was the distribution channel. Distribution of films was centred in three streets across three cities, which were mostly a sloppy assemblage of stalls and shops. They are Nnamdi Azikiwe Street, Idumota, Lagos State; Iweka Road, Onitsha, Anambra State; and Pound Road, Aba, Abia State. Consequently the three centres – Lagos, Aba and Onitsha – were oversaturated with movies, while many of the inner parts of the country were not serviced. Pirates would later come to fill that gap. “We soon discovered that six months after our movies were released they had not yet reached other cities because the marketers were not keen about investing outside these three zones. How do you expect three places to serve an entire nation?” Imasuen queries while adding that, “we told the marketers to expand to other cities but they refused.” The result was that while the pirates brought the films closer to more fans, thus increasing the exposure of artistes, their actions robbed the film-makers lots of revenue.
Equally glaring was the industry’s brazen failure to invest in movie studios thereby breaching one of the ground rules of movie production. In the movie kingdom, studio production enhances the quality of movies as they serve as a sort of laboratory in which the director can create any scene he imagines. The absence of this vital structure greatly curtailed the creativity in Nollywood. As a result, the country became inundated with films, which had almost identical locations, similar scenes and, in some cases – because of the lack of expertise of some budding directors – similar story lines. It was almost easier to predict a Nollywood movie after watching the first three scenes than crossing a highway.
Boredom soon crept in for the audience who wanted more excitement. The home video no longer had the allure that swept them off their feet in its early days. To worsen an already bad situation, pirates also suddenly saw the goldmine in Nollywood. The newer DVD technology and the faulty distribution chain proved just the right incentives for them to hop into the market. Hence they employed the successful formula they had used in wooing the audience into buying pirated Western movies. Pronto! They came out with 24 movies in one DVD for a cheap price of N150! The movie audience which had been questioning the rationality of parting with N250 for a Nollywood movie, with similar storylines and scenes, gleefully became the pirates’ bedmates.
The advent of African magic, a cable channel on popular subscription based Digital Satellite Television, DSTV, also added a twist to the Nollywood tale. Initially it was hailed because it made global stars out of the local stars. However this new outlet for viewing Nollywood movies greatly reduced the reliance of the audience on new movies in the stores. “What the heck! We could watch them for free,” many said. By the time the industry realised that the development was a double-edged sword, many had sold their broadcasting rights to the television station for pittance. Many other channels also came up adopting the African Magic template. Internet sites like ‘Naija Pals’ also sprang up offering Nollywood films for free on the Internet. The prices of Nollywood movies had to be reduced to compete with the vastly advantaged pirated ones and the free ones on cable channels.
With all these factors combining, moviemakers woke up only to find out that their movies, which before could push a million copies within a few days, could not even push 10,000 copies in a whole year. This happened at a time when the power balance between the film-makers and the artistes had shifted in favour of the artistes. Thanks to several cable channels dedicated to Nollywood movies, the artistes were now global stars. Hence they could now command higher fees at a time the fortune of moviemakers was nose-diving.
The marketers who had become the major sponsors in the industry however tried unsuccessfully to persuade the A-list stars to cut their pay. When this failed, a one-year ban was clamped on their careers. The unintended price of the ban was that it created division in the industry while it miserably failed to produce the desired result. Not surprising, the artistes came out of the ban unscathed while some even commanded higher fees. “The marketers did not inform the film-makers before taking such actions, so many of us did not support the ban which only helped divide the industry,” says Iroegbu.
Caught in a Catch-22 situation in which the movies would not sell without the superstars, while having them on set also rendered the project unprofitable, the marketers decided to cut the dispensable cost. They stopped patronising top movie film-makers, relying on those who would collect a fraction of the cost. These led to a proliferation of sloppy movies, which only reinforced the vicious cycle leading to more viewers’ apathy.
In no time, the industry could no longer attract the funds it once attracted. “It became difficult to source funds from the corporate world because we could not allay their fears on recouping their money,” says Imasuen. Many filmmakers and sponsors lost out, as Nollywood became the victim of its on success because of its lack of foresight.
But where was the government in all of these? It largely acted like a spectator in a football match. In the heyday when the industry was booming and churning out thousands of jobs with each movie, top brass of the movie industry insisted that the government was indifferent. Except for a weak attempt at reform, which was when the Nigerian Films and Video Censors Board, NFVCB, came out with a framework stipulating the minimum capitalisation for national distributor, nothing concrete was done.
And where attempts were made, they failed to hit the right target. For instance, Tinapa Studio was built by Cross River State government in partnership with the private sector and aimed at helping the local film industry. But the studio has turned out to be a white elephant project. The movie industry would not touch it with the longest poles. Why? They claim that the cost of shooting a movie in the studio would create a massive hole in their shoestring budgets. “I have a movie budget of N3.5 million and Tinapa is asking for N1 million to use their facility. How on earth will I go there?” Imasuen and Iroegbu query.
Another attempt to help the film industry, this time coming from the federal government, appears to have also failed. In the run up to the 2011 general elections, President Goodluck Jonathan, in what was described as a thunderstorm manoeuvre, promised to set up a $200 million intervention fund for the movie industry but this has so far remained only in the realm of promises. “The government is no longer talking about the funds again,” Imasuen said. Practitioners in the industry did not help matters. They became divided over who disburses the fund that is yet to be put on the table.
Given this scenario, can one then conclude that the death knell has been sounded on the make-believe industry and the careers of moviemakers? Imasuen says this is far from the truth. The industry’s ground zero experience appears to have forced the moviemakers back to the drawing board.
Imasuen argues that directors and producers now appear to have finally come to terms with the stark reality that the movie-to-video template, which the industry was built upon, is no longer sustainable. Their response, the magazine gathered, is to create a framework where movies now first go to the cinemas before they are printed on DVD. This of course requires that Nollywood movies attain higher standards suitable for cinema viewing.
Imasuen contends that the industry is poised for such, noting that movies are already being shot using the new HD technology. “We are already at the next phase which is shooting movies that can fit cinema standard. In other climes, film-makers make the bulk of their money from the cinema, and Nollywood is ready to cash in on that,” he says. Whether this approach will bring back the good old days of money and influence for the likes of Iroegbu remains a question only time can answer.
*Culled from Tell Magazine Nigeria. Illustrations by PAV
The Cameroon Movie Industry Needs To Step Up
February 21, 2012 | 0 Comments
-Land Of Shadows Producer Gilbert Agbor
By Pandita Njoh Etta
The Cameroon Movie Industry is in need of an extreme makeover says Gilbert Agbor one of the most enterprising producers in the country. Despite the abundance of talent in the industry, the industry suffers from chronic neglect from government officials. The movie industry has the potential to employ about 10.000 to 50.000 Cameroonians if properly structured and supported says Agbor whose movies have earned him local and international fame. Trained in Nigeria, the difficulties have not daunted the resolve of Agbor to continue forging a path for the Cameroon movie industry. In a chat with PAV’s Pandita Njoh Etta, Gilbert Agbor sheds light on his career, projects as well as a critique of the movie industry in Cameroon.
PAV: How did you become a film producer and may we know how many movies you have produced so far and the reaction of the public to your productions?
Agbor Gilbert: I went to the film school in Nigeria for 6 years at the University Science and Technology in Calabar in the year 2000. Later, i went for training in Algeria for 9 months. In the course of my school, I met so many people who encouraged me and helped directed me as I pursued my passion for movies. i have been producing movies since the year 2005, when I came up with my first movie, BEFORE THE SUNRISE–which i received an award for in south Africa as the Youngest producer to come with a very successful movie. Later on, THE BLUES KINGDOM–from which I was awarded Peace Ambassador For Female Circumcision, LAND OF SHADOWS– which recently had an award for best costume at the nollywood and African film critics award, NAAFCA in the U.S, and DEEPER LOVE. My fans and the public in general do love and appreciate what I do, from the successes and my physical interaction I have had with them from time to time.( travelled overseas for three movie festivals and returned with three different awards) I also had a recognition in Burkina Faso for my contributions to the Cameroonian movie industry.
PAV: What would you describe as the major highlights of your career as a producer thus far?
Agbor Gilbert: My fans, and the appreciation i get from them made me who I am today. I am not the best, but i am good at what I do.
PAV: Are there any producers in the African movie industry and the world at large whom you consider as role models and what is it you like about them?
Agbor Gilbert: Oh yes definitely there are, only a foolish person will not have mentors or people they look up to, Fred Amata–nollywood actor and producer, I met him during my school time in Nigeria. Collaborated with him to produce my film, Before the Sunrise. Zach Orji–nollywood actor and director. worked with him for my movies Before the Sunrise and Land of shadows. Mama Kinta- who is also a film producer and actress. Jean Pierre Bekolo, Agbor Steven Ebai–Cameroonian film producer and Tyler Perry–his struggles to be who he is today encouraged and still encourage me to be what I am today and to work harder.
PAV: You come from Cameroon where the movie industry has a lot of potential but is not very strong still organized , from the name, to the funding, to the audience which seems to have a preference for foreign films etc what is going on with the movie industry in your country?
Agbor Gilbert: We have negligence from all directions. From both the audience-consumers and the producers too. There is so much piracy amongst the consumers. For instance, a person would buy a single movie, plays it in his/her house and connect cables to distribute it to neigbours who will then pay him a few hundreds of France. Thus the movie cannot sell to develop money for the industry’s growth. Also, there is so much disorganization amongst producers, thereby limiting them to work together in unity and achieve a higher goal. Furthermore, there is no good networking and distribution agency for the movies, and the movies end up not getting to the greater part of the market, leading to a shortage of funds to pay the production body. In addition, the ministry of culture does not play their role in assisting production at all. When the head of government gives funds to the ministry to assist movie production in the country, they don’t give the money; and when they do, they give the money to the wrong people, who end up not doing the work. The ministry of culture needs to do better in assisting with funds and joining forces with the production bodies to fight against piracy, which is one big of a problem.
PAV: We have seen Cameroonians working with more acclaimed Nigerian actors like Patience Ozorkwor, Emeka Ike and others; does this reflect a deficiency of talent amongst Cameroonian actors or what reasons are there for the penchant to have big names in movies instead of promoting local talents?
Agbor Gilbert: No not at all. There are great talents in Cameroon and I do work with them. As a producer, primarily I will say it is a marketing strategy. Consumers buy movies because they love the faces they see on there and will want to buy only those movies, and in the cause, discover new and talented people like; Eyong Quinta Ashu, Lynno Lovette etc. also, collaborating with the nollywood actors, increases the market for the particular movie, and the Nigerians will want to see their own faces in the movie too.
PAV: Mr. Agbor, we come back to the issue of name, what is the name of the Cameroon movie industry? We have Hollywood in the USA, Bollywood in India, Nollywood in Nigeria etc, we have heard about Camwood, Camerlywood? Must the name be mimicked after what obtains in other countries and why can’t there be a unique name that reflects the culture of your country?
Agbor Gilbert: In 2008, the Cameroonian film industry–production houses back home, the president of the actors guild in Nigeria, prime minister of Cameroon at that time Ephraim Inoni, the minister of culture in Cameroon , representatives from the ministry of cultures in Ghana and Gabon, and also nollywood actor Jim Iyke came to an agreement that the official name of the Cameroon film industry is COLLYWOOD.
PAV: In Nigeria we learned that in the next twenty five years or so, the movie industry will have the potential of generating income that could rival what comes from oil, what potential would you say the movie industry has in Cameroon and is there anything the authorities are doing to help the industry move forward?
Agbor Gilbert:-I feel pity for the system in Cameroon; -high rate of unemployment, but the film industry stands a chance to employ 10,000 to 50,000 Cameroonians and more. -the government administrators have a great role to play in helping with the situation. Their security and unavailability makes it difficult for the producers to go to them for help and even when they get the chance to, they don’t listen. All the ministries not only the ministry of culture, need to assist.
The ministry of communication needs to help in marketing and other duties, the ministry of education needs to implement movie production and film studies in their schools, take for example me, I had to travel to Nigeria for my studies. Many others with acting, directing dreams have to travel abroad for education. They don’t consider it relevant. The ministry of finance needs to work together too, for assistance in making this work. the Nigerian government for example understands the benefits of the film industry over there, thus they work very hard to support them. The other day while looking at some videos in you tube, I came across a video of some top Nigerian stars singing a good luck song, campaigning for their now President Jonathan. The government knows that the people listen to these actors and actresses, and thus respect them and collaborate with them for events as such.
PAV: Taking a look at the continent as a whole , Nigeria, Ghana, South Africa etc, how would you size up the African film industry, from artistic performance, the way it is structured, quality of movies etc?
Agbor Gilbert:South Africa for instance has no limit. There is support from every corner. The ministry of culture and the government in Rwanda built shops for the production houses to help them distribute and market their films. In Mozambique, their head of state comes to their premiers to support them. Here in Cameroon, even the ministers will not come, and will not even send a representative that can contribute in any way.
PAV: What are the projects that Gilbert Agbor is working on right now or has in mind for the nearest future?
Agbor Gilbert: I am presently working on a new movie, sharing ideas, travelling abroad for distribution and marketing. I am also working on launching the H- foundation which is a non profit organization to give allowances to the less privileged, scholarships for outstanding students in school. Also working with 28 HIV/AIDS patients with financial help and building their hope for living. In addition, we are also working to help the widows.
PAV: We end by asking if you have a word of advice to talented young Africans interested in the world of movies with the potential to excel as Directors, Actors etc.
Agbor Gilbert: -It is a rich profession in knowledge, finance, style-also known as swag-Follow your heart, and your dreams. It’s too big a world, the movie industry is so big that one has to have a great potential to be recognized. It is a very fun profession with advantages and disadvantages; when you choose to be part of this industry, you have decided to give out you life to serving the audience and no more privacy for you. Every day we learn, and when you fall just get up and run again, never give up on the dreams.