Kathryn Fasegha … A long route to Treacherous Hearts
FINDING her location on the Island was not a difficult task; one simply followed her direction, which was apt. From her tone on phone, it was obvious this reporter was going to meet a very organised lady; her voiced sounded very convincing.
Indeed, Kathryn Fasegha is not far from what one had envisaged; she looks to be very articulate and friendly. With a pink top, pink earrings and a pair of pink slippers, one was tempted to call her ‘Pink Lady.’ On the sofa was her laptop; a sign she was ready for the chat.
However, Mrs. Fasegha is not the type that jumps at interviews, not at all. Rather, she prefers you see her work first and give your verdict. If not for time, she was ready to screen a full length of her latest movie, Treacherous Hearts. Notwithstanding, she played trailers for the film and also conducted a tour of her comprehensive website dedicated to the film. Really, she’s the type you call ‘thoroughbred.’
A trained actor, producer and director, Kathryn, who has been making compelling movies and TV programmes since 1988, has just completed a tour of Canada with Treacherous Hearts, with the support of Alberta Foundation for the Arts. The movie, which has been released internationally, tells the story ofNgozi, a young Nigerian-born woman living in Canada, who is shocked when her parents announce they have arranged a marriage for her. It focuses on the complex and often conflict-filled interactions between generations, and between cultures.
“I just competed a cross-Canada tour in October 2014; it was funded by the government of Alberta, which is my province in Canada. Without them, I won’t have been able to do it alone,” she said.
Trained at the London School of Journalism, the lady has written for economic, business and general interest magazines in Africa and the Middle East. Kathryn, who is the President of T-H Movie Productions, is a member of the Calgary Society of Independent Filmmakers (CSIF) and Women in Film and Television Alberta (WIFTA).
Her journey into the world of theatre began in her secondary school days when she had her first contact with stage play.
“It’s very interesting because for so many years growing up, I taught I was going to be a lawyer. At least, my parents told me I was going to be a lawyer and I bought into this dream. My first contact with theatre was in secondary; I attended Federal Government Girls’ College, Bakori, Katsina State (it used to be in Kaduna State). I had an English teacher, who was a drama graduate; she started this drama group in our school then and we did some plays. In one of those plays we did, she just casually said, ‘oh, you know, you are really good; you could do this.’ Just because she was such a lovely, beautiful person, somebody I looked up to, I was like, ‘if she really said that, maybe this is something I can do,” she recalled.
From that moment, young Kathryn made a switch to Theatre Arts, but not without strict refusal from her parents, especially her soldier father, who would have preferred a lawyer daughter.
“My dad said, ‘no, this is not happening; you either go and study law or you don’t go to the university. My mum was upset initially; she was like, ‘what’s going on? How can you even think of this kind of thing, why don’t you want to be a lawyer?’ it was very difficult getting them to accept my choice,” she said.
Kathryn’s first admission to study theatre arts at the University of Calabar ended up being a wasted effort.
“My dad refused to pay my school fees, so, I didn’t go. He said if I’m going to study theatre arts, then no way. But the more they opposed it, the more I gained confidence.”
Watching her fellow girls leave for the university was a frustrating moment for the young lady.
“It was very painful because I saw friends going off to university and here am I doing nothing.”
In a ploy to get Kathryn change her mind, her father, who had a friend at the NTA Calabar, arranged for a short training with the station, possibly to see the reality of her choice.
“I think he believed that if I truly went there, that it would change my mind; they had told me many things about theatre arts. But at the NTA, I met a lot of people like Mrs. Kalejaiye, who was in the drama department and I got involved in their productions. In fact, I even became more convinced that this is really what I wanted to do.”
What was your dad’s reaction?
“He was really disappointed, but at that time, he was in the military; he was then transferred from Calabar to Lagos. We were all still in school, so, the family could not move with him; we remained in Calabar.”
With her ‘General’ father off on official assignment in Lagos, young Kathryn initiated a fresh move to follow her passion.
“When my result came for the second admission, I now talked to my mum; there’s a way you can talk to mothers and they understand. By the time I finished, she said, ‘don’t worry, I will pay the fees and we will talk to your father later.’ That was how I got the admission and I went to register in school,” she enthused.
Off to the University of Calabar campus, Kathryn’s father returned and there was ‘fire on the mountain.’
“My dad was really very mad when he came home and found out that I had registered. In fact, he came to my school and actually talked to the head of my department, Prof. Kalu Uka. Prof. told him, ‘oh, she’s wonderful …’ He watched a play we did and he was like, ‘well, that’s ok, but…’ He then said he was not paying anyway; that was how my mum paid for my education until my final year, which was the first time my dad paid my school fees.”
AS fate would have it, Kathryn was selected to play a lead role in Buchi Emecheta’s play, The Double Yoke, which eventually set the tone for her career on the stage.
“Emecheta wrote the book while doing her sabbatical in my university. Later, she came back with a film crew from the UK and they were trying to make a film of that book. I remember I had just finished writing my exams when someone came and said the HOD was looking for me and I had to go back. I went and there were some other girls from my class, who were there. They got us to audition for the part of the lead character. It was about a student that started an affair with her professor in order to move ahead in school. At last, I got the path. That summer, they were in Calabar filming and that was my first experience being in a film around 1985,” she recollected.
At the end of everyday, Kathryn got paid over N100, which was a lot of money at that time.
“When I went home and showed the money to my mother, she called me and said, ‘come, tell me what they made you do to pay you this amount of money?’ Really, they couldn’t believe that somebody will pay you that much just for acting. At the end of that production, I was paid probably a little over N1000; it was like a fortune.
“My mum kept the money and when my father returned, she showed him; I think that was when the whole thing shifted. He said, ‘well, maybe this is really not that bad, if they could pay her his much to act.’ That’s where it all started,” she said.
By the time Kathryn got to her final year, her family had moved to Port Harcourt. And during holidays, she worked with the NTA, Port Harcourt.
“During my time at the NTA, I got involved with Adiele Onyedibia, who was a really big producer and actor on television in those days; he got me working with him on the drama. I think one of the biggest things that happened to me there was that he was redoing the Things Fall Apart film; he produced the film. Things Fall Apart was originally produced as a TV series; so, he wanted to do it as a film, which they were to market abroad. He got me to rewrite some of the scenes for Things Fall Apart; he also got me doing some research works. We were going to do a film on King Jaja of Opobo, but we worked only that far and I got all the whole booklet made and gave to him before I went for my youth service.”
Kathryn’s NYSC was in Kaduna State. Luckily, she was posted to NTA, Kaduna where the learning process continued.
“While I was there, I had the opportunity of working with some great producers there. I started out working with Joe Ajiboye, who was producing Samanja, then; they moved me to work with Deborah Ogazuma, who was producing a Hausa network programme.”
For the young lady, working with an experienced hand like Deborah was a huge inspiration.
“She really made me want to do this more because, here was a woman and she was on top of her game, doing excellent production. Her programme was showed on network and that was very inspiring for me,” she noted.
Upon completion of her NYSC, she got employed at Imo Broadcasting Corporation (IBC), Owerri, and was posted to the drama department.
“I worked both on radio and TV; I started with a series called Ikenga City. I worked with James Iroha, who was my immediate boss. I learnt so much from him because he was doing those weekly movies. I actually spent my time working in IBC until I got married and moved away. Subsequently, we left the country.”
Leaving Nigeria for Oman in the Middle East sort of put her theatre career on break, as she spent more time taking care of the family.
“We thought we were coming back in few years, but it didn’t work out that way. Our children were growing up, they were in school and we had to make a decision on where to move to next. That time was the beginning of decay in our school system in Nigeria. With the foundation that they had already started with, we couldn’t bring them back to the system. We didn’t have an option, but to move somewhere else and Canada was the preferred location.”
Even in Canada, Kathryn didn’t do much of theatre until recently.
“First, I had to settle into the society; I had not done anything on TV for a few years at that time and I wasn’t even thinking of doing it at that time. But I just kept thinking that, maybe one day, I would do so.”
However, in church, she had always organised drama groups.
“Every city I lived in, I set up a drama ministry in the church; I try to use drama to put up a message that people will hear in a non-threatening environment; I did it in Oman and I continued in Canada. In Canada, I wrote and directed about five plays. I also directed a play written by a Canadian friend of mine; they were all Christian plays. Along the line, the idea of the film came up.”
Her initial plan was to produce a small film to introduce herself to the Canadian audience, but meeting with the director of photography for Treacherous Hearts changed the focus.
“I tried to get some resources and the thing is, you are black, you are a woman. A black African woman not educated in the West; all your education was in Nigeria. In that case, you have to prove yourself. But I did raise the money to make the film; I got a director of photograph to work on the project. After he read the script, he said, ‘you know we have to do this really well; don’t think about it as a small film; let’s do it well and launch it.”
She continued: “Even when we made it, initially I said to him, ‘let’s look for an independent theatre, but he said, ‘why don’t you try Cineplex,’ and I was like, ‘please don’t joke.’ He said, ‘just try, the worst they would do is to reject it.”
With that encouragement, she put a call across to Cineplex management and a meeting was arranged.
“I showed her the trailer and she said, ‘you know, we don’t show independent films at all, regardless of where it comes from; we only show Hollywood films.’ But she said, ‘I want to support you because, I see the passion in you and I just want to be a part of the whole thing.’ Because it’s an independent film, we were not put on the main lineup. I had sent out the trailer to the media house and they caught it; they came to interview me and spoke about it on the radios. It was all over the city; people were talking about it. The premiere turned out to be fantastic; we had a huge turn out and many black people and lots of white people also came,” she narrated.
WITH the level of success the film has recorded, bringing the movie back home didn’t look challenging. However, by the time Kathryn returned home to make her contribution to the movie industry, issues cropped up.
“It’s been very difficult coming back; I didn’t anticipate the level of difficulty I’m experiencing here. I actually was looking forward to coming back, getting to know a few people in the industry and possibly creating opportunities for collaborations. I thought I would be able to put up my film here, which has been very well, received outside of Nigeria. But it’s been a really, really difficult road.”
Does it have to do with acceptance?
“There’s acceptance issue because I know other producers have come back from North America, so, I don’t know how they had presented themselves. From what I experienced, I don’t get the chance for people to know me; people are coming to me with an attitude of, ‘oh, now you are going to try to show you are better than me.”
A sort of rivalry?
“I don’t know if it’s rivalry or people trying to protect themselves, thinking that, ‘oh, this person is going to try and prove they know better because they are coming from outside.’ When you come with that attitude, it’s hard to work; because you then do not have an objective view. Like I showed you my trailer, the first thing that a fellow producer is doing is trying to say, ‘oh, you should not do this, this is not right.’ You know what, I won’t do that to your work, no matter what I think; every producer have their style. So, to condemn and criticise is not helpful.”
She continued: “Some would say, ‘oh, we are not as bad as people think we are…’ I don’t think you are bad; if I thought the industry was bad, I won’t be trying to come back to work with you,” she said.
Notwithstanding, Kathryn recognises the fact that she had been away from Nigeria for a long time and does not know the way things work here anymore.
“It’s just about working together and making our different style work. Now, I have a measure of credibility in Canada that, if there’s a Nigerian producer that has made a very good film, then I could take it back to my own people in Canada and say, ‘this is a really good film, you have to watch it.’ If I market it the way I market my films, people will come and watch it; we could have similar thing with someone here.”
ON the cinemas in Nigeria, she observed that, “they are not meant to help the producer; they are very exploitative of the producer. The one thing that really shocked me was that, there’s a particular cinema someone introduced me to here and I talked to them, sent them all information and their response was for me to pay N20,000 for them to watch the film. I thought this can’t be real, so, I wrote back to them and the girl, who was representing them wrote me back and said, ‘yes, because we stand for quality.’ How does collecting N20,000 improve the quality of what you show? Anybody can give you N20,000, does that improve the quality of their films? You have to take a film and judge it by its merit and not who pays you. I just thought, I was not doing this, but I did put the film up on my own at Terra Kulture.”
On how she took on the theme for Treacherous Heart, which creates awareness and gives a voice to those whose voices have been drowned by the roar of societal pressures and demands, Kathryn said, “as an immigrant Canadian women, raising Canadian children, it’s not an easy thing. Even when my children were much younger, I could see friends, who had teenage children; it’s serious tension in the home. A lot of Nigerians are flocking out thinking it would be better outside, but it’s not always that better and you need to be prepared; it’s a totally different culture. You cannot take your children to a different culture without them imbibing that culture; it’s totally impossible because we are all products of our own environment,” she said.
Paying glowing tribute to her teachers, she said, “In the Theatre Arts Department of the University of Calabar, we had excellent professors, who were really passionate about the arts; they imparted that unto us. So, even if we would have dropped out, it was really hard not to catch some of that passion that they have.”