He passionately said;
“I feel compelled to rebuild the Nigeria’s film industry and I am going to do it! As a matter of fact, I am currently working on a film, when you come to my Library at Oyo, I will show you the work done so far”.
I listened intently almost in doubt of the zest of 82-year old Mr Francis Oladele but the fire that blazed in his eyes while he spoke melted every iota of doubt in me. If he once did it, he sure can do it again, I said to myself still listening and staring at him, sucking in every word of his and almost sipping his breathe.
My admiration for him doubled the moment his security man ushered me into his sitting room. His reception was so warm that I felt like a granddaughter who came to pay her old grandpa a visit and not like a researcher that came all the way from Lagos to Ibadan to interview this amazing old man whom I was meeting in person for the first time but has researched on. He invited me to his kitchen, opened his fridge and asked me pick whatever I wanted. Trust me, it was tempting but I managed to resist the urge and settled with a glass of water.
We returned to the sitting room and after a few moments of exchanging pleasantries, we began the interview. He took me through his early years and how he forayed into film making. From his years as a freelance photo-journalist, to his period as a columnist for the Daily Times where he covered sports and weekly event which he titled “Baby of the week”. He went ahead to tell me how he travelled to the United States at age 22 to study photography at the New York Institute of Photography. While at the United States, he learnt all he could about film making.
He then returned to Nigeria in 1960, at the age of 28 to head the film unit of Western Nigerian Television (WNTV), tropical Africa’s premier television.
Not satisfied with the status quo, Mr Oladele went back to the United States in 1965 to improve himself in the art of film making. He returned a year after with Calpenny Nigeria Film Limited, Nigeria’s pioneer film making company fully registered. Mr Oladele narrated how the break out of Nigeria’s Civil War which lasted for three years delayed the production of Kongi’s Harvest, Nigeria’s pioneer film which was produced by him under his production company.
The film which was eventually produced in 1970 was an adaptation of Wole Soyinka’s play with the same title written five years earlier.
He took me through the other films and documentaries that he produced after Kongi’s Harvest. I recorded and jotted as much as I could. It was such a fun interview. We were called back to the moment by his wife who invited us to the table for lunch. It was a treat of white rice and chicken stew with lots of fresh vegetables. I knew it was unethical to have lunch with an interviewee but it was such a privilege that I could not turn down.
We discussed on much lighter issues after lunch. A quality of his that still strikes a chord is his enthusiasm. He was a man of vision till his last days. Though he was bitter about the state of Nigeria’s film industry which he pioneered but he commended the few film makers who are doing the right thing. His contributions to the formation and growth of Nigeria’s film industry are immense.
My only regret is that I never had the opportunity to visit his library in Oyo Town, Western Nigeria before his demise.
We parted ways with partially fulfilled in terms of the research. He therefore promised to invite me to his library at Oyo town where his archives are in June 2015 as it was March at the time of our meeting for a more detailed research but sadly, that never happened.
Today marks the first year remembrance of a man who left a dent in the history of Nigeria’s film industry.
Rest on Pa Francis Oladele. I sure miss you!!!