interviewBy Amina Alhassan and Mustapha Suleiman
Charles Aniagolu is the writer, producer and co-director of "Streets of Calabar," a movie filmed in Cross River State and London with both international and Nollywood casts which recently premiered at Silverbird Galleria, Abuja and is set to be released in cinemas in Nigeria and across Africa. The movie is aimed at showcasing the tourism attraction and rich culture of Calabar. Charles,who produced and co- directed the movie, spoke to Sunday Trust shortly before the movie was shown at Silverbird Galleria. Excerpts:
What is the central message of the movie?
Movies are not necessarily supposed to be about central message, movies are always about entertainment, that's the primary thing a movie does; messages are secondary thing. So, the movie is there to entertain but what we've done is that we wanted to take Nollywood to a higher level. What we did actually is to make an international quality film, we wanted to use the Nollywood name because obviously Nollywood has achieved popularity internationally and we thought it was important to align our film with Nollywood to raise the standard and also to have Nollywood benefit from the quality of the film that we have made, that is that. There are usual things you find in a movie: love, affection, friendship. We called the movie a black-comedy because there are a lot of things in the movie and it was told in a funny way, it was quite funny and it was shot against the spectacular best of Cross River State. Cross River State is an amazing beautiful State, probably, it is the best developed tourism State in Nigeria and we saw that it can be beneficial to show how nice the State is and to us we want to show the movie to the outside world and for us who want a natural background; that is why essentially we shot it there.
Is the movie different from a conventional Nollywood movie?
Movies are essentially the same all over the world. They tell a story. It could be a story about love, death, murder, affection, you know, all kinds of film, being funny is not unique to my film in any way, Eddie movie is over there with a thousand funny movies, Usofia in London, it's a funny movie, Street of Calabar is a funny movie, but I think where our movie is different from a generic Nollywood film is in the quality of production, in the control that we have over the story, you don't let a story run away, how do you raise that dramatic tension? How do you take it down and tune it so that it affects the emotions on the movie, that's when the skills of film making comes in, if you combine that with great pictorial quality and great technical quality: the sound is good, the music is good, they will all combine to create an emotional experience for the audience and that is what film making is all about. I think in many ways Nollywood films often tell good funny stories that ordinary Nigerians and Africans can relate with, but the ascetic aspect of the stories is often lost because the quality is not good enough or the sound is not good enough, the picture is not good enough, so it doesn't meet international standard. What we have done to this film is that, to ensure not only we tell a good story but that the film meets international standard in terms of technical quality and all other ascetic things that go into it in making the movie.
What is the message you are trying to pass across and how did you arrive at the title of the movie?
Let me tell you a little about myself. I'm actually a journalist, I used to read news on CNN and I was a correspondent internationally but I decided to move into making movies, I also study film production.
Originally, the movie was called the "Streets of London" because I lived in London and I worked in London, and I owned the production company that produced the film, there was a time we aren't sure of what the state of Nollywood was, whether or not we can make the movie here, how am I going to get it out, we are worried about piracy and all that, the guy was supposed to go to from Nigeria to London, but when I then came to Nigeria in 2007/2008, I went to Cross River State, I shot a documentary there, I was blown away by the beauty of the State, it was so naturally beautiful, the people were so wonderful and warm, I said to myself that I got to do something with this background and so I decided to change the title of the movie from "Streets of London" to "Streets of Calabar" and I reversed the action, instead of the guy going from Nigeria to London, I made him to be deported from England to Nigeria, so that the story will now be about his experience in Nigeria. And in the answer to the most serious part of your question. There are some sorts for those that are deported to Nigeria, what is their fate in Nigeria, what was the situation of job creation for young people, this guy comes back, he can't find a job, he goes to pick up job he thought to be a big job at a Lebanese restaurant, it also shows that Calabar didn't turn away from crime, as soon as he arrived Calabar the police are on to him, come to where is working, they want to know the details and he run away from there, so he goes back to his old friend and tells him I don't know what am going to do and he's friend says, let's go back to what we used to do which is 419 acts, let's get into the Street that Calabar is hot and people were coming in from all over the world and the guy says I don't want to do this, I wanna go straight, but after he tries out another job he finds out that is not easy, they now get together and start playing those scams and police see them and immediately get on to them but instead of arresting them, they now use them to beat their criminal who is counter-terrorizing Calabar and the police threaten them that if you don't cooperate with us you will have to go to jail; and they eventually agreed and worked with the police to apprehend this bad criminal and the sweet part of the story is that in the end, those guys ended up in making a lot of money, they not only double-crossed the police, they double-crossed the criminal.
What informs your choice of artist?
Good question. We wanted to bring the international world to the Nollywood world. I wanted to use Hollywood and non-Hollywood actors, so, many of them are of Nigerian background. Let me give you an example: we use Rita Dominic, we have some top level actors here but we are very impressed with Rita's range, and you will see why, Rita plays two roles in this movie, a man and a woman, and that's the most challenging thing to do and I talked to all the top actors, and I settled on Rita, not only because she was enthusiastic about the role, but we auditioned about four times and she absolutely did marvellously well.