60 Garlands for Femi Odugbemi of Moviedom
Garlands have continued to pour in for the consummate filmmaker and quite clearly, a respected voice in the Nigerian arts and culture scene Femi Odugbemi who turned 60 on Wednesday. Before the cock crowed on Wednesday, friends, colleagues, mentees and some of his mentors still alive took to his timeline and to their social media handles to celebrate the award-winning filmmaker, writer and photographer who was rightly described by the former Editor of The Guardian on Sunday, Jahman Anikulapo, as ‘an octopus of influences’.
A motivator and mentor to many young people, ‘Uncle Femi’ as younger colleagues simply refer to him, has worked in the Nigerian motion picture industry and has created, directed and produced several critically-acclaimed productions including producing the TV series Battleground and feature films ‘Fourth Estate’ and ‘Gidi, ‘Bariga Boys’ and ‘Bar Beach Blues’ which he also directed.
Co-Founder of the IREP documentary film festival, other highlights of his works include “Mama Put”, the critically acclaimed documentary “Ibadan – Cradle of Literati”, and “Oriki”. Founding Producer of “Tinsel”, MNET Africa’s acclaimed daily soap opera, Odugbemi has been President of the Independent Television Producers Association of Nigeria and was until recently the Academy Director (West Africa) for the Multichoice Talent Factory. Odugbemi who is the founder of ZURI24 Media has served as a juror for multiple film festivals and he is currently a voting member of the Academy of Motion Pictures. Widely respected for his creativity and professionalism, Moviedom presents six quotes from different published interviews by the master motion picture practitioner on his career and life to mark his attaining 60.
I Got Here by Apprenticeship and Mentorship
I had a lot to learn and I am blessed that my mentors and influencers help me to learn. As I always say to young people, the greatest gift anyone can give you early in your career is not money. It is opportunity. And when they give you opportunity, you must possess the humility and patience to actually learn by serving them. Apprenticeship and mentoring is a time-honoured process in the creative industry. Unfortunately, that humility to learn is what is missing today in a lot of the young ‘creatives’ around. Google does not have all the answers, as some of them might imagine. Real life and real world choices demand wisdom and experience for you to be effective with your talent. A lot of the challenges young professionals face today have nothing to do with the industry itself, equipment, finances to make a film or any other such thing, it has to do with their individual characters and the fact that they begin from an attitude of ‘I already know everything.’
The one thing that everyone agrees with is that Nollywood is an organically grown film culture from Nigeria that perhaps surprised a lot of people in terms of the quantity of its production, the passion of its practitioners, and the fact that they’re able to do so much with so little. If you’ll recall that Nollywood came out of a space where there were really no grants, there were no funding, per se. So a lot of it is really driven by just the passion of the storytellers to create something. And in doing so, I mean in the course of 25, 30 years, it’s something that has grown – organically grown in terms of the quality of storytelling, grown in terms of the quality of cinematic exposition, grown in performances as well. But it’s also grown globally because the audience have also been, how will I say, there’s a lot of Africans in the diaspora who have introduced African cinema, which is what I now call Nollywood as a way to connect with their neighbours, to introduce their origin, to get their children into a space where heritage can be visually communicated.
Our Story Telling Going Forward
Our storytelling needs to begin to model a future that we desire. We talk about our ambitions in terms of good governance, rapid development, economic progress. I think our films need to begin to create heroes along those lines because right now, we have stories that are contemporary but, in many ways, timid. The truth is we haven’t presented the developmental issues we have in the country in cinema in a way that models the way we would like it to be, not just how it is. I tell my students that the idea that a black man will occupy the Oval Office in America is from the cinema. Our cinema has to begin to reach into the future, not just to talk about Nigeria going to the moon or Mars or something like that, but something that connects us to our ambitions as a people, perhaps a more prosperous, more organised, less corruption-ridden political culture. We just need heroes; we need to create those heroes through storytelling. I want storytellers to champion human experiences, insights so that those of us who may not feel that cultural experiences are still able to be enriched by the stories that you tell.
Me and Documentaries
I will make more features in the immediate future – that’s already in my plans. I make documentaries because of the need to build up that aspect of our creative expression. Documentaries need to be understood as an important platform for mediating our experiences as individuals and as a country. It brings perspectives, background and a multi-dimensional understanding to things in such a way that we begin to see beyond the facts of the matter; we begin to see the truth of it. We must reignite a culture of intelligent content production that documentaries provide. That is why I make documentaries and encourage other filmmakers to do the same.
My Kind of ‘Politics’
Yoruba people say when you are the only rich man in the midst of poor people you will end up the poorest of all. I believe in politics that focuses on reducing poverty – and by that I mean both economic poverty and intellectual poverty as well. I believe in politics that understands that governance is about building sustainable institutions, not just infrastructures. So, my politics is very forward-leaning on paying attention to education, especially science. It is keen on equitable distribution of wealth through creating jobs to reduce poverty. It is keen on protecting the environment and preserving nature’s resources which is where protecting our wildlife comes in.
For Younger Colleagues and New Entrants
You must understand your purpose and know that God is at the heart of your purpose. You also need to understand that you, not God, must work hard to achieve your purpose. I learnt very early from my mentors not to work for money but to work for legacy. I always tell those who approach me three things. One is to work to learn, before you earn. Find everything you need to know and learn it. Learn to go the extra mile because talent is not enough. You should also have mentors. Put yourself under the anointing of someone who has been to where you are going. Their advice and support will save you many mistakes.