In conversation with Ngozi Onwurah

HOME’s Programme Film Manager Rachel Hayward speaks to Director Ngozi Onwurah ahead of our revisit of Welcome II The Terrordome. See it back on screens as part of our year-long celebration of Women in Global Cinema…

Which filmmakers or films have most inspired your work?

When I was growing up I really was a huge fan of Scorsese and Francis Ford Coppola. I like the narrative and the visuals and the whole ambience they created and then I went to film school and got a bit arty and got into Tarkovsky but the film that really exploded me was Do The Right Thing by Spike Lee, I actually remember going to the cinema to see that. It was in some small cinema in London and I went to see it and it was the first time that I really thought I could be a filmmaker. Instead of just consuming films and watching them, there was me on the screen and I could tell my story and then after She’s Got To Have It, Do The Right Thing had similar effects of: I have to put Spike Lee right there at the top of them all. Nowadays a filmmaker who I’m just blown away with is Barry Jenkins with Moonlight and If Beal Street Could Talk, they are just poetry on the screen. I’m about to shoot a short and I’ve actually prescreened of couple of things from both films that I want to pay homage to in my film.

What can you tell us about your latest project and the films that you want to explore?

I had a 10 year break where I went and wrote a novel which took much longer than planned and the original idea was that i would write the novel, do the first draft, put it to one side and then go and do a feature film and I was attached on two feature films, both of which I was really passionate about. One went away and the other one is currently in development hell so I’ve decided to do a short because I need to get going so this short it is set in Los Angeles and it looks at a Nigerian American living in Los Angeles and she has a 15/16 year old son and it’s dealing with what she needs to do to keep him alive and what is required over and above what is required just by any mother and how the son responds to that, how the people around her respond to that and then the audience are meant to ask why it is that to keep a black boy alive in america requires so much extra effort.

What are you most looking forward to about visiting Manchester?

I have the best memories of Manchester. When we moved form Nigeria we came to Newcastle which I really hated. It had never seen black people more or less, t was awful so I ran away to London but London’s this huge big place and I landed in Manchester when I was about 19 and it was like I’d found home. It was this perfect mix – there were black people, there were white people, it was down to earth – I loved it and there was a great club scene. We got a council flat in Hulme and it was a really vibrant scene and I did my foundation there so I actually shot my first film ever in Manchester while I was at Manchester Poly doing my Arts Foundation so I would love to come back and see what it’s like. Bring me back!

What advice would you offer other filmmakers that you wish you had known when you were starting out?

To make your stories for you. At the very beginning you just want to tell your stories and then you try to become clever and say ‘This will be a calling card’ but there’s so much of that and there’s usually people much better at doing that stuff – directors who have come from adverts or commercials and stuff – so what will make you stand out from everybody else is an authenticity of your voice and what is brilliant at the moment, which wasn’t the case when I was coming up, is there’s a real democratization of filmmaking because of the mediums available. We had to do it on film… film is great and I love doing it on film but what I mean is when you’re doing your first film you can just get out there now, you can edit on your computer and there’s ways of getting people to see it. The only thing that I’ve noticed is that talk to some youngsters and they just seem so strategic and then you look at the work and it looks like so many other people’s work but I think if it’s your voice, your story, your originality that will go much further.

When you’re not at work, where are you most likely to be found?

Like I said I was writing a novel and that involved a lot of research and a lot of reading and I got into going to the library so I spend a lot of time doing that. I’ve got kids so I spend a lot of time with my kids. My biggest pleasure is going to art galleries, partly because I love the arts and partly because I actually love galleries. If I could have a home it would be the Tate Modern. So I spend a lot of time in art galleries and with my kids.

Welcome II The Terrordome screens as part of our year-long celebration of women in global cinema and can be seen on Monday February 11 2019. Find out more and book tickets here.

Learn more about our Celebration of Women in Global Cinema here.