The Cameroon Film Industry needs Empowerment: An in-depth Interview with A. H. Obama

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Cameroon is  mostly identified by it’s football icons, especially from those in the past. But, there are many other areas which are pinned to this unique country in Africa. The cultural sector is one of them. Filmmakers just as musicians, have been working so hard to sustain this sector. It is often said that “charity begins at home” but does this applies to the entertainment industry of Cameroon?

Our stop this time was in Yaounde, the Capital of Cameroon. Where, we met one of the multi-talented Filmmakers, Aurelien Henry Obama. The writer ; producer and director is also a Choreographer and Martial artist. We were made to understand that, the filmmakers of Cameroon are facing a similar problem as the filmmakers in Ghana. But How ?

Master Aurelien Henry Obama

Aurelien Henry Obama
All great things in this world were done by passion. I am inspired by the love of the arts

INTEVIEW

Who is Aurelien Henry Obama ?

I am a Cameroonian from the Ewondo tribe in the centre region of Cameroon. Also, I am a karate master with a 4th degree black belt in karate Shotokan. I  practice multiple fight systems such as Taekwondo, Sambo, Jeet kune do, Tai chi, Hapkido , kickboxing, stretching, bodybuilding, meditation, etc.

Can you tell us how you managed to get into the movie industry?

I grew up watching action films that included actors such as: Bruce Lee; Jackie Chan; Chuck Norris; Jean Claude Vandamme; Steven Seagal; Loren Avedon; Gary Daniels; Donnie Yen; Jet Li; and many others.  As I was getting older, I started asking myself if there were black action movie stars. Then, I discovered African-American action stars like: Jim Kelly; Billy Blanks; Wesley Snipes, Michael Jai White and many others.

But again, I asked myself that; what about just African and especially Cameroonian action movie stars. Alphonse Beni has been the pioneer of action movies in Cameroon with noticeable film like Cameroon Connection with Bruce Le (one of the Bruce Lee’s clone). I wanted to be an action star too, so that my children can grow up watching another African, another Cameroonian action hero in movies. I wanted to give Africa and Cameroon in particular another hero in the film industry. Someone they can relate to, here I am.

So, how long have you been in the film industry And what are some of the films of yours?

I have been into entertainment since the year 2000. Yet, my first acting experience was between 2005 and 2006. I have been working more behind the camera especially for musical video. Officially, I started acting in films in 2009. By 2012 to 2013, I had started making small names in the industry and gradually to where I am today.

I have taken part in more than 30 films including short films; series; adverts; video clips and cartoon animation, the list will be long if I have to mention all of them here. But, I was one of the regular casts as Mr. Agwa of the national CRTV series “All Ventures” produced by Alfred MELOW and directed by L.T NJECK in season one which, was shown in the year 2017 to 2018. Presently, season two’s screening is on the same channel . Meanwhile, we are on the production phase of season three.

Aurelien Henry Obama
Film-making is an art with its own roles and principles, which can also be broken.

I was in a short film “Cracks” shown by NJOKA TV online service. Presently, Canal 2 Movies is showing one French movie that I am acting in  “La porte monnaie magique” directed by Yves Rodrigue AGOMBA .  In the past 4 years,   some of the movies in which  I acted in,  have been screened at Ecrans Noirs film festival in Yaounde. These movies include: “Lara’s Song”; “Yenkong’s Cross”; ” Married Single” all directed by L.T NJECK. Not forgetting some of my old short films found in  Youtube and other social media.

What is new in the Cameroon Film industry, what films have been released this  2019 that you are aware?

Honestly, at the moment, there is nothing new. This year, there are more shootings than release. Most major film release will be by the end of this year. It is a similar situation in big film industries too such as Hollywood, where most films are shot in a particular year and release the following year.  

The major movie that I have participated as an actor in the beginning of this year 2019 is “Fatima’s Tale” directed by Fonban Emmanuel LENDZEMO.  I played the role of a Muslim elder who encourage early marriage. Also, I’m will be acting as a police captain investigating on serial killer in a French Cameroonian TV series “ Ma derniere danse” that will be produced and directed by Banderas KOUAM

Early this year, I also took part in the action short film “Shango” directed by Kelly NTEP and FOUEJEU Julien. Not forgetting feature film “A Broken Petal” directed by Soopa Doopa. You can see that I have been very into it this year.

Yeah, I see that!  So, what are the challenges to be a filmmaker in Cameroon? 

Be it in any part of the world, there will always be some challenges in everything. In Cameroon, the filmmakers face a problem of means: finance; equipment; training; support; resources; etc. The stumbling block in the industry is very complex. Cameroon is one of the rare countries you will see people asking the actors and filmmakers where they can watch their films. They appreciate a film when they think it is from Nigeria or Ghana when focusing on African films. Once you tell them that it is a Cameroon film, immediately they will start to look for just errors in the film.

Meanwhile, some Cameroonians will say “ we prefer to watch foreign TV channels to the Cameroon TV channels”. Most Cameroonians don’t go to cinemas or for film premieres. Even if the premieres offer free entries, yet they complain that cinema is not being promoted. The same people will complain that they only hear about filmmakers but they don’t see the films,  want to watch your film on TV but they don’t watch TV channels in Cameroon. Which TV then?.  It is complicated.

Really, it is complicated! What do you think can be done to change this stumbling block into a stepping stone for the industry?

I think that, Laws should be implemented in Cameroon to defend and encourage production, promotion and distribution of our films and music. For example public and private TV channels and cinema halls including DVD sellers should screen and sell 50% of home made products, 25% of African films and 25% rest of the world. With the law, the filmmakers will be able to improve on their quality by paying their production team and get good equipment with ease.

The government should encourage the private sector to invest in the entertainment industry  by reducing their taxes. Also there could be national film festival to motivate the creativity at all levels in the entertainment industry without favouritism. National entertainment TV Channel could be created exclusively, to promotes only Cameroonian movies be it in English, French, pidgin, local dialects, etc. Although people will say that ” we have a sport and entertainment channel”. Sport alone is too vast to be combined with other entertainment such as film.

Also, Cameroonian  movies  should be marketed and distributed both locally and internationally.It is how we perceive cinema and entertainment in general that is affecting the industry negatively. Most people don’t know that promoting films will not only bring benefits to the filmmakers but to other sectors also. Lawyers; managers, and drivers; Cooks; designers etc will directly or indirectly get benefits too if we support and promote entertainment products especially films.

Both private sector and public sectors will benefit from a well developed Cameroon film industry. The country’s economy will be positively affected by promoting our entertainment products. Also, by showcasing its cultural values through movies, it will also attract tourism. The Cameroon Film Industry needs empowerment, the entertainment industry in general. 

Aurelien Henry Obama
I produce action movies, which are vehicles to express my fighting skills.
What is the name of the production company you work with and What are the areas of your expertise in the film industry?

As an experience actor, writer and fight choreographer, I have worked with different filmmakers in both English and French  production houses. As a film director and producer, I work with my films under my production house label NGUL Productions. NGUL in the Beti languages means “force, strength or power”.

Generally, I produce action movies, which are vehicles to express my fighting skills, pan African view and leading roles. When you are a pioneer of action/martial arts film, you are obliged to do many things. You find yourself acting, stunt fighting, writing your action script, producing, directing; and fight choreography.

It’s very common for action stars to be multi-tasked. Good examples are Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan, Tony Jaa and Michael Jai White.  who, are in front and behind the camera. In Cameroon, the specialization of fight choreography and stunt fighting are rare in the film industry because one needs a very good martial arts background in relationship to cinema technical know-how to choreographed fight scenes; that helps to tell a non verbal dialogue; which is part of the story telling of a movie.

What does it take to be a filmmaker or an actor in Cameroon? 

In almost all countries in the world and even in the house of the father of films “Hollywood” there are general two approaches to become a filmmaker or an actor. It can be formal training like going to a film school, attending cinema courses at universities, etc or informal training-: being part of acting group, attending seminars, online research, being part of production houses, attending film casting etc. In general, it is a combination of all.

In Cameroon, most filmmakers and actors are autodidact. The most talented ones have done a lot of research and training. film-making is practical. If you are good in theory but you are not practicing, you will go nowhere. But as a practical filmmaker or actor you need some notion of theory to guide your path. Both theory and practical are important ways to become a filmmaker or an actor.

It’s good to be part of an acting group; production house or guild. Attend seminars, participate in film casting, go to film festivals, film premier or launching. Meet filmmakers and talk to them. Do online researches about the various film topics. Film technicians need to train constantly with the materials/equipment learning the craft and same goes to the editor. Shooting short films for training is good for all.

What is the most important factor when you plan for your film production

I look at the story/Script. This is because everything starts from the story. But as we are in Africa with  the problem of production means, it is difficult to follow the roles always. Frankly speaking, money is the key. This makes us want to look at the budget before the story, which works to some extent. But does not usually work all the time. That is why the executive producer is more respected than producer in Africa especially in Cameroon. “No money, no project”. Yet a good producer can plan well with the limited resources.

What inspires you during your everyday involvement in the industry?

All great things in this world were done by passion. I am inspired by the love of the arts. If you are doing movies for money, then look for another job but if you are doing for the passion, then it is quite rewarding and definitely at the end you will have that money. Even those filmmakers and actors who have millions in their bank accounts are still doing movies. Meaning, it is not the money which is motivating them. But it is the love for films, doing what they love best in life just as I do.

When you are not making films what else are you doing? 

I am a martial arts instructor, I teach karate at the University of Yaounde II Soa. In the past (2002 to 2012),  I was running an online Pan African martial arts magazine called “Shiai Magazine“. The magazine was focusing on how black people across the world practice various form of fighting systems. This was from all regions; especially African fighting methods (traditional, modern or hybrid combining); Asian or western styles to African combat systems.

In the past, I was very busy promoting various form of culture. In the year 2000, I was writing stories for African comic books. Now I’m more focusing on teaching and learning different form of martial arts to enhance my pan African action film career. I am more interested to give Africa their action heroes in the movie industry. Thus, I am always around the cultural and entertainment zone.

Aurelien Henry Obama
I am a martial arts instructor, I teach karate.
What advice do you have for your colleagues in the industry; aspiring filmmakers and the Cameroonian society?
 
To colleagues

No one is a saint. Film-making is an art with its own roles and principles, which can also be broken since creativity has no unchangeable roles. In Cameroon, our production style is like the guerrilla fighting style, it is complex due to lack of finance. Thus, one has to be very creative to use this method. Therefore, we “the filmmakers” have to appreciate the efforts of every filmmaker.

At the same time, we should be able to accept critics (positive and negative); learn from our mistakes and grow. Insulting or mocking people who put their best to contribute to the growth of the industry is not professional. We should be respectful to each other and provide constructive criticism  to improve the  industry. That is what is important.

To aspiring filmmakers and actors

A general advice is to meditate over your passion and follow your hearts. Implement personal learning and focus on your new career. I could see many young ladies who want to be celebrities over night doing anything to succeed. Sadly that many had tried and left with regrets; even gave up because they were abused. Ladies who want to be actresses, please don’t be desperate. Be humble and learn. Wait for your time to shine. No matter the role they give you for now, take it and play it with passion, it’s a learning process.

To the Cameroonian society

Cameroonians, support your celebrities who, give values to your country Cameroon. Consume our films please. “Charity begins at home”. Every country promotes their own products first. Watch the Cameroon TV channels, go to cinemas and attend premieres. Entertainment is made to entertain the people. Promote us and you will be qualitatively entertained.

This is deep! Is there any news you will like us to know about you and your career?

The good news is that, I will be releasing my first feature film  “No Time” an action drama which I’m planning to make it a trilogy or franchise; as a producer and director. I am assisted by an award winning Cameroon cinematographer Yibain Emile Aime Chah aka Ancestor. I will also be the action lead, starring as “John AMBE”.

“Just a vibe”

John AMBE is a special force agent,  who works for the Cameroon government. His job is to stop worst criminals and terrorists in the country by all means. In this film he will get help from his nephew Travis (ELIE ETTA OBEN –  one of the writers of the story) and his best friend Aubrey (Prince OJAY) to track down criminal network of human trafficking of innocent girls headed by MVONDO (Kelly NTEP – the fight director of the film ).

Other actors such as DINGA Noella, NCHANA Basil, NGATO Brian, Martina ARREY and award winning actress AZAH Melvin  are in the movie. Also, multiple Cameroon stunt fighters, who were finest Cameroonian champions and martial art masters in the country such as Djocky Djocky Sylvestre jr, Mfopou Mfondoum Mouhamed, Bertrand NKENGUE are present..I can’t wait to release this film.

The 2nd good news is that I will take part in the feature film “Man of War” produced by Ricardo Schtieg Mokwena. It will be filmed in South Africa, shooting begins in fall. I will play Kolo TOURE,  2nd most wanted man on the Interpol’s most dangerous criminal an accomplice of the main villain. By next year, I will take part in “Blood Brothers” that is produce by Sebati Edward Mafate. Another action feature film about illegal poaching to be filmed in Botswana.  

Finally there is another martial arts film project with my friend Master Fabrice MBIA, who is a shaolin Kung Fu Monk. He has studied in the monastery of China. It will be a Chinese Cameroon film production with Chinese and African actors together to be filmed in Cameroon. It is at pre-production phase at the moment. Keep supporting African action cinema and their heroes. Check me out here and subscribe to see more of me

Thank you.
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