Jude Idada is extraordinarily talented. Principally a writer, he has romanced almost every genre of writing: Poetry (Exotica Celestica), Prose (By My Own Hands, A Box of Chocolates: the former a novel and the latter a collection of short stories) Drama (Oduduwa: King of the Edos, Coma), Children’s Literature (Didi Kanu and the Singing Dwarfs of the North) and Screenwriting (The Tenant, Dr. Death, 8 Bars and a Clef, The Precipice, The Ghetto Red Hot Project and its documentary precursor, Blaze Up the Ghetto).
Idada has earned a lot of recognition for his works. His screenplay for the movie The Tenant won the Best Screenplay Award at the Africa Movie Academy Awards, AMAA, in 2010. In 2014, his play, Oduduwa: King of the Edos, was runner-up at Nigeria Liquefied Natural Gas, NLNG, Annual Prize for Literature; coming behind Prof. Sam Ukala’s The King. Incidentally, the book had earlier won the Association of Nigerian Authors’, ANA, award for Best Drama.
He sold the film rights for another play of his, Coma, to a South African film production company and has been invited as a guest speaker at a University in the United States and at film festivals. A self-professed egalitarian, Idada’s siblings used to call him Edit as a young boy.
Much as he says that “Nollywood is a miracle in itself”, he observes maintains that the industry “is still in the fringes of world cinema. Therefore, much as Nollywood is celebrated, it cannot be heralded as a global phenomenon yet. There is still a lot of work left to do and a huge distance yet to cover before it catches up with the major players or even minor players in the film world”.
Yet, he applauds the film festivals, film schools, film grants, film symposia, film workshops and all the other efforts geared towards bringing Nollywood into global reckoning.
We unearth Jude Idada: screenwriter, actor, film-maker (producer/director), songwriter, novelist, poet and playwright.
1. We know you are a Theatre Arts graduate of the University of Ibadan. Could you tell us the primary and secondary schools you attended plus any post-graduate degree and/or professional training(s) you also have?
I attended Home Science International School in Ikoyi and Command Children’s School Bonny Camp, both in Lagos, for my primary education; Command Secondary School, Kakuri, Kaduna and for post-graduate, I attended the Guelph University/Humber College in Toronto, Canada, where I did studied Human Resources Management.
2. You are a screenwriter, actor, film-maker (producer/director), songwriter, novelist, poet and playwright. What other skills do you possess that we might not know about? Did anything during your upbringing prepare you for a life in the Arts? Could you also tell us about your early influences – parents, siblings, friends and relatives? Did you read a lot of books or watch a lot of TV in your formative years?
I do not want to sound immodest. I will say the aforementioned skills are enough for one lifetime. So, let me keep the other things, which I think I am good at, close to my chest. I will say the one thing that prepared me for a life in the Arts was READING … I grew up reading, voraciously, everything that I could lay my hands on and I believe this developed and moulded my mind into what it is today.
My father was one of my early influences … he had a prodigious mind and used to get us, his children, to write and discuss issues that were brought up on NTA 9.00 p.m. news. I remember having to defend extensively every choice I made before my father. He couldn’t understand or encourage peer pressure; to him, every child of his had to have an independent mind that informed every choice or decision they made.
In terms of friendships, my first formative friendship that crafted, encouraged and motivated me was my friendship with Fabian Lojede. In the University, we both spent time day-dreaming, writing and discussing. It is a rich friendship that persists even up until today and I believe will forge ahead into the future.
Yes, I read a lot, watched TV and movies like my life depended on them. My siblings used to call me Edit as a child.
3. When did you start writing and which form of writing did you commence with?
I can’t truly remember when I actually started writing, but I completed my first novel at the age of 9. I wrote it in long hard on six 80 leaves exercise books, gave it to my Guidance and Counselling teacher in my high school. She put it in the lower drawer of her desk and told me she would get back to me. That was the last I ever heard of it, very unfortunate because I can imagine what I would have been now if she actually did her job … so, my first form of writing was PROSE.
4. Why, when and how did you embrace screenwriting?
The first time I wrote a screenplay was in my second year as a Theatre Arts undergraduate of the University of Ibadan. I had my minor in Film but, at the time, we hadn’t started going into our minors and the little we had done was very peripheral.
Having said that, I stumbled on an advertisement in the newspapers for the inaugural M-NET New Directions Film-makers competition; it was for thirty-minute screenplays for short films. So, I researched the intricacies involved in screenwriting and proceeded to write a screenplay and submit. I was shortlisted as one of the finalists for the competition.
5. Tell us about your collection of poems, Exotica Celestica; novel, By My Own Hands and collection of short stories, A Box of Chocolates.
Exotica Celestica is a collection – of 178 poems – that explores the relationship between man and God from the perspective of the erotic, emotive, psychological and the spiritual.
By My Own Hands is the first book in a trilogy. It is a novel that explores the concept of suicide and the heavy weight the families, who have lost a member, have to carry as they make their way through life. It is a story of two families, one in Nigeria and another in Canada, who have each lost a family member through suicide and how unforeseen events force their lives to intercept with dire yet heartwarming results.
A Box of Chocolates is a collection of 18 short stories that give an anecdotal account of events across the Nigerian landscape; using issues as a fulcrum … so it explores military coups, AIDS, homosexuality, prostitution, revolution, love, inheritance, friendships, cultural heritage, etc.
6. We will also like to hear about your upcoming films: Dr. Death, 8 Bars and a Clef, The Precipice, The Ghetto Red Hot Project and its documentary precursor, Blaze Up the Ghetto.
Dr. Death is the story of a young man in search of an infamous government hit man, known as Doctor Death, who murdered his father. It is a psychological thriller that explores the confrontation between these two people and how it reveals certain secrets that force the young man to question what he knows about his father and ultimately what he knows about himself.
8 Bars and a Clef is a story about a young man who has to overcome a learning defect, a dysfunctional family and an overbearing record label executive in order to achieve his dream of becoming a music superstar. I play the part of the record label executive. It is produced and directed by Chioma Onyenwe.
The Precipice is a psycho-social drama that explores the haunting effects of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) on a young family in Nigeria. It is an endearing love story between a woman and her ex-soldier husband, who is slowly sliding into mental illness.
Ghetto Red Hot is a musical drama set in a ghetto in Lagos. It revolves around two friends, who battle poverty and a local gang in order to win the first prize of a musical contest, which is a record deal plus the friends’ escape out of the ghetto … Blaze Up the Ghetto is a docu-drama that explores the concept of music as a tool of escape. It spans over a period of time and follows three aspiring musicians in the ghetto who win (and are runners-up) a musical competition and try to see which of them will achieve their dreams of musical success.
7. What lessons did you learn, producing The Tenant and how did it fare in the cinemas, both in Nigeria and elsewhere? When will The Tenant be released on DVD?
The Tenant was a labour of love, a journey of blood, sweat and tears. The primary lesson learnt is that one can achieve anything one puts their mind to. The secondary lesson learnt is that star power and market alignment are real. They are necessary ingredients for cinematic success on a market by market basis.
Being one of the early quasi-indigenous entrants into the resurgent cinema culture in Nigeria, it did very well, especially taking into cognizance that it had no known faces at the time. It won major awards at film festivals worldwide and did well when it screened in London and Canada. Plans are currently underway for a DVD and VOD roll-out.
8. We understand you are based in Canada. What is your experience as an African, working in the entertainment industry abroad?
It has been a rewarding, but trying experience. Firstly, as an African, you are a double minority in the industry. Not only are you black, you are also African, so there are two hurdles to scale. So, mostly, you have to exist in the fringe industry and slowly make your way into the mainstream either by doing culture specific projects or somehow becoming part of diversity-powered productions.
I have worked in the film and theatre industries in Canada and have done well in both because I have endeavoured to position myself as an authority on culture specific entertainment and as a highly socially-evolved African who has assimilated seamlessly into the Canadian cultural landscape.
So, if you exist principally amongst people of your kind and you do not cross over into the mainstream culture, then you will be relegated by the mainstream and would only find cognizance amongst your own people. This is not a wise way to succeed in this environment. You have to belong to as many sub-demographics as you can; you have to be progressive and open-minded. Your imagination and creative pieces have to be universal in nature, so that they can be enjoyed and accepted by as many people as possible. That is the way to succeed. You have to learn, unlearn and relearn, continuously and tirelessly. There is no other way to climb the slippery slopes of entertainment on the global stage.
9. How did you feel when you made the final shortlist for the NLNG Literature Prize with your play, Oduduwa, King of the Edos?
I felt honoured and elated since my selection was a validation of the skill-set of writing and also of the excellence of the work in itself. Because it had earlier won the best drama award at the Association of Nigerian Authors’ (ANA) award; being in the final shortlist and progressing to becoming the runner-up was an attestation to the fact that the play could hold its own amongst the best works in drama for the last four years.
10. We know that your business partner in The Tenant, Lucky Ejim, was part of Render to Caesar. Curiously, you were not part of that project or were you?
I unfortunately was not part of it. Lucky and I collaborate on projects and also undertake other projects on individual basis. Render to Caesar was one of those solo projects. We have access to one another and can always count on each other’s support whenever it is needed, whilst celebrating and encouraging each other’s singular and collective successes.
11. What are the high points of your career in the entertainment industry so far and what are the low points (if any)?
Hmmmm, high points? Okay, I will say being the runner-up for the NLNG Prize … having the film rights of a play of mine, Coma, purchased by a South African film production company … being invited as a guest speaker at a University in the United States and at other film festivals. Low points will be … not winning the NLNG prize and not having adequate financial investments or the necessary funding to make as many films as I will want to.
12. What are your thoughts on Nollywood; in terms of the industry’s achievements and the challenges it faces?
Nollywood is a miracle in itself. A lot has been achieved by people who had so little. It is worthy of study for the sake of innovation, improvisation and diligence. Be that as it may, it is still in the fringes of world cinema. Therefore, much as it is celebrated, it cannot be heralded as a global phenomenon yet. There is still a lot of work left to do and a huge distance yet to cover before it catches up with the major players or even minor players in the film world.
It is worthy to note that work has begun towards achieving this; film festivals, film schools, film grants, film symposia, film workshops, etc. If these are sustained and increased, then there definitely will be a vast improvement in skill-set and quality.
The challenges it faces are primarily structure-based: piracy, distribution, revenue tracking, financing, intellectual property ownership and indigenous content quota for exhibitors. If structure can be put in place to tackle these, then more capital can be attracted to the industry and, ultimately, it will grow even bigger and stronger.
13. Which film-makers, artistes and writers (local and foreign) do you admire and why?
Film-makers will be Steven Spielberg for the boldness of his imagination and his continual learning and relearning … James Cameron for his daring and innovative mind and borderless imagination … Christopher Nolan for the quirkiness of his creations and his willingness to bend the rules … Peter Jackson for his willingness to take on the mighty and bring, to life, the written word into visual image, even that which cannot be contemplated … Mel Gibson for his unique blend of passion, belief, style and genius … Ang Lee for doing the unexpected and proving the impossible possible … Lee Daniels, Ava Duverney, Steve Macqueen, Spike Lee, Alejandro Innaritu, Abderamanne Sissokho, Ousmane Sembene, Gavin Hood, Neil Blomkamp, Alphonso Cuaron, Guillermo Del Torro, Jafar Panahi, Mickey Dube, Herbert Ogunde, Kathryn Bigelow, Tunde Kelani, to name but a few … I am eclectic.
Artistes I presume will mean actors … These are legion, but then there are the usual suspects: Denzel Washington, Daniel Day-Lewis, Leonardo Di Caprio, Meryl Streep, Charlize Theron, Haley Berry and there are the local actors; O. C. Ukeje, Kehinde Bankole, Thishiwe Ziqubu, Bimbo Akintola and Lala Akindoju. This is principally because I am a student and disciple of Method Acting. For me, I believe that for you to will the suspension of disbelief, you have to become.
For writers, I will say Marie Corelli, Ben Okri, Paulo Coelho, Wole Soyinka, James Baldwin, Yann Martel, Charles Dickens, William Shakespeare, Nnedi Okorafor, Margaret Atwood, Isabel Allende, Gabrial Garcia Marquez, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Amos Tutuola, Onyeka Nwelue, Arundhati Roy, Dean Koontz and Anne Rice. I believe I am enraptured by writers who are bold, yet intimate, contemporary yet historical; writers that delve into magical realism and understand the underlying correlation between the physical and the spiritual; writers that tackle issues; writers that appeal not only to the mind, but to the heart.
14. What do you hope to achieve in the near and distant future?
My children’s book, Didi Kanu and the Singing Dwarfs of the North, has just come out; it is the first book in a series. I have another novel coming out by September. I am currently writing three different screenplays and will be directing a play. I have a controversial play scheduled for next Easter. I will direct two feature films before the end of the year and a pilot for a TV show. Then, I am also working on three not-for-profit initiatives centred on mental health, communal bonding and reading.
15. Are there any other experiences or insights you will like to share with us?
I commend you for taking time out to interview me. I have had a continuum of uniquely interesting events that have happened to me. It will be captured in a collection of autobiographical short stories, which will come out next year.
I hope to spearhead a drive towards the film adaptation of Nigerian classic books and I am currently in search of other people who will love to see this come to reality. I have strong political and social justice views and have been known to discuss issues that revolve around these late into the night.
I am a lover with a wide open mind that is capable of imagining and putting into practice things that continually push the envelope. I am egalitarian.