The Black British Filmmaker’s Guide to Success: Interview with author Nadia Denton

September 21, 2011 § 2 Comments

Nadia Denton

For any artist who is part of a community, networking and sharing information become somewhat second nature. When former film festival director Nadia Denton decided to write her first book, the idea of what to write about came to her quite quickly.

“It just occurred to me that there was a need for a reference manual for black filmmakers, and this is a particular area that I had a fair amount of expertise in because of my relationship with filmmakers in terms of the work that I’ve done,” she says.

Some of that work involved founding and running the film club for Black Filmmaker Magazine, which she did for 7 years, holding film screenings, working with institutions such as the US Embassy and the University of the West Indies, Jamaica, and then serving as director of the BFM International Film Festival in 2008 and 2009. A lot of what she learned working in the industry is what she’s sharing in the new book, entitled The Black British Filmmaker’s Guide to Success. It features interviews with 42 key black filmmakers and decision makers from around the world, including Ryan Harrington of the Tribeca Institute, US actor and director Tim Reid, and Congolese filmmaker Djo Tunda wa Munga. The book will be available as a free download starting October 1st 2011. You can find out more information on Nadia Denton and her new book here.

I called up Ms. Denton to congratulate her, and decided to do a quick telephone interview. I asked her about her noble effort to share her knowledge and expertise with emerging black filmmakers in the Diaspora. Here’s an extract of what we talked about:

Afrofusion Lounge: What is the status of Black British Filmmaking? A lot of black filmmakers in the United States struggle to find funding and distribution for their films. How would you compare the two, is it the same kind of struggle?

Nadia Denton:  I would say yes, in a sense. I think some of the differences I’ve noted – and I’ve tried to highlight in my book – is that there’s a small niche of filmmakers who basically have an attitude of not really caring about the establishment in the sense that they’re not looking to the establishment for acclaim in terms of the aesthetic of their work and in terms of the politics of their work. And they’re quite happy to raise finance for their projects privately. And these filmmakers seem to be garnering quite a bit of success, one because they’re quite independent minded about how they’re getting their money. Many of them do other types of work, and the filmmaking may be part of an expression of the politics or views they want to put out. Also, they tend to have quite a keen understanding of their audience. So because they are sort of taking alternative methods in terms of making films and getting the finance, they tend to make films that have a higher degree of social currency or relevance, so many of them get good returns in terms of self distribution with their DVDs, and in terms of screenings and so on.

AL: How important do you think it is for Black British Filmmakers and Black American Filmmakers to work together with other Diaspora Filmmakers?

ND: Certainly one of the things that I found – to my dismay – is that I’m not sure that there’s enough sharing of good practice among filmmakers. What I’ve observed is that people sort of tend to get together and enjoy the camaraderie and the socializing, and you know, having fairly peripheral conversations about their craft and their product. And maybe a few of them will sit down and go a bit deeper, but I tended to find in my one-to-one conversations with the filmmakers that it’s very clear what they’re doing and why some are more successful than others. And it sort of baffled me why some of the other filmmakers haven’t been able to observe this, and from what I’ve seen standing on the sidelines I’m not certain that when they’re all together they necessarily ask the right questions or if people are prepared to open up. Whereas I think because I have had these one-to-one relationships with many of these filmmakers, perhaps they were quite prepared to tell me things that maybe they wouldn’t normally talk about in a public forum. So yes, certainly I do feel that there’s a great amount of good practice and expertise and techniques that filmmakers have been picking up at their different environments. In fact I think the information sharing is probably more valuable than the money or the fundraising, which is what people tend to focus on.

Nadia Denton introduces director Tim Reid at the British Film Institute earlier this year

AL: That brings me to my next question, which is that I know you cover almost the whole spectrum, from financing to distribution. Is there one area you think Black filmmakers should be focusing on?

ND: Well, I think it makes an overall collective picture, but if I were to choose particular tools that they should have in their toolbox I think filmmakers need to surround themselves with information sources. So they need to be surrounded by structures, whether it’s organizations or individuals, whether it’s even just books or attending courses that are going to help them gather the information. I’ve noticed that the filmmakers who have a strong infrastructure to rely on – whether it’s, for instance, Owen Alik Shahadah who made 500 Years Later and Motherland, he has the organization Halaquah Media, or whether it be someone like Ishmahil [Blagrove] from RiceNPeas Films who had his journalistic background and his organization RiceNPeas, where they did community development work – these filmmakers who’ve been able to sort of fall back on another structure and sort of get information in a different way seem to have been a bit more successful. I find sometimes filmmakers can focus too much on one particular aspect, so they can focus a lot on perhaps what kind of technology they have or equipment they have, or the ideas – which are great, you definitely need brilliant ideas – but the fact is there are a lot of filmmakers who’ve made quite a bit of money and they didn’t have particularly riveting ideas; their ideas were actually quite straightforward. It’s just that it had a particular relevance to an audience.

AL: What’s next for you after the book?

ND: Well I’m actually planning to write an international version. Obviously I’m very conscious of the fact that all of my references in this book exceptionally are Black British. I have interviewed filmmakers in the past which were from other backgrounds, for instance I’ve interviewed Tim Reid who’s obviously African American. I have a number of African and Caribbean filmmakers who are included as well. But I am looking with the next book to focus specifically on Europe, in terms of Black people in Europe, Africa, the Caribbean, obviously the States, and I’m even also interested in Australasia, so activities in places like Australia and Micronesian communities.

AL: You’re offering the book as a free download; is it going to be available in any other format?

ND: At the moment, no; it will only be available as an e-book, CF version, but if I get sponsorship then it’s likely that there might be some limited editions printed up into hard copy. So those would be free, this book is a free book.

AL: Well thank you very much, Nadia, for talking to Afrofusion Lounge!

ND: Thank you, you’re welcome.

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