The new year 2018 started with fanfares and vigils of thanksgiving in hundreds of thousands of churches all over the world followed by celebration and jubilation at parties on the streets and clubs. After the holidays, business resumes from tomorrow Tuesday with many upcoming events. And the first international film festival of the new year is the 15th London Short Film Festival (LSFF) taking place from 12th - 21st Jan 2018.
The film festival will celebrate the iconic genius of Ngozi Onwurah, the Nigerian born British filmmaker on January 17.
As the first Black British woman filmmaker to have a feature film released in UK cinemas the festival will celebrate Ngozi’s legacy with a screening of early works and panel discussion in Ngozi Onwurah: Short Films on Wed 17 Jan, 8:30pm at ICA.
Ngozi Onwurah was born in 1966 in Nigeria to a Nigerian father, and a white British mother, Madge Onwurah. She has two siblings, Simon Onwurah and Labour MP Chi Onwurah. As children, Onwurah's mother was forced to flee with her children from Nigeria in order to escape a Civil War. They fled to England, where Ngozi and Simon spent the majority of their childhood. During their youth, they endured much racial discrimination, which influenced many of her films.
Coffee Colored Children (1988)
This film is a performative, autobiographical, experimental, and ethnographic piece that explores the inner feelings of growing up in a mixed race household. The film shows mixed race children experiencing racial harassment and isolation as a result of their skin tones. Two children, one boy and one girl, are featured in the film and shown powdering their faces with white cleaning solution and scrubbing their skin raw in order to rid themselves of the self-hatred they feel as a result of their dark skin tones. The film shows such stereotypes as the "Tragic Mulatto", but challenges this by featuring Ngozi and her brother Simon Onwurah being exceptions to the stereotype. Coffee Colored Children addresses the idea of a "melting pot" society and challenges it by suggesting that it should be called the "incinerator".
And Still I Rise (1991)
This film was inspired by a poem by director, Dr. Maya Angelou. The film examines enthnographic images of Black Women featured in documentary works. Onwurah interviews many different women with different stories, occupations, and struggles in the film. One woman, Caron Wheeler is a singer and songwriter. She discusses her traumatic past experiences; including rape, experienced by both herself and her ancestors. And Still I Rise explores the historical roots of African ancestry during slavery. In one scene, she shows the image of a Black woman, naked and bound, accompanied by the sound of a whip. She uses controversial images and stories to display the lack of control Black women had over their bodies at this time and how that is still present in Black culture today all across the world, and especially in Third World African countries. She shows how women were treated in the past, during slavery, and in the present, with the intention of changing the future.
The Body Beautiful (1991)
This film is an autobiographical piece featuring both Ngozi herself, and Ngozi's mother, Madge Onwurah. Both women narrate certain portions of the film and appear in the film as themselves. The Body Beautiful discusses both women, and their lives and fears. Madge Onwurah speaks of marrying a Nigerian man, bearing mixed race children, and having breast cancer followed by a mastectomy. The film also explore Ngozi's feelings of being raised by a white British mother, being a model in a predominantly white industry, and the deep inner workings of her relationship with her mother and her mother's sexuality. Ngozi admits that for a while she never saw her mother as a sexual being. In the film, she re-sexualizes her mother by envisioning her making love to a young Black man. In another scene, Ngozi and her mother lay naked together, and the scar of Madge's mastectomy scar is exposed. This image is controversial because of the ideals of what is considered beautiful in Western Society. This scene is a symbol of embracing the body in its truest form, and truest identity.
Visual With multiple jumpcuts, the cinematography consists primarily of panning shots, medium shots (especially the faces of Madge, Ngozi, and the photographer), and close-up shots. The camera is never hand-held or deliberately shaky, and seems to be positioned on a tripod or mount at all times. This decision to place the viewer so “close” to the characters on screen allows access greater intimacy with the events and emotions of the film. In this way, the film strives to “push” the audience beyond the normal comfort level. Examples of this intimacy are two close-up shots in the erotic scene: one of the black hand running slowly across Madge’s back, and the other of Madge’s wrinkled scar on her chest as the black hand pauses right above it, hesitating to place itself directly upon her skin. The deliberate implementation and overlaying of these sounds, music, and narration, combine with the visual stylistic choices to create an overall sensual experience.
Monday's Girls (1993)
This film is an ethnographic documentary showcasing the lives of two Nigerian women. The women take place in a cultural ceremony in which young virgins, as the two girls are, live in a "fattening room" for five weeks. When they come out they are celebrated and respected by their community. The film shows two different points of views on this issue. On one hand, there is Florence, who is honored to be part of the ceremony. On the other hand, there is Asikiye, who is a more westernized girl against the ceremony. This film explores the Third World African woman and discusses conflicting cultural ideologies.
Welcome II the Terrordome (1994)
This political action thriller was the first independent Black British feature film to be released. In the film, Ngozi retells Black history as it would be if it took place in "the future of a grim dystopic science fiction landscape". She draws on historical images of Black men and women, and focuses on the body. In the film, the Black body is displayed as a "site of commodification, sterilization, and culturally approved genocide". She displays issues of drug abuse, racism, and poverty.
The Desired Number (1995)
Also called A Question of Numbers. This film is based on the Iwollo Village in Nigeria where women typically bear nine children. The film discusses the issue of birth control usage among Nigerian women, mainly how it is rarely used. As in Ngozi's film Monday's Girls, the "Third World" African woman is explored. In this film, Ngozi is showing that these women do have control over their bodies because they have the option of going to a clinic and obtaining birth control or not. However, the cultural standards of birthing many children still stand in their way of being totally in control of their own bodies.
Other Film Works
Best Wishes (1989)
Fruits of Fear (1990)
Who Stole the Soul (1992)
Flight of the Swan (1993)
Siren Spirits (1994)
White Men Are Cracking Up (1996)
Behind the Mask (1997)
Hang Time (2001)
Mama Africa (2002)
Shoot The Messenger (2006)
Television Series: South of the Border (1988)
Mini-Series: Heartbeat (1995)
Mini-Series: Siren Spirits (1995)
Mini-Series: Crucial Tales (1996)
Style and Genre
Onwurah uses autobiographical elements, cultural memory, multiple narrators, ethnographic and experimental elements in many of her works. Most of Onwurah's work is centered around the human, and often female, body. Author, Gwendolyn Audrey Foster, describes Ngozi Onwurah's work as "a thinking and feeling cinema, a wedding of formalism and realism and something irreducibly and excessively corporeal and hyperreal".
Coffee Colored Children:
1st Prize- Short Feature Category, BBC, UK.
Prized Pieces Award- National Black Programming Consortium, US.
Golden Gate Award- San Francisco Film Festival, US.
Films de Femmes- Creteil, France.
The Body Beautiful:
Best Short Film- Melbourne Film Festival, Australia.
Best Documentary- Montreal Film Festival, Canada.
Shoot The Messenger:
Prix Italia 2007.
Ngozi is married to cinematographer Alwin H. Küchler, and they have one daughter together.