WIDENING THE LENS COMPETITION Q&A with Candice Onyeama
Winner of the 2nd Prize Pitching Award
Candice Onyeama, filmmaker and founder of Genesis Child Films
- How do you feel to have won 2nd Prize at the Widening The Lens competition?
Speechless, excited and motivated!
- What story idea did you pitch?
I pitched my supernatural drama Once An Old Woman Sat On My Chest. It tells the story of a young British Nigerian woman Uju, who is suffering from insomnia caused by an old woman who terrorises her every night by sitting on her chest. Finally through the help of her work colleague and confidante Mei, she is able to confront her haunting and in so doing, face her buried fears and guilt around her identity and separation from her motherland.
- What inspired the theme?
The idea for the theme came from personal experience. My grandmother, who has now passed away, had been ill for a while. She was based in Nigeria and I hadn’t seen her in a long time. My mother and I went back to Nigeria and we laid my grandmother to rest peacefully. Our worries about the journey back got me thinking about the subconscious, spiritual and psychological dimensions of being diasporans.
- How does it address diversity and the idea of challenging limitations of character and story development?
Very often on screen when issues of migration are shown and characters who are connected to migration are reflected upon, it’s a two dimensional depiction, mainly centred around the physical difficulties the characters are facing eg financial hardship, escape from warfare, racial discrimination etc. Their internal and psychological lives are rarely reflected upon and as all of us humans are emotional beings this leaves a huge gap and enhances the feeling of their ‘otherness’ from the viewer.
- Does your film stimulate audience debate?
The idea of assimilation verses cultural specificity will definitely spark audience debate. How much do diasporans need to keep close to the motherland? How much do they need to fit in? Are diasporans always going to be the ‘other’, no matter how ‘British’ they feel or act simply because of how they look? Is there a mental toll in trying to fit in so much, trying to forge one’s identity between two cultures? These are all questions the film raises and ones that I believe will hopefully start a conversation.
- How did you get into filmmaking?
I studied French at university and became very interested in French film. Afterwards I decided to go to drama school and ended up working in front of the camera rather than behind it. However after doing a bit of screen work and realising there weren’t a lot of solids parts for black actors, I started writing my own short scripts. That eventually led to getting friends together with a camera and shooting scenes. Then I thought I might as well start submitting the scripts I had up for competitions and see if I’d get any feedback. Luckily I did! My first script Hush got picked for the IdeasTap funds short film grant. I got some money, produced it and it’s now had a private industry screening at the BFI and also premiered at the BUFF international film festival.
- What’s your top tip for other new and emerging filmmakers?
Don’t be afraid to try different areas of filmmaking to discover what you enjoy the most and connect with. My journey has taken me from acting, to writing, to directing and producing. Knowing how each area works in the film chain will make you a stronger creative and will also help you understand how to collaborate better in a filmmaking team.
- What’s your experience and thoughts regarding a lack of diversity within the film industry, both on and off screen?
There is definitely a problem with diversity and representing the multicultural society we see around us in Britain on screen. However, there has also been a huge push to have more representation by organisations such as Act for Change and companies like TriForce with events such as monologue slam actively helping to get more diverse actors on screen.
Many times as an actor I have been asked to play the role of the stereotypical angry black woman and very often we see negative one-sided portrayals of black British life, linked to crime, council estates, gangs, poverty, or our struggle with racism. Yes, that might be a reality for some in the black community but there are so many other stories.
Diversity is not just important on screen but most importantly among screenwriters – people who can bring their own experiences and knowledge of their community into their stories, so that we get rounded, real, diverse characters on screen. I’m sure viewers would be very puzzled if the only representations they saw of white, English people, were characters drinking tea and looking miserable in the rain all day!
- What are your ambitions for the film concept after the festival?
My aim for after the festival is to have the final draft of the film script ready, start getting a production team in place and begin the process of raising funds for the film. I’ll soon begin posting about the film’s journey, which can be followed on Twitter.
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