In the past decade, we have witnessed significant growth in the independent film industry. Though arguably one of the nations long-standing best kept secrets, Black film in Britain is certainly gaining prominence and without a doubt “Oya: Rise of The Orisha” is one of the most promising productions to look out for is this year.
Written & Directed by Nosa Igbinedion, the film resurrects the Orisha; ancient deities of the Yoruba, as modern day superheroes, visited upon a whole new generation of Afrikans far removed from the traditions of their homeland.
Amidst the maturing 3rd & 4th generations of UK Blacks in Britain, such a brilliant concept speaks to the making of a film for which the time has definitely come. Unable to resist the attraction, I caught up with Sheila Nortley, Associate Producer for this Afrikan Super Hero epic, to get her take on the importance of the film and the Black film industry in Britain as a whole.
Sheila Nortley is a London born Ghanaian, award-winning filmmaker & entrepreneur. Her accolades include winning Best Film at the Black Film Makers Awards in 2009, various productions with AmeenDream Entertainment and most recently Production Manager on the Stephen Lloyd Jackson directed award-winning film “David Is Dying”.
In 2011 she premiered her self-written and produced short film “Zion” – a unique anti-glorifying take on the violence that exists among London’s Black communities. Screened at Brixton’s Ritzy cinema, the film was produced under the moniker of Kingdom Entertainment, a company which Nortley founded. Though no longer affiliated with the company, Nortley has continued to make a name for herself and will be launching her website; www.sheilanortley.com, in April “.
Nortley is a creative butterfly and passionate about the value of independent film. In conversation, she effortlessly conveys a subtle, dignified determination, not willing to be confined to the boundaries of “making it” in today’s popular media establishment. As she states; “Working independently is such a beautiful thing because you have that power to create. Whereas working in the mainstream there’s always restrictions”.
She describes the Black film industry as a vibrant developing scene, the perfect environment for a producer who is not satisfied with simply making “successful” films, but seeks to dedicate herself to telling stories she feels need to be told.
In a world full of negative portrayals and undercooked narratives of the Black experience, Nortley owns the responsibility that comes with her art, with pride. The power of imagery is always at the forefront of her mind, as for her, not understanding this would be akin to “giving a child a gun and saying – ‘play with it’.”
From Phyllis Wheatley to Fela Kuti, history demonstrates that few things are more powerful than an artist with a strong sense of purpose. Though the form and reach of her art are not exclusive, Nortley is clear about her foundations – “I think I do have a responsibility to tell the Black experience. Naturally, everything I tell will come from a Black perspective- a Black female perspective. And I don’t see that as a limitation, I see it as strength.”
Whatever the focus of the story she is charged with telling, it is important for her to pay particular attention to the meaning of the pictures she paints. A lesson she carries with her from being under the direct tutelage of legendary director Tim Reid and his Legacy Media Institute, a project that she now facilitates.
It is said that luck occurs when preparation meets opportunity, and Nortley attributes the development of her career not to a hustle, but to an organic progression of hard work. On coming across “Oya: Rise Of The Orisha” she saw a vision she could believe in and seized the opportunity by contacting former colleague & director Nosa and getting on board with bringing that vision to life.
Developing funding for independent projects is often very challenging but the “Oya” team are showing what can be done in midst of waging a very successful fundraising campaign. Shattering the belief that Black audiences are not motivated to support the work of their artistic professionals, the campaign has seen over half the funds raised in two weeks. Contributions have poured in from across the UK, Europe and particularly inspiring for Nortley, many adherents of the Yoruba faith have pledged their support.
While she acknowledges the challenges that come with a lack of budget, Nortley guards against allowing this to become a hindrance to creativity. Instead, she is encouraged to see this as a challenge to become more creative; “It’s about balance. If you have less money but more creative freedom, you can use your creative freedom to overcome the lack of money. I’d say I have been at my most creative when I have had no money and I’ve just had to get things done.”
And as creative juices flow, the production team behind “Oya: Rise Of The Orisha” are very conscious of maintaining the dignity of a tradition that has often been misunderstood and vilified. The story promises to take its audience on a journey of examining how people of Afrikan descent relate to the ancient traditions of their homeland, in a modern world. Unfortunately, our “urban” surroundings seem to render such tradition perpetually marginalized to a remote village somewhere.
For this reason, I am personally intrigued by the prospect of bringing the Orisha to life in the city of London. In response to my intrigue, Nortley simply replies “London is the Place to shoot it… its gonna be epic!”
So as the short film taster paves the way for the full-length feature of “Oya: Rise of the Orisha”, this is a project that shows all the signs of history in the making. A new generation of Black filmmakers in the UK are paving their own way.
For more information or to contribute to the making of Oya: Rise Of The Orisha go to www.oyariseoftheorishamovie.com