Kunle Afolayan is one of the sons of legendary filmmaker, Adeyemi 'Adelove' Afolayan, and with sheer hardwork, he has risen to become one of Nollywood's bankable film director.
In 1998, Kunle Afolayan was a banker. He had hardly spent a year on the job when he landed a role in Tunde Kelani’s classic movie, ‘Saworo Ide’, a brilliant portrayal of Nigeria’s political system.
The movie would launch the young Afolayan into instant fame. His role as ‘Arese Jabata’ remains his brightest point as an actor. Within the next six years, the actor-banker would take up roles in select movies to bolster his filmography. One of them was the sequel to ‘Saworo Ide’, titled ‘Agogo Ewo’.
“For me, I did a bank job from 1998 to 2004. But within those periods, that was when I featured in Tunde Kelani’s ‘Saworo Ide’ and ‘Agogo Ewo’ and a few other few films” Afolayan tells Pulse
After 2004, the pull was too much for Kunle Afolayan to ignore. The passion for acting and filmmaking were in his blood and it seemed he worked hard to surpass his father’s achievements. His father, the late Adeyemi ‘Adelove’ Afolayan, is a Nigerian movie legend.
“By 2004, I just felt like it’s time because I'm a creative person. And you know, when you're a creative person, your mind will never be at rest until you start putting what you have in your head down. So I took that bold step because I felt that is where I belong and I resigned in 2004,” admits the filmmaker.
In 2006, Kunle Afolayan released his debut movie as a director titled ‘Irapada’, the first product of his filmmaking course at the prestigious New York Film Academy. The movie itself was a mild success as it introduced Afolayan as a director.
It wasn’t until his next film ‘Figurine’, that he positioned himself as one of Nollywood’s visionary directors. Since his attention-grabbing sophomore effort, he has gone on to release some of the best cinematic releases of this era, including the ‘who-dun-it’ set in pre-colonial Nigeria ‘October 1’ in 2014.
Kunle Afolayan strives for excellence not willing to depend on his last name. “It's standard to work hard and this is because it’s not good enough that you are Ade Love’s son, you know, that does not guarantee anything,” he says.
With nine critically acclaimed feature films, Kunle Afolayan has established himself as a Nollywood genius and earned his place as a notable filmmaker taking giant steps and making giant strides in the Nigerian film industry.
He says, "well, as far as film is concerned, I don't feel overwhelmed anymore. I don't, it's not like what I do is the best. And it's not like, there are no better films out there or better filmmakers. But what it is, is that every film that I have done, always set a new trend or new standard. I'm not in competition with anybody. And that's why sometimes it takes me two years to even make one film. But I've said to myself, that whatever it is, I'm going to do must have substance because substance is what stands you out, and it is what keeps you there."
And through his over 15-year-old career, Afolayan had ridden on the wave of energy and accomplishment for his versatility that spans across acting, directing, producing and screenwriting.
Afolayan has brilliantly switched between the various genres of films including thriller, romantic-comedies, and dramas.
“I mean, for me, I think I'm cut out to do this. And that's why I've been very consistent. And I think the film is something that, you know, comes naturally to me, in terms of conceiving ideas, and it also in terms of my director approach,” says Afolayan on his impressive filmography.
Continuing, he says, “When I started, the industry has always been there. But I just said to myself that I want to do something different. And I want to, to a large extent, be known as a brand. And that's what I've worked on from ‘Irapada’ to ‘Mokalik’.”
But Afolayan is neither willing to rest or relax just because he'd made it. In 2018, he embarked on a new film totally different from his offerings in the last 15 years. ‘Mokalik’ is his seventh film - ready for the cinemas on May 31, 2019- and he says it was inspired by a trip to his mechanic workshop after a long time.
Speaking on his experiences making the film, he says, “Well, actually, last year, I said I wasn't going to shoot any film because the industry is going through another phase. And this I predicted like a year ago. But, you know, when you're a creative person, most of the things you see with your eyes, to a large extent, forms some sort of picture. And, you know, an image is in your head. And I mean, if I turn left, whatever I see, a lot of times, I'm just like, okay, that's it, you have to tie it to film if you're a true filmmaker. And I went to a mechanic workshop, because I was trying to restore a vintage car that I brought in, and the few days that I spent in a mechanic workshop was actually what informed doing this film.”
There has been a relative commercial success since his decision to invest and become a big player in the movie industry but Afolayan feels there’s more to be done for filmmakers to benefit from their works.
“Nigeria is a terrain where you have to be the CEO, you have to be COO, you have to be pretty much be everything if you want to survive as an enterprise. And when it comes to art, of course, the mindset is, you know, there's no money in art. I mean, when it comes to film, if you're not wearing the entrepreneur's cap, then you must be a core artist, meaning I mean, your creative must be intact, and then find a way to partner.
“Financing a movie project is still a major, major issue in Nigeria. In the US, they would never advise you to take a bank loan to make a film. As a matter of fact, most times when studio or producers talk to executive producers, or potential sponsors, they will clearly say to them that you may not make your money back with this project, but in Nigeria can you tell somebody that you may not make your money back, and they will still give you money to make film? No, it's impossible. So like I said, with all of those windows opening, you know, distribution-wise, I think it's getting easier, you know, for filmmakers to work with a budget, do your projection, and then you know, find a way to recoup your money,” he says.
Today, Afolayan is highly regarded by the film and business practitioners as one of the new giants that have contributed to the growth of the new Nollywood with his works.
And for almost two decades, the 44-year-old has kept his ability to offer something a little more challenging than expected by his audience.
“I think my aim and aspirations have been and still being achieved. I think when you work, and your work is a point of reference in not just Nigeria, and not just among film lovers, but also among scholars, as in schools, in universities, people are writing their thesis using your film as a case study, do their Ph.D. project using your film.
"For me, that's what it is, I would say it can only get better, because I only say that look, there are still thousands of stories that haven't been told, and I'm going to continue to tell stories, but in terms of not really jump, you know, not anymore.
"I have tested that water. I've done comedy, I’ve done drama, I've done a thriller. And you know, these films are a point of reference,” he says.
People seek his advice; they look forward to his film releases and almost all the trendy movie and music stars follow his lead and wear Kunle’s Kembe, sandals, and ‘Ire’ T-shirts.
Many admire the way the filmmaker seems so youthful and so earnest at the same time. He is just the same ‘Kunle,’ who loves looking good and enjoys playing basketball.