Alt A caught up with Director/Writer Clare Anyiam-Osigwe whose debut feature film No Shade marked the 6th film to get a UK release by a black female director. In 1995, Ngozi Onwurah was the first, later joined by the likes of Amma Asante and Destiny Ekaragha. No Shade is the first film to be produced by BUFF Originals, an offshoot of the British Urban Film Festival (BUFF), which was founded by husband Emmanuel Anyiam-Osigwe. The film received its New York premiere at the 2018 NY African Diaspora International Film Festival (ADIFF NYC).
ALT: What does it mean to be the 6th black female director to get a UK release in 2019?
Clare: It means a lot in a few ways. It is a triumph to be in the 1st 10 in history, but at the same time it seems odd that so little of us have had the funding to be able to do this. Sadly, unlike the 5 that came before me, I received absolutely no funding from the BFI. They wouldn’t fund a film like mine: a black love story. They don’t ‘get’ or understand that we are more than knife crime and violence, we are more nuanced as a people. I had to use my own personally money saved from my beauty business and my husband and brother financed the rest. I hope now that No Shade has broken so many barriers and that the black females who come after me have less to prove and can get the funding they need, me included! For my 2nd feature.
ALT: You have a varied career how did the Doctor of Dermatology move into the film directing?
Clare: It was a smooth transition; my BA was in Acting and Directing 12yrs ago. When I realised that the British film industry was anti-black, I realised I needed to move out of that space and focused on my 2nd love, which was Beauty. Then I retrained as an Allergist and received my science doctorate. I was then honoured by the Queen and my client list was exploding. It was here that the idea for the film came, talking to clients about their skin and self-esteem. I went with my gut and closed the business temporarily to finance the film. I’m glad I did. 2018 was hands down the best year of my life. God granted me with a beautiful film journey and my first child.
ALT: In No Shade what made you decide to deal with the subject of colourism?
Clare: It was something I had experienced in university, being compared to my lighter skinned black friends by guys. I always brushed it off, being the bigger person, I would always tell myself “these guys don’t know my worth, they are definitely not for me!”
Then when I opened my skin clinic in Harley Street and had black women asking me to formulate lightening creams, I knew the issue hadn’t gone away. The clincher was when a friend cried to me about the same guys from university still treating her like she was ugly because she is darker skinned. I felt compelled to tell her story.
ALT: What was it like making your first feature, the joys and the challenges?
Clare: It was tough making my first film. It was scary! Managing a crew of filmmakers who I had never worked with, a cast of 20, lots of locations, weather conditions and everyone’s different personalities. It put some hairs on my chest! But honestly, as an entrepreneur I had years of experience running a company and so managing a film set with Emmanuel who produced the entire movie, was amazing. Having my husband by my side every day to fix and solve every issue was a god sent.
The joy was spending 4 days at our editor’s house. It was week 12 of editing and the film was looking a bit boney, a bit dry. I made the decision to sit in and edit the film line for line, frame by frame with our wonderful editor Charles (Scowsil). We would howl with laughter at certain scenes and feel sad and go through all the emotions the film provides. By day 4 the bags under my eyes were mad, and I missed my own bed, we literally showered and went back to editing but you know what, we got a masterpiece. The film is exactly how I wanted it; I wouldn’t change a thing about it.
ALT: What do you think streaming services like Netflix provide in terms of opportunities for independents?
Clare: I think Netflix has their own agenda when it comes to Black British. If you look at the films on their platform, it only shows us as violent or passive. Naturally, they rejected our film based on the fact that the cast was completely unknown so next time I’ll make sure I have a few seasoned actors in my 2nd project but I’m cool with how things turned out, the film is on Amazon, Kweli TV and Vimeo.
ALT: Canal+ recently acquired ROK what do you think it will contribute to that space in African content platforms?
Clare: I don’t know much about that deal and how it will contribute to filmmakers in the diaspora, but I wish the Njoku’s the best. They are just trying to feed their family and make a difference like the rest of us.
ALT: What did you learn from making your first movie?
Clare: I learnt that murphy’s law Is real! Everything went pear shaped from moment one. Our first location flopped, and we were left stranded for 5 hours which pushed our whole shooting schedule back, but we caught up. I learnt that a phenomenal DOP is key. Israr Azam was that guy. I thank Samuell Benta so much for introducing him to us.
I learnt to go with my gut and make decisions based on the greater good: I changed the lead casts up to 48hrs before filming. The characters Jade, Danny, Eddie and Andrea were all initially cast but due to several things I had to change each actor. I am so glad I did, all 4 (Adele Oni, Kadeem Pearse, Algie Salmon-Fattahian and Sharea Samuels) did an incredible job.
ALT: As a director what kind of stories interest you?
Clare: My favourite genre is romantic dramas, but I like comedy, thrillers and am getting more into sci-fi, that was always the class I skipped at uni, but fantasy and sci-fi is big bucks so I’m watching more to pay attention and develop my writing repertoire.
ALT: What is the plan for Buff Originals?
Clare: The plan is to find financiers and producers so we can produce 1-3 films per year.
ALT: Name 3 qualities a film director must have?
Clare: Thick skin, resilience and intuition,
ALT: What next?
Clare: I’m teaching a script writing class at BUFF on Wednesday 4 September and I’m writing my 2nd film whilst I’m on maternity leave until 2020.
To check out places on the course and the events run by BUFF click here.