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“I’m five films away” Tunde Kelani (TK) mentions in this interview as we talk about his recent Netflix-directed film, Ayinla.
There are very few filmmakers who still make films at over seventy years old, not just in Africa but around the world. TK is not only a force to reckon with in the African cinema, but the level of relevance he has maintained over the course of his career both domestically and internationally is a rare feat.
In this interview, TK talks about his childhood experience and how it inspired him to make a film on Ayinla Omowura, the Apala legend. He also talks about his current project and possible future projects.
Q. Good afternoon, sir. Congratulations on the acquisition of your film (Ayinla) by Netflix.
A. …thank you
Q. I would like to ask why Ayinla, why Ayinla, why that story in particular?
A. Well, if you have seen some of the films I have made you will know that I make films that are about my environment and has a bit of myself in it. My parents are from Abeokuta and that’s where I grew up from age five till after my secondary school days. I was processed by the Yoruba land and its culture.
Everything about it including its orality, its literature, its philosophy, its spirituality, its music, its art, and everything. Anything that I do, Abeokuta has remained the template and canvas for most of the films that I have made.
Q. But why did you choose to do a biography of Ayinla himself?
A. I am coming to that… Ayinla is from the main source, so we have something in common and of course – professor Wole Soyinka and Uncle Tunji Oyelana. We are primarily influenced by our cultural experiences.
So, Ayinla grew up in Abeokuta and his world was his area but he didn’t think that his fame would go beyond that. He had incredible talent and has stepped on the same ground that I have stepped. Ayinla is not just about Ayinla (the musician).
Ayinla (the film) had two principal characters: Abeokuta city as the film’s history and the personality and times of Ayinla Omowura. A man who couldn’t read and write gave us about twenty albums.
Q. Were you opportune to have met him one on one?
A. Not really. I saw him but not close – performing, maybe twice. And you see, Ayinla passed 42 years ago, but his music has remained relevant till today and we were able to put Ayinla in a historical context but what we did is not a biography of Ayinla.
A. No, it’s not. we wrote Ayinla (film) around him, the music and certain events in history and came up with a narrative almost completely different from Ayinla himself.
Q. Apart from Ayinla is there another film of yours we should be expecting on Netflix?
A. Dazzling Mirage, a film I made five years ago; it has started running on Netflix this morning. (May 26th).
Q. Ok. So, is there any other film we should be expecting?
A. Well, I don’t know yet because I just completed Cordelia which is in collaboration with the University of Delaware in the US. So, I don’t know if it’s going to be Netflix or any other streaming platform.
Q. Alright, sir. So, with decades and decades of your experience in the Nigerian film industry sir, how have you been able to maintain your level of relevance?
A. It’s not about relevance, it’s about my life because I have the greatest passion for what I do and am one of the few people in the world who was lucky and privileged to have decided what they are likely to do from childhood
Q. Great… I was going to ask earlier if Ayinla was going to be a retirement film, but you just mentioned Cordelia.
A. No. As I speak with you, I’m five films away from that… (laughs)
Q. Oh wow. (laugh)
A. I’m completing Cordelia and of course, I know the next two or three films – of course, everybody knows that I’m going to do a biography on Barrister. A series of three films on Barrister. It’s going to be three films because unlike Ayinla I had more materials to work with. Barrister was in limelight for forty years. So, if I take decade by decade and come up with a narrative on each of the decade’s pieces, there are a hundred and fifty-five albums of his music. So, it can’t be told in one film. It must be three.
This interview was done on the 25th of May, 2022.