Award-winning film director Obi Emelonye will see his new movie screened in more than 100 cinemas this week, in what is said to be the biggest ever UK release of an independent film.

Obi, a film lecturer at the University of Huddersfield, will premiere his thriller Black Mail across Odeon and Cineworld cinemas from Friday August 26.

Nigerian-born Obi, 55, who joined the university last year, made the film for $100,000 during lockdown in 2020. He described getting it to the brink of release as little short of a “miracle.”

Obi wrote and directed the film with a cat-and-mouse plot which sees a film star blackmailed by ruthless cyber-criminals on the dark web.

Obi, who has won numerous awards in his 10-film career over the last two decades, said film-making during a global pandemic and a lack of diversity in the UK film industry were huge challenges to overcome.

“This is the biggest release of an independent film in the UK and represents a great achievement for me personally and for the University of Huddersfield,” said Obi.

For a film that I made with $100,000 in lockdown in 2020 to have come this far is a miracle. I don’t know how this has happened.”

Obi Emelonye

The film was made on location in London with the cast and crew having to live in Covid bubbles to get around the restrictions of the pandemic.

“It really was avant garde film-making but we were tackling a subject matter that was, and is, universal and contemporary,” added Obi. “That explains the interest in the project.

“It talks about cyber insecurity and how vulnerable we all are. I always lock off my camera when I speak to people online and, when most people see this film, they will go home and do the same too! We are really vulnerable in the face of what is available online.

“It really was a labour of love and that was the message to young film-makers, that it does not have to be perfect. It does not have to come from the Film Council or the BFI – go ahead and tell your story. If you tell it well, and from the heart, there are people willing to pay to watch it.”

Black Mail has already met with considerable success prior to its nationwide release, winning the 2021 Best Film Award at the African Movie Academy Awards. It was also voted as Best Film at the British Urban Film Festival in 2021.

But Obi said the lack of diversity in UK film, in front of and behind the camera as well as narrow attitudes towards what British films should be, was also an issue that drove him on.

“Coming to the UK film industry, the lack of diversity is really appalling,” he said. “About 15% of the UK population is BAME but in UK cinema representation is less than 1%.

“There are historical, social and political considerations as to why that is. It’s not necessarily someone blocking the door. But rather than feeling sorry for ourselves, it’s about tackling it.

“Only 20 cinemas showed my film The Mirror Boy in 2011, and that was unprecedented, and it grossed £200,000.

“The UK film establishment was impressed and it opened the door for independent and particularly black films. But gradually they have lost interest because they are a business, not a charity.

“The door has opened again and my campaign is saying that there is a scarcity of diverse voices in UK cinema.

“We cannot stay on the sidelines and complain. We should show there are people willing to watch, that we have the numbers, people willing to engage. It’s about giving voices to people who do not have a voice and are emasculated.”

Black Mail will be showcased in Nigeria, Ghana and Cameroon and has also earned a prestigious screening at the Smithsonian in Washington DC, but Obi is keen to wave the flag for the university as he shows off the fruits of his years in bringing the film to the screen.

He says he hopes to inspire the next generation of film-makers with “not just abstract tutelage but also practical guidance gleaned from real world, hands-on experience.”

Watch the film trailer HERE