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FilmTalk: Jato Ehijator Compassionate Filmmaker.

Efefiong: He's a dynamic filmmaker with honours and awards from his filmmaking skills and dedication. Compassion for any subject or issue arouses his visionary movies and filmmaking statements.

It is also missionary with a directional stamp in Traffick Africa. Traffick Africa earned this very field maker top honours at five out of 14 film festival circuits. He also bagged the Baltimore International Black Film Festival Audience Award New York, Kwanza Film Festivals Best International Feature Film, Best Actress Award at the Nisnan Van Wright Film Festival, South Africa and gained a work of recognition at the Aquanet Film Festival and IndieFest.

However, this filmmaker would also examine the social ambience of Township Dream Documentary, which he screenplayed and directed for Artsy Studios, his own studio. He featured a young South African guitarist, soul, jazz and R&B musician and singer, Yonelisa Wambi’s Life, Love and Music.

JATO EHIJATOR welcome on Film Talk from FilmLab Nigeria, a We Entertainment, Lagos production. Welcome Sir!

Jato: Thank you I do appreciate. Okay you're making me feel a little bit nervous with the accolades you've just read out.

Efefiong: But these are the things you achieved.

Efefiong: So, let's examine the elements of producing documentary movies with a touch of emotion; as if it is drama. Especially when it comes to reflecting emotional nuances of unrealizable Township Dream and Trafficked Africa. My first question would be please, explain the difference in your 20 years experience, when you started filmmaking at OGD Pictures in Nollywood and later relocated to South Africa.

Jato: To be honest with you I’ve spent about two decades in the industry. I started with OGD Studios. That’s Tade Ogidan studio after my schooling. So, then Nollywood to be precise, gave us that opportunity to be creative and deliver content to reach our audience.

South Africa I would say was like a finishing school for me. You know, working in the big studio, big equipment, advanced technology and enhancing my growth into the international family. So that is my experience and I’m still working on it.

Efefiong: So, what are those special peculiarities you could easily detect in South Africa compared to Nollywood?

Jato: To be honest with you South Africa is a standard filmmaking studio. You have the likes of the Hollywood coming there to shoot. You have the people from Europe coming to shoot and because we shoot during summer. Our summer is about 12 hours a day, which is an advantage for us based on time rate to shoot and we have lovely locations. I think we have one of the best locations in the world. So that gives us that thing.

Then, I don't think people know this, but to be honest with you we have the biggest studio in Africa located in Cape Town. A studio that they built on about three big ships in it; so, you can imagine how big`it is.

Cape Town, South Africa Based Ngerian Filmmaker
Jato Ehijator

Then, when we talk of the gear, which is called equipment, we have standards. You just need to find out the studio you're talking about and the kind of gears they have. To be honest with you, you'll be shocked to know that these people have Hollywood standard and based on the fact that the industry is well organized. So, when you go out there to ask tv stations to give you money to shoot, either a tv series or a movie there's a standard. You can't go below it. There's no room for you to say oh I had to use this, no you gave them a budget and you must spend according to the budget.

When you come aboard to pitch for a project you must bring in a studio that they can entrust. So, it's well organized to be honest. It's not just going to be something; you just take money do anything to submit. No; from the scratch and once you go through that guideline obviously you are going to work with the best hands at the same time the best products.

Efefiong: That's nice that means nobody has to play around. I regret the fact that Ebonylife Studios was built in Calabar, Cross River; but unfortunately, that studio is no.

Jato: I think I visited 2005 and I saw a very massive studio but then obviously administratively it wasn't functional.

The distance was also a problem to most filmmakers; because the filmmaking industry in Nigeria is obviously in Lagos. People went extra mile to go down there; but in South Africa, the biggest studio like I said as in Africa is there in Cape Town. Cape Town is the basement for shooting tv commercials, movies and series.

Efefiong: I love this movie that you produced. I mean I had a dream like this young man. I never saw, people to make a documentary out of me anyway. So, I will play first to six minutes of uh Township Dream by Yonelisa.

[Music]/Don't you… [Music]/Oh, so close your eyes…/[Music]/Don't you know I’m

[Music]/ um / [Music]/ I love you...I need you...I love you / [Music]

NARRATION: Gugulethu is a township just 15 kilometres from Cape Town, South Africa and often portrayed as a place of high crime, violence and widespread poverty. Gugulethu ironically can be found on the tourism schedule and has a high volume of international travellers, eager to experience local cuisine at the world famous Masoli’s Meat Restaurant or taking the culture of one of its many vibrant jazz lounges.

This is the township that musician Yonelisa spent much of his childhood.

Yonelisa: My name is Yonelisa Wambi. I was born 1992, 5th of December in a place called Gugulethu, a township in Cape Town. It's in the Cape Flats

It's a place, when I was growing up it was filled with gangsterism; because Gugulethu is like a township; so, townships are a place where black people really were dumped; kicked out of nice places, areas like Campus Bay Sea Point; whatever and then they were put there to stay there and like it was like minimum housing.

I don't know how to explain it, but like not really big houses or whatever; but it's a place

where you find joy, find pain and find a hell of a lot of other things. But yet me growing up in Gugulethu, it was a key point in my life that shaped me to be who I am. Because in Gugulethu I found a school called Indonga Music School; which is the jazz school that a great artist named Pokeclass (???) was a bass guitarist; was playing with Mike Perry.

They were doing the struggle music. Struggle music like apartheid; talking about the apartheid; effects that it had on people. And me finding them in that place it was like I found my sanity. Because it was like an escape place, where I can go every day and learn music and got taught how to behave and act as a musician. Even though sometimes I mean, they were not the greatest of the examples in the school. But they groomed us and shaped us to be artistes and never to give up on our craft.

NARRATION: Like many of the residents of the Cape Township settlements, he was raised alone by his mother in a shack made from corrugated steel sheets and plywood; more often referred to as a shanty. His mother grew up during the apartheid regime, a political and social system in South Africa that enforced segregation and racial discrimination against people of color.

The streets of Gugulethu were harsh and dangerous during these times. The well-known saying dream to die was born from the lack of government support or assistance with infrastructure.

Yonelisa: There I met a lot of other young artists like myself; but along the way I mean some others fell off some others got involved with gangsters. Some others got involved with drugs some others got involved with certain other things. Gugulethu is the place, if you don't have direction, you can get lost in between the whole confusion that goes on there. Because in townships there's not much going for the youth; so, it's up to yourself. Whether you are going to be a statistic or you're gonna go and do something different. So Gugulethu is a place really, where if you are really really really really driven, you can make something out of yourself.

But if you're someone, who has a lack of a backbone and direction you can end up being in the wrong crowd doing certain things; even dying. Because I mean it's good related

Mennenberg, it's Heideveld, it’s Nyanga, its KTC; it's all surrounding this one place and all these places are known to be not that pleasant of places to live in.

NARRATION: Even still today many, who fall by the wayside, will become involved in crime. Life expectancy in these micro-cities is among the lowest in the world; but this was not the destiny of Yonelisa Nomgema Wambi, who is more fondly known by residents as the Guitar Boy.

Yonelisa found his passion for music at an early age…

Yonelisa:(Singing) …I’m gonna be your star one day you're gonna see me on tv.

Efefiong: Can you compare the issues of ghetto dreams in your first movie King of Shitta, in Lagos, Nigeria to Yonelisa’s Township Dream, Gugulethu, Cape Town, south Africa?

Jato: Yeah sure! If you've seen both movies you realize that there are two different dynamics that played out. One wanted to escape the ghetto to become a better person and the other one was there to assume power. He was power conscious. He lived in the ghetto. He never saw life outside the ghetto.

All he wanted was just power; so, it was like a power tussle for King of Shitta; but in respect of one living in Gugulethu, Cape Town, which is also like a ghetto, he knew for him to achieve his dream he had to leave.

Efefiong: Yonelisa could have come from Ajegunle, like Daddy Showkey and the rest of them came out. The big difference is that your King of Shitta didn't attach himself to any profession.

Jato: No! King of Shitta, the talent he felt he had; he thought he had power and with the help of his physical power, it would acquire everything, he wanted; both politically and financially.

Efefiong: You produced a reality show; which to me is quite different from you know the drama; the fictional drama. Though scripted anyway; but then, when we see people in reality shows, trying to, you know mark up: would you think same for King of Shitta and Township Dreams?

Jato: Working on a reality show obviously you'll be working for a big studio; because reality show entails money. So, it's only the big studios that can do it. I was opportuned to be the producer and at the same time the creative director. So, for me it was just a job to be done you know.

It's just not something that I would call my passion; but it was just a job that was going to pay my next bill. What they needed from me was just my creativity and I gave it to them; but talking about King of Shitta and Yonelisa's a Township Dream that was more like passion, you know?

I’m not sure people will be aware of it; but I personally funded it. It was my first project and after I did a tv series called Eve for Konga Studio, 52 episodes. I was well paid. So, I thought then at that point, the only way to start building on my dreams was to shoot.

I have relationship with the Shitta community; so, it took me about three months to do my own survey and I came up with a story. So, I personally funded King of Shitta and it became a successful; which I’m very proud of myself. Because at that point there were the challenges

and I thought what would I do? Should I go for it or should I just wait? And I went all in; same thing with me for the Township Dream, I actually discovered you know Lisa in the reality show.

Oh yeah that was six years ago. I saw something in him. I saw a dream. I saw someone that was passionate and we spoke for a while; but at that point I wouldn't lie to you, I was try to save myself in South Africa.

So, the only thing I could do then was just to encourage him six years later. I gave him a call. He answered my call and we shot the documentary.

Efefiong: So, you were impassioned, when he came to the reality show; but you were passionate with King of Shitta and you know Township Dreams.

Ehijitor: Yeah, those are my babies. King of Shitta was my first child and today it is still deep and dear to me. Therefore, you know Lisa's

Dream was something I promised him; because I’m someone that loves to keep to my promise. I came to it!

Efefiong: okay! I will play seven to 14 minutes of Township Dream.

NARRATOR: And from the first time he picked up a guitar he felt a deep connection that continues to shine through in his Afro-Soul and R & B fusion style music.

We have been closely following Yonelisa's journey. An inspirational story of a young boy who grew up on the mean streets of Gugulethu; but refused to accept his predefined destiny.

YONELISA: My music, where I come from is looked at; why are you choosing music, there's no career in music. There's no way you can make it. There's no way you can earn money; because musicians die broke. It was seen as something that, ‘No you can't do that!’ You have to be a doctor. It has more credibility. It will bring an income and help the family; instead of you pursuing a passion. Or something that is different from what other people are doing.

So, I didn’t really have someone that I looked up to in my community; yet I always found in books on tv, people that I looked up to.

Efefiong: A lot of people see disabled people or People Living with Disability as incapable. And they themselves also feel they are disabled. That their human capabilities or capacities have been so limited. They will go to the top of bridges in Lagos and sweep to beg for money. Whereas some of them who have hands could actually… maybe learn shoemaking or something like that, you know.

So, what about the people you worked with in Walking the Path or people in South Africa. What hope compared to you know his (Yonelisa’s) declaration, the sky is my limit! Do they have hope like Yonelisa has?

Jato: I would like to probably explain the link to People Living with Disability.

Efefiong: Okay.

Jato: You see there are two kinds of People Living with Disability. You have the people that are physically challenged and mentally challenged. Yonelisa’s case, he was able to subdue his challenges. And went beyond with more of him thinking of what will I be, if I don’t achieve this? So, basically, he also had challenges; both financially and mentally. But he was able, because he kept doing it. That’s just one thing about, when you have challenges physically or mentally.

People do have these challenges once and I learnt, when I worked with an NGO is you don't really pity them. You show them love and with the help of love they have been encouraged. So, for Yonelisa saying sky was his limit at that point, was he had people like me and others that kept encouraging him. He knew there was going to be a dream for this. He was going to realize his dream; so, for now Yonelisa is thinking beyond that very sky and is thinking of going to something really, really, really deep and nice.

Efefiong: Okay so let's connect it like this. In your film Walking the Path, in maybe one sentence or two could you summarize what the main character’s hope was and whether he actually went onto achieve anything he ever dreamt of.

Jato: Yes, Cape Town is disability friendly. In the world I think it’s the fourth or fifth city that is disability friendly. So, they have would I say’, they have a space for people living with disability.

For instance, in every company, you must have one or two people living with disability in your office; compulsory. It gives you a higher advantage; if you are looking for contracts. So, when I did the documentary Walking the Path, it was about Gavin. Gavin and I used to work in an NGO. When Gavin wrote the story, I was touched to the point I said, I was gonna do a documentary.

Gavin just finished secondary Sschool then; and wanted to go overseas for schooling. He bought a bike, which he rode to a part-time job. He had an accident and lost his feet; his legs rather. But guess what? Gavin moved on, studied; well educated, now married: no wheelchair, ever since.

So, people living with disability and people

that probably would like to live without disability there's no much difference. It's your mindset.

Efefiong: Beautiful! Now, I wonder how his disability created conflict for me in the movie. I mean, because I can see that your passion for such people or will always motivated you to, you know to produce.

I mean if you dramatically compare that to somebody, who is able, but has an internal conflict and he has to overcome this conflict. Then evolve into the person, who is supposed to be with capacity to be human being; just like it happened with Gavin.

This is a dramatized documentary! Good, now so in terms of emotions; in terms of evolving the character. How did that happen, if you were to do it like a dramatic movie?

Jato: Yeah, yeah! To be honest the characters in my documentary were the actual people.

Efefiong: okay?

Jato: So, it was easy for them to relate with the script; because I wrote the script based on their lifestyle.

Efefiong: Okay?

Jato: I remember, when I went to interview Gavin's mother, she played back what happened. At that point she was crying. So, she never thought anything could come from Gavin. But seeing who he is today and kind of friends he has, like me, she was joyous.

She was very happy. So, when I plan to do a project; most of my projects, I don't know if you've seen all, it's not far from reality.

Efefiong: And they are led by compassion.

Jato: I mean, I live by compassion.

Efefiong: I give it to you, okay? Thank you so much. Okay now, how did your commercial experience motivate the founding of Artsy Lens for tv commercials, drama, documentary movies and reality shows. How did your collected experience push you. Like I would probably wake up in the morning I say okay, I have talents I can write a song and pick up a guitar begin to write this song. How did your movie experience push you? What really motivated you, considering really your experiences?

Jato: It has been my dream a long time to open a studio, but definitely I had the challenges and everything. So, when I got to South Africa, I knew it was going to be a bit difficult. Because you're talking about breaking into the big studios. So, what I did? I worked with some Indians, Germans and Asians. So, by the time I brought a bit of experience from there and I knew I was ready, the only way I could go about it, was open a studio.

Efefiong: How easy is it?

Jato: It's not easy to be honest with you. I’m not going to lie to anybody to say, just open studio and do it. No, it depends on your determination. What you want to achieve. When I had some cash or rather some basic finance to open a studio, I could have just done something else with it. But I knew that was the only platform that my voice could be heard. So, I went ahead, registered the business name, which is Artsy Lens.

It was approved after I think a week; so, when they gave to me, the next thing, I did was to look for a space for my studio. But during the period of my early days in South Africa, when I worked in different big studios, I made friends. So, I kept telling them about my dream. By the time I was about to open Artsy Studio I called on them and they were my first staff, yeah.

Efefiong: That's quite a journey like a movie.

So, I would believe that with that mindset of accepting knowledge, agreeing to mutualize knowledge in terms of art of filmmaking it will be easier for Nigerians and South Africans to tune in like you, when you left Nollywood and went to South Africa.

You had a mindset to learn and you call it a finishing journey; a finishing school for you. Look at you, you're a better filmmaker today.

So, the question is will Nollywood would be willing or a few cinema filmmakers, cinematic makers be willing to really collaborate with South African?

Jato: Yes, the South Africans are, to be honest with you, they are willing; because in the world of entertainment Nigeria is bigger. But in that sense of the payments, they are more equipped you know. They have tools. They have what it takes; but the market is Nigeria.

Efefiong: What should Nigerians do to attract them and what should they do to attract Nigerians?

Jato: Proper contracts. Genuine contracts. It starts from there. If you and your company want to work with a company in South Africa by time you draw out to your contract, they read it and see your vision, in reply they'll give you a budget. And in your reply, if you said yes that this budget you can handle it, trust me you get the best quality of what you want. If you watch Queen Sona in Netflix; a Netflix original. They shot a proper project.

You could see a proper budget being spent, because director's fees are online. It's not going to tell you something different from what is online. The D.O. P’s fee is online. If you're looking for D.O.P in South Africa, before you get there just go online. They will give you different rates.

They'll say okay, if it's two days this is the amount; if it's a week this is the amount for the month; the series is the amount and grades of experience. So, you go in there, choose what you want, look for the person and they have agencies take care of crew.

In Nigeria we don't have agents for crew. As a director I’m part of an agency; so, if they need me, they call my agency and my agent just tells them if I’m free or not. So, everything is structured over there. So, you don't want to work with me as well, you don't want to come back structure? You can't just come like a businessman and say take money. No, you don't work that way. You have to go through the t's and the Cs and agree to all the terms. Once it's agreed, you sign.

You tell them what you're bringing to the table. Maybe you're coming with your actors and your money, they will come with the gear, which is the equipment and every last thing you want.

If Safe House that the lead role was Denzel can be shot in Cape Town, then you can shoot any project there. Trust me.

Just come with the mindset of coming to do a proper project; because when you come with a mindset of like let's do something through the backdoor to start with, an average South African will not do that with you. A big studio will not do that with you.

Efefiong: The right thing to do anyway!

Jato: Just do the right thing. Your mindset of doing the right thing and putting a proper pen and paper together, the collaboration is there waiting for you.

Look at our artists that go to the States to do

collaboration with other artists. You can see obviously proper paperwork was done. So, if you can do that to the Americans, then why can't you have South Africans. Because they will make you understand they just want to give you a standard. So do a proper contract and take it out from there.

Efefiong: I think it's a question of trust I got to know a woman in South Africa, who was

befriending an Igbo guy. I sent her an idea. She loved it. I said you must commission me first before I start work; because I was speaking from Nigeria (SHAKES HEAD).

But then I also worked for an attorney in Gauteng, may be because she is Indian. We signed contract, I co-wrote a nine-page script and I was paid my money. So, it’s about trust.

Jato: Because we human beings would not like to be rude to each other using the word trust. We just make you understand; put a contract, because the contract is going to rope you, if you go against it.

For instance, if you tell me, I’m starting a project by May and by June if not started, you claim it for May. So, you really follow the contract with discipline; not your way of doing things.

Efefiong: Yeah. Why haven't you completed SA Girls, which you shot in 2018?

Jato: Like I told you I’ve done that, but when I posted it at that time I had not finished. But as I talked to you right now it's good to go and it's going to the big screen.

Efefiong: I’m still talking to the compassionate filmmaker Jato Ehijator. What's the meaning of Ehijator. It sounds very powerful in my mouth.

Jato: The actual pronunciation from the State(Edo State, Nigeria) I come from, though in South Africa we call it province; It's the actual pronunciation is Ehijimetor meaning, God let me live long oh.

Efefiong: Ooooh! That's right! Well, I usually ask my interviewees about their big secrets. I don't know what your big secret is; but I seem to think that your big secret, which you spell out anyway; which you might explain is to focused on blending Africans-American production recording edge cinematography to shape new African stories. How do you ever do that given the state of industry today, due to pandemic.

How would you again relate to, you know, the world now that they are coming; if you are an African filmmaker? And for the fact that you make things to make statements about human challenges. It gives you leverage over the average stories we tell Nigerian films.

Jato: I would say most of my movies are

movies for advocacy. My movies naturally relate to human challenges in any form. It could be someone suffering from something internally; something physically or probably someone that has fear of hope.

Efefiong: okay?

Jato: So, most of my projects, if not all are advocating and twisting the story in the essence that people overcome any challenges they have in life.

Efefiong: I think your message is your front burner first of all.

Jato: Thank you!

Efefiong: Your message is your front burner. Well, I’ve been talking to the compassionate filmmaker Jato Ehijator, who has been in South Africa, for I don’t know how many years you've been, seven years and has practiced filmmaking the way he's supposed to grab. I’ve seen his jobs. I’ve seen his interviews and I want to thank you so much for coming along. I hope that very soon I’ll be joining you out there.

Jato: All right thank you very much. I really appreciate it.

Efefiong: Thank you for coming on Filmtalk and you can you can check out Thank you so much! Thank you so much!

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