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Regina Udalor: Filming Across Borders

Regina Udalor. Photo credit Emerald Inegbedion

Regina Udalor is the producer of The Lost Café, a Nigeria and Norway co-production that has bagged many awards both home and abroad.

In this interview with Guardian Life, she talks about her journey to becoming a filmmaker, changes she would like to see in the industry, and the challenges of shooting a film on two continents.

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Tell us a little about your foray into the world of films?
I wrote short stories and poems when I was young; I also did some acting and dancing. I think that prepared me for film, which I bumped into when I went for an audition alongside some film students in Jos. At the audition, I met some students who I found out were students from the National Film Institute in Jos. Out of curiosity, I went to the NFI, and it was while there, I found out this is exactly what I have been looking for to study. It wasn’t easy at first because my parents didn’t really understand what I was doing, but they trusted my judgement. Between my first degree and my masters, I produced a documentary ‘Omule’, which led me to the Berlinale Talents in 2006.

You have worked on several projects before ‘The Lost Café’. Would you say they adequately prepared you?
Yes and No. The projects I worked on before The Lost Café helped me understand how different film departments work. For instance, right out of film school I worked as art director on “Wetin Dey”, a BBC series. Later, I became the first assistant director, which meant managing a set of about 60 people. I was also a production coordinator on “Confusion Na Wa, A Place in the Stars and other films. In India, I was the line producer for a student documentary film titled “Beyond Binary”, which was an introduction into production. But there is no formula to becoming a producer. It changes with each project, so you can’t really be fully prepared. My first project happened to be an international production, and I felt like “Wow! Regina, people try to produce their first films locally first before going to do international co-production, but you had to start the hard way.” What kept me going in spite of all the challenges is that the story needed to be told. We managed to pull through thankfully, because we had the right team.
What was the inspiration for the film?
I travelled to Italy in 2009, a time when, if you said “Italy”, everyone would look at you twice. At the airport in Nigeria, I was asked if I was going for prostitution. This is the impression The Lost Café will change. A lot of people travel to school. Why can’t the questions be about that? During my stay there, I started thinking about the story and stories I heard. Eventually, the amazing Ifesinachi Okoli-Okpagu brought those experiences together for a beautiful story.

You featured both Nigerian and foreign actors. How did this work?
[Laughs] The Nigerian part was easier because we did a table cast for the actors that we felt fit the roles. In Norway, we held an audition, and it was interesting as many actors were surprised to see a black lady sitting across from them. However, we had some delays in assembling our crew. This led to the main actress from Norway having to cancel because she had agreed to another project before joining us. You cannot imagine how sleepless my nights were during that period as all was set for the shoot.

Why do think more Nigerian films do not do well at international film festivals?
I think it’s because we are in a hurry to make films to fit only the Nigerian audience. Some of the themes in our stories don’t resonate globally, therefore we have fewer films travelling to festivals. It is important that we remember films are archives of our culture and people today.

What changes would you like to see happen in our local film industry?
We need to have a distribution system that works for established and upcoming filmmakers. Upcoming and semi-established filmmakers struggle too much to get their work seen and are badly paid. If exhibitors can’t and don’t pay for content, how can the industry grow? We also need to treat the crew better. They do the bulk of the work but are the least paid in the industry. People forget that a film is possible not only because of actors but also because of those behind the scenes.

What keeps you going in the face of challenges life and career-wise?
I want to be able to look back tomorrow and be happy I contributed in terms of my career and my life. I feel that one generally faces challenges, but how we overcome them is what matters.

What do we expect in the next couple of years?
I will continue to make thought-provoking stories that can bring about change. I would love for people to see and love these stories. I am currently collaborating with AfrolandTV and we have a new feature film coming out soon.

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