Blessing Uzzi: On Highlighting Social Issues In “No Man’s Land”
If you watch the teaser Blessing Uzzi upcoming film “No Man’s Land,” you can’t help but anticipate the story that is about to unfold as you’re stunned by scenes of gun-wielding children alongside Afrobeat star, Seun Kuti.
While the film is not out yet, The Guardian Life got a chance to catch up with Uzzi to discuss her first directorial debut and her passion for telling stories of issues she thought “people” didn’t care about.
Take us through your background up to how you got into the film industry.
Well, I schooled in Cyprus and while in school; I took photography as an elective because I realised I was fascinated by the camera, so I wanted to know more about it. After the course, I started taking photos of people on campus and designed a logo “Uzzy Photography“ and it became a thing. From there, I started making videos and when I came back to Nigeria, a friend asked me to produce his film. I did and then went on to do a short film, documentary and today “No Man’s Land”.
While “No Man’s Land” is your directorial debut, you are not a newbie in the film industry. Tell us more about your experience in the industry.
I’m not a newbie in the Entertainment Industry generally but I would love to believe I’m a newbie in Nollywood though because like you said, “No Man’s Land” is my debut film. I haven’t had much experience with people because I haven’t worked as a director for hire for any film outside of “No Man’s Land” but based on interactions with people in the industry, it’s been a good one. Some are supportive and some are not (laughs), normal way. That’s life.
What was the idea or event that inspired “No Man’s Land”?
I wanted to make a film like “City of God”. To be honest, I have always said my first film has to be street, kids, guns. I like violence in film. And my first film was going to have that but that aside, I also wanted to tell a story that touched on a topic I didn’t think people cared about and when Takwa Bay was destroyed, I thought I had found the perfect story to add to what I was already writing. So that’s how “No Man’s Land” came about.
What spurred the decision to direct the film yourself?
I wanted to say I had to direct it because I’m a director and this is my first film (laughs). I co-wrote “No Man’s Land” and when you read the script,you will probably know a director wrote it because I was very descriptive with the shots and a lot of things in the script. I had imagined the film so much that I don’t think anyone else could have directed it other than myself and then I was passionate about the story. Why give someone else to tell it?
You cast Afrobeat star Seun Kuti, who was himself making his first film debut, how did you arrive at getting him to play the lead role?
Casting for his character was so hard for me, no one was fit for it mentally in my mind for the longest time, till I thought of Seun Kuti. It felt right, and I felt he would understand the character perfectly and he did. I always say Seun Kuti is one thing I got right in “No Man’s Land” in every sense of that word.
What were the most difficult moments in your journey as a director?
Reconciling what I crave for visually and what is done in Nigeria, in Nollywood. My desires are far away from what we do here [in terms of] picture,storytelling… So trying to learn and be better as a director from this part of the world has been the most difficult thing for me in this journey. Our environment affects us, so I’m constantly in a fight with this place and with myself to get better and that’s very difficult.
What are some important lessons you have learned directing your first film?
I have learnt to trust my guts and to trust myself generally. I also realised a big part of directing is in what you are feeling as a director; you must trust that! I have also learnt that I need a lot of money to make the kind of films I want to make. I don’t like mediocre jobs, I also don’t like to manage, it’s why I waited till now to make my first film. I also realised how you are really as good as your team. Picking a solid team and good cast is probably one of the best decisions you can make as a producer or a director.
Who do you look up to in the film industry and why?
I’m really a big fan of Stephen Spielberg, Christopher Nolan and Shonda Rhimes. I have studied their work,watched their films, and videos. I really love their work and approach to storytelling and filmmaking in general. Christopher Nolan because I think he does what he wants and that’s very important to me, that I do what I want to do,tell the type of stories that I want to tell, without fear. I feel these people have attained a certain level of creative freedom that I admire, doing what they love to do.