FEMI ODUGBEMI: PLAYING THE BOSS
A filmmaker extraordinaire, Femi Odugbemi is also a screenwriter, cinematographer, director, photographer and producer. The name behind one of the most successful and well-viewed Nigerian soap operas, Tinsel, Odugbemi was born in the early 60s in Lagos. Among his other notable productions are the award-winning documentary Bariga Boys, and Abobaku, a short film directed by Niji Akanni, which emerged as the Most Outstanding Short Film at the Zuma Film Festival in 2010.
In 2013, you scripted, produced and directed a documentary titled, Literature, Language and Literalism about the late Nigerian writer, Daniel O. Fagunwa, the author of Ògbójú Ọdẹ nínú Igbó Irúnmalẹ̀. Why did you choose to direct this documentary and what was the experience like?
I have always wanted to do something to bring attention to the timeless stories of Baba D.O.Fagunwa for a couple of reasons. On a personal level, I am proud to have come from the same family as this giant of Nigerian literature. I never had a chance to meet him but my father spoke a lot about him, and as children we read his books and reveled in the incredibly rich imagination in the context and content of his stories. They were amazing fantasies, with unforgettable characters and value expositions that defined the moral milieu of the Yoruba culture and identity. It was important to me that I make a documentary to preserve the importance of these works and define Fagunwa’s eminent place in our rich literary history. The chance to make the film then presented itself in 2013 when a distinguished group of scholars and the Ondo State government convened a conference on Fagunwa’s works to mark the 50th Anniversary of his death. It was irresistible to me to have a chance for almost every significant intellectual, as well as researchers from across the world who studied Fagunwa’s works to be available in the same environment. I was incredibly happy to take the opportunity and to create a documentary that stylistically presents ‘Fagunwa 101’ to a new generation of storytellers who might be hearing about his work for the first time. More importantly as well, I made this film to highlight the weak link between our growing film industry and our literature. We have such a rich literary heritage that I think can deepen the quality of storytelling in our cinema. Beyond that, it also has significant economic dimensions. I like the way my incredibly brilliant brother Obi Asika makes the point. The difference between ‘Thor’ of Germanic mythology and ‘Sango’ in Yoruba mythology is a billion dollars of creative exploration of Thor in film, video games! Imagine the colourful characters of D.O.Fagunwa’s books in films?
You started off your career in the advertising sector and still produce commercial content for corporate organizations. What difficulties have you faced, considering that several prefer to outsource their work internationally?
The biggest crisis in the advertising industry today is how to stop investing local money in the production industry of foreign countries. Today, sadly, the majority of TV commercials airing in Nigeria are produced abroad. These commercials are targeted to appeal to Nigerian consumers who buy products and services with money locally earned. It is a crazy trend that began over 10 years ago. Back then, agencies told their clients that these commercials could only be made to international standards if they were produced abroad with incredibly huge budgets. After a decade of making films exclusively abroad, the question is how many of these ‘international award-winners’ have broken any creative bars consistently enough to merit the millions of dollars we have invested in the production industries of other countries at the expense of ours. It’s a shame to say it, but there is a level of self-loathing that seems expressed when we spurn local technology or expertise in deference to anything foreign. I spent over 15 years in advertising and this much I can tell you—the majority of the TV commercials that resonated most with Nigerians and built powerful brands in the history of advertising in Nigeria were conceptualized and produced locally. Who doesn’t remember the Bagco Supersack TV ads of the 90s? There are many more like that… the government, especially the Advertising Practitioners Council of Nigeria (APCON) must do something to protect the indigenous production companies in Nigeria that have been denigrated and their businesses incapacitated by this foreign filming trend in advertising. It is the perfect oxymoron to ask the question, how will they grow in capacity and retool their technology if nobody patronizes them?
For the full interview, watch out for Omenka magazine Film Issue…