By Rejoice Abutsa
Nollywood Observer Chats with Ugonna Nwachukwu on her new movie – The Watchman.
Twenty-five-year-old filmmaker, Ugonna Nwachukwu is making a bold statement with her soon-to-be- released-movie, the Watchman.
Ugonna’s latest feature tackles religion, hero-worship, and blind followership; three things most Nigerians are familiar with, but, hardly address.
In an exclusive interview, I talk to Ugonna on the inspiration for this emotional project, faith, the aspiration of “The Watchman”, her career trajectory, and so much more.
Synopsis: “The Watchman” dramatizes the story of a London-based banker, Adams Rawlings (Kalu Ikeagwu), and a celebrity church proprietor, Pastor Samuel.
What is the most effective lesson in your life, that inspired you to be a filmmaker? Does this lesson have any effect in the creation of the Watchman?
My desire to share my stories and pass messages across to people. Messages that could improve people’s way of thinking and hopefully their lives. I created the watchman for that reason also. For a long time, I watched people suffer oppression by their spiritual leaders who control them with doctrines that have no biblical basis and scriptures taken out of context and I believe that the time has come to open up their eyes and minds to the truth.
You clearly have a concern beyond entertainment, as a filmmaker do you strongly believe you have a responsibility to influencing people to behave in a particular way?
Yes, of course. You see the media is a very powerful and important tool. In the past here in Britain, filmmakers used their work to try and influence society to stir up change and development. This was done by creating films that altered people’s perspectives on things, making them look at issues differently and question the present state of things. As a Christian, I know fully well that it is my responsibility to share the truth through whatever platform God has given me. I don’t want to become one of those people who keep crying out about how there is nothing in the media for themselves or their children to watch, nothing that builds their spirits when I know I have the power to change that.
I have been reading up on your other features, someone once called you a small girl, is it too personal to ask of your age and how that comment affected or was a push for you to continue with your aspiration as a filmmaker
I am currently 25. I have no problem speaking about my age. We only live once and whatever age a person is at right now is a blessing to them, I don’t understand why people hide their ages. I was really shocked by that particular comment not because it referred to my age but because It felt as though the individual who ignorantly made it had the understanding that I should not aspire and I should not try to push myself to achieve what I wanted to because I was a young female or in their words, a “small gel”. It was definitely a push for me because I wanted to prove them and other people who had that mindset wrong.
As a filmmaker you are a collaborator — you are the writer, producer, and director of the Watchman, I also saw you combined other duties. How do you manage all that?
When people asked me how I was able to function in all those roles by myself, I find it a bit difficult to answer because I honestly do not know myself. I don’t know how I managed it, It was a lot of work, some days I would wake up at 3 am and start hallucinating and shouting “Cut!!”, “Action!!” and telling the D.O.P who I imagined was in my bedroom with the cast to hurry up because we were running out of time. I think I was sort of running mad (laughs) I would count it all as God’s grace.
How did you bring your cast together, and what importance does the casting have to the film?
The cast all auditioned for the roles from different parts of the world, Kalu flew in from Nigeria, another came in from New York and the rest were from here in England. It was very important for the movie that I got the casting right because I didn’t want anything holding back the message I was trying to pass across with the movie. Even after I had a feeling I had gotten the right characters I made sure I had a one to one meeting with each of them individually over a meal to make sure my spirit was okay with my choices and that I had gotten it right.
Did you create with limitations in mind due to a restricted budget, or was there enough to sustain the project? Was your art shaped with the money you have or didn’t have?
I would say my art was influenced both by what I had and what I didn’t have. I once read a story about a guitarist whose strings kept breaking as he played to the point where he was just left with one string. He played with that one string and he continued to make music. I have learned in life that we must continue to make music with whatever we have and not focus on what we lack. It was difficult trying to get financial support for the watchman but I decided to focus on what I had and worked with that and I am most definitely happy with how things turned out.
You do have a strong story, I feel inspired that you created a story that is dear to you. Do you expect this to be a box-office hit? or are you okay with moderate success?
It is not my intention to take over the industry or something. Success for me is getting the message I wanted to pass across to people. And to do that, I will continue to try my best to push it. If the movie becomes a Mega sell out after all is done then great! If not then that’s okay too, I am fine and content with whatever hand God deals me.
What challenges did you encounter working on this project?
(laughs) I could go on and on about the horrible things that I have encountered through the process of getting this movie out but I would rather focus on the positives. In between all the chaos, madness and broken friendships, God has made me wiser and tougher
It is very interesting that you speak of broken relationships, as humans we make painful sacrifices to attain our goals, can you share a quick story on one of this broken relationship and how it inspires your aspiration for the Watchman?
The Watchman came as a result of me going through a discipleship process which of course I am still going through now and probably will be for quite a while. Before I started to understand myself and having a relationship with God a bit more I was in a relationship for about 7 years with someone in the church I had left. Of course when you’re in a relationship with someone in a church you have that idea that that is the person you’re meant to marry and all because your ”man of God” approves of you two. (laughs) God took me through the whole process to help me realize where I’m supposed to be and who I am supposed to spend the rest of my life with.
Religion, faith, and naivety go hand in hand in Africa. From your experience how do we separate the three? Many people feel they need a guide to God, that guide usually comes in form of a pastor or a priest, there are many stories out there of “Men of God” taking advantage of people in need (which is really sad). This situation is central to what you have in The Watchman, with what you have worked with so far, will your film do justice to this topic?
I believe so.
We are not in the days of prophet Samuel or Moses where the word of God was rare. God speaks to all of us and we all have direct access to him. Wasn’t that the reason Jesus died, so that we will have direct access to God through him? Yes it is good to have someone to teach us the word of God which of course we should also go and look up ourselves to make sure it is the truth we are being taught but our ‘guide to God’ is not a pastor or a priest our guide to God is the Bible and the Holy spirit. Every other person is human and prone to error. We need to stop being mentally lazy and depending on someone to do all the biblical research for us and tell us what God wants us to do, this is where the problem comes in. We can go to God ourselves.
This is quite personal but you mentioned you were chased from Church, Is it okay to know, what for? And how did you handle this?
I was not chased from a church but rather I left a church because I felt led by God to do so and realized that some things happen there were not proper. Yes, the results of that were a bit difficult having the pastor send me threats telling me bad things would happen to me for leaving but no one has the power to speak over my life but God and I believe that God will judge our actions accordingly. I understand that no church is perfect, I do not mind having all manners of people in the church, Jesus had Judas as part of his disciples and of course, none of us are perfect but I will not compromise when it comes to the word being taught from the pulpit. Do not twist the scripture and expect me to sit silently.
You make an interesting investment with your choice of soundtrack for The Watchman, how does the soundtrack drive home the importance of your story, and how do you hope this influences the audience going to watch your film?
The soundtrack Angels and Martyrs is a very deep, beautiful, extraordinary and spiritual song, just like the watchman, it is based on biblical teaching. What i love the most about it is that it is different from most popular Nigerian music. I hope that by seeing how different the product we are bringing out is people would be interested in coming to see something new and refreshing.
Any date set for release? Can you share exclusively?
We will be releasing the Watchman here in the UK this November
You mentioned a U. K release and no Nigerian release date, do you think this story will resonate more with the audience in the U. K and why so?
My purpose of releasing it here in the UK first is mainly because I live here and have done my ground work so I believe it will be an easier process. Releasing it in Nigeria would take a bit more work because I am not on ground. I believe that the story will resonate with both Nigerian audiences back home and abroad because our religious culture is something we have been able to export everywhere. You would notice that there are Nigerian Pentecostal and evangelical churches in almost every country in the world. Point your finger anywhere on the map and I can almost bet you that you will find a church there.
When should we expect The Watchman in Nigeria?
What genre would you categorize The Watchman, or would you rather have your audience decide this for themselves?
I have heard people describe it in different ways that it resonate with them and I would love them to decide for themselves
Do you have any intention to submit your film at upcoming film festivals?
Right now, I don’t think so
What is your most memorable scene? Please Describe.
(laughs) you might have to watch it first
In Conclusion, What do you intend to achieve with The Watchman?
With the Watchman, I just want to pass across its message to as many people that I can. It’s not about making money all though that would be a bonus but it’s about passing across a message, one that I believe is much needed at this point in time