A particular day became a special day when I sat in Morningside Park at 116th Street (near Columbia University) with the documentarian Nonso Christian Ugbode. Mr. Ugbode and his collaborator, Lerone D. Wilson produced Colored Frames in 2007. Their documentary film is about African-American painters. I interviewed Mr. Ugbode on a sunny afternoon in New York City.
CI: How did you meet Lerone Wilson?
Nonso Christian Ugbode: We attended New York University; majored in Film & Television Production, and graduated 2004. We stayed in touch throughout the years.
CI: Do you have a production company together?
NCU: Lerone’s production company is Boondoggle Films. It is how a lot of the content we work together on gets made. Additionally, I work in media for a nonprofit, The National Black Programming Consortium (NBPC).
CI: What is your specialty?
NCU: A lot of what we think through often has some reality style content. However, if we have an opportunity to do something different; for example, a narrative, we would be interested in it.
CI: I rented the movie: I Know Where I’m Going, which was produced by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger. They made stylistically narrative movies. How would you describe your working relationship?
NCU: We know we have similar temperaments; we speak the same language; and whatever we collaborate on, it will be a fruitful venture. It was one day, while working on another project in Brooklyn—we were having coffee in a café. We started talking about the art on the wall, and said, ‘There’s got to be better black art work than this.’ We made
inquires, we had a new project.
CI: What was the process of creating Colored Frames?
NCU: We decided to look back at the last fifty years of the best contemporary painters. We worked on the writing and research together. We both conducted telephone
interviews before we met the artist. When we were ready to film, Lerone executed the technical aspects; I established a personal relationship; whereupon, they felt relaxed and comfortable. The conversations flowed in a casual way, while Lerone filmed in high-definition. The finished product looked polished and professional in every respect.
CI: I agree. Colored Frames is an aesthetically beautiful film.
NCU: I love it—thank you.
CI: What did you dream of becoming when you were a teenager?
NCU: I came to this country when I was fifteen years old. I had a lot of dreams as a teenager.
CI: Where were you born?
NCU: I am from Nigeria, and one of my dreams was to be a filmmaker. I admired Spike Lee and Alfred Hitchcock.
NCU: There was something in the urgency of Spike Lee’s films and I liked the evergreen
touch of Alfred Hitchcock’s story telling. My dream at that point was to have the power of being the guy on set who called the shots. Once, I got to college, it sort of metamorphosed into being—I started to gravitate to editing, because that is the ultimate control.
CI: What is the driving force of a filmmaker?
NCU: It’s an obsession for your vision. Whatever, that is; whatever, you want the world to be; and whatever, you want to tell. You have to have an obsession for your vision, because there are so many distractions. And yet, you still have to find a way to make it work for you. If you are not obsessed with it, you will have to find something else to do.
CI: I looked at a documentary film on Albert Einstein, and the narrator said, Einstein was ferociously focused—so that’s basically what you are saying?
NCU: Albert Einstein wore the same clothes every day, because he didn’t want to
think about clothes. Yes, that’s part of it…eliminating distractions.
CI: What do you like about being a filmmaker?
NCU: The camaraderie among documentary and independent filmmakers. It’s interesting to hear them, to find them, and to see the breath of their stories. We are all trying to make a name for ourselves—we don’t work in the mainstream.
CI: What remains the same for you as a filmmaker?
NCU: The story. I’ve been obsessed with the story my whole life. When I was little, my mom would buy me these huge note book pads for school. I wrote so many stories; she had to buy more pads. I would think, ‘Wow, you can tell stories about living people, real things, and it can be as exciting as any narrative.’
CI: What is the power of filmmaking?
NCU: A part of what success looks like in the future is accepting all the emerging
talents. It is intergenerational, a global conversation. The question is this: “What do you want to leave for your kids to see?”
CI: Finally, if one has an idea for a documentary, what would be the first step for Lerone and you to consider?
NCU: It’s the idea. Does the story grab us? Does it have layers? If yes, let’s find out
more. For us, Colored Frames started as a conversation in a Brooklyn coffee shop. That’s really all it takes: character and story.
CI: Mr. Ugbode, thank you.