Ace filmmaker, Tunde Kelani is stirring a revolution. The award winning filmmaker is charting a new path in film production in Nigeria with his ‘filmed play’ Yeepa, a fusion of stage and film technique adapted from Femi Osofisan’s classic literature, Yeepa Solarin Nbo.
Poised to preserve some Yoruba literature, he initiated a project, “Retrieval of Yoruba Classics” – drama, poetry, literature, etc, which, he said, are huge and have always been the bedrock of his past works.
In recent time, he unearthed some of these huge literary resources and took them to stage.
“These are materials that resonate with me dating back to when I was very young. I was able to re-produce “The Palmwine Drinkard” originally written by Amos Tutuola, but the production was based on the opera by Kola Ogunmola, and I’m really happy that we were able to achieve it. Incidentally, the Lagos State government has supported us in the overall project of the retrieval of the Yoruba classics. In 2010, I had produced, “Yeepa Solarin Nbo” which the Lagos State government used to celebrate Nigeria’s 50th independence anniversary.”
For the third time, the film maker, who has just wrapped his new feature film, Dazzling Mirage, due for premiere November 7, has revisited the classic, now as a ‘filmed play’, deploying a hybrid of traditional theatre artistes, trained actors and a handful of Nollywood stars. The ‘filmed drama’ depicts Isola (Bayo Bankole) a rascally and unreliable man who is mistaken for the formidable Public Complaints Commissioner, Solarin, by the corrupt officials of the Local Government Council. His presence causes anxiety and panic among the officials, and they make desperate efforts to out-do each other so as to pacify the visitor. The flurry of activities to cover their misdeeds expose the high level of corruption and rot prevalent in the local council. Isola is therefore generously bribed and accorded the reception that befits the status of a man of importance. The discovery of the mistaken identity coincides with the arrival of the real Public Complaints Commissioner.
The new direction, Kelani said, would elicit interests and excitement in Nigerian film industry, which critics believe, is not churning out new offerings and as a result fails to arouse response or interest of the audience. “The industry needs more exciting stories. Productions that are not only stimulating but good enough to elicit huge response from the audience and commercial success at the box office. We really need to swing away from that stale or repetitive stories’ era and explore the richness of our literary resources. That’s why I always emphasize and remind young people that you can’t, for instance, be a good filmmaker if you don’t read, because having acquired the skill to make films, your bank of imagination and fantasy has to come from somewhere. You cannot create something from nothing, it’s not possible.”
In Yeepa, adapted from Femi Osofisan’s Yeepa Solarin Mbo, in memory of Dr. Tai Solarin, (1922-1994), a former proprietor and Principal, Mayflower School in Ikenne and one time Public Complaints Commissioner, Oyo, Ogun and Ondo States, in 1976, feared for his relentless battle against corruption, the ‘filmed drama’ could not have been more apt especially now that corruption has taken a frightening dimension in Nigeria.
In Yeepa, Kelani, preserves the stage form and infuses film technique, deploying four cameras shooting in Dream Studio, Ikeja, Lagos and on locations in Abeokuta. With award winning film director, Niji Akanni as the Artistic Director, Kelani recalled the intervention of Nobel Laureate, Prof. Wole Soyinka, when he was tinkering with the idea of filming Amos Tutuola’s Palmwine Drinkard. “Prof. Wole Soyinka reminded me that it would take a long time to achieve, that why don’t I film it on stage? I think Yeepa is the guinea pig, an experiment preceding greater things because I’ve already started to think of other great plays that influenced me and clearly impressed me. I’m already moving beyond Yeepa and thinking of something else.”
The robust cast is a fusion of the traditional theatre artists, trained thespians and Nollywood – Ropo Ewenla, Bayo Bankole, Ayo Binta Mogaji, Ebun Oloyede (Olaiya), Toyin Osinaike, Joke Muyiwa, Kayode Olaiya, Monsuru Olajide, Samson Alli, Ibikunle Oladipo, Gboyega Olomodosi, Toyin James, Toyin Omotubora, Yemi Ogunyemi.
To ensure the theme of the ‘filmed drama’ sinks, Yeepa, will be screened in select cinemas and communities’ halls, schools and not foreclosing private and corporate screenings from October.
In the ‘filmed play’ are injections of songs that appeal to conscience and social causes – Fela Anikulapo Kuti’s Je n wi temi, (Don’t Gag Me) and Ololufe, Ayinla Omowura’s Omi Tuntun, which opened the film.
Already, the film’s poster designed by Timok Abiodun is going viral online, eliciting comments. With supports from Wiring Africa Ltd, Jide Bello, Yinka Oduniyi, Sola Fijabi and Sulaiman Olaniyan, Yeepa, Kelani enunciated that his motive is not only reflective but a sum total of who we are as a people in a nation.
“As far as I’m concerned, the theme is like an extension of what I’ve always done, that is looking for socially relevant content, and “Yeepa” certainly fits that description as we prepare for the 2015 elections. Already, you can see the drama playing out and it’s just like comedy. When you look at all the tension in the country now: Boko Haram in the North, political violence, dwindling oil resources and all that, “Yeepa” is just a comic relief. Let’s laugh at ourselves because we’re all corrupt.”