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The Government Must Support the Movie Industry Now - Isaac Izoya
Home Video People: INTERVIEW
Posted to the web February 23, 2004
By Fred Iwenjora
Ishan-born, Berlin-based journalist, Isaac Izoya, has been on a determined mission to take Nigerian movies to every nook and cranny of Europe and the world.
In an interval of two years, he had, through his friend, movie director, Lancelot Oduwa Imasuen, taken three star parties to Europe where Nigerian movies stood tall.
Ngozi Ezeonu and Empress Njamah were the first to go for the launching of Sinners in the House. Later, Julius Agwu, Chinedu Ikedieze and Osita Iheme also known as Aki and Pawpaw respectively went. Just before the end of 2003, John Okafor and Victor Osuagwu went even though Genevieve Nnaji did not make the trip after she was said to have been contacted.
Izoya breezed into Nigeria to garner support for his new project Nigerian (African) Movie Awards which according to him, is going to come with monetary value in the second quarter of the year.
He speaks of his plans, the European shows and everything about Nigerian movies, including his regrets, challenges and all.
>How do you feel when you are called the Don King of African entertainment in Europe?
I feel great joy. It is the fuel that keeps me going. It pumps up the blood in me to continue doing what I do. Hearing these names pumps up my adrenalin and desire to continue. Imagine someone in Holland calling me a messiah, another calling me the propeller and even the Don King. I feel great happiness that through my efforts, Nigerian movie stars are now seen live in Europe. I have been called the Ambassador of African culture, Ghana's Ambassador called me the God-sent ambassador to spread African culture in Europe. All these make me want to work harder even though there are no financial benefits yet from what we do. I believe we are just sowing seeds
>What inspired you to get involved?
Creativity propels me. You look at the situation and think of where you can flow very well. The idea struck me when I was writing for the African Courier magazine in 1998 as Berlin correspondent. People were worried that the magazine may not survive as an African magazine, but it has survived. As a correspondent, I had the opportunity to interview several African opinion leaders, politicians, Nigerian First Lady, Miss World, Agbani Darego, the then Minister of Information, Professor Jerry Gana. Apart from these, I also had the opportunity to speak with the Ambassador of Zimbabwe during the days of the political upheaval. This actually brought me closer to the diplomatic community. So as an avid watcher of Nigerian movies, I stumbled on two films by Lancelot Oduwa Imasuen - the Pope must hear this and Issakaba. I loved the movies so much and wondered about how Nigeria were growing in movie-making. I wondered where the director of those movies came from until a friend of mine linked me to Lancelot. It took me almost two years to penetrate the industry. Several phone calls and reaching out to all my contacts till I met with Lancelot and gave him my proposals.
It sounded mutually interesting and we went to do Sinners in the House when I came down to Nigeria. I promised him that we were going to launch it in Europe but he didn't believe me until it happened. I facilitated the movement of Ngozi Ezeonu, Empress Njamah and Lancelot. They were perplexed about the kind of groundwork I did because several High Commissioners and Ambassadors were present at the launching. My interest is in the great movies that Nigerians make. I reasoned that they had to improve with this exposure which I have vowed to continue to facilitate. I believe this is a medium I could use to project the heritage of African culture which seem to be dying instalmentally. I believe that there is no other person who could do this for us except us and since the Nigerian movie industry has evolved on its own, it is good that we use the vehicle.
This is about the third time you have taken aristes to Europe, what do you see in their reception. What prospects do you see?
The future is just too bright. The first time, the turn-out was not just too encouraging. But as it went on, people started realizing what we are out to do. We started moving beyond Berlin. With Julius Agwu and Aki and Pawpaw, we explored beyond Germany. We were in Italy, Holland, Belgium etc. The reception was super. Now with Mr Ibu ,John Okafor and Victor Osuagwu and Genevieve who didn't turn up after all arrangement had been made, we promoted for seven countries and twenty two cities. Apart from the setback, we had a swell time. ZDF, a television station in Germany were there. The diplomatic community also were there. None of the people needed to be told because it has become a tradition. Since the show with Aki and Pawpaw and Julius, Germans started getting involved with African films, I mean Nigerian films started selling out. Right now, I am happy to tell you that in January, I was invited to Frankfurt by Africa Alive, an exhibition of African movies, I was there as a special guest to showcase some Nigerian home videos like Sinners in the House, Zero your mind and Nite of Berlin laffs. Apart from this, a German lady who is studying African literature and culture wrote to demand a copy of Sinners in the House for her academic study.
I also remember that I went to the Berlin Film Festival and there was no Nigerian film being shown so I went to the Nigerian Embassy for some. To my chagrin, there was none. So I decided to go straight to the organizers and gave them some of the tapes and CDs I have. I must tell you, since then, the interest has started growing and in the next ten years from now, things will change for the better.
All these achievements must not have gone without challenges especially when the government of Nigeria doesn't yet recognize the prospects?
The challenge has been enormous. At a certain time, you feel like giving up the challenge. Imagine what it takes to earn one Euro, then think of everything involved, their travelling tickets, the venue, the accommodation, the promotion of the show via radio, television, posters, handbills and what have you.
At the end of the day, you don't even make a quarter of what you spent. You don't even have sponsorship except Ghana Airways who has consistently given tickets to some of the stars. or GMT, a Nigerian-owned company in Hamburg. Apart from all these, nothing has ever come from any one. Except my hard earned Euro which I spend in the name of promoting our movies and Africa culture. I hope it will pay off in future. I just pray that my labour will never be in vain. Some people have asked me whether I am crazy to invest my money on what may not yield anything. Imagine the troubles Geneveive Nnaji caused us. We had to cancel earlier promoted shows in Italy due to her absence. What pains me most is that even the artistes you are trying to project are not helping matters.
What Genevieve did is not encouraging at all. I have to reserve my comment for now. We contacted her and she gave her approval. We did everything in terms of negotiation. At the end of the day, what happened? Three days to the commencement of the shows, she sent SMS that she couldn't be part of it anymore. The visa, the tickets, radio and TV adverts, handbills, posters, newspaper promos and all, were wasted. I hear she wanted to go to Sierra Leone and threw away our agreement. This lady could not see beyond Africa. She couldn't see beyond Sierra Leone.
I recall in Italy some guys chased us with pistol because Genevieve was not part of the show. They said we only fabricated the posters to hoodwink them. Subsequent shows were cancelled because of the action of one girl. In Italy also, a lady had come with a box loaded with clothes and jewelleries for Genevieve and was disappointed. This lady cried like a baby, and went home. So our stars should also see beyond today. They should help us to give them the exposure. Nobody or any government is supporting the venture yet. I only pray that this bad attitude changes for the better. I am just wondering where we should go from here.
There is rumour of your organising an African film festival in Berlin. Could you elaborate on this plan here?
I wanted to keep that secret but since you've asked, let me tell you a little about the issue. We want to rock Europe not as terrorists but with African entertainment. African Movies Awards will be coming up in Berlin soon. All movie stars will come down there to receive awards. I am trying to make Berlin the seat of African movies because Berlin has a very dirty record as far as Africa is concerned.
We are trying to clean up this record and set records straight. We are trying to promote integration not migration. We plan to promote African cultural heritage in Europe and organizing these kinds of events help a lot. These three escapades have helped a lot. All those who are eligible for these awards are to receive monetary value. I am here in Nigeria to campaign for the event. I am happy to tell you that there is an MOU with a London-based organisation, Trinywood. With the trio of Lancewealth images, Ehizoya Golden Entertainment and Trinywood, the sky is the limit for Nigerian movies.
it regrettable that you spend all your labour and earnings to promote cultures and government is not listening?
I take it as a sacrifice. But it is very sad to say. In Nigeria, there are different ministries that should be interested in what we are doing . At least in Europe now, it is just a happy thing that Nigerians now have an easy passage due to our activities in promoting Nigerian movies. It is the quickest means of laundering a dirty image. Ministry of Culture, Tourism and Information could do something about this because we are helping in doing the work. I will love to seek audience with the honourable Ministers of Culture and Information to table our report card. He will see what we have been able to do single handedly. If it were Europeans doing this, they are likely to get all the support from their countries financially. No one has given us anything. The only assistance I am getting from Nigeria is from the Nigerian Embassy in Berlin. They are highly behind me morally. Dr FR Aderenle is of immense help. He has always attended all our events with his staff. It is not financial because they are also handicapped. It is also so sad that the government is planning to close down Nigeria Information Centres in all the embassies. It is not a good decision. How do you know about Nigeria? How can the foreign investor know about our country?
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