Invasion 1897 is more than a movie – Lancelot Imasuen

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Invasion 1897 is more than a movie – Lancelot Imasuen



Prolific Nollywood filmmaker, Lancelot Oduwa Imasuen, talks up his latest movie, ‘Invasion 1897’ and its importance to Nigerian and African history


Lancelot Oduwa Imasuen is in high spirit this fine evening as he surveys the guests gathered in his Surulere, Lagos office. De’guvnor, as he is also called, can’t help the occasional grin from breaking out on his face as he acknowledges the greetings from fellow filmmakers and journalists.
Lancelot Imasuen and Chucky Venn on the set of 'Invasion 1897
It’s a three-in-one celebration for the producer and director and he is well within his rights to be happy. He has just bought a new Toyota Camry 2013 model, opened the new office at Bassie Oganba Street and is about to show the trailer of his latest project, ‘Invasion 1897’ in the works since 2010.


A Bini man very proud of his roots, the producer of over 20 Nollywood movies, stresses the importance of the occasion and project to his guests after rounds of hearty backslaps and loud, boisterous hailing.


The Trinity


“Today is January 14, 2014. Today makes it exactly 100 years that the principal character in this epic called Oba Ovonramwen died in Calabar. Last November, I visited the house where he lived and died in Calabar. It has not been an easy project but it shows that when we set out to do a film, by the grace of God, we would get it accomplished.”


The film, he adds, is one of three he has sworn to make before he dies. “As a Bini man, I will not die if I don’t make three movies. One is the story of Oba Ovonramwen; I have read all the versions of stories that have been written about him, how the invasion changed Benin Kingdom and I say till today Benin has not recovered from the incident.


Professor Ola Rotimi wrote about Oba Ovonramwen, Professor Ahmed Yerima also wrote his version but nobody has had the guts to say let’s put this in motion picture to preserve it eternally. So, I told myself I will not die if I do not do a film on Oba Ovonramwen; the entire story cumulating in his exile from Benin.


“The next project is ‘Fire in his Bones’ about the late Archbishop Benson Idahosa. I believe that if Nigeria will work as a federating unit, there’s need for the smaller tribes to celebrate ourselves first so that the scramble for Abuja will be less.


I have the permission of Bishop Idahosa’s family to make ‘Fire in His Bones’ and the last is a movie about the Esama of Benin, Chief Gabriel Igbinedion although some people have gone ahead to make one on him. These are great icons from my place that I need to celebrate so I am also calling on people from other places to look for men that will inspire; that will motivate the young for greatness.”


More than a film


Though it happened 100 years ago, the invasion remains a sore subject for Imasuen (and most Bini people) who still can’t fathom why the monarch was dethroned and the city ravaged. “I don’t know why the man was incarcerated in Calabar,” says the producer of ‘Bent Arrows’ with a pained expression. “He committed no sin, all we are told is the Benin massacre; some white men came to Benin and were massacred. Meanwhile, from the 14th century the Binis had been having a cordial relationship with foreigners, with the Portuguese, with people from Netherland.


“During the reign of Oba Esigie, Benin had an embassy in Lisbon, Portugal. And there are some Bini words derived from Portuguese, there was bilateral trade, they respected each other. We were doing good business until the British came after Dunlop had created tyre and they needed rubber and they realised they could get if from the great Benin Kingdom.


All other kingdoms in West Africa had been conquered, they said Oba Ovonramwen was the last independent king so they plotted, dethroned him, killed and maimed the people. I am a Bini man and we told the story purely from our point of view. To a lot of people it’s a film but to us it’s a movement.”


Power to the artists


Beyond just being a movie, Imasuen adds that ‘Invasion 1897’ is also conceived to empower the popular bronze casters of Igun Street whose forebears made the original 3,224 works looted by the British.


“This movie definitely is going to showcase that business [bronze casting] globally because attached to the film will be exhibitions of the bronze work. To them [British], it was just artefacts, works of art you could use for decoration or keep in the museum. To us it is our records; the bronze making craft was our own method of documenting history.”


Not an easy road


Making the film starring Segun Arinze, Paul Obazele, Charles Enogie, the late Justus Esiri, Briton Rudolph Walker and the British born Nigerian, Charles Venn was no piece of cake for the producer. “This was not a project for toddlers,” Imasuen acknowledges, noting that funding and logistics were major issues.


“As a Nigerian filmmaker, how do I raise the money to do this kind of project the way it should be done? We had hiccups including being denied access to some places where we wanted to shoot in the UK. They were not going to allow us into the British Museum so we needed to create a place that looked like the museum.


We even had the effrontery to pay for locations that we wanted to use over there. Sometimes as we were filming I will pinch myself to make sure it is true. But to God be the glory, everything went fine.”


Panacea to conflict


Imasuen refused to be drawn on the film’s substantial budget but doesn’t hesitate to reveal the proposed release date of ‘Invasion 1897’.


He says, “Food wey sweet, na money kill am. It’s still work in progress, we are still spending. At the end of the film, you all will see the quality. It is deliberate that Lancelot Imasuen has chosen to be going back into our history.


I feel that as a nation, all these conflicts happening right now won’t be occurring if we pause to look back at where we are coming from. Some events that shaped our past, we will probably be able to merge it with today to have a brighter future for Nigeria. This film will hit cinemas in Nigeria on October 1, 2014 following several world premieres, first in the ancient city of Benin where a life sized bronze cast of the boat that moved Oba Ovonramwen to Calabar will be unveiled.”

Apart from its educational, historical and entertainment values, Imasuen says his movie is also an interrogatory on the culprits behind the invasion and what caused Oba Ovonramwen’s death. “As part of the film, we are asking for the death certificate of the man. 100 years after his death, there are so many questions that the work will throw up.”

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