Dr. Oreofe Williams aka Awo Jesu is an actor, filmmaker, theatre manager and scholar. He holds a doctorate in Film Studies and Media Communication from the Federal University Oye-Ekiti (FUOYE) after completing his first degree in Theatre Arts at the Olabisi Onabanjo University (OOU), Ogun State. He has numerous gospel films to his credit in almost two decades of practice. He has also assisted in producing other secular movies deploying his professional skills and scholarship to produce the best. Williams is the first Theatre Arts graduate to found a film village in Nigeria many years after Hubert Ogunde. He started his filmmaking firm, City of Talents, from scratch and brought it to a currently blossoming company.
In this recent chat, he spoke about filmmaking, youth employment and the challenges of the industry.
You have personally used your platform, City of Talents, to promote youths? How rewarding/impactful has this selfless service been?
For many years, that is what we have been doing to get to young people and take them off the streets and I can tell you over time, we have taken more than 15,000 Nigerian youths off the street and empowered them. We empowered them to shoot films and do musical videos .
Many polytechnic and university students come to us for further professional training after their graduation, and we also get invitations from instititions to train their students. Two of such institutions are Samuel Gboyega University and Olabisi Onabanjo University (OOU).
I introduce the first the convocation film production in OOU. The then Vice Chnacellor was involved and he was impressed, so also is the new VC who is a part of the project. We have also been to the Preciuos Cornerstone University, Chrisland University and others to teach their students filmmaking as we know it is the main thing about theatre arts and mass communication studies now.
You have to know much about filmmaking as a mass communication or theatre arts graduate. You must know this. I have an academic textbook which we use for our students, it is titled “From the script to the street”. It’s the first academic textbook written by an academic with a PhD and a practitioner who also has a private film studio and film village where he operates.
So, when you put all my qualifications together, you will discover that l’m the first to write such book. I’m not talking about an academic journal but a comprehensive textbook that has to do with how you make a film. With this, we are helping young people to discover their talents.
The problem we have seen is that the government needs to help in equipping universities. I go with my equipment and sometimes l borrow them in order to support. The issue is: how many universities will l go to?
The theatre arts and mass communication departments need equipment and l have seen that course contents in the former are more of theatre than media. They do more of stage plays but we really need to train these students in film studies. We need to understand that when they are out of school, most of them don’t do stage plays because they discover that most people don’t watch stage plays out there.
We’re just trying to revive the filmmaking in schools as they do plays and skits and other media production stuff. Most Nigerian theatre graduate hardly venture into filmmaking and only the outstanding or strong-willed among them chose to go into the industry. Someone like me and many others too.
I never studied how to put up a film village anywhere in the world but l have a curriculum now on Film Village Econometrics which I have introduced as a course in the City of Talents Academy and l think if l have the privilege to be part of a university system, this will be one of the courses l will introduce.
While we do not obliterate the courses there on theatre arts because they need it to train themselves, we need these new courses to help them grow and to understand more things . For instance, there must be a course on social media. Of course you can’t do without that. So, what are the courses we need to help these students become relevant and market themselves outside school? So these are what we should be thinking about. At our film village and academy, it is my vision to help young people, that is my calling and that is what l have been doing over the years.
We learnt while the government is yet to decide concretely on a film village project to promote filmmaking and heatre talents in Nigeria, you have been self-sponsoring a film village. How challenging has this been?
In 2009 when we did the film “Awo Jesu”, I felt the money I had then should not be wasted but invested. It was my first big money, so to speak. I bought hectares of land in Ibadan to start a film village. God has been our sponsor and we have been loyal to God. I happen, by the grace of God, to be the first to put up a film village anywhere in Nigeria as a privately established film village and it is in lbadan. Of course, if you have support from government, it will help, it will bring in more people. It has not been easy but because of the passion, we are forging ahead in spite of challenges of funds. We have taken a lot of youths off the streets and we have provided vision because what we also do there is to mentorship . It has been so challenging because sometimes, we feed them for free. Some don’t have much money and many of them don’t even have at all. But we try as much as possible to support them from the resources that we have.
How do l make the money? We sell our film and have a huge percentage of the proceeds that goes back to the society. When we take youths off the streets, all these illegal acts would be reduced. We have societal issues because we have many idle young people and they want to be engaged.
Many young people want to be engaged and when you engage their minds, you give them scripts and teach them arts and crafts of stage designs, teach them how to make a set, light and the rest of them, they will become useful. It’s been interesting because l discovered through this that many of them want to learn and they only need a mentor or somebody to guide and help them in improving themselves.
What other services do you render on filmmaking and talent development through your platform?
The services we offer also include shooting films and musical videos. l do this for my film company and also for others . If you want to shoot a film or a musical video, we can talk . We have people who come to us to do musical videos here. The essence of a film village is that you have a lot of things you need there so we can if you want to shoot your film or you have a musical video, come to our place, you have the set, you have construction sites and things that you can do there. We also have an academy and we develop our talents/students through this academy.
By the grace of God now, City of Talents Academy is affiliated to Halmark University so that when you come to our place, you will also get a diploma from that University. We have been giving out this diploma certificate for years and now the certificate is authenticated by a recognized university.