Ambrose Uchenunu, PhD is a versatile lecturer and practicing filmmaker who has acquired academic and field experiences over the years. Starting at the University of Calabar Theatre Arts department where he proceeded to the prestigious University of Ibadan to study film at Masters Level. His passion for education led him to pursue a second Master degree in Film Studies at the University of Nottingham U.K. where he bagged a PhD in Film studies. While in the U.K. Dr Uchenunu bagged a teachers Training degree awarded by City Guilds UK. He proceeded to obtaina Diploma, vocational training in Film and TV Production at New College, Nottingham. Upon his return to Nigeria, he secured a job at the National Film Institute (NFI), Jos before he moved to Western Delta University, Oghara to start the Film and Mass Communication department. Now, he lectures at the University of Benin. A 7-time screener for Africa Movie Academy Award(AMAA).Dr. Uchenunu shares his views with Acheme Ramson, on the Nigerian film industry.
Q: How would you compare studying Film in overseas and in Nigeria?
A: (smiles) It’s incomparable, the U.K. is a developed nation and we are still developing. The facilities over there are conducive for teaching and learning, aside the comfortable lecture rooms they made provision for well equipped studios where practical sessions are conducted. Here, we are faced with inadequate lecture rooms, ill-equipped studios, and little financial incentives. When I returned home I had to adjust to limited facilities, poorly equipped studios and few cameras. Lecturers resort to more theoretical work than practical. Many studios in our institutions could boast of only one camera and are often scanty.
Q: Having attained a PhD and secured a lecturing job in an eminent University, you still handle camera in the field,what motivates you into it, passion or economic reasons?
A: Photography runs in my pedigree, most of my family members have had a knock with photography. My uncle owned a photography studio while growing I toyed with his camera and work in his studio as at 1973. While studying in the U.K., I was the official photographer of my church, God’s Vineyard Church Nottingham. I have shot photographs of Nigerian pastors or men of God in the UK, the likes of Enoch Adegboye, Mathew Ashimolowo, Adegboye Odulele and a host of others. When I first returned to Nigeria I was hoping the right opportunity will come where I will put my skills into practice by making film full time basis. There was no support in that regard besides;all the job offers I got were in academics. There is no way one will go through film studies and not catch the passion for it. For me, from the very start, it’s always been passion for film.
Q: Any regret on lecturing job so far?
A: Lecturing job is not financially rewarding in Nigeria and it’s more or less a humanitarian job. The worst part of it is that you are not treated with respect in the society. Many of us are working to impact knowledge at our own loss. Though, the zeal is low we forge ahead with resilience, even though we train the executive in the office that turns back to look at us with disdain; or the oil worker who earns three times the salary of the professor that taught him.
Q: Recently the Nigerian minister of information, Lai Mohammed admitted in an interview with Richard Quest that our home video industry, Nollywood is a potential income-generating sector for the government next to crude oil. Do you see film, Tourism and Destination marketing as the real thing for government?
A: Film making is a big business though, we don’t have records to prove what they have sold, and this is because the film industry is a private business which is growing in the hands of individuals into multinationals. Its benefit to government will not come in raw cash but through other subtle means. Nollywood creates job for many Nigerians directly and indirectly. The actors, technical crews, writers, supporting staff, are directly employed while the bootleggers who hawk CDs on wheelbarrows are also leaving off the film industry. The film industry also complements tourism and help boost hospitality marketing. Where the industry needs help from the government is not through special budget but other ways the filmmakers will benefit from directly. If you capitalize on budget from government, every sector and groups will come demanding for their share of fund. Government need to provide moral support for filmmakers, for example, they go through a lot to obtain permit at the airport to shoot films, and face the problem of insecurity at locations from hoodlums. Also they find it difficult to obtain loan from banks. These are the kind of challenges film makers need the government to help with.
Q: Makers of documentary film in Nigeria are finding it difficult to cope, how would you articulate this problems, and what are the prospects for them?
A: Documentary is a culture which came in Nigeria and died, now it’s coming back. The fact is, all over the world documentary films are hardly premiered on the big screen, so it is difficult for marketers and sponsors to partake in it. Documentary doesn’t sell the way feature movie does and we don’t hold the culture of watching documentary in high esteem. People here want to be entertained and documentary does not provide hilarious entertainment. Documentary is basically informative and educative. With all these it is difficult to do a documentary film with a prospect of financial breakthrough. Another reason is that there is no support from the powerful political class who are afraid of their hidden acts which documentary may expose. This class will not release certain information to the documentary film maker. So those in the field of documentary learn not to expect too much from it, they just follow their passion. Nollywood would have died but for passion. Critiques like Prof. Wole Soyinka, Eddie Ugbomah criticized the home video format at the early stage, the film makers held on tenaciously and came out triumphantly. Passion, that was what kept the film makers going. So it will be with documentary.
Q: You have made a couple of documentaries, what is the central focus of your works?
A: Generally documentary doesn’t have central focus, they are mostly about societal problems my documentary on Ugborodo (Excravos), for instance, is about the woe of the oil-rich community. Most time a documentary film maker handles camera, he sees things against the government, for example, my documentary on Sapele, titled “Sapele: The Lost Jewel of the Niger-Delta” was about oil spill, environmental hazards and government neglect. Though, there are few exceptions of documentary on government. For example, I did a documentary in the UK on bicycle theft which was a mere societal problem not a government related issue
Q: In one of your lectures published in the International Journal for Multidisciplinary Scholarship, you attributed the decline of cinema in Nigeria to religious rejection, poor infrastructure, ethnic loyalty, erratic political climate and the rise of crime. How can film makers revive the lost cine-culture?
A: The prevalent crime rate in our society is not helping matters. Kidnapping, car snatching and terrorists related activities are rising by the day coupled with undue harassment by law enforcement has made night life unsavouring revellers for many people to patronize the cinemas. It is so disheartening to see that the problems which led to the decline of celluloid film making are still prevalent. On the other hand, there is hope for cinema film makers. Business is a gamble, the cinema could succeed and fail like every other business. Some businesses failed and make a return.
Those in the cinema business should keep trying. Like the economy of film,filmmakers should make strategic moves, such like proper timing, analyze the target audience before embarking on production, casting, for instance young unmarried girls would prefer to see certain star actors in a romantic movie. With the right demographic studies coupled with aggressive marketing they will make it through.