“Roll starrrt,” Director Roger ‘Bobb’ called out to his cast. He’s in a red and white striped short-sleeve shirt, a blue jeans pants and sneakers. The call is an order for total silence before action begins.
“Rooolling!” the cameraman responded, which implies obedience to the director’s order.
Roger, 48, and his cast are on set for the 13th scene of a 95-scene Liberian movie titled “Providence,” a story about how Americo-Liberians interacted with their indigenous compatriots. This is how author Dr. Clarice Kula-Ford describes the movie, which is produced by UK-based Liberia Movie Dream studio.
The 13th scene was being shot at the Bella Casa Hotel in Sinkor, on the periphery of Monrovia, on January 16, 2017, with the hotel’s yard and top floor bar seeing a lot of action.
Shooting is ready
A video camera on a tripod, indoor light for filming, and an over-head microphone are all turned in the direction of Liberian-Ghanaian actor Van Vicker (playing Richlou Dunbar, the son of a wealthy and influential Americo-Liberian family) who is explaining something to a bar attendant. The bar is located on the top floor of the Hotel.
We are then introduced to the ‘country girl,’ Yassah (played by Shoana Cachelle), who is trying to get Richlou’s attention.
Richlou raised his head and looked toward Yassah, which caused him to pause his discussion with the bar attendant, and said in surprise: “Yassah?” He walked over to her and attempted to hug her, but she held up her hands and prevented body contact with Richlou.
Yassah’s facial expression then changed for the worse, freed herself from Richlou’s embrace, and marched off to whence she came.
“Yassah…Yassah…Yassa! It is not what you think! Yassah…Yassah…Yassa!” he called out, as she walked off swaying her hips in a provocative manner.
Director Roger orders for a repeat of this scene, more than seven times, for the duo (Van and Shoana) to master their respective roles.
The lead actors changed wardrobe twice for this scene, with the set a-buzzed with chatter from other cast members waiting their turns. They are all ladies. Some are applying their own make-up; others are marching into or rushing out of the dressing room (the bar’s restroom) to change into appropriate costumes.
Two of them are journalists—all members of the Press Union of Liberia (PUL).
“I’m a midwife in the movie,” Anita Roberts, formerly of L–Radio in Monrovia, tells me in an interview with cast members on set at the Bella Casa Hotel. Anita, who is also the daughter of the late Liberian pop star Tecumseh Roberts, told me she is an image consultant to the company shooting the picture.
Daily Observer newspaper reporter Gloria Tamba is the second journalist. “I’m a university student in the movie,” she tells me. “Acting is my first love; I started when I was in high school.” Gloria blends her reportorial duties with her acting.
Young music sensation Ms. Musulyn ‘Sweetz’ Myers, Liberia’s 2012 representative on Project Fame West Africa, a singing contest sponsored by South African telecommunication giant, MTN, in Nigeria, is also waiting. “In
‘Providence,’ I’m Harriet, the daughter of a native man and a Congo woman, Flomo and Louisa,” says the young Liberian artist who was born in the U.S.
Among the many Diaspora Liberians featured in “Providence” is Chichi Nebletti, who left Liberia for Ghana in 2003. “Van Vicker told me in Ghana about the movie and encouraged me to be a part of the cast,” she said, adding that she had parts in many movies in Ghana, where she’s based. Before “Providence,” which is her first Liberian movie, she featured in “Happy Never After” (Ghana); “Mike Tyson” (Ghana); “Barrisa Anita” (Nigeria); and many more. “I also acted in ‘Wedigar’ in Ghana,” she said, telling me that “Wedigar” is a comedy featuring one of Liberia’s popular comedians nicknamed Wedigar.
Other members of the production included but not limited to make-up artist Gloria Zebbeh Hayes, who said: “I’m responsible for dressing up the cast members of ‘Providence’ to make them resemble the real-life people they represent in the movie” as applied cosmetics to the face of a young female cast member who is to appear ‘old’ in “Providence.” Gloria revealed that besides make-up, she is into music besides, adding: “Two of my songs are
‘Migrant’ and ‘All the Same.’”
Although the film is a ‘Liberian’ picture, the majority of the technical team is made up of Ghanaian and Nigerian filmmakers “to spice up ‘Providence’ with their technical expertise.”
“I accepted the invitation to be part of the production because of the story’s plot,” Ade Gbinte Hakeem, a Nigerian and DOP (director of photography), told me on-set.
Daniel Akwesi Arhin, a Ghanaian and sound engineer, said: “Every scene is captivating and gets you anxious to see the next. I think this movie will be the best.”
But who is ‘Yassah’?
“Yassah is sixteen years old,” said Shoana Cachelle, who plays Yassah, at the end of shooting. “She is the daughter of an indigenous Liberian family brought into the home of the Americo-Liberian family, the Dunbars, to be a house-help. She falls in love with Richlou Dunbar, the only son of Yassah’s employers. But Richlou’s parents oppose the relationship because Yassah is not of his class.”
But ‘American breed’ Richlou, same age as Yassah, can’t stop loving this ‘country girl.’ “So Richlou’s parents kicked Yassah out of the house,” said Shoana, who is a young Liberia-based entrepreneur in real-life. “But they met thirty-five years later,” added Shoana.
“Did Richlou and Yassah later exchange marital vows at the altar?” I asked Shoana.
“I will keep this information from you as suspense, so you will watch ‘Providence’ on your TV screens,” she said closing that chapter.
Asked to rate Liberia-based Liberian actors against their Nigerian and Ghanaian counterparts, Van Vicker said, “I won’t answer this question because many people would take my answer out of context.”
Vicker, who is based in Ghana, added that “One of your colleagues asked me a similar question sometime ago, and some persons attacked me on my answers to that journalist’s questions.”
“I think Liberia-based Liberian actors have the same artistic talent or potentials as the Ghanaians or Nigerians, but they have a problem of mindset,” Christabell Leornard Peters, Executive Director of the UK-based Boss Media, said in response to my question. “Most of the people here want you to give them money for everything, even for the free training you’re organizing for them. Such a mindset is hampering the growth of the film industry in Liberia.”
About two weeks after the 13th scene of ‘Providence’ was shot, Christabell and his colleagues conducted a filmmaking workshop for Liberia-based filmmakers with the Liberia Movie Union in collaboration with the Van Vicker Foundation.
Turning the script of ‘Providence’ into a movie wasn’t without challenges.
“Getting the equipment into Liberia was one of the challenges,” said Director Rogers Bobb, a Liberian filmmaker born in London, who now lives and works in America, where he has been since age 20. He said he has directed some movies in the US. “Another challenge was getting together Liberians from different countries to act in this historical Liberian movie.”
Although the cost of turning the ‘Providence’ script into a film wasn’t disclosed, getting the equipment into Liberia cost more than US$4,000, according to Christabell.
When asked how much it would cost me to have his company turn my novel, “Grade Sin,” into a movie, Christabell sadi, “we charge around five thousand!”
“Grade Sin” is a story about problems in the education sector of Liberia, including bribery and sex for grades, and how students use their mobile phones to expose school officials in grades-related crimes.
Like many other filming expeditions, the “Providence” set suffered setbacks from the criminal behavior of some persons who had come to only feature in the movie.
“Many people left in the early period of production, after complaints of missing phones and other items started coming up regularly,” Derrick Snyder, Footage Manager of “Providence,” told me.
He said the cast and technical crew of “Providence” are all Liberians based in different parts of the world. For example, Rogers Bobb and Zubin Cooper, who co-produced a documentary of the Liberian civil war, lives in the US, while Christabell Leonard Peters is based in the UK.
As scriptwriter Clarice Ford-Kula writes in the introduction of “Providence,” the story begins in Atlanta, Georgia, in the United States, and ends in Liberia. Parts of the intro reads: “It is based on the experiences and relationship between the Americo-Liberians and the indigenous people of Liberia.”
In my judgment, “Providence” is a good story, and Liberians who now prefer Nigerian films over Liberian should rush to see it. The film is of the highest quality as it draws from the vast experience of the filmmakers and actors.
Grading “Providence” as a movie, I would talk about only one ‘but’ (problem), and that is the poor diction by some of the cast members. This is a national problem in Liberia. You will hear such ‘flawed diction’ from some of the
“Providence” characters on your television screens. But this problem doesn’t rub off the quality of this Liberian literary masterpiece.
But on the whole, my thumbs up to director Rogers Bobb and his team! With “Providence,” the Liberian movie industry (christened ‘Lollywood’) has taken a huge stride on the global movie stage!
About the Author:
Samuel G. Dweh, an author, is a Liberian writer of fiction and fiction and a member of Liberia’s two national writers’ groups: Press Union of Liberia (PUL) and Liberia Association of Writers (LAW).
He can be reached via: Phone: +231 (0) 886 618 906/ 776 583 266; E-mail: [email protected]