“Sindy Emade, struggling girl; Kang Quintus, a fighter; Enah Johnscott, young talented director…”
The Cameroonian film actor, Otia Suh Vitalis, expresses his proudness about filmmakers new generation, and while talking about his career, makes proposals to move Cameroon film industry forward. It was during an exclusive interview granted last Tuesday the 18th of may 2021 to Theodore Ayissi Ayissi.
You are a well-known Cameroonian film actor with at least 50 movies. But can you tell more about you, your origins and how you get into this art?
Thank you. I started my shooting in Yaounde in 2006-2007. When I left Kribi after my training in Nigeria, I came here and I was contacted by people working at CRTV and who were producing “Facing destiny” during which i met many actors and filmmakers.
We did that series with 17 episodes. And once that was done, Neba Lawrence, a great director, somebody who should be celebrated in his all time, contacted me. Because he had a co-production with some Nigerians among who were Doctor Dike and too more other people who are very prominent in the Nigeria film industry right now. And that’s where it all started. And then from there, you know, I have never rested. Because from there, I’m from one production set to other. But apart from that, I’m a senior medical laboratory scientist, wedded and father of seven children. I am born in Buea-Tole and I grew up there, but also in Menchum division in the North-West region of Cameroon.
Pension, Bad Angel, Samba… Among many others, what movies are you proud of, and for which reasons?
Concerning what has marked me mostly in the movies that I have done, I should say that I always listen to my public. And I discovered that my public most of the time, know more some three TV series that we have done, which are Bad angel, Samba, and Otage d’amour by Mitoumba. Amongst the three, most people that I see tell me, especially the french community for “Otage d’amour”, “tu es un mauvais maire”. But as I’m talking to you from Bertoua, the series that comes out the most, is “Bad angel”.
But my personal view is that all the movies I have done are not the same and I like it. Because for each of them, I play different roles and in different registers. And this is an opportunity for me to learn, an occasion for improvement.
As we talk more and more about the revival of Cameroon movie industry, what were your proposals during the last Ecrans Noirs festival edition?
We have to move forward. I have ben approached not only by you, but also by some government officials about what we can do to move this industry forward. Because it’s a shame that is taking them. So I have told them that I proposed to the former DCC, Mr Martin Belinga Eboutou, when I was the president of the Cameroon Film Industry (2013-2016), a whole project that, as usual, was received and dumbed. Since that, I did not hear from him again. But I took time and I contacted people to come out with the project.
Globally, the highlight of the project is this: we should create an Agency that sponsors film productions and put some money there and I proposed five or ten billions CFA francs. Secondly, we should get an ethical committee of professionals who should look at the scripts that would be sponsored so that our scripts will be up to date and we can produce a kind of film that the whole world would want to watch. And in that direction, we are going to lead and control the world in filmmaking.
Up to now, Cameroonians do not have the possibility to produce their films. We have good stories that we should tell the world, but the business community is still dragging its feet to come in and to put the money that we need to move this industry forward.
The difficulty is that we are doing great films that are on Netflix, Amazon Prime… but Cameroonians do not have access to these films. And even the films that we have done and given to CRTV, they would show it on one Friday night, at ten o’clock, when nobody is up. But I can affirm that we are doing a lot of great films. But where do you broadcast them for Cameroonians?
Qu’est-ce que le cinéma camerounais peut apprendre de l’expérience de la Cameroon Film Industry (CFI) que vous avez dirigée ?
Le cinéma camerounais peut surtout apprendre de la CFI, l’organisation. Parce que c’est ce qui nous manque le plus. Et c’est le reproche que l’on nous fait le plus chaque fois que j’entre dans un bureau en tout cas. Les potentiels mécènes nous disent par exemple que si on était bien organisé, ils mettraient de l’argent. Mais, je leur rétorque qu’il faut prendre les choses dans leur globalité, et qu’il ne faut pas attendre que tout soit parfait pour le faire. Je les invite donc à mettre de l’argent dans le cinéma camerounais.
En fait, chacun doit prendre ses responsabilités. Car il faut savoir que le cinéma camerounais est soutenu par un trépied. Le premier pilier c’est les artistes et les cinéastes. En ce qui nous concerne, nous sommes prêts, et nous faisons déjà des merveilles. Le deuxième pilier c’est le gouvernement qui doit créer un environnement propice, à l’instar de ce qui se fait déjà dans le football où MTN sponsorise le championnat professionnel. Pareil pour la Can Total.
Mais à l’heure actuelle pour le cinéma, pour tous les projets qu’on a et pour tous les festivals, on n’a pas par exemple un partenariat du genre : Ecrans noirs-Tradex, Ecrans Noirs-Oil Libya ou Ecrans Noirs-Camtel. Tout ceci parce qu’ils ne nous prennent pas au sérieux. Ce qui est un tort. C’est pourquoi il est essentiel que le gouvernement crée les conditions favorables au sponsoring du cinéma camerounais par les hommes d’affaires. Et ce sont ces derniers qui constituent d’ailleurs le troisième pilier.
What comes first in your mind, when we give names such as Kang Quintus, Enah Johnscott or Sindy Emade…. Is there any other name you want to add in this short list?
The first thing is that, they have succeeded in their art and I tell many people that many Cameroonians can be like them, but they don’t have the openings that they have. Emade is a struggling girl who has reached a certain level because of her push, because of the effort she has made. Secondly, Kang Quintus is a fighter. He works everyday, and we can enjoy the kind of success he has because of what he is doing. And Enah Johnscott is a young and talented director. In fact, he is one of the first directors who directed me on scene.
However, there are many other names. Jeffrey Epule, Quinta Eyong-Ashu, MacDonald Libota, Miss Ngonga… are among those who gave all their lives to put Cameroon film at the level where it is today. They are numerous and if I consider the other side for example, we have filmmakers such as Mitoumba or Man no lap… very hard working people. On the daily basis, they think about how to become the best, how to improve themselves. And it is exactly what we need. It must also be said that we have everything here in Cameroon to compete with Hollywood in the USA, and not only with Nollywood in Nigeria.
Ecrans Noirs Festival has for instance revealed The fisherman’s diary to the world. What are your expectations for the 25th edition?
Bassek Ba Kobhio has the possibility to do more, to kick the Cameroon Film Industry to another level. That is to say that, all those who are venturing like us into filmmaking and who are doing the thing that we are doing, we are all looking up to him. But the thing is that, Ecrans Noirs, concerning its state utility status, is not yet living up to its prerogatives.
It shall be recalled that English films were integrated when I was president of Cameroon Film Industry and through the serious influence of the former minister, Ama Tutu Muna. Formaly it was not done. It was just an international film festival.
Ecrans Noirs has the opportunity to lead Cameroon filmmaking. That is to say that Bassek Ba Kobhio should be the boss that he is. People should look up to him. People should want to run and come to him.
What about your short-term projects?
Our project, and even, our innovation among others, is the platform Youth talent Challenge (YOTAC). Yotac intends to get talents in all the artistic and cultural world, bring them together from all the ten regions of Cameroon, and try to see how we can promote them, how we can push them to the live light and how we can give them the opportunity to make a genuine living.
What advices can you give to the young Cameroonian film actors?
The advice I have for the young generation is just the summary of the project that I’m setting around and which is to say that. Everybody in this world is born unique, everybody has a talent, something that only him or her can do in the world. And that is the reason why God send this person and that is also the reason why, we, of the Red Feather Awards, we have put a platform call YOTAC where we are detecting these talents, and where we are giving them the opportunity to meet with experts in their domain.
So I’m telling them that, getting into the art, into entertainment, you are not missing anything, you are not the least. But you are one of the greatness. Because the one thing that we have and that we must not loose, is our culture. The day we will loose our culture, we are going to loose everything. So we have to bring our culture back to live.
Theodore Ayissi Ayissi