Monrovia — Gregory Frank Artus, a bonafide actor, director, and producer in both the Nollywood and Ghallywood film genre is hoping to ignite interest in series television in his homeland Liberia, with the pilot series Back to My Roots.
Produced by Artus's Fast Track Studios, the two-season series pilot tells the story of a family basically returning to their roots while changing and adapting to a better culture and a better lifestyle.
"We're trying to show our audience and Liberians that it is not all about living in Monrovia but you can go back to your roots and see how best you can change the dynamics by going back to the soil, getting involved in agriculture and basically that a lot of good development can come out of the village instead of gallivanting in Monrovia."
Artus says Liberians will find the story revealing and really expanded and beautiful, carrying a very educative message that all is not about Monrovia, all is not about running from where you're from but going back there and making a difference. It ties every segment of our cultures in a positive way.
The series set to air later this year on state-run television was first pitched to both the Ministry of Information, Culture Affairs and Tourism and the Liberia Broadcasting System.
The goal, Artus says was to bring back the feel of Malawala Balawala and Three is a Crowd, two popular television series of the late 1980s which warmed the hearts of Liberians far and wide.
Says Artus: "The production is actually these two entities that came together in hopes of bringing back what we had on television before, like "Malawala Balawala", "Three is a Crowd" and all of those things. So, they've hired Fast Studios to do this television series which is titled Back to My Roots, a television series that has twelve episodes and two seasons. Each season has six episodes."
Artus says if successful, the series will likely film more episodes. "This is an LBS presentation in collaboration with the Ministry of Information and will be screened on LBS for six months. But it is more like a pilot project and once it is picked up we will pick up the rest of the episodes for Liberians but we want to draw the attention of Liberians that it is important that we start to go back to our roots. Not necessary to go back to the village and stay but make it a yearly responsibility to go back home and affiliate with your people, know what it is about, start to make your garden and start to get your houses and bring about development."
Artus says he is confident that the technical aspect of the series will match those filmed in Ghana and Nigeria. "It is very good. I trust my technical team, I trust my ability and it is an honor working with these two big government entities, MICAT and LBS who trusted my team and I to be able to do this project."
As production on "Back to My Roots" continues, Artus is already looking at the next chapter while hoping that conditions for actors, directors and filmmakers in Liberia improves.
Liberia has a bright film industry - and it's just a matter of time, experience, support base, especially from the government, to put certain mechanism in place," the actor says.
According to Artus, those are some of the paramount things at the level of the Liberian Movie Union which he currently heads. "One of the things I was fighting for is the eradication of illegal movies and music on the Liberian market. I know piracy is all over the place - Ghana, Nigeria and everywhere but there's a way it can be minimized in order to have the local productions to flood the market."
Additionally, Artus says promoting, preserving, prioritizing and protecting Liberia's culture heritage is key. "Someone sit on the fence, get to know details of Liberia through reading a book or listening to a song or watching a film. So, from the film aspect of it, we will look up to the government for their support."
Artus began his career in Liberia. Shortly afterwards, he branched out to Ghana where he worked at Venus Films, then eventually moved on to shoot movies in Nigeria (Nollywood). After acting in minor roles in Liberia, Artus wrote, directed, and starred in the movie Juetey (Children's Business). In 2008, Jutey won six awards including best writer, best supporting actress, and movie of the year. Juetey was Frank's first attempt at screenwriting.
Since then he has filmed more than 100 movies. He has been nominated for many awards, and won the Best International Actor award for 2012 at the African Academy Awards. He also won the Hall of Grace Award 2013. One of his best-known films is 2012's Order of the Ring, in which he performed in the nude.
In 2015 Frank was presented with the Face of Africa Award as a well-known actor. He also received several awards, including the Humanitarian Figure Award from the Continental Award Committee for his contributions to the fight against ebola.
Asked why he appears to be focusing more on producing movies in his homeland of late, Artus says it is important for him to help resuscitate the industry in Liberia and push to make it on par with Nigeria and Ghana. "Nollywood is an industry that is open to everyone of us at any given time. So, my career has not stopped in Nollywood yet. I should be in Nollywood sometime next month. But the reason I'm back home is because I am still learning some basics that I can be able to apply back home. I think the industry is standard and we don't have the logistics, the technocrats and actors to what have you. So, coming back is a way of me basically trying to generate interest in our cinema in Liberia and our own film industry which is why I contested to be the president of the LMU where I can be able to impart knowledge I have learned in both Nollywood and Ghallywood to see how we can unify other filmmakers and try to give them a form of education since we do not have theater or college for now. It is prudent to be able to get other young Liberians and give them the opportunities."
Artus says with a certain level of mechanism being put in place, it shouldn't be more than three years before the industry in Liberia catches fire. "One of such mechanisms is the minimization of pirated films on the market, the creation of a theater and arts section at the universities, that people can learn acting and the first thing is the government has to see the necessities of these acts.
"They have to understand that the create job opportunities in Liberia. If an actor is acting in a film for a week or maybe he's hired to do a job for a week and he's being paid. In a month's time, he makes US$2,000. Then, the technical crew is working and gets paid between 2 to 3 hundred dollars - and he or she has about five, six jobs to do, most definitely that technical crew can be able to afford his domestic needs. So, there are lots of ways. The hotels can be benefited. To bring artist in the country, they have to lodge there, the barbershops could be benefited because they going to have to go and cut their hairs, the beauty salons, the boutiques, will have to sell clothes for the actor to wear. So, every sector will benefit from the film industry and that why Nollywood now generates US600,000 million dollars in revenues for government on a yearly basis. So, I think with these mechanisms, governments can fund the industry - and the industry will be able to recoup some of the expenses. So, it takes the support of the government, and the energy and enthusiasm of the people in leadership to make sure that we implement these things that will help grow the industry and grow and promote us as Liberians and then we can easily start to rub shoulders with Ghana and Nigeria. More importantly we can have an interactive relationship where Ghanaian and Liberian filmmakers can come to Liberia and we can go there as well."
Artus acknowledges that while he is glad that Liberians are keen to see more local contents,
producing movie in Liberia is costly and sometimes can be discouraging. "You spend US$25K on a film and cannot even generate 2k. The problem is that the market is not the general public. The government has to put mechanisms in place to enable Liberians to benefit.
Artus also blames the Liberian Intellectual Property, he says, is largely responsible for the condition. "The foul play with no integrity, everyone wants to collect something under the table before they can do something germane for the country, but everybody claims to love the country and for me if you love the country, set the system right, put the principles in place and let everybody follow it."