With the exception of an alluring red carpet, its’ safe to say that BUFF has pretty much rolled out everything else in its power to deliver this year’s annual showcase of British urban filmmaking of which, at the time of writing has been 1 week removed.
A showcase is of course nothing without the undoubted stars of the show – the filmmakers. It has been a blast this year with 3 UK premieres (“Sparkle”, “12” and “Melvin”), 2 venues packed out to the rafters and 1 night on the telly and all in the space of 10 days. As is the custom there are quite a few other people to thank for making BUFF VII possible (you know who you are anyway) but for the moment, there is the small matter of this month’s BUFF blog which is guest-written by one of the many stars of the aforementioned showcase. Those of you who were there to sample BUFF Shorts UK will have seen his directorial efforts (along with Shola Amoo) with ‘The Prayer’ – one of 11 shorts that were shown back-to-back, and for some provided one of the highlights of this year’s British Urban Film Festival. He certainly had his say on the day and once again, he obliges once more this time on these hallowed pages. Prepare to be enlightened by the award-winning director Nosa Igbinedion…
I kind of feel like Clint Eastwood in the dollars trilogy, the man with no name but great shooting skills (cameras not guns). My name is Nosa Igbinedion and I am an award winning independent writer/director. After working in film for the past few years, observing the industry closely and developing my style, I feel it’s time to open up a little more about myself.
I am looking at new models of doing business and making films. I am a scientist in this lab of chaos, mixing solutions and EXPERIMENTING. I feel BUFF and the films that it chooses to show epitomises this independent energy and I am happy to have been a part of the festival this year with the premiere of ‘THE PRAYER’.
They say the grass is greener on the other side (the USA being the ‘other side’ for us) but sometimes it takes someone standing on the outside to look in on what is special here. FLASHBACK: It’s 2011 and I am in a filmmaking workshop in Virginia, USA. Based on my show reel, I have been flown over as the only British participant by distributor, exec producer, actor and director Tim Reid (you probably know him as the father, in the sitcom Sister Sister, but trust me, this man has done a-lot more!). At the Legacy media institute, it’s been 4 weeks of working alongside 12 other USA filmmakers and one Nigerian documentary filmmaker. It’s been 4 weeks of being mentored by some of the best people in international film business and production, people who have stayed relevant in the business for up to 40 years. It’s been 4 weeks of shooting in sweltering heat that consistently is at 40 degrees. After an all night editing session, I sit down with Tim Reid and discuss the next frontier of film. 4 words pop up consistently in our conversation, UK URBAN INDEPENDENT CINEMA. Interestingly he compares us to the 90s US Indie revolution, which saw filmmakers like Quentin Tarintino, Robert Rodriguez and Richard Linklater emerge. This makes me go back home and think long and hard about this comparison, hmmmmm…
BACK IN THE UK: I feel that as film professionals, actors and actresses, we sometimes feel our destiny in the hands of others. We may feel our talent is not recognised and our star not as bright as it should be, quite a few people express these feelings to me. My take on it is if there are barriers; find a way around it, across it or KNOCK IT DOWN! I feel very excited and you should be too! There has never been a time like this.
Information is widely available and technology is rapidly accelerating (see Moore’s law); filmmakers have the potential for more control over their future than ever before. Independence is the order of the day. In hindsight I realise I have been living by this philosophy from day one. I started taking filmmaking seriously in late 2009.
Frustrated at the lack of practical opportunities for ‘actual filmmaking’ at my university, I came up with a concept for an urban neo noir film. I contacted my friends, Sheila Nortley and Shola Amoo to collaborate; I got hold of a camera, bought some editing and FX software with student loans and started shooting. The film went on to win the best short at 2009 BFM (Black Filmmaker Magazine) festival. Both Shola and Sheila are doing great things and I am proud to have sprung (metaphorically speaking) from the same embryo as them. Shola is currently finishing his MA at the NFTS (National Film & Television School) and Sheila is working at Kingdom Entertainment.
There is nothing better than seeing a packed audience, collectively go ‘oooh’and ‘aaah’ at the points you want them too. Emotions become the musical notes on my visual piano. That’s exactly what happened at BFM and that feeling was a drug which I was immediately hooked on! From there I went on to an internship at Film 4, where I read various scripts in production and sat in on meetings about film productions.
In these meeting commissioners discussed whether to green light or not green light certain productions. For me to go from shooting my movie for next to nothing to hearing people casually discuss whether 5 million should go into a film or not, was quite surreal.
At the end of it all, I realised that the amount of money and the positioning isn’t everything. Attitude is most important. The veil and mystique about these commissioners was removed. I saw them for what they were. Human beings with a high level of experience but just as human as anyone else. They were human, as in subject to ‘human error’. The only thing that we must have, regardless of whether we are working on “Slumdog Millionaire” or a low budget production, is conviction in our own decisions and ideas. It’s taken me a while to get there but I really feel that deep in my bones now.
During this time, I set up the production company Precise Pictures with Shola. It was an eye opener and took a different skill-set to manage. The first short under Precise Pictures was called “Reparations for the Soul”, an urban supernatural thriller (we like playing with genre). The film starred Ashley Walters, Kyla Frye and Michael Maris. Like every project has been, it was a development in technique and it was the first time I shot on film .
It instilled in me a new level of discipline.
Since then I have stayed busy (extremely so) by dividing my time between shooting music videos, commercials and running various youth workshops on film. Speaking of the youth workshops, it’s been great to see so many young people inspired by the success of ‘youth/urban cinema’. Times have changed and they feel they have the ability to tell their stories. When I say ‘their stories’ I don’t mean stories confined to knife crime and gang culture. For instance at the youth film school we facilitate, we have young people coming up with films as wide reaching as ‘vampire movies’ to ‘romantic comedies’.
The future looks bright! Mine and Shola’s third directing partnership was on ‘THE PRAYER’, which got its UK premiere at this year’s BUFF Festival (cheers Emmanuel!). With limited resources, our ‘resourcefulness’ shone through.
More important than any funds was being able to work with so many amazing people.
From Fiona Lamptey, (our wonderful producer) to a great cast of actors and a crew that mostly hailed from the abundantly talented NFTS. What I enjoyed the most was being able to explore and immerse myself in a whole new culture, Bangladeshi to be exact.
What I found was that behind each peculiar situation that one experiences is a basic emotion that is universal. Once myself and Shola tapped into that, we felt we had a great story to tell – a story that deals with issues about love, spirituality and culture.
So that brings me back to where I started, out in America. What I noticed there with regards to films from the UK, was a lot of admiration. Obviously in recent years we have seen a lot of actors, feeling marginalised by the UK industry, go ‘over there’ and find success. I feel this is because they are in some ways fascinated by the culture in the US. By the same token, UK black culture is in some ways still an unknown quantity over there (raise a hand if you been there and still get the ‘ya’ll got black people in England?’).
I get a sense from my American counterparts that they feel there is something special going on in the UK. Unconstrained by some cultural inhibitions that they may have, independent UK filmmakers have something fresh and new to offer them…
What that means to me is that the diversity we have here and its’ connections to the rest of the world give independent UK filmmakers the ability to promote their work and find audiences globally. I saw examples of this pioneering spirit all throughout this year’s festival. Sunny King, (who I have known since the BFM festival) and Edith Nwekenta (wonderful actress/writer) have brought their unique British sensibilities to the Nigerian market (‘Nollywood’) with their film ‘Unspoken’. As a British/Nigerian I have a keen eye on the way Nollywood is developing and its’ relationship with us ‘over here’.
There are many parallels, notably that they are feeding a market that hasn’t been previously served properly. Regardless of the discussion of quality issues, the entrepreneurial spirit is something to be admired and applied to our own situations.
So what am I up to now? I am currently finishing up a documentary for Islington black history month, called ‘The importance of black history?’. Islington’s tagline this year is ‘educate and innovate’, two of my most favourite words in the English dictionary.
This brings me to my final point. During this documentary I have interviewed various people but 2 of my favourite interviews have been with people who have acted in BUFF featured films. Mikel Ameen (Drink, Drugs and KFC) and Kyla Frye (Where’s my Supermalt?). Both, very eloquently, speak about the role of social responsibility and how that plays out in their performances; they speak about being teachers, carriers of culture in the work they do. I think this is a very pertinent point. With the opportunities to create the output you desire to see and tell the stories you want told, come great power. Anybody that’s ever watched “Spiderman” knows what comes with great power……
Speaking of power, I am also in the pre-production stages of one of the first superhero movies based on West African deities called ‘Orishas’ – OYA: RISE OF THE ORISHA’S will commence with a crowd-funding campaign by the end of the month and your support will be gratefully appreciated! P.S. If you are a good actress/ actor with a martial arts experience, I would love to hear from you.
As I mentioned at the beginning of this blog and as I am sure you will agree, it’s a bold new world for independent filmmakers. There are new ways of reaching audiences and new skills that are needed to reach these audiences. I am determined to learn and harness these skills and I am always interested in people who see the world for what it could be as well as what it is. So basically, if you feel it like I feel it, get at me.
Or I may get at you.
(c) Nosa Igbinedion
The British Urban Film Festival is the home of urban film coverage in the UK.