Living legend, award-winning filmmaker and storyteller Tunde Kelani’s (a.k.a. TK) grew up in the town of Abeokuta – home to two other legends: Wole Soyinka and musician Fela Kuti. As a director of numerous blockbusters in indigenous Nigerian languages, TK (as he is known), whose career spans over four decades, has been lauded for efforts to promote Nigeria’s cultural heritage in general and Yoruba culture in particular. With a preference for adapting literary works, he has been referred to as a ‘bridge between the first generation of Nigerian filmmakers and the Nollywood era’. Among TK’s most famous films are Maami, which is based on author Femi Osifisan’s novel by the same name, the 2009 AMAA-winner Arugba and Abeni.
1) What is your first film memory?
It was in primary school. I sat on a bench, open air with others my age, watching our very first film that night. It was probably a documentary or wild life because a herd of elephants charged straight at us. I ducked further in my seat to avoid the approaching beasts and if necessary could have taken to my heels. It was so real and powerful that I have never forgotten the experience.
2) Why did you decide to become a filmmaker?
I did not plan to be a filmmaker but started photography from an early age. I read a lot, and my reading coupled with the oral tradition and socio-cultural diversity of my Yoruba lineage helped me develop a rich visual sense. I was trained in television as a film cameraman but I opted for giant pictures at the cinemas and not the small picture on the television box. When I realized that was I wanted to do, I decided to go to London Film School.
3) Which film do you wish you had made and why?
I have always desired to make an adaptation of Cyprian Ekwensi‘s fascinating story Passport of Mallam Ilia. The protagonist is a Mallam from Northern Nigeria and the author is from Eastern Nigeria. With me, being from Western Nigeria, as the director the film would blur the divisions, making the project truly national.
4) Name one of the films on your top-5 list and the reason why it is there.
Lawrence of Arabia was one of the first films I saw on the local cinema screen in Lagos. Apart from looking gigantic, it introduced me to my first Hollywood cinema idols, Peter O’Toole, Omar Sharif, Anthony Quinn, Alec Guinness, Anthony Quayle. I did not understand the story at that time but it did not matter to me at all because I enjoyed the adventure and have continued to enjoy great visuals since.
5) Ask yourself any question you think I should have asked and answer it.
What will be the future of Nollywood?
Nollywood is already a success story – the model could be exported outside of Nigeria to any part of Africa and the Diaspora. However, there is a lot of room for improvement in terms of more quality and standard. The industry is dynamic and young, with great potential to grow beyond its traditional base and relate to other established industries, Hollywood and Bollywood.