Interview August 30, 2012
The Governor: Interview with Lancelot Imasuen
Wills: What do people call you in Nigeria? What’s your nickname? Lancelot: They call me the Governor, and I’m also a United Nations ambassador for peace. My real name is Lancelot Imasuen and I’m a Nollywood filmmaker. Right now we’re at the O’jez restaurant, inside the premises of the national stadium in Surulere. And coincidentally Surulere plays host to Nollywood in Nigeria -- the start of Nollywood was actually here, within these environments in Surulere, Lagos. Wills: Why do they call you the Governor? Lancelot: The actor Ejike Asiegbu gave me that name in the year 2001 during the filming of a movie. I think he noticed my artistical, directorial prowess, and he screamed the name “the Governor” while we were on set. It just got stuck. Wills: What is it about your character that makes you a good fit for being a Nollywood director? Lancelot: My character is passion. I’m very passionate. I’m a determined soul. That has been evident in the kind of works that I do. People say to me: “Hey, you are not an actor, why are you so popular?” Well, I’m not the face in front of the camera, but by the grace of God, and because of the passion and determination that I put into my work, this has all endeared me to so many people to wanting to put a face to the name. Wills: Do you have a favorite genre to work with in Nollywood? Lancelot: No. I just want to be known as a filmmaker. I’ve made epics that have been great hits -- there’s one presently suffocating everywhere now called Adesuwa. It is a traditional epic. I’ve also made contemporary movies, love stories. I’m just a filmmaker. Wills: How do you deal with historical narratives and the dramatization of history? Lancelot: I’m from Benin State and historically that place has one of the richest cultures in the whole of Sub-Saharan Africa. We have a lot of history that would make for great dramatical work today. So I started with Isakaba, which was set in 1752 A.D. It’s about lust and greed. I’m trying to connect some of the political, social problems we're having today in Africa, to the past. Has there been any growth? You will see me treating the issue of corruption in Africa through my historical epic: a king sees a beautiful girl, and says that he wants the girl. He doesn’t know this girl is betrothed to another king! And he says he can get the girl through all the means available to him. He ends up plundering his people into chaos, killing himself in the process. All hell is let loose. I also just filmed Invasion 1897, which is a deliberate attempt to attract global attention to the issue of repatriation. In 1897, the British government carted away billions of pounds of traditional artworks from Benin state. These are the history of a people, the records. We have a lot of bronze work; we have a lot of wooden carving, a lot of ivory casting. These were the materials that were carted away. So this movie is deliberate statement about reparation. It’s not just a movie. For me, when diving into a historical film, it must have something to do with the present. Not just for the sake of drama. We want to stamp our existence on the sands of time. We’re looking at important topics in order to liberate our people, and to give them the compensation that they need. Wills: How important is accuracy in terms of telling historical epics in Nollywood? Lancelot: When we started, the academics and the film school scholars, they never saw anything good in what we were doing, they were criticizing us. But the industry survived. It’s gotten global attention. Now a lot of film school scholars are working with us. Wills: Let me try to ask my question again: have people have criticized your films for being inaccurate? Lancelot: Sure. The majority of criticism we get is like, oh, this was not a cap that was used then in 1752. Or, 1752 there was no zinc roofs. But you cannot find those places like they used to be. You know we are limited sometimes in terms of resources, but we want to make sure we are telling a factual story that cannot be denied in time. Wills: Some of the world’s attention is on Nigeria right now because of the fundamentalist group, Boko Haram. Do you plan to address that situation in your work? Lancelot: Sure. In time, generations as yet unborn will have to also know that we're besieged by such an experience. Once it is resolved, we will be able as filmmakers to document some of these things for generations to come Wills: About how many people does it take to make one of your movies nowadays? How many people do you employ? Lancelot: In my recent epic work, Invasion 1897, I had about 64 crew members, and had over 500-1000 cast strength on the set. Wills: Can you tell me about how the revenue comes in, from what streams? Lancelot: When we started, it was purely from the movies, but today, I’m talking with advertising companies that want to get their product placed in my movies. I also do commercials, music videos. Shooting movies for cinema (not just for video / DVD release) is important right now. Cinema is dying in other places but here in Nigeria, we are the champions. Wills: Tell me about your inspirations. Lancelot: I’m inspired by the Nigerian society. I remember the first fans of my work. I don’t want to disappoint them. I want to do more. I always want to do more. I remember when I made my first film; it was in Igbo language and many people said to me, “Hey, you don’t understand that language -- how did you do that?” I said, “Well, movie drama is universal.” I always compete against myself. I’m very passionate about what is happening in Africa. I believe it can change. I believe we can get the right leaders on board. I believe that things can go well. I believe that my films will be reference points for the future building of Africa. Wills: What other artists inspire you? Lancelot: My idol is James Cameron, but my biggest hero is Richard Attenborough, the man who made Gandhi. It’s because I’m so interested in historical epics. here on Netflix.