What was the budget of Rage?
That’s a bit difficult because we’re still trying to find a sales agent. To shoot the film cost very little money because we didn’t pay anybody. All we could afford to pay for cast and crew was food and transport and then sometimes we didn’t even have that because we bought the film stock and everything else. We worked the budget out to be about £750,000 by the time we pay everybody. But we made the film for a fraction of that because, like I said, no one was paid. We just paid for the essential food, transport, film stock, camera, sound locations (a small amount for some locations), but that was all.
Since there are no longer any workshops run by the Greater London Council from the 80s it would appear to be very difficult for Black people to do cinema in Britain.
Yeah. We don’t have a meeting point. I know that John Akomfrah he’s a very good friend of mine – was someone I talked to a lot when I was making Rage. I showed it to him and discussed it with him. But we don’t have that kind of association or anything any more. Everyone’s off making their film and every once in a while we meet. It’s difficult and it’s even more difficult when you work like that to have an organised body or to fight the industry to try and raise awareness. It’s a difficult time. The British had always abandoned us and so, somehow, we find our strength. It creates good strong character to fight and we’ll fight. And we’ll keep making films. That’s our way. There’s a lot of support for the Francophonie cinema in France that’s their way. We’ll find a way because there’s an urge. When there’s an urge to do something you’ll find a way. It’s just that it’ll be more difficult than for somebody else.
And it is also difficult to get the film onto the screen. I’m often in London and it’s terrible. It would seem that you’re not given the opportunity to show the film.
Distribution? That’s very interesting because -with our film – we have got a distributor in the UK and we were totally disappointed with the way it was distributed. It got critical acclaim but they spent nothing in terms of advertising and promotion so very few people saw it. We were so desperate that we got a bank loan to put posters on the street. My wife Maria and I she’s my co-producer were going around putting stickers in the street. Eventually we couldn’t talk to the distributors any more. We just started communicating again two weeks ago. I had not talked to them since January because I accused them of sabotaging the film. But that’s because they don’t know how to reach the audience. So we have approached the British Film Council because they heard about the film a great deal. They’re giving us some money to re-release the film ourselves and we’re going to re-release it in a couple of months. We have enough money to do the promotion so we’re going to do the promotion ourselves just to show people how to market films by Black filmmakers – to show them that there is an audience. I think Spike Lee did it with Do the Right Thing. He found an audience and suddenly everybody wanted to make a film with a Black filmmaker. And we think we can try that. I’m thinking of shooting my next film soon but unfortunately I’m gonna spend time trying to distribute this film in the UK. But that’s fine. It’s just a job.
Do you have the same kind of network of festivals and associations that we have in France?
For Black cinema? There’s two, no maybe three. There’s one in Birmingham. There’s one in Bristol and there’s one called « Africa At the Pictures » by Keith Shiri. And there’s one called « Black Filmmakers Festival » by Menelik Shabazz. There’s one called « Bite the Mango Festival ». So, there’s some, but not as many maybe eight maximum.
A film called Baby Mothers came out two years ago. I was surprised that it was hardly distributed in London.
It’s the same thing. They do not know how to reach the audience. They buy the films and put them in cinemas for a week or two and then they concentrate on their real agenda. They just like to get them on video or TV. In their minds they’re not thinking about theatrical film so they don’t put money into promotion. It’s a small platforming but that’s not what the filmmaker wants. Why can’t it be the same as any other film? There’s an audience, go out and get the audience. People are lazy and they’re not willing. We sent our distributors people, experts, that know how to find a Black audience, or a young audience, or whatever because it’s a multicultural film. But they basically sent them away. We were talking about the strategies we think they should use to promote it and they were pushing everybody away. So that was really, really, frustrating.
Baby Mothers was another example. You try to make films capable of reaching a wider audience and there’s no possibility there
They let it die. It’s a shame. It just takes one film to happen. But we’re very very optimistic about it. We believe we can break this market and open up a new way of seeing films because the distributors don’t understand how to distribute films. That’s our focus.
Are the States a possibility? Are there any opportunities to show the film there?
We went to Los Angeles for an African film festival and it was sold out for all the screenings and the response was great. We’re trying to find a sales agent. We want to give it one sales agent hopefully a good sales agent – to take the world rights and sell the film because we don’t really have the time to be going around the markets to sell the film. For me it’s very difficult because we talk a different language. They don’t understand me and I don’t understand them and I get very frustrated. For the past week we’ve been trying to bring people to the screening but I just get really depressed because I just don’t understand these people. For them it’s merchandise. To me it’s more than that. It’s a film. To me it’s a culture. It’s something substantial but they think in a different way. And, you don’t have access to them and they have this false politeness, which I don’t like. It’s very false, very fake and I feel like I’m prostituting this film, like a salesman knocking at doors. No, it’s not a good thing so we want to get a sales agent that will take it.
Do you have connections with the film industry in Nigeria?
I have a couple of friends in it but don’t have any direct connection with it. I think it’s an excellent phenomenon because it’s one of the few countries that consuming its own films. My problem with it is the quality of the films. At some point you should start getting better. So then I start to ask, « Is this simply some guys being cornered by business men who want to spend little money and make quick money »? It’s really lazy. People are now ready to see something much grander, for that move from video to cinema, and they will go to see it ‘cos they have a culture of seeing their own films. That’s very very important. It’s fantastic but I think that filmmakers now have to take control and start doing much more refined work, otherwise it will just stagnate.
Would you be interested in doing something in Nigeria yourself?
It’s definitely on my agenda but I have to go back and spend a bit of time there. I’ve not been back for seven years because I’ve been concentrating on making On the Edge and Rage and all the money we had access to and all my concentration focus – was on these two films. But my intention is to go back and see Lagos again – Lagos that I know and love – and write something. Again, it’ll carry through the urban idea it has the urban energy I love. I’m a city person. I’m not a village person. I grew up in Lagos. I like the energy there. I like the way you can disappear. Noone knows you and you can be in a crowd. It’s the sounds. It excites me. I would love to go and make an urban film about Lagos, and capture the enery of it. It’s just about timing. In the next three or four years maybe, maybe for the film after the one I’m doing right now. When the timing is right.
Just one last question about Fespaco (The Panafrican Film and Television Festival in Ouagadougou). What did you think of the relationship between the Anglophones and Francophones? We often have the impression that the Anglophones are somewhat marginalised.
I was surprised when I won the award for On the Edge. I thought, « No, it’s impossible for an Anglophone film to be in that sort of position ». And I was even more surprised winning the Oumarou Ganda prize there which is a Francophonie prize. The Agence de la Francophonie put some money towards the prize which I’m still trying to get [laughter] but it’s a good acknowledgement. I spoke to Babahama and said, « It’s a Panafrican film festival and it should represent what it says, otherwise it’s hypocritical. If it doesn’t reflect the name, it doesn’t deserve the name ». I hope that it will be more open to Anglophone films from anywhere and they can be in the same competition. I think that if it’s a good film and it’s selected it should be in the same competition because that’s how we can challenge ourselves and connect with ourselves as filmmakers. Maybe those that are making films somewhere else don’t have the same resources but they will have to work harder. For me cinema is not really about money. You can do a lot with very little. It’s about your dedication to cinema, and how much you believe in what you’re saying. For example, for Rage we had 40 locations, 90% night shoots, a crew of 25 people and about 50 actors. There was also a big scene with about 100. We also had to hire transportation and all of these things. We put it in the can for about £25,000 but that’s because we wanted to make this film. Everybody on the set the actors, the crew dedicated their time. It’s not a comfortable way to shoot – we were shooting 18 hours a day for four and a half weeks – but if you have the belief I would rather make a film like that again than have 10 million dollars and make rubbish. If I expose a frame of film, I have to have something to say, something substantial. Cinema is too important, especially for us as Africans. If we understand this tool and use it wisely, we can redress the people’s opinions about our society. And we can do it in an honest way. I don’t want to be a member of a club or organisation because I want to be open to criticise anything and don’t want to be represented by anybody. It’s vital that we are honest. I don’t think we should be judgemental. I don’t think cinema should judge anything. Cinema should show us how stupid we are, how ignorant we really are, how blind we are, how good we can be. Sometimes I watch it and think, « Why are we like this when we can be like that? Why do we do this? Why do we hurt this person so badly? I am not a bad person but I can hurt somebody. I can be violent. But I can also be vulnerable. This duality in the human being is what interests me. And this duality is reflected in the outside world, in how we create the world, in what we’ve made the world to be. So I work in cinema from the inside out. I just connect with my emotions find representations of it on the outside because the human being creates what is on the outside. Forget about the outside. We can try and change and rebuild it and build a new house but if you don’t change something from the mental that new house will revert to the old house. And to do this you need freedom to speak. When you say about shooting in Nigeria, I remember I met one of the Ministers or the Head of the Nigerian Film Corporation and I said to him, « The only condition I’ll come and shoot in Nigeria is if I have freedom to speak. If I have to criticize something, I will criticize and and I don’t want to be censored. If I have to be censored, I won’t come and I wouldn’t make a film then. I won’t make a film until the day I can make a film without censorship and I can say what I see because I’m not making it for myself, I’m doing it for the better of the country. We need criticism ».
And what did he say?
Well He shook his head and wondered a bit. But, I said what I had to say. We need criticism. Without it, we won’t grow. It’s not a good thing but it’s an essential thing.
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