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From Lead City University, honorary doctorate degree for Tunde Kelani

By Shaibu Husseini
26 November 2022   |   3:13 am
He is not one who is used to being called with a title before his name. Although younger colleagues have permanently conferred the prefix ‘Uncle’ on him, Nigeria’s best-known international filmmaker and culture advocate Tunde Kelani

Tunde Kelani on camera

He is not one who is used to being called with a title before his name. Although younger colleagues have permanently conferred the prefix ‘Uncle’ on him, Nigeria’s best-known international filmmaker and culture advocate Tunde Kelani prefers to be called just by his name or simply T.K.

But Kelani, 74 and best known for expertly helming Tí Olúwa Nile, Ko s’egbe, O Leku, Thunderbolt, Saworoide, AgogoEewo, Narrow Path, and Abeni, will by December 12, have no choice but to adopt the honorific title of Doctor of Letters (Honoris Causa).

Lead City University, Ibadan, a leading private tertiary institution in the country, has notified the ace cinematographer, director and producer that he would be formally conferred with the academic award of Doctor of Letters (Honoris Causa) on December 12 as part of the institution’s 15th convocation ceremony.

Born in Lagos but originally from Ogun State, Kelani’s letter of nomination for the prestigious award, which as the Registrar and Secretary General of Council to the university, Dr. (Mrs) Oyebola Ayeni stated is ‘awarded to people of exceptional merit and character’ further states: “This award is in consideration of your immense contributions to the arts, cultural documentation and the theatrical traditions of the Yoruba and African culture. It is also in recognition of your professional accomplishments as a photographer, media personnel, journalist, filmmaker and producer and cinematographer of no mean repute.”

The Registrar who signed the letter on behalf of the Chancellor indicated that the formal conferment of the award on Kelani and other eminent professionals appointed for the award this year will be held at the Adeline Hall at the university.

From that much-anticipated ceremony, Tunde Kelani, whose professional signature has graced other film projects such as The Campus Queen, Maami, Arugba, Dazzling Mirage, Ayinla and Cordelia (recently completed and ready for release) would emerge as Dr. Tunde Kelani (Honoris Causa). He would from that ceremony deservedly be admitted into the unofficial club of men and women with that honour.

For Kelani who has in the last five decades dedicated himself to producing movies that promote Nigeria’s rich cultural heritage and have a root in documentation, archiving, education, entertainment and promotion of the culture, the doctorate award will spur him on to do more.

“I associated with writers and academics from the beginning of my career, which gave my work a greater depth. I, therefore, appreciate the award from a reputable Institution, Lead City University. I shall continue to do my best to justify this honour and the support of my colleagues, family, friends, benefactors and our audiences everywhere,” Kelani said.

A filmmaker in the professional class, the rich Yoruba culture and tradition he experienced in his early years, coupled with his exposure to the strong travelling theatre tradition of the Yoruba at that time laid the foundation for his career in storytelling. While he was in secondary school, he had the privilege to see most of the great Yoruba theatre classics, including The Palm-Wine Drinkard, Oba Koso, Kurunmi, Ogunde plays and more.

He became interested in photography from his primary school days, and throughout his secondary-school education, he was actively investing money and taking to time to learn photography. So, inevitably, he became an apprentice photographer after he finished secondary school. Later, he trained at the then Western Nigeria Television (WNTV) and went on to attend the London Film School. He garnered further experiences at the London Film School where he studied the art and technique of filmmaking.

Upon conclusion of his studies at the London Film School, he returned to Nigeria, had a stint at the Nigerian Television Authority (NTA) and later co-produced his first film with Adebayo Faleti, called The Dilemma of Rev. Father Michael (Idaamu Paadi Minkailu). As a cinematographer, he also worked on most feature films produced in the celluloid era of Nigerian film. Some of the 16mm feature films he worked are Anikura; Ogun Ajaye; Iya Ni Wura; Taxi Driver; Iwa and Fopomoyo.

In 1990, Kelani was an assistant director and an actor in the 1990 film Mister Johnson, the first American film shot on location in Nigeria, which was based on a 1939 novel by Joyce Cary, and starred Pierce Brosnan and Maynard Eziashi. In 1991, Tunde Kelani started his own production company, Mainframe Films and Television Productions – Opomulero, so he could produce films and not just lend technical support. Having emerged from the world of theatre and literature, adaptations of books and plays for cinema are the core of Kelani’s filmmaking practice and through them, he celebrates writers and their work to what he sees as a public that reads less and less.

Also best known for his love of adaptation of literary material into movies, most of Kelani’s works have followed that style of filmmaking. In fact some of Kelani’s most successful films—- Koseegbe, Oleku, Thunderbolt (Magun), The White Handkerchief, The Narrow Path, Maami, Dazzling Mirage and recently Cordelia are literary adaptations. And with his recent effort Cordelia is ready for worldwide release, Kelani may have decided long ago to maintain this model for his future films.

Currently neck deep in the documentation of the heroes and legends of the Yoruba Travelling theatre, his interviews with heroes of the Yoruba travelling theatres including Chief (Mrs) Duro Ladipo aka Oya, and Kayode Olaiya aka Aderupoko can be found on his youtube page and social media handles.

“I thought it was important to have a series on heroes and legends of our good old travelling theatre tradition so the young ones will know where we are coming from. These practitioners deserve a place of honour among the men and women who spent their lives upholding and enriching Yoruba cultural productions. We are still documenting them and I am happy doing it,” said the cultural icon who at 74, is still very active as a filmmaker and culture advocate.