Quam Odunsi was born in Chicago to Nigerian parents and raised mostly in his parents’ homeland.
His first feature film, Borland, takes place in a fictitious small Texas town where all of the characters are white. “People can be put off when they see what you’re trying to do,” said the 33-year-old, who filmed the movie in places such as Bedford, Weatherford, and Azle. “I wanted to push myself,” he said. “It’s easy to write about people you know about. I wanted more of a challenge.”
How did a writer-director from such a distant corner of the world wind up shooting here? His parents, who studied engineering in the United States, moved back so they could send their son to American schools. After graduating from Dallas’ Lake Highlands High School, Odunsi found a place in the accounting program at UNT. He never took film classes, instead getting involved in the University Program Council’s cinema committee. Soon he realized that filmmaking was his calling, and though he’d gone far enough in the university’s accounting program to receive a bachelor’s degree, he dropped out before receiving his master’s. Interning at Fox Distribution in Dallas, moving to L.A., and taking an extension course from UCLA were enough to solidify his ambitions, even as he fell back on his accounting background to work for Fox Television as a financial analyst. His debut short, Kissed by Season, was good enough to be screened at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences building in 2000, and later at the Sacramento International Film Festival.
Borland is the result of melding two different scripts he had been working on, one involving a missing kid and the other involving two best friends coming home for a weekend. For Odunsi, it was natural to set this small-town story in Texas. “You can get actors in L.A. who can do the accent,” he said. “But I preferred local actors because I wanted to be true to the location.”
To help write the dialogue, the filmmaker spent time reading legal transcripts: “They capture the way people really speak.” Odunsi admitted it was a challenge to make all the different shooting locations look like part of the same fictitious town, but he described the experience of filming here as great.
The film’s visual style, which the director admitted to be “polarizing,” includes relatively few close-ups and many wide shots that take in the surrounding area. Odunsi owned that some of this was dictated by the short 17-day shooting schedule and the film’s budget (he calls it “microscopic” but won’t say precisely how much). Yet he also cited the influence of David Gordon Green (All the Real Girls, George Washington) and especially Terence Malick (The Thin Red Line, The New World), whose films constantly place the characters in context with their natural surroundings. “I wanted the city of Borland to come alive as a character,” he said.
He’ll be screening Borland at Addison’s Studio Movie Grill this Sunday. In addition to submitting the film to festivals, he’s also preparing two future projects. One is about a young undercover cop looking to bust a high-school drug ring, while the other compares the lives of two female characters, one living in America and the other in Africa. He hopes to enjoy more time and money with these. “It was tough to work in such a short time frame,” he said. “But with limitations comes creativity.”