Dr. Oreofe Williams popularly known as Awo Jesu, holds a PhD in Film Studies and Media Communication from the Federal University, Oye-Ekiti (FUOYE). The actor, film maker, theatre manager and scholar has many gospel films to his credit and, in over two decades of practice, has contributed expertise to many secular films. He speaks on his career and experiences with SAM NWAOKO.
You have used your City of Talents Academy to promote the cause of youths and their talents. How rewarding/impactful has this service been to you?
For many years, that is what we have been doing to get to young people and take them off the streets. I can say that over the time, we have taken more than 15,000 Nigerian youths off the streets and empowered them. We empowered them to shoot many films and do musical videos. Many students of polytechnics and universities 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, Olabisi Onabanjo University (OOU) among others. I introduced convocation film production in OOU. The then Vice Chancellor was involved and he was impressed so also is the new VC, who was also part of the project. We have also been to the Precious Cornerstone University, Chrisland University and others to teach their film making and we must know that that is the main thing about theatre arts and mass communication studies now.
You have to know about film making as a mass communication or theatre arts graduate. I have an academic text book which we use for our students titled “From the Script to the Street”. It is the first academic 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 I’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 seen is that government needs to still help in equipping the universities. I go with my equipment and sometimes I borrow them in order to support the young people. But how many universities will I go to? At the City of Talents Film Village and Academy, it is my vision is to help the young people. That is my calling and that is what I have been doing over the years.
What do you think are the needs of the theatre arts in the universities?
The theatre arts and mass communication departments need equipment and I have seen that their course contents in most theatre departments are more on theatre than media. They do more of stage plays, but we really need to train those 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 get to discover that most people don’t watch stage plays out there. We are just trying to revive film-making in schools as they do plays and skits and other media production stuffs. Most Nigerian theatre graduates hardly venture into film making but very outstanding ones, the strong-willed among them are the ones who choose to go into the industry. I never studied how to put up a film village anywhere in the world but I have a curriculum now on Film Village Econometrics which I have introduced as course in the City of Talents Academy and I think if I have the privilege to be part of a university system, this will be one of the courses I will introduce. While we do not obliterate the courses in 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?
How challenging has it been sponsoring the film village since it is not in the vision of government to build or support one?
In 2009, when we made the film “Awo Jesu”, I just felt that the money I made then should not be wasted. I decided 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. 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 we also do mentorship there. 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 I make the money? We sell our films and when we sell our films a huge percentage of the proceeds goes back to the society. When we take the youths off the streets, off illegal and immoral acts, vices 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 designs, teach them how to make a set, light and the rest of them, they will become useful. It’s been interesting because I discovered through this that many of them want to learn. Many of them are interested in learning and they only need a mentor or somebody to guide them and help them in improving themselves.
What other services do you render in the area film-making and talent development through your platform?
We shoot films and musical videos. I do this for my film company and 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 in our studio. The essence of a film village is that a lot of things you need are found there. So if you want to shoot your film or 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, the City of Talents Academy is now affiliated to Hallmark University so that when you come to our place, you will also get a diploma from Hallmark University. We have been awarding this diploma for years and now the certificate is authenticated by a recognised university.
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