Not a normal Nigerian movie industry product!

Interview with Faruk Afolabi Lasaki on Changing Faces by Olivier Barlet

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Is Changing Faces your first film?
This is actually my first feature film. I shot lots of TV commercials, various contents, in Africa and in Nigeria, and I shot two documentaries in the past. I graduated at the New York Film Academy where I studied film and I did two short films. My final project was called Six Feet Below, which is a fifteen-minute short film. I adapted Changing Faces from it, bringing it into a feature-length film.
Were all your productions for the Nigerian market?
Well, Six Feet Below is my final film project but the documentary I did called Dis is Lagos was from a grant from Canal France International to my association ITPAN and ITPAN picked me to direct the documentary for them.
Yes, I saw it in Lagos at the ITPAN forum!
Then my other documentary is called Uncut! Playing with Life! which is on female genital mutilation which I did direct for Communication for Change which was based on grants from the Ford Foundation and the Rockefeller Foundation. And I’ve done a lot of television commercials.
Did you come directly from Nigeria for the film school in New York or were you living there before?
No, directly. I was in Nigeria working for a company called Communication for Change. From there, I went to the film school and I came back to Nigeria.
What do you think of Nigerian films today?
I think the industry is growing, unlike maybe ten years ago, it’s not like now. I think that in five, ten years, it’s going to be far better because of all the film graduates. In England, in Tshwane, in America, there are Nigerians who are all coming back to make movies. The industry is wrong in employing people who are not so talented in filmmaking. To them filmmaking is more like business, they use it for business to make money for themselves. And now creative people are coming in to take their time and make a film. I think in five, ten years it’s going to be big because I know lots of filmmakers who are Nigerians. Some are still in the university, in New York, in California, in England, in Tshwane, in France, etc. There is a new generation of filmmakers coming out of the Film Institute in Jos, Nigeria. I’ve seen some of them produce five minutes, four minutes, seven minutes and I feel that’s what the world is looking out for us. A new generation is coming up and I tell you in the next four, five years, we’ll be the best in Africa.
What do you think will be new with this new generation? Is that in term of story, of contents of the films, of way of filmmaking?
Yes, that’s it. The new generation now is in terms of content, style and people for they are younger people, in the age of 19, 20, 24, 25, coming up. They’re unlike the old generation in their forties, fifties which is what the world has known. We’ve seen films produced in America, in South Africa, in Burkina Faso, in Mali. The world appreciates them. So when I say new generation, it is in terms of younger people, film graduates, who took the time to study to understand picture, with new ideas, talent, style. Like, my theme is an African story but shot in a European way. Because my question is I want everybody to see my film, I want to cut across and I took a Nigerian story, an African story and shot it in the Western way, because if I had shot it in a Nigerian way, maybe you wouldn’t understand it. You see the overacting, I explained it, you told me there. Now I know I want to be universal, I want everybody to understand what I’m saying and I personally believe I was able to achieve that.
What did you intent to tell in Changing Faces?
First, my basic objective is creating awareness of issues affecting Africans and ways of resolving it. I’ve realized there are lots of dark issues around us and we hold no decisions, we refuse to accept it. We know it is this but we hide under an umbrella, « No, no, no, don’t talk about it, don’t talk about sex ». We hide.
What kind of issues ?
There are different issues. There are sex issues. There’s an issue of being too confident about yourself. There’s an issue of, there’s something in Nigeria that we know that there is a spirit attached to every man and it’s either the spirit of God or the spirit of Satan and your attitude, your behaviour brings out who you have because the only way you can know if a guy is demonic is behaviour and that behaviour is motivated by a spirit. I created two characters, a man and a woman. I thought about if I say they should be killers, terrorists. No. I took a theme, a universal theme the whole world knows, which is sex. When two people come together and make love, if this man is a good man and the other one is bad, what happens? Did the spirits fight or do they also make love. Now what brings out the difference between good and evil? I created this and I came to my own understanding of the way life is. It’s possible for the spirituous love. The man who has only slept with his wife, if he goes out one day to sleep with another woman, now there are two spirits. He sleeps with his wife, he sleeps with the other woman, he wants more and more and more, and he keeps going and that changes him. Now the other woman : instead of staying bad, she now became good. At the end, the resolution is that the lady that was bad became good and the guy that was good became bad, was less good. It’s all about God because good and bad is God and Evil. And if you noted there’s a twist at the end, it was a competition between God and Satan. In the beginning, God in the Bible says God possess everybody and then Satan says : No, no, no I want them to be mine. Ok, we’ll see, at the end of the world, who takes everybody.
It’s a very idealistic, moral point of view, isn’t it? Bad and good, and so on…
Yes, yes, it’s a moral film.
Do you think people are waiting for this moral?
Let me tell you something about that. I’m not the first person to tell people about moral and I’m not the last person. But there is something to understand about life. Every man has the choice to choose between good and evil. So the moral is now left for you to decide, is this right or wrong. It’s a piece of every man to make his own personal decision. I cannot force moral onto people. If you’re a bad person, if you have nothing yourself, you wouldn’t know what you’re doing is wrong. Let me use this guy as an example, Osama bin Laden, I’m sure you can sit back to there two years, three years, four years, several years after the bomb in America, you can look at the bombing again. Perhaps he will feel it. So if you don’t see yourself, you don’t know you’re bad. That’s the point I was trying to make. When people see, it’s left for them to decide, but man is evil to himself.
That’s why you wanted to bring some characters who are spirits? The bad spirits and the good ones?
Indeed. Man is evil to himself. Do you know what I’ve realized? Who is the evil of this world? Man. We are the evil. Who decided to bomb? Who did it? Is it the devil? No, the devil only suggests « Kill him ». At the same time, there’s another good spirit that says, « Don’t kill him, don’t ». So the man was left in the middle, decide what do you want to do. Man has always chosen to be evil.
So you wrote the script yourself?
I wrote the story and I got a screenplay writer who put it down for me.
Did you ever think to ask writers, because in Nigeria you have tremendous good writers to make stories for films?
I wanted, like I said, a story that cut across, I wanted an issue that could be seen in any part of the world. Now the issue I’ve picked, somehow, in the French culture, you find it inside. Somehow, in the American, the British, the Chinese culture, you find it inside. You see, me picking just any writer in Nigeria to give me any Nigerian story, it wouldn’t cut across. I wanted a story that somehow, whether you are African, French, British or American, there’s a trace of you inside and there’s part that you go home with. That’s what I have done.
That’s a bit like the direction you took with taking a white actor. What was your choice in it?
Initially I wanted to choose a black actor for the role of Dale, the white guy. But I thought people would just see a black film. « Oh, it happens in Africa ». I didn’t want the audience to think that it was an African story, « Oh such things happen, it happens in Nigeria only, in Africa only ». I thought that since it was a white guy, you could feel it could happen to you. Sex is sex. Sex in Nigeria is sex in France, is sex in America. It’s all the same. If you sit down and you’re still loyal to your wife and one day you see a beautiful girl and you sleep with her: you want more, you do it again, you want more, you do it again. So it’s everywhere. So that more and more and more you have, it’s a motive.
But the process of identification of the spectator is not the same if it’s a black guy or if it’s a white guy who has the main role, is it?
It’s quite different actually. That’s why I said in every culture, whether you are French, British, there’s a part of you that’s in that movie. Because it’s a movie that could be interpreted in different ways, we all take home something, which is maybe different from each other. The story is to cut across. I use sex. Sex is a language. Without sex, the world is gone. Somehow, it affects everybody, wherever you think you come from.
You show the three girls as a group to attract people.
Definitely. These three girls attract people. Whatever they want, they get it. They don’t mind sleeping with someone. They’re actually supporting the main character. The main character sleeps with anybody she has and I felt that putting her there alone wouldn’t be real because whatever you do, there are people around you and I created two other characters, a white and a black, attached to her. The other thing I was trying to avoid was that I didn’t want black people to think « Am I seeing only black people are prostitutes, that sleep around ». There’s a black, there’s a white. To be balanced. The most important thing is that you are a human being and this could happen to you.
How do you market the film in Nigeria, do you do it the normal way? Because there are so many films coming out, sixty a week or something.
Like I said, the normal Nollywood, the normal Nigerian movie industry product, I’m sure you must have seen them, it’s very different from what I’ve done. In terms of market, I have an international market distributing company who will now employ a Nigerian company to distribute the movie on the market. Because there’s a lot of piracy. I told you if I just give it to one it’s over. So I go from outside to come in, instead of waiting for Nigeria to go outside. That’s my thought. I also intend to go to more film festivals to talk about the film and expose the film.
Is there a possibility of bringing the film in French as well?
I have a French dubbing already.
Where did you do that, in Ghana at the NAFTI?
I did it in Lagos. The French embassy got me a guy who came in and did the translation to French, the editing and the dubbing. It was done in Lagos.

Transcription : Lorraine Balon///Article N° : 7694


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