The BUFF Blog (December 2011)

In keeping with the tradition of listening to a rather powerful woman just before you’re about to embark on what’s really important – or maybe you’ve already squashed Christmas lunch by the time your attention is perhaps swayed by a certain Elizabeth Windsor – its’ time we took note of another Christmas message – the one being brought to you by another powerful woman (Sheila Nortley) who is fast becoming a regular fixture on the urban independent film circuit. And before we hear from her, BUFF would like to thank all of this year’s guest bloggers who’ve graced these pages with their inspiring words including Anjela Lauren Smith, Wil Johnson and Kamara Bacchus – long may the passion continue. We leave you now with the December edition of the BUFF Blog, guest-written by Sheila Nortley…

This has been the year of who are you and who do you think you are. For many I have spoken to, a year of self reflection, growth, preparation and development. I find it hard to separate myself from my career, and I don’t really think this is a bad thing. Designed by the mind of the Most High and Most Near, I’d assume that we are complex and deep beings. And everything we do and say is as a ripple in the ocean, a butterfly effect. So my career, my family, my character, my talents, my mood, my prayers, my fasting, my being – all are very much related.

This is why I nearly told Emmanuel that I didn’t want to write the blog and that I had nothing to say. The premise of having my 15 minutes doesn’t do much for me. I nearly told Emmanuel that I didn’t want to write this blog because it would be hard for me to write about my year, my career, my hopes, dreams, and aspirations without, in one way or another, writing about my thoughts, my opinions and thus my self. Thoughts are precious things to be valued and treasured and nurtured when productive – regardless of what Twitter tells us – and I didn’t just want to ramble on. Why would I? Like, who am I? And who do I think I am? This has been the year of who are you and who do you think you are.

I’m Sheila Nortley. Writer. Producer. And a Managing Director of Kingdom Entertainment Group. I am also a daughter, a sister, a friend, a niece, an aunty, a cousin, an enemy, a mentor, a mentee, a believer, an unbeliever, an entrepreneur, an employee, a contact, a fan, an ex, a partner, a memory of a smile from a random stranger passing, a sista, a human, a queen and a slave depending on the transcience of context and perception.

Here and now, in this context, on your browser, I’m assuming the honour of being the guest writer for the final British Urban Film Festival blog of 2011, yet it’s ironic that I’ve been asked to write this blog as I don’t really like to talk much. I’d like to think I’m of those who’d rather do. I do, until I have little time left to be. And then I be, and in that time I do not like to do. Whilst trying to find the balance between doing and being, what time is there really to talk?

So, I was going to tell Emmanuel: “Brother. I’m sorry. I have nothing to say right now.” Who really cares anyway about the eccentric nuances and electric abstractions which dance around in the synapses of my mind? And even if suddenly everyone wanted to know – for some reason – what I thought and felt about my year, I rarely feel the compulsion to share such intimacies with a bunch of strangers when even good friends are hard to find these days. (I hope this doesn’t offend you – I know you know what I mean.)

So yesterday, I was going to tell Emmanuel: “Sorry brother. I have nothing to say.”

And then, Jacob ping’d me. His BB status said: “why am I fighting to live if I’m just living to fight”.

For those of you who don’t know, it was the conversation I had upon meeting Jacob in the park in summer 2010 that inspired me to embark on a venture which consumed my time, my mind, my resources, my energy and my heart throughout 2011. My film, Zion. We met by ‘chance’ in the park – what I know to be the undeniable poetry of the One who knows all things and His eloquence with time and destiny. Jacob was a sixteen year old boy with a seemingly broken hand, who was scared to go to the hospital because he’d seen so much death there. A boy who had been labeled with ADHD since he was 4, yet spoke with the softness of a broken boy with a gentle soul, or a gentle boy with a broken soul – one or the other. A young man who, when asked where he saw himself in 10 years time, said to me: ‘To be honest with you, Miss; I don’t.’ One day, 6 months later, a script was written, and a beautiful cast and talented crew produced a short film called Zion. Jacob was supposed to attend the premiere but he didn’t.

He had community service and was so upset he couldn’t make it. I told Mr Elusive he should write something on the Facebook wall; told him I would mention him in every interview and that people would soon start to suspect if he’s even real. (He said he would, but he hasn’t yet.)

In light of the success of the night; the glamour, the inspiration, the buzz, the hype, the excitement of friends and family, supporters of and believers in, ladies and gentlemen, journalists and celebrities, thespians and socialites, speakers and thinkers, doers and dreamers, lovers and, dare I say, “haters” (cringe) despite all this magic on the premiere night of a film inspired by the conversation I had with him – here he was, on my BB, yesterday sad as ever. I could send you a screenmunch (screenshot of phone screen). His BB status said: “why am I fighting to live if I’m just living to fight.”

I asked him what was wrong and he replied: ‘Had a madness. Dere’s guna b a prob dis tym tho…’ We spoke a bit more, and I felt so useless; I asked him if he could ask God for one thing what would he ask for and he said ‘To hurry up n end it. Big man ting. Jus feel 2 give up’.

This is a boy that on a dark night, if he rolled up to you on a pushbike with his hoodie down low, would frighten you – here he was telling me how vulnerable he is. I lament for all the victims, misrepresented as the villains – even those who become villains at the torment of their very nature. If you don’t see the value in your own life, or your purpose for living, the consequences could be dire – you don’t have to be a young black child growing up in the estates of South London to know this. We can all relate to this one way or another. At some point, we have all doubted our value, and deviated from our purpose [if we ever knew what it was]. Wow. He confided in me that he wished God would end it all. That hurt.

Then my thoughts turned to the inTOUCH youth event that the team behind Zion held just before our glittery premiere. It was set up for the young people to speak up and have an open forum with Ashley Walters, Jaja Soze, Rashid Kasirye, Dexter Simms etc, watch some films, and some performances and just vibe. Wow. What an unruly group we had. Some of them were so disrespectful, talking over speakers, talking over the films, fighting, arguing to the point that security had to get involved.

…But wait, this is for you. Why is it so hard for you to accept this small gesture? Perhaps it is so unfamiliar to you that you do not know how to respond to love? If you don’t see the value in your own life, or your purpose for living, the consequences could be dire. If you don’t respect yourself, how are you going to respect anything else?

InTouch was, to be honest, a bit of a nightmare – let’s keep it real – like, it was a nightmare. BUT this simply illustrated how much attention the youth crave and confirmed that the film was necessary.

The Premiere event followed – I couldn’t have asked for more. The film was well received. Reviews have been excellent; better than I could have hoped. Who for a minute underestimated the minds of the masses and thought that spoonfeeding us mind-numbing rhetoric day in day out on mainstream TV, would cause us to forget the sweet delights of independent cinema, in all its’ rugged imperfect and beautifully raw glory?

To every single person that came and understood the film, I thank you and celebrate you daily. There were so many people behind this production and so much inspiration drawn from so many more people.

And, as a self-confessed Ebenezer Scrooge who denies many of the festivities of this season, who else would I celebrate? I’d celebrate the writers whose plays this year moved my mood like the moon controls the waves; Arinze Kene and Beau Willimon. The people I’ve worked with all year; Najan, Duane, Abiola, Daniel Bailey (you know its a powerful brother when you can’t mention an individual without including the surname), Sebastian Thiel, Aisha of Red Pepper Agency. Thank you for putting up with the idiosyncrasies of a mad scientist – I hope I’ve made it interesting for you. And of course, Miss Kyle Frye and Shomari Brown: the future of black British cinema whose talent has found that perfect balance between refinement of the craft and raw talent. Ryan Samuda, my director and friend [thank God we’re still cool after this film] and the entire Zion team. I respect the inspirational entrepreneurs I’ve met this year like Dexter Simms, Ismael South, Raymond Douglas – inspired visionaries that build and strive day in and day out for the people and not just for material gain or status.

I respect people like my dear friends and mentors, Stephen Lloyd Jackson and Andy Mundy-Castle. I respect people like Richie Campbell, Sway and Ashley Walters who have managed to stay so grounded, down-to-earth and humble despite their massive success and achievements, actors and artists who have refined their art with mastery, and not at the expense of their sense of humour and good manners.

I respect people like Jahnoi Cranston and Alesha Pryce, who love their art and work hard to achieve their dreams and have an impact in whatever piece they are working on, and do so with a smile. I respect people like Kamara Bacchus and Dionne Reid and Anisa Kissoon, who are smiling high-achievers with such grace and elegance and inspiring other sisters to dream big and never lose themselves. I appreciate and love my mum and my dad who put up with this black sheep through thick and thin, in sickness and in health, and taught me to follow what I believe in. My family is the best and without their support, I’d have nothing to celebrate.

I would like to celebrate the British Urban Film Festival for providing a platform for us to present the fruits of our labour for public scrutiny, praise, constructive criticism and thought-provoking discussion. I was greatly humbled that this year I discovered by chance that I had 3 films I worked on accepted in the festival (David is Dying, Special Delivery, Drink, Drugs & KFC). Had Zion been ready earlier it would have been four, but I stubbornly refused to hasten the process, advised by wise words from Wil Johnson at the Screen Nation nominations launch by the bar. Emmanuel’s kind words and support for me this year have been so encouraging. Thank you Emmanuel and also to the stunning actress Anjela Lauren-Smith, who is often seen with him. Thank you Anjela.

And as we celebrate together we give all thanks and praise to the One to whom it all belongs. The final curtain is drawn as we enter the last few weeks of 2011 and the energy at the moment is buzzing with anticipation as the promise of 2012 draws closer. As the world gets crazier, some aspiring filmmakers are zealous with drive and passion, and others crazed with an unquenchable thirst for prestige and power, success and fame.

With the social entrepreneurs building new doors to previously inaccessible pathways, and the game-changers marching into the brick wall (which used to seem so high and wide and solid before) brick by brick it crumbles away and the army begins to march through, together, to a triumphant fanfare. Together, as romantic as it sounds, seems to me to be the only way to progress. Competing with anyone would suggest that I think success is much more dependant upon my competence and determination than it really is. I’m not saying that I don’t work really hard, but I know Who gives and Who takes away. Everything is written. So I just do the best I can and try to trust Him. Yet, I have seen ego drive people to the point of loneliness, paranoia and writers block. The concept of all three frighten me. (You need to be open to bring anything into being) It’s nearly 2012.

Time has flown by like a jet-fighter and whether or not you entertain a conspiracy theory or two, or have any religious inclination indicating the dawn of a terrifying New World Order, then you will at least know this: by the time you have finished reading this you are closer to your death than you were before you started reading this, and let this undeniable fact encourage you to make the most out of every second and every opportunity to achieve true success in this life and the next.

So that was today’s message – just when you think you had nothing left to say, remind yourself of all that you are grateful for and give thanks for what you have been blessed to achieve so far. And just when you think you had nothing left to say, remind yourself of how much work we have yet to do and how much further we have to go to honour the struggles of those who came before us and prepare the way for those who are yet to come.

In the words of Kelis: Learn from losing, Cherish winning.

Happy New Year everyone.

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