Nigerian radio personality, writer and poet, Wana Udobang recently released an enlightening and intimate documentary, Sensitive Skin, focusing on the 10-year-long journey with psoriasis of her friend, Glory Edozien.
Psoriasis is a chronic long-term skin condition; according to statistics, 125 million people live with this condition worldwide. Normally, skin cells grow slowly and flake off about every four weeks with new cells growing to replace outer layers as skin sheds. In the case of psoriasis, however, new skin cells move rapidly to the surface of the skin in days rather than weeks, building up thick patches called plaques which can cause intense itching and burning.
Her Zimbabwe caught up with Udobang to learn more about her latest project and documentary film making in Nigeria.
Her Zimbabwe (HZ): What has been the general response from people who have watched the film?
Wana Udobang (WU): The responses have been amazing. I have received emails from people with other skin conditions from acute dermatitis to eczema. I had someone say that she wished I had made this documentary ten years earlier so she would not have felt so alone. I think a lot of people found it educational and informative. People also loved that it was uplifting and inspiring, as most documentaries focusing on this subject matter would typically leave you feeling depressed and sorry for the characters featured.
HZ: What have been some of the more fascinating comments from audiences?
WU: Someone told me that they laughed in some parts, cried in some parts and got angry in some parts, but most of all they were inspired by the strength of the subject. I think so many people just really enjoyed seeing the friendship that exists between Glory and I, as well as the sense of humour. People think we both need to have a TV show.
HZ: The documentary is conversational and one-on-one. What did the pre-production and production phases of making Sensitive Skin involve?
WU: Pre-production started with writing a treatment in order to decide how the story would be told. We worked with one camera and so we made sure we organised for a sound engineer and that was it. We originally intended it to be a short documentary but it was in post-production that we realised a lot of the conversation was really important and we could not just let it go.
HZ: As you were making your documentary, what were some of the more interesting facts that you noted about psoriasis?
WU: Since Glory and I had been friends for some time, I had always asked questions and done a lot of research about psoriasis. You can find almost everything about it online, but what I found more interesting was discovering what it felt like to live with the condition – the pain, discomfort as well as the cost of treatment.
HZ: Apart from YouTube, what are the other screening channels you are using in Nigeria and the rest of Africa for the documentary?
WU: We are submitting the documentary to a few festivals; it was screened at the Lights, Camera, Africa!!! Film Festival in Nigeria at the end of August and will be screened monthly at the I Represent Documentary Film Festival (iREP Documentary Film Festival) before the end of the year. We hope to get accepted into other festivals and competitions as well.
HZ: The film explores psoriasis as told through Glory. Are there any plans to look at the broader Nigerian picture of the skin condition in the future?
WU: It is a possibility but it is also a difficult one given that psoriasis is a rare condition. We will definitely be delving more into the issue of skin and skin conditions, but this will also depend on funding and other aspects. We will take it one step at a time.
HZ: Nigeria is well known for making features. Are Nigerian film makers also producing many documentaries?
WU: I cannot speak extensively because I have only made one documentary. I do think there are a few challenges when it comes to making documentaries. One major issue is that culturally we (Nigerians) are a closed people, so finding people who are open to share their stories is a constant challenge. I know a few documentary film makers who start and then drop a project midway because people are either ashamed or afraid to share. Access and bureaucracy is a problem with gathering information.
Funding is also another issue, so most documentary film makers are either funded by NGOs or Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) projects. Globally, most people do not go to the cinema to watch a documentary, so networks commission them or festivals help to push them forward. So if you are going to soak up all your money in making a documentary when you were not commissioned to or funded, this is a huge gamble for the average person.
HZ: And is there an audience for documentaries?
WU: I believe that there is an audience and think that we constantly undermine audiences. In terms of documentaries, there is this notion that Nigerians see all the suffering every day, so why should they watch it on screen? I had that fear while I was making Sensitive Skin and I kept asking myself if I would get an audience who would watch it. I was absolutely stunned that people watched it to the end. I think people are yearning for information but we (filmmakers) need to make a bit more effort to put it in their faces. So the audience is there, waiting to consume the work.
HZ: So what projects you are currently working on?
WU: Well, I have a few projects in the pipeline, a series of experimental short films titled Room 313 and a short documentary on grief. When I get some funding, I will be able to work on bigger projects. But for now, I am making what I can with what I have.