Willis Uzoma Chimenem Ikedum bagged a Diploma in Filmmaking at the New York Film Academy in 2010. He has 2 short films, Uzoamaka and Ogondah to his credit.
Uzoamaka won the award for Best Short Film at the 2011 Abuja International Film Festival while Ogondah bagged the Best Screenplay and Best Director Awards at the 2013 International Short Film (In-Short) Festival.
As he prepares to premiere his first feature film, Mummy Dearest, starring one of Nigeria’s best, Liz Benson, and Daniel K. Daniel, in May, to coincide with the 2015 Mothers’ Day in the USA; Ikedum, who hopes to win an Oscar someday, answered our questions.
- Tell us about your sojourn in the film industry.
I started acting on stage at age 4. As a child then, I played the prominent role of King Pharaoh in the Bible. That really brought me so much recognition as a child actor. So, I would say I have practically been in the Arts from day one. But I joined the film industry in 2002 and my first role was as a shrine attendant in OJ productions’ Tortoise. I was really not pleased with the content of Nollywood films then and wanted a change. That compelled me to attend a film school.
- Could you tell us about your productions?
I produced and directed my first short film Uzoamaka, written by Bura-Bari Vincent Nwilo. It won the Best Short Film award at the Abuja Int’l Film Festival in 2011. After that, I wrote, produced and directed my second short film Ogondah. It had its world premiere at the Hollywood Black Film Festival in Los Angeles, USA; won Best Screenplay & Best Director awards at In-Short Film Festival, screened at the Africa Int’l Film Festival, Calabar, Nigeria, the Abuja Int’l Film Festival and was nominated at the Nollywood Movies Awards all in 2013.
My latest project and debut feature film Mummy Dearest, featuring Liz Benson, Daniel K. Daniel and first time actor Wendy Elenwo is set to hit the cinemas soon. I also wrote, co-produced and directed it.
- What is the highest point of your career so far?
After Ogondah screened at Hollywood Black Film Festival (3rd October, 2013, 3:05 p.m. PST), there was a Question and Answer session. The height of my career thus far was when I stood in front of a theatre full of people of all races to defend a movie I made in honour of my cousin, who died during childbirth.
- Tell us about Mummy Dearest. What should the audience expect?
Mummy Dearest is a family drama about a dedicated mother, whose efforts are scorned by her youngest child and only son, Chijioke, who is rather preoccupied with frivolities; but embarks on a journey of reconciliation when his colleague loses his mum. When it eventually hits the cinemas, I urge everyone to take their mothers, wives, sisters, aunties girlfriends and, of course, the whole household to see Mummy Dearest.
- How much did Mummy Dearest gulp?
Mummy Dearest was financed by me and my wife under our production company; Wheels Pictures with support from my cousin, Adonijah Owiriwa the producer of ’76. I can’t give an exact amount right now as we are still spending money to promote the movie for its release this year, but what we spent in production and post-production is within the neighbourhood of 7 to 10 million naira. The promotion will take between 3 and 4 million naira; so you now have an idea.
- What are your thoughts on Nollywood; in terms of the industry’s achievements and the challenges it faces?
Nollywood has really fared well if you ask me. Despite everything, good, fair or bad, considering when it started; we are doing just fine. Nollywood movies screen in film festivals across the globe, Nigerian film-makers are invited to participate in big festivals like the recently concluded Berlinale (the Berlin International Film Festival). Challenges are inevitable when you are on a journey to greatness.
Finance is a major challenge in almost every business and it is the number one challenge in the creative industry. Then, there is envy. If we, as filmmakers, will have open minds towards our colleagues, then we actually will be fine. I keep saying this; the market in Nigeria (and Africa) is so big that we haven’t been able to satisfy movie-goers with our content, so why kill ourselves by bad-mouthing fellow film-makers or not going to see any Nollywood movie in the cinema, but rather buying pirated copies in traffic-jam.
Then, we form cliques, where we do segregation. For instance, President Goodluck Jonathan earmarked some funds for film-makers as a grant, but only certain people benefitted from it whereas the money was enough to go round known film-makers in the country. That’s what I’m talking about.
- What are the peculiarities of being a Port Harcourt-based film-maker?
Filming exterior scenes at night could be pretty awkward in this environment. Some think a robbery operation is going on or something like that. Security men in the neighbourhood will just be on the alert when we start setting up. Sometimes, police patrol teams see us filming outside with lights and they stop to ask what’s going on. When we explain to them, they understand and drive off. But in Lagos, Asaba or Enugu people are even happy to see film-makers because they already know what is going on.
The advantages working in a city like Port Harcourt are:
- film-makers are given locations for free. The owners of the houses we use actually entertain us – give us food and drinks for deeming their houses fit to feature in movies.
- Actors are passionate about the job. They’re work-driven and not money-driven like actors in those film friendly cities. They just want to do something that will bring them to the limelight; because they’re very passionate, they listen unlike their colleagues in other places. For instance, I was on a set in Lagos where my sound editor was working. An actress was practically quarrelling with the director because she doesn’t seem to like the director’s approach to her character in a particular scene. That can’t happen here, I can’t even imagine it.
- Most importantly, we have fresh locations here to explore. That is priceless.
Finally, part of the reason I film in Port Harcourt is to attract the government and private sector to invest in film-making in order to promote tourism. We have plans to establish more film-related events and activities in Port Harcourt, which I’m not allowed to disclose now, but will duly intimate you as we make progress.
- Which older film-makers do you admire and why?
He may not be my role model, but I respect Izu Ojukwu. He has carved a niche for himself. He’s a man with my kind of drive. Funnily enough, he used to be my director when I was an actor. I worked with him the most. Even as an actor then, when we chat about work, we flow well because neither of us says what the other party considers impossible or way out of this world. I admire every film-maker’s work too, you know.
- Are there any other experiences or insights you will like to share with us?
First, I’m doing pre-production for my next film. I won’t give out the title right now, though it’s a crime thriller. I’m already in talks with actors. Then, we are planning a one-week Film-making workshop tagged “Make a Movie”. It will be holding during the Easter school holidays (6th – 11th April, 2015) in Port Harcourt, powered by Multiwheels international. After that, we will swing into action for the new movie.
Finally, I want to advise young film-makers: put God first, have an open mind towards everyone. Have a goal; start small, but dream big. Chase your dreams until it becomes reality and see every challenge as a stepping stone to greatness. God bless you all.