-Land Of Shadows Producer Gilbert Agbor
By Pandita Njoh Etta
The Cameroon Movie Industry is in need of an extreme makeover says Gilbert Agbor one of the most enterprising producers in the country. Despite the abundance of talent in the industry, the industry suffers from chronic neglect from government officials. The movie industry has the potential to employ about 10.000 to 50.000 Cameroonians if properly structured and supported says Agbor whose movies have earned him local and international fame. Trained in Nigeria, the difficulties have not daunted the resolve of Agbor to continue forging a path for the Cameroon movie industry. In a chat with PAV’s Pandita Njoh Etta, Gilbert Agbor sheds light on his career, projects as well as a critique of the movie industry in Cameroon.
PAV: How did you become a film producer and may we know how many movies you have produced so far and the reaction of the public to your productions?
Agbor Gilbert: I went to the film school in Nigeria for 6 years at the University Science and Technology in Calabar in the year 2000. Later, i went for training in Algeria for 9 months. In the course of my school, I met so many people who encouraged me and helped directed me as I pursued my passion for movies. i have been producing movies since the year 2005, when I came up with my first movie, BEFORE THE SUNRISE–which i received an award for in south Africa as the Youngest producer to come with a very successful movie. Later on, THE BLUES KINGDOM–from which I was awarded Peace Ambassador For Female Circumcision, LAND OF SHADOWS– which recently had an award for best costume at the nollywood and African film critics award, NAAFCA in the U.S, and DEEPER LOVE. My fans and the public in general do love and appreciate what I do, from the successes and my physical interaction I have had with them from time to time.( travelled overseas for three movie festivals and returned with three different awards) I also had a recognition in Burkina Faso for my contributions to the Cameroonian movie industry.
PAV: What would you describe as the major highlights of your career as a producer thus far?
Agbor Gilbert: My fans, and the appreciation i get from them made me who I am today. I am not the best, but i am good at what I do.
PAV: Are there any producers in the African movie industry and the world at large whom you consider as role models and what is it you like about them?
Agbor Gilbert: Oh yes definitely there are, only a foolish person will not have mentors or people they look up to, Fred Amata–nollywood actor and producer, I met him during my school time in Nigeria. Collaborated with him to produce my film, Before the Sunrise. Zach Orji–nollywood actor and director. worked with him for my movies Before the Sunrise and Land of shadows. Mama Kinta- who is also a film producer and actress. Jean Pierre Bekolo, Agbor Steven Ebai–Cameroonian film producer and Tyler Perry–his struggles to be who he is today encouraged and still encourage me to be what I am today and to work harder.
PAV: You come from Cameroon where the movie industry has a lot of potential but is not very strong still organized , from the name, to the funding, to the audience which seems to have a preference for foreign films etc what is going on with the movie industry in your country?
Agbor Gilbert: We have negligence from all directions. From both the audience-consumers and the producers too. There is so much piracy amongst the consumers. For instance, a person would buy a single movie, plays it in his/her house and connect cables to distribute it to neigbours who will then pay him a few hundreds of France. Thus the movie cannot sell to develop money for the industry’s growth. Also, there is so much disorganization amongst producers, thereby limiting them to work together in unity and achieve a higher goal. Furthermore, there is no good networking and distribution agency for the movies, and the movies end up not getting to the greater part of the market, leading to a shortage of funds to pay the production body. In addition, the ministry of culture does not play their role in assisting production at all. When the head of government gives funds to the ministry to assist movie production in the country, they don’t give the money; and when they do, they give the money to the wrong people, who end up not doing the work. The ministry of culture needs to do better in assisting with funds and joining forces with the production bodies to fight against piracy, which is one big of a problem.
PAV: We have seen Cameroonians working with more acclaimed Nigerian actors like Patience Ozorkwor, Emeka Ike and others; does this reflect a deficiency of talent amongst Cameroonian actors or what reasons are there for the penchant to have big names in movies instead of promoting local talents?
Agbor Gilbert: No not at all. There are great talents in Cameroon and I do work with them. As a producer, primarily I will say it is a marketing strategy. Consumers buy movies because they love the faces they see on there and will want to buy only those movies, and in the cause, discover new and talented people like; Eyong Quinta Ashu, Lynno Lovette etc. also, collaborating with the nollywood actors, increases the market for the particular movie, and the Nigerians will want to see their own faces in the movie too.
PAV: Mr. Agbor, we come back to the issue of name, what is the name of the Cameroon movie industry? We have Hollywood in the USA, Bollywood in India, Nollywood in Nigeria etc, we have heard about Camwood, Camerlywood? Must the name be mimicked after what obtains in other countries and why can’t there be a unique name that reflects the culture of your country?
Agbor Gilbert: In 2008, the Cameroonian film industry–production houses back home, the president of the actors guild in Nigeria, prime minister of Cameroon at that time Ephraim Inoni, the minister of culture in Cameroon , representatives from the ministry of cultures in Ghana and Gabon, and also nollywood actor Jim Iyke came to an agreement that the official name of the Cameroon film industry is COLLYWOOD.
PAV: In Nigeria we learned that in the next twenty five years or so, the movie industry will have the potential of generating income that could rival what comes from oil, what potential would you say the movie industry has in Cameroon and is there anything the authorities are doing to help the industry move forward?
Agbor Gilbert:-I feel pity for the system in Cameroon; -high rate of unemployment, but the film industry stands a chance to employ 10,000 to 50,000 Cameroonians and more. -the government administrators have a great role to play in helping with the situation. Their security and unavailability makes it difficult for the producers to go to them for help and even when they get the chance to, they don’t listen. All the ministries not only the ministry of culture, need to assist.
The ministry of communication needs to help in marketing and other duties, the ministry of education needs to implement movie production and film studies in their schools, take for example me, I had to travel to Nigeria for my studies. Many others with acting, directing dreams have to travel abroad for education. They don’t consider it relevant. The ministry of finance needs to work together too, for assistance in making this work. the Nigerian government for example understands the benefits of the film industry over there, thus they work very hard to support them. The other day while looking at some videos in you tube, I came across a video of some top Nigerian stars singing a good luck song, campaigning for their now President Jonathan. The government knows that the people listen to these actors and actresses, and thus respect them and collaborate with them for events as such.
PAV: Taking a look at the continent as a whole , Nigeria, Ghana, South Africa etc, how would you size up the African film industry, from artistic performance, the way it is structured, quality of movies etc?
Agbor Gilbert:South Africa for instance has no limit. There is support from every corner. The ministry of culture and the government in Rwanda built shops for the production houses to help them distribute and market their films. In Mozambique, their head of state comes to their premiers to support them. Here in Cameroon, even the ministers will not come, and will not even send a representative that can contribute in any way.
PAV: What are the projects that Gilbert Agbor is working on right now or has in mind for the nearest future?
Agbor Gilbert: I am presently working on a new movie, sharing ideas, travelling abroad for distribution and marketing. I am also working on launching the H- foundation which is a non profit organization to give allowances to the less privileged, scholarships for outstanding students in school. Also working with 28 HIV/AIDS patients with financial help and building their hope for living. In addition, we are also working to help the widows.
PAV: We end by asking if you have a word of advice to talented young Africans interested in the world of movies with the potential to excel as Directors, Actors etc.
Agbor Gilbert: -It is a rich profession in knowledge, finance, style-also known as swag-Follow your heart, and your dreams. It’s too big a world, the movie industry is so big that one has to have a great potential to be recognized. It is a very fun profession with advantages and disadvantages; when you choose to be part of this industry, you have decided to give out you life to serving the audience and no more privacy for you. Every day we learn, and when you fall just get up and run again, never give up on the dreams.