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Popularly known as the ‘Sheikh’ of the Nigerian home video industry, Zeb Ejiro claims that he temporarily quit the entertainment scene to open a film school in his hometown, Ozoro in Delta State.
“God has done so much for me by giving me a talent for filmmaking and other blessings. At a point, I just felt it was time for me to start imparting knowledge to other people. So went to Delta State to build one of the biggest film schools in Nigeria. Actually it is a film and broadcast academy,” he says
The period spent by the seasoned producer in nurturing the project and his long absence from Nollywood did fuel the rumour that he had left the movie industry unceremoniously. But he denies ever quitting Nollywood or filmmaking, saying that he only took time off to establish the academy.
“The school was more important to me than Nollywood. It was not easy for me to put together an institution of that kind. I had to give it all the attention that it required. I have no regret about it,” he says.
Although he did not mention names, Ejiro says he is happy that the academy has produced some of the most promising actors, actresses, producers and directors, as well as technical hands in the entertainment industry today.
However, the filmmaker virtually pulled a surprise on movie fans with the recent screening of his newest movie, ‘Yellow Cassava’, at the 11th Abuja International Film Territory on Tuesday.
The opening of the film – the product of an agricultural advocacy project executed by SMILE AFRICA and funded by the United States-based Harvestplus International – officially ended the vacuum created by Ejiro’s ‘self-exile’ to Ozoro.
Just as the project is aimed at promoting the health benefits of cassava, it is obvious that with ‘Yellow Cassava’, he has introduced a new dimension in filmmaking in Nollywood. He has actually succeeded in striking a balance between entertaining and educating his audience.
“I just told a normal story with the film. I thought it would be boring to talk about the need to eat yellow cassava all the time. That is why I had to tie the main subject around a love story. I know that at the end of the day, everybody will understand the purpose for shooting it,” Ejiro says.
Shot in Kajola, Ogun State and with a cast comprising some of the best known names in the film industry, such as Segun Arinze (Chief Blaki), Monalisa Chinda (Veronica Peters), Chidi Mokeme (Daniel) and Emeka Ossai (Dr. Zack), the movie revolves around a young woman’s burning ambition to make a lasting impact in the lives of the rural people. To achieve her goal, she has to choose between romance and her passion for farming. It is a very difficult decision for her.
Unfortunately, a few lines from the lead actress give the impression that ‘Yellow Cassava’ is also meant to serve as a piece of propaganda in which President Goodluck Jonathan is the main subject. But Ejiro does not seem to be bothered.
He says, “I don’t give a damn about what anybody says. If ‘Yellow Cassava’ is seen as partly singing President Jonathan’s praise, I have no apology for that. One of the two major areas the President is focusing on right now is agriculture. Also, he has done a lot for the Nigerian film industry. He has provided some funds for the development of the industry. No other leader of this country has done this before now.”
Ejiro describes Jonathan’s approval of a multi-billion naira grant to stakeholders in the film industry as one of the best things that has ever happened to the culture sector in Nigeria. “I have applied for it and my application has been approved. I haven’t received the money yet. But I know that I will get it. I think the grant is wonderful. It is the best thing that has happened to the film industry in this country,” he says.
Although it is believed that Nollywood has been split along different camps ever since the President’s celebrated intervention, Ejiro thinks there is nothing wrong with the practitioners forming different groups within the industry, as long as they do not hurt other people in the process.
“I don’t care about divisions within Nollywood. I am a movie maker and I want to keep doing that. Nevertheless, the industry is growing. There is no doubt about this. I believe that we are doing better movies now. Technically, we are getting better. In terms of the quality of the stories and acting, I think we are doing well, even better than we have ever done.
“The industry has created more jobs than before and more people are coming into it. Nigerians living abroad are coming to the industry with big money. There is progress. We have not even gone anywhere yet. But I believe we will eventually get there. This industry is so big that there is plenty of room for everybody to operate,” he says.
Noting that the MOPICON Bill is long overdue, Ejiro wants the National Assembly to expedite action on it urgently so as to ensure the development of the film industry.
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