Ernest Kanjo / Tuesday, 28 May 2013 23:08

g11stetgNever has a cameroonian movie been so consistent in harvesting awards like the case with ninah’s dowry. it is easy to accept that the movie is going to be a door opener for cameroon to the international film platform. True, not much has been heard about cameroon so far and even if a few other productions have shown up at major festivals, they have not really created the kind of impact we now know ninah’s dowry has done. Perhaps, it is also thanks to this that some of the people in the production can have their talents/know-how better appreciated by the world. One of them is anurin nwenembom. Anurin plated one of the lead roles in the award-harvesting movie and had his reward. He was recently named best actor by the pan african film festival, cannes in france. but even before cannes, this talented cameroonian artist had had great strides, especially on the drama stage. While training some tanzanian film-ambitious youths in zanzibar recently, tiptopstars’ editor got in touch with anurin. He accepted to have us talk with him and in the following interview, the award-winning actor traced his route into the seventh art, his vision and the cameroonian film industry. Excerpts of the interview with ernest kanjo!

ernest kanjo (ek): who is anurin?

anurin nwunembom (an): anurin nwunembom is the first son of seven children, father from wum, mother from babanki tungo. I grew up with my mother’s kid sister whom i consider my mother because she brought me up and educated me. I never at one moment felt that i was not living with my real mother. Rest in peace aunty maggie! you are still the iron lady. After my a level where i did the a1 arts series plus philosophy, i decided, inspired by an american soap opera entitled fame l.A, to do performing arts at the university. I took a degree in drama and theatre art and later turned to film. But i have not left the stage.

anurin the film maker

ek: what inspired you into film making?

an: as a kid in primary school, i watched two cameroonian great motion pictures –jean pierre bekolo’s quartier mozart and bassek ba khobio’s sango malo. these movies ignited in me the urge to tell stories. Still back in the days, i watched vanessa ebot sona and godfrey b. Tangwa in a crtv telefilm, i have forgotten the title. Then came mendo ze’s l’etoile de noudi which we simply called ta zibi and japhet et jinette with josephine ndagnou. The cameroonian actor who finally sealed my fate to become an actor is langmia kehbuma. His performance in the ola rotimi’s the gods are not to blame and hansel ndumbe eyoh’s the inheritance swept me off my feet and i decided i will be like him.

ek: for how long have you been a film director?

an: not long! i directed my first feature - rita which is still in post production in 2012. In 2008 i did a demo short film, two girls produced by mokom willston muluh. I have mostly done production management in major projects such as leather gangsters, retribution, obsession and ninah’s dowry.

ek: what has been your experience as a director – challenges, successes?

an: the first major challenge is that there is still much we have to learn as filmmakers in cameroon. It is difficult to work professionally with a crew which has little or no knowledge about the filmmaking process. Most cameroonian actors cannot yet distinguish between acting as a whole and acting for the screen. That is a big problem i encounter even when i’m not directing. I was co-producer of obsession. But i had to step in as second assistant director and acting coach just to solve this problem. It is difficult for a director to express himself artistically and aesthetically if the other artists he is working with are not well grounded in the craft. I have rejected many offers to direct. I like to work on a project that takes the producer and the industry more than a step ahead. Either they did not have enough money for the kind of movie they wanted to do or their script and screenplay were very shaky and they resisted any editing of the script.

anurin the actor

ek: for how long have you been acting?

an: thriteen years. Most of my work as an actor has been on stage. I enjoy theatre very much and i’m always ready to take a theatre job. But acting for the screen has a certain appeal which is electrifying so i joggle with both.

ek: what inspired you into acting?

an: i lived for a brief while with my grandmother. She would tell me tales and sing and dance the dramatic parts. She would make me join her. I started at that age to feel what it felt like to impersonate. Godfrey b. Tangwa, vanessa ebot sona, josephine ndagnou, david chuyebunyu, emelda ngufor samba, denzel washington, ousmane sembene, langmia kehbuma intensified the fever. I just had to do therapy – hahahahaha!

ek: which are stage plays and movies you have featured in?

highlights of my stage career are bate besong’s change waka and his man sawa boy directed by bate besong himself, patrice ndedi penda’s the chameleon directed by asheri kilo, femi osofisan’s who is afraid of solarin? which i directed, fidelis ugoro’s prof. Zemzi’s last rehearsal adapted and directed by hilarius ambe, the guissard written and directed by me. For movies, i started in 2004 with vahid ashu’s drastic measures, a feature, etah t. Rene’s leather gangsters - feature, nkuma : fgm - telefilm, crossroad – short film by njukeng george, ninah’s dowry by victor viyuoh – feature and beleh by eka christa.

ek: what makes anurin a good actor and what do your directors and producers say about your performance?

an: (laugh) i cannot really tell what makes me a good actor. I think i simply know myself first and understand that craft of impersonation in every fibre of it. Acting is living believably and truthfully in a given circumstance or it is performing predetermined action to achieve predetermined goals. The first definition was what i learned from by prof. Cynthia henderson, a fulbright scholar from ithaca college. Since then i have not lost sight of that definition and every role i’m given is defined by that definition. I treat each role as something my life depended on. Then i do a lot of research because as an acting coach too, i need to be able to make my wards to understand the art and interpret and perform their roles satisfactorily. The directors and producers i have worked with have been very resourceful too. That is why it is important to work with directors who know and understand directing and acting well. They will make the actor discover themselves. The directors i have worked with so far gave me insights into acting which i discovered as i tried to reach the new level they gave me. The through line of a story and a role makes me know if i will be able to do a role well. If not, i set to researching what will make me do it well. That is all i can tell you about my acting.

anurin and ninah’s dowry                    

ek: when did the producer/director victor viyuoh contact you to do the lead role in ninah’s dowry, what was your initial reaction?

an: victor called me in october 2007. We met in january 2008 and when he was leaving for the u.S, he handed me a draft of ninah’s dowry initially titled eve’s story at the time. But it was not until 2010 that i was confirmed for the role of memfi .

ek: why did you accept the script?

an: the plot and its construction arrested me immediately. The screenplay was stunning, the scenery and situation fitted into each other perfectly, the theme was so touching. The script was all i have always wanted to see in a screenplay so i started dreaming.

ek: did you at any moment think it was going to be that movie that will propel you into fame as an actor?

an: well to tell you the truth, i’m always dedicated to what i do, not because i think of the fame it will bring me, but because of the impact the message will have on my audience. A story has a mission and if an actor does not consciously work to make that mission succeed, then they are not dedicated. I always have my mind on that so much such that fame hardly ever came anywhere around my mind when i was working on ninah’s dowry.

ek: did you enjoy doing the role you did?

an: are you kidding me? i had to grow a beard for two years which fetched me all sorts of insults from people who did not know what this was all about. Impersonating someone one whose ego mattered most to him, of course that is not who i am, and working with a director who had lived and did film school in los angeles, yeah i enjoyed the challenges. It was a lot of pressure, but i had trained myself to carry and manage this kind of pressure. Stage has a way of making an actor handle any kind of role. So it was fun, fun, fun and hard work mostly.

ek: you have just been declared best actor at the festival international du film panafricain de cannes - what does that make you feel?

an: let me share something with you. After amaa ended on april 20, ninah’s dowry when out of seven nominations did not get any, but took home the jury’s special distinction, i went back head-bowed and shoulders-beaten to my workshop and found a smiling yibain emile aka ancestor in zanzibar. The zanzibar youths who were workshop participants clapped when i walked into class. They congratulated me. I said a hesitating thank you and sat down. But ancestor told me the youths were congratulating me for having won the best actor prize at cannes. I told him to stop joking and he said seriously. He announced that cannes was a bigger and merrier story for ninah’s dowry - best film, best actor, best actress. I turned around and looked at the students and the genuine joy and smiles on their faces told me this was no joke and i shouted allah huakkubar. I needed to make the student feel they were a family. They all burst out cheerfully. It is when etta tabot rene told me he had a champagne bottle waiting for me in cameroon that it really became real. I feel humbled and honoured. Above all i feel hard work has not deceived me. And god and jesus christ are working seriously on my files now.

ek: cameroon and africa now look up to you, does that sound like a big challenge?

an: it is not a challenge, it is a responsibility. I feel ready and believe i’m up to the task. I just wish people would embrace the professional way of doing this art so that more and more cameroonians can triumph on the international scene.

ek: what would you do to consolidate your new statues as an international award-winning actor?

an: continue working and doing research. Hold up others so they can reach the height because it is not a one man battle. ninah’s dowry is in the seventh month in its festivals and awards run, it has picked up eight awards. It took the work of many dedicated people – victor, seikeh, kecha norbert, nkwah kingsley, eka christa, vugah samson, tebo njei, mokom willston muluh and those incredible children. I cannot forget their talent and courage.

ek: what general impression do you have about ninah’s dowry’s achievements?

an: ninah’s dowry deserves its awards. It was a battle against difficulties and challenges to make the movie. The determination and resilience of the director inspired the crew to make it possible. The lead was so courageous in doing her stunts by herself that every other person just kept going and tapped into her determination. It is a great movie. I need not say much, the fact that it played on the may 17 at the cannes festival only speaks volumes the film. The director has taste and vision. That is how he is accomplishing his vision.

anurin and cfi

ek: the cfi recently got on a fresh start – your impression…

an: i’ always so worried when i see the term cfi because i do not know what it means. Written cameroon film industry, its meaning is different from cameroon film industry. Most people, who use it, do it interchangeably and i get lost and ask myself if they understand what they are talking about. The main problem of our industry is that most stakeholders are very dishonest and insincere persons. And i have said it time without number i do not see the need for a body called c.F.I. Let guilds run the business of the industry. Create a production code which will guide the making of movies and conduct business in the industry and let that be the regulating tool. Then, let a board enforce the code. This board will end up in almost the same mess as the old one if we are not careful. This is because most of fifteen or sixteen members are not ready film speaking. Those who are carrying the weight in this fresh start have a lot to learn about filmmaking, the film industry as a whole and anglophone film in particular. I challenge most of them to tell me a brief history of this industry from 1957. If we do not know where we come from, the future is not ours as we will only be building on assumptions. Assumption is the mother and great grand of all screw-ups in history. So, i think we need to set new learning, building goals and above all set the standards high. Marketing movies can only gain real roots only if movies which can stand the test of time and geography are made.

ek: what contribution are you going to make towards the development of the film industry in cameroon?

an: i’ve always and will always ask for workshops. I have gained some experience. Many others have gained similar experiences. But these experiences serve no purpose if they stay stashed away in my mind. I have to share them. Most times i have suggested workshops many people have called me oversabi, which means all-knowing in pidgin. I feel insulted, but that is the only way i know i can contribute meaningfully to the growth of the industry in cameroon. Anglophone cameroon lacks a professional movie set-up. Most of what is going on now, at least seventy eight percent is wanton trial and error. Some few months back a prominent director in the industry whose name i won’t like to mention here called buea filmmakers category d filmmakers. I considered the statement childish and silly. This kind of mentality is not necessary as we are trying to finish the construction and enter the consolidation phase.

ek: let us look at your fact file, what are your hobbies?

an: i write poetry, watch movies and play with my kids.

ek: your height…

an: i’m 1.76metres tall.

ek: your best cameroon traditional dish…

an: any cameroonian dish with spice and palm oil and enough maggie.

ek: your musical genre…

an: i enjoy soul, afro jazz, some hip-hop and r’n’b, traditional music

ek: your role model…

an: madiba rohilala and chinua achebe.

ek: thanks for accepting to talk to us.

an: it’s always my pleasure ernest, kudos for the great work!



Last Updated on Tuesday, 28 May 2013 23:27


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