Wednesday, 15 May 2013

'Film Adaptations Can Revive Reading Culture' - Nigerian Critic And Author, Augusta Okon



For Nigeria's film critic and author, Augusta Okon, literature and films have always been her first love, way back from childhood days. At 14, she had become an author under the wings of Nelson publishers with her short story, ‘Bola and the kidnappers’. The NTA Network News (prime time) reported the launching event, while the iconic actor, now Member of the Federal Republic (MFR) Kanayo.O.Kanayo was the Master of ceremonies at the event. She was also a guest on the long rested popular Morning Ride show. She won the maiden edition of the International Children’s Convention in ‘93 organized by  Inter-classic Ltd. Two years later, her second short story, ‘Trust No One’ was also published by Nelson. 

She took a French leave to study Law at the University of Ibadan and proceeded to the Nigerian Law School. She was one of the 30 ‘Student Achievers’ named by the Faculty of law in the university’s convocation brochure in 2003, ‘in recognition of the outstanding performance recorded at the 2003 Bar Final exams’. She has directed her legal skills at the Entertainment circuit and is now a lady of many parts. As a film critic, her professional reviews have been published online and in some National dailies. This critique skill has paved the way to her being a member of the jury at the IN- Short International film festival 2012,and a film screener for AMAA 2013. Her articles, dominantly on the Nigerian movie industry, has earned her Platinum status on Ezine articles, the world’s leading article site, and has stimulated and provoked thoughts on various subject maters. 
Her debut novel ‘The Sidewalk’, is a 484 paged fine blend of highly pulsating, captivating, dramatic, suspense fiction. Her writing dexterity is also seen in the areas of script and screenwriting  as she combines creativity and powerful storylines with a knack for adventure, action, thriller, and crime genres.  She’s also a Publicist, Premiere planner and advocate for ‘film adaptations’ in Nollywood and the African movie industry as a whole. Her fast rising blog 9aijabooksandmovies is dedicated to exploring the untapped sphere and providing the symbiotic platform for filmmakers and authors. 

She sheds more light on the concept of film adaptation:
“Film adaptation simply means that the story on which the movie is hinged upon, was not derived from the original source i.e the script writer’s imagination. Adaptations could be from poems, plays, news, articles, short stories, TV shows, other films, and even comics. Nigerians have watched many films from the stables of Hollywood without knowing they were film adaptations and not original works. Examples are The godfather, Scar Face, The Davinci Code, I Am legend, Jurassic park, The Island, The last king of Scotland, Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, Man on Fire, Priest, Hunger Games, Troy, Chronicles of Narnia, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, V for Vendetta, Confessions of a shopaholic, The King’s speech, The Hobbit, Life of Pi and many more.

We’ve had film adaptations of Nigerian works, but it’s a drop in the bucket in comparison to original works. The likes of Prof.Wole Soyinka’s “kongi Harvest”, Prof.Femi Osofisan’s  “The Relentless locust and Maami”, Elechi Amadi’s “The Concubine”, Bayo Adewale’s “TheVirgin” adapted by Tunde Kelani as “The Narrow Path”, TV series of the literary icon late Prof. Chinua Achebe’s  “Things Fall Apart”, Adebayo Faleti’s “Thunderbolt”, Akinwumi  Ishola’s “O leku”, and in recent times, Ebi Akpeti’s “The Perfect Church”, Olayinka Abimbola’s “Dazzling Mirage”, Femi Faseru’s  “Married but living single”, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s “Half of a yellow sun”,  Ola Rotimi’s “The gods are not to blame” are examples of film adaptations. I believe Filmmakers can embark on potential film adaptations of works such as The Famished Road, Zarah the wind seeker, The Secret life of Baba Segi’s wives, The Great Ponds, The Forest of a thousand demons, Waiting for an Angel, Second class citizen, Efuru and many more. One can even start from simple adaptations of the popular Drummer Boy, Without a silver spoon, Passport of Mallam Illia before trending on those perceived as being complex and very expensive to make."


On the issue of why Nigerian filmmakers are not keen on making film adaptations:
They are largely unaware of the endless possibilities associated with the concept. They don’t invest in reading books hinged on the poor reading culture, invariably they’ll have little or nil interest in such. A good example of a Nigerian filmmaker whose love for literary works has made him the number one producer of film adaptations is Tunde kelani. Filmmakers also don’t want to go through the rigours of paying royalties to authors, which forces them to be legally compliant and many still grapple with making churned productions. No author is going to be pleased in seeing his or her work churned out straight to dvd and watched as a home video. Authors want their books to come to life on the big screen i.e in theatres and when once a filmmaker has the vision to show it in Naija cinemas, he most often times than not, takes it out of the country for theatrical releases in the Uk, USA and other parts of the world and puts it in for International film festivals. This gives the author wider exposure, the publisher gets to reprint the books while the filmmaker makes his money. It’s a win-win situation for the parties. Any filmmaker/producer going for film adaptations must be ready to produce with a good budget and not a shoe stringed one”. 

On the importance of film adaptation:
“Besides serving as a better alternative source of recouped investments to original works, it creates a combination of literature and film which makes us eventually want to read the book, watch the movie while listening to the characters dialogue. It can re-vitalize the reading culture with time, build a book into a brand, and strengthen the collective promotion of the book between the publisher and filmmaker. Authors can make valuable contributions on set to the director and screenwriters who specialize in adapted works will emerge. It boosts healthy competition between adapted and original film productions and with time can revive our reading culture”.

On the issue of demand for payment of high royalties by the author which can put off a  filmmaker/producer:
“High is relative in this case. What is perceived as high to one filmmaker may not be the same to another. Authors put in a lot of effort into creating beautiful stories, taking months and sometimes years to perfect. As you know the story is the fulcrum of the movie, so why shouldn’t they be paid well?. If you can afford to pay the lead cast mouth watering fees who reads and interprets the role in the script, why shouldn’t ‘the brain’ behind the story be equally paid well?. You can have the best A-list thespians, but if the story has no depth, it bombs!. A filmmaker can also reach a compromise with the author, for example, legendary adaptation filmmaker, Tunde Kelani, once said that back in the days, he had no money to pay Adebayo Faleti for the rights to adapt his work into a film. He asked the author to be part of the production, thereby waving his rights, which he gladly obliged. There can be compromise on the part of the author, just make sure what you’re bringing to the table is worth it”. 

On the issue of Nigerians not purchasing books because of the expensive nature and economic crunch:
“You certainly can’t buy what doesn’t interest you?. The dearthy reading culture stems from the once fazed away public libraries, parental indifference, strong contenders for our time and money such as Entertainment, inadequate book competitions and publicity, low level of research in schools, and of course the internet. Many surf the internet for information only when a school assignment has been handed down. Social Networks, social bookmarks, sports, entertainment sites and blogs are largely surfed for fun, latest gist and gossip. How much do books cost?, say between N500 – N2,500 depending on the genre, number of pages and whether it’s a hard cover or paper back. Now let’s compare it to others. How much do you spend to leisurely browse on your phone or at the cafĂ© in a month?, how much do you pay to watch a movie at the cinemas for an hour thirty minutes or two hours depending on the running time, that’s between N1,000-N1,500, and if you’re a student it’s N500. What about stand up comedy shows?, it’s N5,000 for regulars and a whooping N1,000,000 for a table of say 10. What about music shows?, it’s the same thing. Youths love the English Premiership, la liga and UEFA Champions League, do you know how much they spend at viewing centres in ‘one season’ just to watch their favourite clubs and others slug it out on the pitch?. A good number of Nigerians can afford to buy books, but there’s just no motivation to do so”.

Potential challenges faced in opting for film adaptations rather than original works:
“Well there are always two sides to a coin. There’s the possibility of the film falling short of readers expectations and even the author’s, for example Wole Soyinka was unhappy with the 1971 Calpenny’s production of his work, kongi Harvest. Some readers might prefer the film to the book and vice versa. Some might not like the modification, deletion of certain parts and would rather prefer the exact replica of the original work. There are lots of pages to compress within the two hours or less time frame, bearing in mind that an hour and a half movie will get more slots at the cinemas than a two hour movie. There’s also the possible shallow understanding of the work by the screen writer, replicated in the incorrect interpretation, that’s why it is good to engage the services of one who specializes in such or connects with literature and can easily interpret same”.


On the issue of whether the concept of film adaptation is attainable in Nigeria:
“I believe in proper growth and development. When a baby is born, he or she undergoes certain phases of development with time. Imagine being drawn to a  four months old baby who is lying on the bed, the baby looks at you, sits up, jumps out of bed, walks to you, and then begins to speak fluently in English or your mother tongue, won’t you scream and run?. You would, because it’s abnormal!, and that’s the biggest challenge we have in the system and in the country as a whole. We want immediate, outstanding results at once, we don’t want to follow the laid down stages and principles, guided by time in achieving things. It’s not done!. Home videos had been in existence since the 80’s but Ken Nnebue’s ‘Living in bondage’ set the stage for the home video explosion or revolution. It’s one step at a time, and if the filmmakers are patient, play their cards right and there’s a numeric explosion in cinema chains alongside distributors who know their onions, the concept is certainly attainable”. 



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