By Titilayo Balogun
For actor and filmmaker, Dr. Oreofe Williams aka Awo Jesu, most Nigerian Theatre Arts graduates can’t make films due to dearth of training facilities in the universities.
Aside being a thespian, Oreofe Williams is also a theatre manager and scholar who holds a doctorate degree in Film Studies and Media Communication from Federal University (FUOYE), Oye-Ekiti.
Williams has many gospel films to his credit in over almost two decades of practice. He has also assisted in producing many secular movies, deploying his professional skills and scholarship to produce the best.
Oreofe Williams is the first theatre arts practitioner to establish a film village in Nigeria many years after Hubert Ogunde built one in Ososa, Ogun State. He founded his film production firm, City of Talents, fron the scratch and nurtured it to its current blossoming status.
In this chat, Williams opened up on how he took 15,000 youths out of the streets and empowered them with film and theatre making skills, which has changed their lives for the better. He also spoke on other relevant matters. Here are excerpts:
You have used your platform, City of Talents Academy to promote youths, concentrating more on their talents, how rewarding or 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 for sure that 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 the institutions to train their students. Some of these institutions include Samuel Gboyega University and Olabisi Onabanjo University (OOU) among others. l was the first to introduce convocation film production in OOU. The then VIce Chancellor was involved and he was impressed so also is the new VC, he’s also part of the project . We have equally been to the Precious Cornerstone University, Chrisland University and others to teach their students on filmmaking.
You have to know much about filmmaking as a Mass Communication or Theatre Arts graduate. I have an academic text book which we use for our students, it is titled, From the Script to the Street. It is the first text book 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 am not talking about an academic journal but a comprehensive text book 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 is that government needs to help in equipping the universities. I go with my equipment and sometimes l borrow in order to support the students. But how many universities will l go to?
I never studied how to establish a film village but l have a curriculum now on Film Village Econometrics, which I have introduced as a course at City of Talents Academy; and 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 on Theatre Arts because they need it to train themselves, we need these new courses to help them grow and to understand many things. At City of Talents Film Village and Academy, my vision is to help young people, that is my calling and that is what l have been doing over the years.
How challenging is it to self-sponsor a film village?
In 2009, when we did the film, Awo Jesu, I felt that the money I had then l should not waste it, that l should invest it. It was my first big money, so to say. So, I went to buy 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.
Self-sponsoring a film village 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 them vision and 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 films and when we sell our films, we take a huge percentage of the proceeds back to the society. When we take the youths off the streets, all these illegal acts like robbery, drug abuse and cultism would be reduced in the society.
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 design, 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 the young people want to learn. Many of them are interested in learning and they only need a mentor or somebody to guide and help them in improving themselves.
What other services do you render on filmmaking, talent development through your platform?
The services that we offer 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 musical video, we can talk. We also have an academy where we develop talents/students. Right now, the 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, and we have been giving out this diploma certificates for years.