INTERVIEW: Why I shot historical film on Mbaise people – Frank Ufomadu

Nigerian film-maker, Frank Ufomadu
Nigerian film-maker, Frank Ufomadu

Frank Ufomadu is the producer of a new Nollywood movie titled “The Chronicles” featuring Onyeka Onwenu, Segun Arinze, Victor Osuagwu, among other stars.

The movie is a historical account of the Mbaise people of Imo State as told by the oldest indigene of the town.

Here, the producer tells PREMIUM TIMES about the idea behind the movie

PT: Did you deliberately set out to shoot a movie on the Mbaise people?

Frank: Yes I did. The movie’s plot spanned three generations namely the colonial era, the post-colonial era and the 21st century. It wasn’t just about the Mbaise people as we also touched on the Opobo Kingdom. With the latter, we were able to find out the interaction the Jaja of Opobo had with the white men. But, I felt it was high time someone told a story about Mbaise and its people especially since I’m a native of Mbaise. I encountered so many challenges as the movie was largely research-based. So, I visited many elders in the different communities in Mbaise trying to find out more about the misconceptions. So, this film’s plot was derived from stories from the elders. I focused on Mbaise because; you know film making is different from writing a novel. In films, you need to be direct, if I’d gone from one village to the other, the audience would get distracted so that is the reason why I focused on one particular area but you touch the rest one way or another. It took me three years to shoot the film because the narrator was the oldest indigene of Mbaise – he was about 110 years when we began talking to him. So, he narrated the story in phases and sometimes he skipped some aspects due to old age. Whenever we visited him, he was either ill or too tired to speak to us. So we went back and forth for over three years. Sadly, he passed on about a week ago.

PT: What is the movie’s plot?

Frank: Taunted for coming from Mbaise, Imo State, two teenagers seek to understand why their ancestry is being laughed at. At their insistence, their parents take them to their grandmother (Onyeka Onwenu) who spends the night telling them the story. The movie will reveal how the saying ‘Spare the snake and kill the man’ came about during the pre and post colonial eras in the eastern part of the country, and how a particular musical band falsified the belief to include the Mbaise man.

I was in secondary school when I heard about the stigma. I asked my people but I couldn’t get an answer.Actually, that adage came from a band, Oriental Brothers, but many people didn’t know what transpired between the Oriental Brothers that led to that adage.

PT: So what are some of the intriguing aspects of the film?

Frank: The audience would be surprised to know that Mbaise has the highest number of priests in the east. In fact, every single home in the town has at least one priest or nun. I was told that when the white men came into Nigeria, the first resistance they had was in Mbaise so they had to go back and reinforce. Thereafter, they committed a genocide, which was never documented. When the whole thing was about to ruin their relationship with the communities in eastern Nigeria, they had to go back and bring the priests who gave them specific injunctions focused on Mbaise people because that is where they committed a crime. So, the priest who was based there, preached to the indigenes to become born again Christians so that they wouldn’t in any way try to revolt. That automatically made the Catholic Church to have its roots in Mbaise. Then they took a lot of Mbaise people back to Europe to train them as priests and in no time, Mbaise became a strong base for the Roman Catholic Church in Nigeria.

PT: Perhaps you could have shot a documentary instead?

Frank: I found out that today’s youth no longer read. If you write a book, they might not read. The moment you put on a television, tune it to Africa Magic or to any movie, they’ll stay glued to the TV but hardly will you see a child that will tune to Discovery Channel. If I’d shot a documentary, which definitely would have aired on channels like Discovery, they wouldn’t watch it. So, I thought about the best way to capture it to make it reach the target audience, and I felt it’s best to make it a film. Our youths like going to cinemas and watching Africa Magic movie channels. If I decide to shoot a documentary tomorrow, anyone who has seen the film and wants to learn more will then be keen to see the documentary. Lest I forget, we also told the story of the Oriental Brothers in the movie.

PT: What’s the budget for this movie?

Frank: The initial budget we had for this production was N20million and at
some point, we exhausted. But so far we have spent N23million till date.

PT: how did you arrive at the white men you featured in the movie?

Frank: I’ve seen a few movies where one of the white men in the movie, Mr. Avinash (a Lebanese) featured in. I actually sat down with my team to analyse the cast members’ characters .We ran a poll on some of the names we had, I collated the votes and the actors with the highest votes were chosen. I actually didn’t vote Mr. Avinash but because the majority voted for him, I had to choose him. We did everything professionally to make sure we get the best.

PT: And the village cast?

Frank: The characters for the village scenes were featuring in a Nollywood for the first time and they did wonderfully well.

PT: Where was the movie shot?

Frank: Part of it was shot in Oyo State; the village scenes were shot in Oyo State.

PT: Why didn’t you shoot in Mbaise?

Frank: That’s because we couldn’t get a good location that was suitable enough. Mbaise is almost developed so there aren’t real mud huts or villages per se. There were parts of the movie where we needed to fly drones and if we shoot in Mbaise we wont get that village setting because the zinc houses, which the drone would capture, would ruin everything. We needed a location where we’d be able to fly a drone for the radius of about half a kilometre and we won’t see any zinc house.

PT: What plans do you have for this movie?

Frank: After this movie will be screened in Nigerian cinemas, in schools and in village squares. This is history; it’s a subject, which is no longer in the curriculum. I’m sure the people that own the story will definitely take up the story.

PT: Is this your first film?

Frank: This is my second film. The first one was titled “Storms” and it was shot in 2016. It was just a glamour film. The acceptance was very poor. It was an above average project and I used it to test the waters. It taught me all I needed to know just in time for this movie.

PT: Do you have another movie in the works?

Frank: Yes I do and my next movie will be centered on “Ogbanje”. I’ve carried out a lot of research on “Ogbanje” and I’ve become aware of the secret of “Ogbanje”. The movie will be released in the first quarter of 2019.


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