Canada-based Kathryn Fasegha is an ambassador of sort for Nollywood in North America. The award-winning filmmaker, who hit the limelight with her debut, Treacherous Heart, was in the country recently. In this chat, she opened up on her childhood, the movie industry and latest project, 2 Weeks in Lagos, among others.
Could you tell us about your childhood?
I had a nomadic childhood. My father was an officer in the Nigerian army, so we kept moving from place to place. I grew up in northern Nigeria but I was born in Lagos. We traveled across the length and breadth of Nigeria except my state of origin, Imo State. So, I went back to Imo State after graduation and later worked in Imo State Broadcasting Corporation, because I wanted to know my roots.
Has it always been your dream to be a moviemaker or did you just stumble on it?
I don’t know if it was accidental. You know how it is in Nigeria; parents basically tell their kids what they should be. My parents decided I was going to study Law. However, in secondary school, we had this English teacher who taught us drama. I so much enjoyed it that I decided I was going to study Theatre Arts. Back then, you filled out your JAMB forms in boarding school, and when I filled mine, I put in Theater Arts. When the results came, I was admitted to study Theatre Arts. Dad was livid! He was like ‘what!’ He refused to pay my school fees. But I was adamant! I stayed home for two years, but then every year I took JAMB, I would fill Theater Arts and my dad would refuse to pay my school fees again; it was a running battle. I took JAMB again the third year and was admitted to read Theatre Arts. But luckily for me, dad had been transferred and we were in the process of moving to join him. At this point, my mother, who had been watching all the drama, could not stand it anymore, so she decided to pay my school fees.
You must be very stubborn…
No, I am not. I am just adventurous and idealistic; and that was because I was very young then. You know, when you are young, you are very idealistic. Today, when I think of what we went through in the (movie) industry, after graduating with degrees in Theatre Arts and trying to establish our own paths in the profession, I came to understand where my parents were coming from. However, in hindsight and with years of wisdom behind me, I would make the same choice all over again.
Talking about your latest project, 2 Weeks in Lagos, why did you decide to shoot a film about Lagos?
Lagos is the most vibrant city in the world…
Yes, it is. I have traveled around the world. There is no continent I have not been to a couple of times, but I can tell you categorically that there is no city like Lagos. Lagos is a city that you come into and feel alive, animated. The atmosphere is infectious. Anything is possible in Lagos. I don’t know what it is about Lagos but it has a character of its own, so I just had to capture that in 2 Weeks in Lagos. What gave me inspiration for 2 Weeks in Lagos was the fact that I love romance stories, so my first film was a romance story. 2 Weeks in Lagos is also a romance story set in Lagos.
What was it like shooting in Lagos?
It was really good but challenging. It was challenging in terms of logistics, because it was hard to plan and determine exactly what you wanted to do. We had so many factors beyond our control, like traffic. We could decide that we were going to start (shooting) by 7pm and then you get stuck in traffic, and you have to sit there and wait because there’s nothing you can do about it, unlike when I shot in Canada. Aside that, working with the crew in Nollywood was also very interesting. I had both the old and the young on set and it was really interesting for me working with the two demographics. The older guard included the likes of Uncle Jide Kosoko and Aunty Joke (Jacobs), and the way they approached their work was really inspiring. It built my confidence in the direction Nollywood was going. I really took my time. When I came back, I took time to understand Lagos all over again. I had been away for over 20 years.
Yes, you are right, I have been an ambassador for Nollywood films in Canada, because I have always believed that no matter where you are, your root is your root, home is home. I always made sure that my children, who are Canadians, knew their home, the Nigerian culture and tradition, and part of it was putting it in films so that our children over there can understand who they truly are. A lot of discussions out there about Nigeria are negative, even among some Nigerians who have never been home. What they know about Nigeria is scam, but we are a lot more than that. So, taking this film to Canada and showing people that ‘this is Lagos, this is who we are, this is where we come from. You want to know about us? This is who we are’ is what 2 Weeks in Lagos is all about.
How did you feel seeing 2 Weeks in Lagos premiere at the prestigious Cannes Festival?
I was very excited. When I got to Cannes, I was blown away! Having my film screened was an out-of-this world experience. One of the first things they did was to give me the Cannes brochure, which listed all the films to be screened. And then, seeing 2 Weeks in Lagos on the list was mind blowing. Getting to the theatre on the D-day and having all the paparazzi scrambling all over me on the red carpet made it a super experience. I felt like, ‘you have worked so hard and you are thinking, is somebody ever going to recognize you? And then it just happens’. It was a really good feeling being at Cannes.
Tell us about your debut movie, Treacherous Heart?
Treacherous Heart was shot in Canada and it won the award for Best Drama in the Diaspora at the African Oscars in the United States. The film also won two awards in Canada, one from African Entertainment Awards in Toronto and the other in Calgary. Also, Treacherous Heart won Best Actress in a Leading Role and then I won the award for the Global Woman of Vision by one of the biggest TV networks in Canada, in June 2012.
You’ve always talked about young Nigerians understanding their country. Could you talk more on this issue because we have lots of our kids out there not planning to come back home?
Before I talk about the kids out there, I’ll tell you that even the kids here lack patriotism. So many of our young people want to be like the Americans. And that is so strange to me. Here you are, original you, and you want to be something else. That is the big problem we have, and we have to find a way to get young people to begin to love themselves, their country and heritage. You know, I have always known that the grass is not greener on the other side. Life is not easy over there. Nigeria is such a unique place, and we just have to encourage ourselves and the youth to start to love it again; and that is one of the things I hope 2 Weeks in Lagos will do. Going back to Canada, we already have theatrical release; and this is one of the things I am very proud of. We are the very first African film that was picked up by a major cinema in North America. Landmark Cinemas is the second largest cinema chain in Canada. They saw the film (2 Weeks in Lagos) at Cannes and they opened up discussions with us. Now they are starting us across four cities in Canada to test the market. They are very interested in getting into the African market. 2 Weeks in Lagos is a game changer; it is paving the way for African films.