Exclusive: In conversation with Marian Diyaolu and Sarah Bettencourt.
We recently caught up with Marian Diyaolu and Sarah Bettencourt, the producer and director of the thrilling drama Closed Doors.
After graduating from drama school in the United Kingdom, young Nigerian filmmaker Marian Oyinade Diyaolu set out to tell a story about peer pressure. To actualize her vision, Oyinade collaborates with her friend and colleague Sarah Bettencourt who is also passionate about telling stories, particularly about underrepresented communities in the UK.
Living in different countries during the Covid-19 pandemic, Diyaolu and Bettencourt set out with a shared vision to make their first film as producer and director for the short film titled Closed Doors through zoom.
While speaking to both creatives about how they were able to produce and direct the film virtually, Bettencourt went ahead to tell me; “Marian and I worked basically on zoom and overseas. Marian was in Uk, while I was in Portugal, I am Portuguese. I lived in Uk for the past four years but in the middle of covid. I was forced to come back to Portugal for personal reasons. And I’ve been staying here since. Closed doors film was made entirely on Zoom from pre-production to production. Rehearsals with the actors were done on zoom and so was the directing as well".
The potential for negative peer pressure amongst youths has been well established in various research papers and when I asked Diyaolu why it was important for her to produce a film about Peer pressure using Nigerians as the yardstick she says “I think it was really important to kind of use Nigerians in this story. Everybody goes through peer pressure and it is not secluded to Nigeria or secluded to Africans, but I think it was important to say this is something that we all go through but specifically, I wanted to communicate that to my Nigerian people”.
Both women spoke to me excitedly about the audience’s reaction to the film when it premiered in cinemas in the UK back in September and most importantly why they can’t wait to share with the Nigerian audience when it premieres on YouTube on the 31st of December. They both speak extensively on the challenges that come with being a young filmmaker, how inspired they are to continue to tell stories about representation for people of colour, and generally how the pandemic taught them the essence of collaboration and shared vision.
This interview has been slightly edited for context and clarity.
BSIDE: How were you able to film this project in the UK during a global Pandemic? BETTENCOURT: I was actually in Portugal during the filming process, so Marian and I worked basically on zoom and overseas. Marian was in Uk, while I was in Portugal, I am Portuguese. I lived in Uk for the past four years but in the middle of covid. I was forced to come back to Portugal for personal reasons. And I’ve been staying here since. Closed doors were made on Zoom. What was your creative process for making this short film project?
DIYAOLU: We kind of sat down and came up with this idea of telling a story about peer pressure and the influence of friends in young people's lives. Sarah and I went to drama school together in the UK, and I decided to reach out to her and tell her, you know what I’ve got this story. I want to do it. She's an actor herself, and I know she is passionate about directing, so I asked her what she thought of it, and she loved it.
The pre-production was done entirely online. We had to look through a bunch of self-tapes taken together over Zoom. And then during the actual production, we had Sarah on Zoom together with the actors and we got some stellar actors, so that helped us as well. It was a team effort, and it was really difficult, obviously, but you know we were in lockdown, and we didn't want to let that hold us back, and I think having a team where everybody shared that same vision worked well for us.
As young people trying to tell their own stories, what were the challenges you had making this project?
BETTENCOURT: So the first challenge is to come up with an idea, a message, a shared vision. And the second one was the circumstances that we were in, the lockdown, the fact that we wanted to go out, that we wanted to get together. And we couldn't because there were rules in place that kind of set us back, but still, we persisted. And we did what we could with what we had at the time. Why was it important to tell this story using Nigerians as the yardstick?
DIYAOLU: I think it was really important to kind of use Nigerians in this story. I know peer pressure is a problem all over the world but I think we need to communicate specifically to Black people. Although sometimes life gets difficult, life gets confusing, you meet all sorts of people, you try all sorts of things but you must connect to the reason why you're here and make sure you know you stand firm with your agenda, your purpose. Because I think once you have that, it's a bit harder for you to kind of be swayed left or right.
BETTENCOURT: Yes, thank you, Marian. There's something that you just said that I think it's very important to mention. Thankfully, we are seeing equal distribution within the film industry. I think we are moving towards a more equal place, but I still think that we're not there yet. Creating opportunities for people of colour, representing the problems of people who come from different countries to live in the Uk, to live in London, in particular, presenting on the screen the reality of, in this case, Nigerian people is important.
People need to have on-screen representation, I would say even mandatory, and we wanted to contribute to that, so this is the first. The first thing that I would like to mention here, I think it's very, very important for presentation, and secondly.
We want to share things about ourselves. So we want to share things that we experience ourselves. It's way more natural for any artist to share a reality that he's familiar with rather than something that he never experienced himself, right? So I think this just makes a lot of sense.
What was the director-actor relationship like during production?
BETTENCOURT: The actors were amazing. They were very dedicated. They were also very hardworking. We met every single day for roughly three months, then we rehearsed for hours, and when I say hours I mean hours. And when they went on set, when they first arrived on set, they were ready because they had rehearsed, so this is a story about three friends, right, and the relationship was already there. They were. They felt like friends. I met the actors, I met the whole cast at the premiere in London for the first time, and it felt like we'd been hanging out forever. We've been friends since childhood, we felt like family, to be honest. We can develop relationships online. I think communication is the key, it would have been so much better if we could have done this in person obviously, but when you know sometimes life doesn't give you the perfect circumstances, it is what it is, and if you stay grounded and if you know what you're doing and you know your path, You know where you're going, you can still make things with what you have, and you don't have to compromise the story as Marian mentioned. You don't have to. What was the audience reception when you premiered the film in September?
DIYAOLU: People were shocked, they wanted more. You'd tend to fall in love with the main character and everyone else too, but that main character, you kind of want to know more about him. You want to go deeper into his world like what happens to him, why he does this, what he cares about, a lot of people want to find out more about him and the only way to do that would be to get another one. So that was kind of the main reaction we got from the crowd. It was really good. It went well. It was a nice way to bring people together because obviously. We had just come out of lockdown about a couple of weeks. It was a very nice way, and I remember the lead actor, his parents coming up to me after being like thank you for giving us this opportunity of being able to see our son on screen. But also being able to gather with other people. So yeah, it was a really good experience, and doing the premiere was nice for us to be able to kind of show the work to the public. What are the plans to ensure that the people that you're telling the story about back home, get access to see the film? DIYAOLU: That's a priority for us. At the moment, we have plans to show it on Paus TV exclusively from the 12th of November to the 14th of November, and then it will also be available on YouTube on the 31st of December.
What would you like to say to people back home, that will connect them to the story? BETTENCOURT: Oh, I can take that one. I have so many things to say, and I’m gonna keep it short. So first of all, you're enough. Secondly, please be sure of doing your research before taking anything else that your friends or people that you trust or people that you don't trust might offer you. Please make sure you educate yourself before making a decision that might affect your body and your life, and thirdly, don't let yourself be taken by peer pressure, but that's gonna take to my first point you're enough. DIYAOLU: I think for me, freedom without boundaries is no longer freedom but chaos, so knowing what your boundaries are, don't set your boundaries based on anyone or you know on emotions, but set your boundaries based on how you want your life to be and the life that you want to live. So yeah, always having boundaries, remembering what they are, and understanding that true freedom comes from living within those boundaries.
This is a first-time project for both of you and the film is such a success right now, how does this make you both feel?
DIYAOLU: I'll just quickly say something. I think it goes back to the point that Sarah and I are very connected, and our synergy is good. It makes me realise that filmmaking is very much about collaboration. You need to make sure that you know collaboration is key. You need to have good relationships with the people you're working with because that's what brings out the best product, so I think for me, the thing I’ve learned the most is trying to find the people that you work well with. Because then the story is just more powerful because it brings its best.
BETTENCOURT: I agree with Marian. but also would like to add that I think there needs to be a shared vision, so it's about relationships, yes, and it's about communication, absolutely, but also about a common vision, common goals. And I would even say for this film in particular for Closed Doors, Marian and I had to be on the same wave in terms of beliefs and also the vision of life, the vision of the message we want to share with the world.