Kunle Afolayan: I’m not an Absentee Father, I Look after My Family

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His trajectory in the film industry makes people believe that his career was cut out long before birth.  The reason is not far-fetched. His famous father, the late Adeyemi Josiah Afolayan popularly referred to as ‘Ade Love’ made enviable marks as a theatre artiste, film director, and producer. However, for the 45-year-old Kwara State actor and film producer, filmmaking was not his first love though he has hit fame and fortune with it.

Kunle Afolayan studied economics, worked in a bank while acting on the sideline. He later took to full-time filmmaking and took a course at the New York Film Academy. Since 2005 he has been active in the film industry. To his credit are The Figurine, Araromire which was in the Yoruba and English languages, Phone Swap, October 1st among others. The movie, Figurine, won five major awards in the African Film Academy. His movie, ‘The CEO’ which was premiered aboard Air France also received accolades. In recent times, Afolayan made a bold step when he approached the British companies to retrieve some of his father’s works. He was part of a cast of Saro, The Musical, and Bolanle Austen-Peters production in collaboration with MTN Foundation held at Shaw Theatre London recently. He tells Funke Olaode why he is embracing stage play, passion for work and love for family

You have a stage background which dates back to your father’s days and with productions like Saro and Wakaa. We have seen the comeback of stage performance in Nigeria. Does it surprise you?
I would say yes because currently, there are about six new theatres being built in Lagos State, inaugurated by the state government. These theatres are being inaugurated primarily so that there can be a comeback of stage plays. Don’t forget that the state is trying to add value and at the same time it is a revenue generation platform so that creative people like me, Bolanle Austen-Peters, Joke Silva and others have to create a lot of contents that would run the platform. I believe with that, plays like Saro and Wakaa would continue to thrive. And of course, there would be new plays. I have been partnering Tera Kulture for some time and there are a few things we have done in the past. I have always told Mrs. Austen-Peters that we should do indigenous plays such as Efunsetan Aniwura. We have been working on it since last year. For me as an actor, this is like a comeback but doesn’t mean I want to be on stage all the time because it is time-consuming. Nevertheless, it is something that I love and I’m very passionate about. If the role is good, I want to see myself in it.

Saro has been showing across theatres in the last two years, what informed your decision to be part of it in London?
The role was proposed to me earlier this year and I saw that it was good. I read the script. I have always been part of Saro since inception. My company filmed it at the MUSON Centre when it was first shown. Coming on board as an actor, it was a surprise when I was invited. I checked my schedule and saw that it was okay. More so, Austen-Peters has been tested and trusted. Terra Kulture as a platform to a large extent has contributed immensely to arts and culture in Nigeria. So, I like to be part of it as well. I have done stage plays in the past, but I have been behind the camera in the past few years, the outing in London was very refreshing for me.

Are you planning to delve into indigenous plays in terms of directing?
Like I said before, we would be doing some indigenous plays which might be in Yoruba. We would look at books like Ogboju Ode Ninu Igbo Irunmole, Aditu Olodumare, Ireke Onibudo, Irinkerindo Ninu Igbo Elegbeje, and so on. We hope to bring them back. Also, for the sake of preserving the culture in this contemporary era, we need to bring back indigenous things for the sake of our children because our culture is dying. If you go to some areas in Nigeria and even in Lagos and you show English-speaking films the turnout will be so low. If you have a wide range of audience you need to give them what they want.

Having been behind the camera for many years, how would you describe your experience as a stage actor?
It has been good. As a matter of fact, what I wanted to do from the beginning was to be behind the camera and not in front. You have talents and people will propose something to you and if you accept it you will continue to thrive in the field. But being a filmmaker, producer, director, and the content creator has added so much to my life as an individual. This is what I would continue to do for the rest of my life.

What do you think about the controversy around the production of films or videos outside of the country?
I don’t think what the Minister of Culture meant was that production should be completely done in Nigeria. Obviously, the government is trying to increase the GDP of Nigeria but they want reasons that will justify why you are taking your production outside the country. For instance, if you are doing a film on Nigeria’s Independence and you want to film the colonialists, would they ask you to film that in Nigeria? It is impossible. I think they were referring to studio-based shoot because if you want to do studio-based in Nigeria if the terms and conditions are good and the studio is good, it helps Nigeria and the economy to a great extent. I know how the South African film industry works. If the South African government is going to give you grants to do anything even if you are a Nigerian, they will make it mandatory that part of that money must be spent in South Africa. And a certain number of local cast and crew must be used on that project. This way, they preserve their culture, enrich people and the economy. I think this is what the Nigerian government wants to do.

A lot of people complain about the low quality technology used in Nigeria’s film-making. What do you think can be done to change the perception?
I think it has changed because recently a lot of stupid movies make money in cinemas because a lot of them have improved in production value. Technically, the movies are good but the storylines are wacky. But as long as it can make people laugh you are good to go. That is why sometimes I don’t understand Nigerian audience. You know people make so much noise about a film and when people experience it for the first four weeks even if they are not going anymore they have paid. But the lifespan of these films is for a short while. They are not films you will remember in a month to come. There are films like October 1, 93 Days, etc., that I consider evergreen. For instance, 93 Days didn’t make much money in the cinemas. It is a good film that you will remember in 10 years, while these other ones are for immediate consumption and they have served their purpose. For me, everybody would have their space. It depends on what you want to be remembered for.

How would you rate the financial value of a film and stage production?
Both are not based on the same pedestal. If you are talking about the film it depends on the level.  If you watch Game of Thrones (a television series); one episode of Game of Thrones sometimes cost $13 million. We can’t even do $1million film in Nigeria. The parameter is difficult in Nigeria if you are to quantify how much it will cost. I think it depends on the magnitude of the play or film. That is what determines the budget. A good film is expensive. The least of the crew I have ever had on set is 50. I have to feed them for 30 days. I will accommodate them as well. As a creator, everything depends on what you want to do.

You are partnering some British Film Houses to retrieve some of your late father’s works. How far have you gone on this mission?
Well, I have been able to retrieve some of my father’s films in Britain a few years back. Before I made that move, the films had exchanged hands from one company to another. The good news is that after we retrieved three of my father’s films, there are still other Nigerian films there and I have been pushing to get those films out. Luckily, the company that acquired it from the previous company is willing to release those films to the filmmakers. There is Baba Sala film, Orun Mooru and Mosebolatan; there is Taboo by Ladi Ladipo; Itunu, by Gbenga Adewusi. It is good news.  In those days, when you filmed in Nigeria you either went to the UK or America to print the negative. You had to take the step for it to be processed to film. Things like that don’t die and because it was done in a place like Britain they are still being preserved. It is a good thing for the country that a film of 40 years and 50 years are coming back to the country.

You have been doing endorsement lately for organisations like Peugeot and Air. How rewarding are they?
I have been doing the endorsement for quite some time. It is a privilege. That is what you get when you make a brand for yourself; you make yourself a brand or, you make a brand out of yourself. It is not something that is common for a filmmaker. But if you are an actor or actress or a musician, it is easy to justify. So, if a filmmaker can be endorsed it means that they see more to you than just being you. And this has helped my business.

How do you strike a balance being a father, husband and a filmmaker?
Well, I have been balancing it.  They have not complained and it has to be like that forever. They enjoy more than those who see their father every day. What if I am there 24/7 and can’t provide for their needs? I am not an absentee father because I look after my family.