The one-time-bank-staffer cum director, actor and producer is a living definition of a hard-worker. Now widely accepted for his works within the Nigeria territory, Kunle Afolyan is now delving into new frontiers, with a mission of bringing the international space under his foot. In this interview he talks about his health, latest project and overcoming the shadows of his iconic father. Enjoy excerpt.
TELL us about your new project The CEO?
The CEO is a film that I decided to use in starting a new phase in my career. I call it a new beginning because to a large extent I can say that I have been able to win the Nigerian audience. A lot of my films are appreciated because people can relate to them; so that is one hurdle crossed. The CEO is more like a Pan-African film. Of course, almost all my films are screened at international film festivals but it is not the same when it is a film that has international distribution and is seen as an international film. The CEO has a representation of six African countries and the theme is universal. I believe it is going to open a new chapter for me. It will relate to people in other African countries. Whether you are Arab or Francophone or Anglophone, West, East, North or South, it is going to start a new chapter for me.
Rumor has it that you want to conquer French speaking countries with your films. Is that true?
I won’t call it conquer. All I want to do is be able to play with them and let them see the fact that motion picture is something that unifies the world no matter where you are from. The cast of The CEO are from different countries; you have Angelique Kidjo, Peter King and more.
How did you manage to bring such strong acts together?
It is because I am Kunle Afolayan. But really though , I am very determined. Once I dream it, I have to make it happen. When this idea came, I just said hey I have to do it. The original script was meant to be shot with actors from three African countries, but I decided to expand the scope. North Africa was not part of the original picture. Morocco and Côte d’Ivoire were never in the picture. It was only Nigeria, Ghana and Kenya. Now it is Nigeria, Côte d’Ivoire, Kenya, Morocco, Ghana, South Africa and Benin Republic which is represented by Angelique Kidjo. Angelique still represents the international scene because she is from the international market. My motive is to do a cross-cultural film, a film that cuts across borders.
What exactly do film festivals do for movies and what are the advantages to you has a filmmaker?
The only advantage is that it exposes your film to the film circle, to the festival routes. Some filmmakers will spend their entire lives going round film festivals but will never break into mainstream which means their films will never be seen by the people, while some people will never bother about festival but they keep making their films for the people. Others are making films that will go to festivals at the same time appeal to the people which is the category where I belong. Film festivals give the film exposure but sometimes the exposure is limited to the festival circle. The film can be at various festivals and at the same time won’t get distribution. Some films will also make the box office but will never get to the festival circle. October 1 got you so many accolades to the extent that you were quoted as saying you have had enough.
Do you expect the same with The CEO?
Because it is going to be a great film, it is going to travel. Because it will be a great film, it will get recognised, get nominations and win awards. The reason we have to continue to put it in for awards is because there are people who have never worked with me before and they decided to work on this film. Those people deserve to be celebrated, they deserve for the world to see what they are capable of. You spent about N200million in making October 1.
How much is the budget for The CEO?
It is more than N200million. There is no particular figure for it now because the film is still in production. The thing is you know when you work with budget you cannot ascertain what the final figure will be, but so far we have spent more than we spent in the making of October 1.
How much did you get back from the movie?
That is difficult to answer because the figure is hard to determine. All I can say is I am still living even though the movie got pirated. But we made some reasonable amount although we haven’t recouped the budget of the film and this is because when you make a film you don’t expect to recoup your investment at once. October 1 is going to be there forever and it will continue to generate income for my children even after I am gone.
Talking about piracy, how do you intend to prevent what happened with October 1 from occurring with The CEO?
We are going to prevent and guide it as much as we can. The only problem is once it is released on some platforms it is difficult to guide because in this digital age and people will do anything to crack your encryption. Still, we will do all we can to prevent it from happening. From Irapada to The Figurine, Phone Swap and October 1 there is always a change or upgrade with your movies.
Did going to the New York Film Academy have anything to do with that?
Not really. My going to NYFA is just like any student going to a film school. You learn the basics; it is left for you to come back and know how to use what you learn. I think I am wired differently. I am destined to be doing what I am doing and I am a realist. Like I said earlier, the only thing that can stop me is if I don’t dream, if I don’t visualize. Once I have a dream, I have to do it. I also make use of what I see around me people’s stories, other people’s life; I compare others’ life to mine. I think very deep, I think it can only get better. School will expose you to what an ideal film should be like but execution and interpretation is totally your call.
How do you determine that a particular story is worth telling?
I like something that people can relate to especially Nigerians because this is my primary market. I like something that they will learn, be entertained and look forward to seeing again.
When people describe you, they always include the phrase ‘The son of Ade Love’ do you think you have grown out of your father’s shadow?
I grew out of it since 2007 when I did Irapada.
You were diagnosed with hypertension about two years ago, how is your health status now?
I was just in the hospital yesterday. It is not something that wears out; you just have to keep managing it. I have so many things to do at once and sometimes I just want to shut down because there is so much I’m doing.
You act and direct movies; how do you manage that?
It is simply because God gave me the strength and knowledge to do that. Jackie Chan will do stunt, act, direct, he is always breaking his legs. I am not even doing half of what he is doing. So, who am I?
So many entertainers are joining politics; do you think you will ever join?
You manage to unite people through your movies; don’t you think you can do the same with politics?
No. I don’t want to join politics. A friend of mine actually who is not in Nigeria recently said to me, ‘one day I will see you campaigning’ and I said no, never. Just this November I have attended about three church events where I am not even a member, but I was invited to give a motivational speech. When you do that consecutively, you turn to a motivational speaker. The point really is I am interested in the growth of the country and I can influence that with what I do which is make films but I don’t have to be in a political office to be able to effect a change.
What do you think the Nigerian government can do to promote the movie industry?
Well, they just need to help put together a structure in some areas. Like this piracy thing, something drastic needs to be done, then of course distribution. If the distribution sector is well put together, that will reduce piracy drastically. They can also help with new reform and guidelines. Another thing is treaty among countries. For example, if Nigeria and UK have co-production treaty, there can be rebate, tax incentives and so much more.
You travel a lot; how do your wife and children manage that?
I am always available for my family. Anytime I am not travelling I don’t resume 9-5; I am home with them. Well, they know they have to pay school fees, they are also very happy when they see me on TV. Sometimes when I’m home, they ask, ‘daddy why are you home’. They know the nature of what I do. I actually picked that from my dad because I didn’t see him. Now I understand clearly why. Even then, we never questioned him because we knew what this kind of job entails.
At what point, career wise will you say ‘yes I have done it, I am accomplished’?
I can’t really say. I don’t think I will get to that point because you will always have stories to tell. Right now I think I am calmer in the sense that somehow I am in control of what I want to do and when. Before, I would say, I was very ambitious, but now I am a bit relaxed but still very ambitious. Instead of chasing everything, I can concentrate and say I don’t even want to do two productions or have two houses, or cars. I can take those decisions because I have gotten to that stage where I know what I am really looking for.
Which actor do you want to work with but haven’t because you have not found the perfect role?
I’m looking to work with a lot of guys in the northern part of Nigeria. I want to do a northern story. I don’t know what it is yet but I have the visual in my head. I already know I will like to work with actors like Ali Nuhu and co and other females.