Tunde Kelani: Cinema With a Social Vision
The African Diaspora Film Festival is a cultural institution installed in New York since 1993. Their mission aims “to present films to diverse audiences, redesign the Black cinema experience, and strengthen the role of African and African descent directors in contemporary world cinema.”
Their annual film festival remains one of the most important cultural events for Africans and others in New York. It usually takes place in late autumn but the organizers screen films all year round.
The summer festival has already begun and will end on the 29th so there’s lots of time to view films on the rest of the schedule. On the final day of the festival, the film “Arugba” will be screened.
The blurb on the DVD describes it as “set against the backdrop of a corrupt society seeking cleansing, rebirth and nationhood, with all its attendant intrigues, the film intimately presents a world in which modernity and tradition exist alongside each other but seldom in equilibrium” This film is the latest masterpiece by the venerable Nigerian cineaste; Tundé Kélani.
Mr. Kélani may not be available for a chat with the audience after the screening of his film on the 29th. And so, he sat down to a one hour conversation with Afrobeatradio’s Wuyi Jacobs over an international call. Unable to attend due to preparations related to Nigeria’s 50th independence celebrations in October. However, through the machinations of AfrobeatRadio’s producer Akenataa Hammagadji, an interview was arranged. It was an opportunity not to be missed. I have been familiar with Mr. Kelani’s works since my days as a theatre student at the University of Ife now Obafemi Awolowo University.
Yoruba with English subtitles.
Born in Lagos in 1948, Mr. Kelani was raised in Abeokuta at this paternal lineage compound, at the insistence of his father who wanted him fully immersed in traditions and culture of his Yoruba people. He would spent his vacation from school in Lagos and later Ibadan where his parents worked and lived. This combination of access to traditional life and culture, and to the urban life of Lagos and Ibadan will later in life give him access to a great cultural store of visual imagery, literature, theatre and festivals that inspire his work as a filmmaker.
He recounts with some relish his long relationship with the camera. It was unusual at the time for a nine-year-old to count a camera among his possessions. His father wanted him to be a pharmacist but by the time he finished high school in Abeokuta, it had become clear to him without doubt that his life’s vocation lay in photography.
TK as he is fondly called by friends and associates became an apprentice photographer in the Lagos studios of Dotun Okubajo from 1969 to 1970. Shortly after, he joined the newly established Western Nigerian Television as a trainee cameramen and started on a career path that would lead him to being one of Africa’s most prolific filmmakers.
TK has played a central if not pivotal role in Nigerian Cinema. He has contributed to most of the the feature films on celluloid that have been made since the 1970s. His credits as cinematographer include such films as Anikura, Ogun Ajaye, Iya Ni Wura, Taxi Driver, Fopomoyo, and Iwa. His own feature film credits include, Ti Oluwa Nile, Ayo Ni Mo Fe, Koseegbe, Oleku, Saworoide, Thunderbolt, Agogo Eewo.
Tunde Kelani does newsreel, shorts and documentary work for BBC world service and other international news organizations in Nigeria and Africa, including, the M-Net New Directions initiative as cinematographer, director and producer.