By Ogova Ondego
Published December 15, 2013
“I specialise in human interest stories, movies my people can relate to,” says actress, screenwriter and producer Uche Jombo as I pull her away from the noisy dance floor in Tinapa Business and Leisure Resort in Calabar, Cross River State, for an interview.
Arguably one of the most approachable players in the Nigerian movie sector popularly known as Nollywood, Jombo has just been declared the Best Actress for her role in LIES MEN TELL by the Jury of the 3rd Africa International Film Festival (AFRIFF). LIESÂ MEN TELL is an 88-minute drama that presents men as masters of deceit and women as uncritical believers till the latter wisen up and the former find themselves between the devil and the dark blue sea.
As she is stopped by admirers demanding to be taken pictures with their idol, Jombo tells me, “Your environment must be reflected in your work for it to connect with your market.”
We finally manage to get away from the fans and Jombo, whose role in VISA TO HELL ushered her into Nollywood in 1999, says filmmakers have the power with which to change not just their own societies but the entire world.
“We must be faithful to our own stories and tell them in our own African ways,” she says.”I do both advocacy and commercial films, though I have to know where to draw the line between them.”
Jombo’s advocacy films, which she says she produces through her Uche Jumbo Foundation, address subjects such as domestic violence, HIV/AIDS and anti-retroviral drugs.Some of the filmsâ€”NOLLYWOOD HUSTLERS, HOLDING HOPE, and DAMAGEâ€”Uche Jombo Studios has produced also address domestic violence.
Born Ucheobi Jessica Nnenne Jombo in Abiriba, Abia State, Nigeria, this graduate of Mathematics and Statistics from University of Calabar and Computer Programming from Federal University of Technology in Minna, Niger state, says she founded Uche Jombo Studios in 2009 to take creative control of her work.
“I write and produce to protect my stories and control the quality of my work,” she says as we rush through the interview in the wee hours of the morning.
But the reason why we are chatting is her just having won the coveted prize–the Best Actress; what makes it even sweeter is that her co-star, Desmond Elliott, has also been declared the Best Actor in his own right. There are cash prizesâ€”in US Dollars from United Bank for Africaâ€”accompanying the statuettes.
LIES MEN TELL, the film that has produced both the Best Actress and the Best Actor, is written and produced by Jombo based on what she says is a true story.It is directed by Ikechukwu Onyeka with Jombo and Elliott in the lead roles.
That LIES MEN TELL has achieved the fete, Jombo says, shall spur her to create even better work.
“I shall continue to learn, to creatively ‘steal’ from better creators, and to improve my storytelling and technical quality of my work,” says the fifth of nine children who had written 10 screenplays before she started producing movies. At the time of filing this report Jombo has 70 films to her credit.
Among the films Uche Jombo has written and co-written include LIES MEN TELL, TRAUMATISED, THE CELEBRITY, GAMES MEN PLAY, GIRLS IN THE HOOD, HOLDING HOPE and A TIME TO LOVE. She says HOLDING HOPE has given her more awards than any other film she has produced, probably because, she says, “I sacrificed a lot for it.”
“My aim is to make fewer films but ensure they are of better quality.”
Jombo, a director at Emem Isong Royal Arts Academy that trains young actors, screenwriters, editors and directors and distributes films across Nigeria,a goodwill ambassador for UN and African Children Talent Discovery Foundation, says she is committed to high quality production.
Though she has worked with the who-is-who of Nollywoodâ€”Desmond Elliot, Genevieve Nnaji, Omotola Jalade-Ekeinde, omoni oboli, Jim Iyke, Mike Ezuruonye, Richard Mofe Damijo, Nse Ikpe-Etim, Zack Orji, Ini Edoâ€”and Gollywoodâ€”Jackie Appiah, Mercy Johnson, Nadia Buari, Majid Michelâ€”Jombo has not let this go into her head. Perhaps this could be attributed to the fact that she isn’t just a screen star but also a business-woman, executive producer and studio head who must sell her work. That it would be self-defeating to antagonise her fans and buyers of her products. She neither confirms nor denies this is the case.
Jombo, who says May 16, 2014 shall mark the second anniversary of her marriage to Kenney Rodriguez of USA, describes him as “someone who is supportive of my work.”
The interview over and while still fighting off fatigue induced by sleeplessness, I wish Jombo good bye and Happy Birthday ahead of her December 28 birth anniversary and dash to the airport to catch my flight to Lagos enroute to Nairobi; with a good impression of Jombo and samples of her movies.