By Joy Bewaji
“I’m raising the bar.”
It was almost a whisper but like the blue walls surrounding his apartment, the words were firm and infallible. Katung Aduwak is lounging on a couch in his luxury apartment; he is speaking between phone calls and a hectic schedule. In the last couple of weeks, Katung has managed to drive one of the most sophisticated movie shoots in Africa. Working with some of the best technical brains behind reality shows like X-Factor and American Idol; leading an all-white production crew to Nigeria to work on his anticipated movie, Heaven’s Hell, Katung is living a jam-packed life but one that he finds truly fulfilling.
He is taking a break after three weeks of endless work on set. He suffers mild fatigue but the glee in his eyes can light a candle. He has every reason to feel on top of the world; how many times does a young film-maker get the opportunity to bring some of the most talented African movie artistes and international production crew under one roof? He is excited when he tells me about the drones that will be coming from South Africa – an equipment that will be able to capture the breadth of Lagos at one fell swoop, encircling the city like an eagle; his eyes sparkle when he brags about his cast comprising Nigeria’s best- Bimbo Akintola, OC Ukeje, Nse Ikpe Etim, and South Africa based actor, Fabian Lojede of the series, Jacob’s Cross; and his heart skips a beat when he mentions the impressive résumé of his Director of Photography, Jeffrey Smith who has worked with international stars like Rihanna, Fergie, Al Pacino, Michelle Pfeiffer and handled productions of mega TV shows like American Idol.
A great deal may be happening to Katung now, but rewind to 2007 when he just won 100,000 dollars for being the preferred housemate in the first and only Big Brother Nigeria. It was a whole new terrain; and to knock everyone down and take home the money was indeed the proof that there were greater things lurking in his future. That future started almost immediately after becoming a reality TV star. Katung became the brand ambassador for Harp, and also for Glo for a period of 12 months consecutively. He became partner at Chocolate City, one of Nigeria’s finest music brands. With the money, he started a farm with his family in Abuja, and later scurried to Film School abroad. After three studious years and a digital video certificate in hand; he returned home with the right amount of oomph! Now what?
As a very talented young man, it wasn’t always easy to decide what to do at every given time. “I write, I draw, I paint and I do a hundred and one other things, but nothing stood out for me until I decided to become a film-maker,” he said.
Katung could easily put out a few movies and watch his fortune grow, but that would be the typical tedious route. Of course, like every business man he is interested in making money but beyond that he wants to make movies with crisp content, where art will prevail.
In his apartment with the blue walls – a colour he had to adopt for a few scenes shot in his home – he shares his ultimate desire for the movie, Heaven’s Hell. “Heaven’s Hell is a true story,” he says. “It took more than one year for the people involved to grant us permission to tell their story. The aim is to use it to enlighten Africa – as it seems domestic violence is still handled with kid gloves in this part of the world. Whatever the movie is able to accomplish with the theme, it’s just a drop of water in the ocean. But I’d like for it to start something that would create a ripple effect. The movie should help effect change, awaken people. Ultimately, I want Heaven’s Hell to liberate people. I want it to inspire someone to get out of a bad relationship, I want it to stop a parent from hitting a child…whatever it can accomplish to make the world a saner place I’m all for it. I want it to be a reference point for change. I am telling this story intensely. I’ve taken time to plan this. I want to share the story well.”
Katung’s passion illuminates when he speaks; the texture of his voice carries the weight of what he believes in. “Liberation,” he emphasises, “People should know when to back out.”
In conversation, Katung is deliberate; he is engaging and animated. He stays on a point until well exhausted before tackling the next point – like someone with an eye for detail. Those impressive details, he assures, will reflect in the end product of his movie.
Heaven’s Hell has indeed been on the lips of many movie-watchers and critics. The cast line-up leaves one breathless, and with an impressive online followership expectations are already set for the movie. Katung is very aware of the responsibility he carries. He is not about to disappoint as he reels out more of his plans. “Post production will be done in New York; I’m working with some of the best editors there. The whole post-production process will gulp another four months. I want to get it right. What’s the point coming into a saturated market if you are not going to up the ante?”
By scoring big with his first feature film, “Unwanted Guest” – something he did fresh out of film school and getting four AMAA nominations – it is safe to say Heaven’s Hell with the right financial muscle will be phenomenal. BGL is backing Katung with this one, but Katung also has almost all his worth tied to the project. “As an executive producer I have 25% of my financial worth tied to the movie. That way I am able to groom my faith and make this thing work the way it should.”
You get the feeling that Katung is a jolly good fellow – sprightly and positive. Growing up with a father he simply calls “amazing”, Katung declares his utmost respect for his parents, not just for being good parents but for truly living as two people who love and respect the union of marriage. “I have never seen my parents fight or argue or even have a disagreement. I don’t understand how that is even possible but not in all the years of growing up and becoming a man did I ever hear a raised voice or witness a squabble between them.”
But life, of course, had to be fair so it has exposed Katung to the realities of over 90% of what couples go through. He realises his parents are a rare breed; in most homes domestic violence is a chore. “Even high status women, people you think would be immune from such lowly acts, find themselves in heartrending conditions at home. It is sad.”
As far as he is able to connect and communicate with his partner, Katung does not understand why any union should erupt into violence – especially the kind that will result to death. He takes me into the pain and terror of his movie, Heaven’s Hell: one of the characters had to stab her husband many times; she claimed he had abused her for many years. “True life story,” he said with a sense of responsibility, almost as if the society failed that couple; and that is just a tip of the iceberg of what to expect from the movie. So as a film-maker he is telling the story so that eyes can be open. “It makes no sense to live under any form of violence. Find the will to move on. Life is a lot more beautiful than a lot of people realise; but we make poor choices and after a while we become victims of what we allow other people get away with.”
His director’s seat is on the hallway, he looks at it affectionately. “I’m so proud to be working with the team I have. It’s an amazing ensemble. Getting all of these wonderful actors whose works I have admired through the years is a dream come true. Casting is 80% of your work as a director. Don’t cast anyone you cannot connect with. I’ve refused to typecast my actors; you’ll be seeing them in different and refreshing ways in Heaven’s Hell.”
It’s in his eyes; the fire in there will burn any negativity. In another week he’ll be moving his team to Wales to shoot the rest of the movie. “I hope this movie makes me a Michael Bay of some sort,” he smiles. “In another five years I’d like my quality of work to be compared with a man like Quentin Tarantino. It’s a lot of work but I’m ready.”
Bewaji writes from Lagos