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.

Interview with Viva Riva! director Djo Munga and actor Hoji Fortuna

July 6, 2011 § 1 Comment

Director Djo Munga takes questions after the AFI screening

It’s a delicate dance that some new African film directors have to do when aiming for worldwide success with their films. By success I speak in terms of both critical acclaim and sales. This issue came to my mind when I attended a special screening of the Congolese movie Viva Riva! at the AFI theatre in Silver Spring, Maryland early last month. The movie opened in New York and LA on June 10th, and in the UK and DC on June 24th. It has already won a number of awards, most recently an MTV Movie Award for Best African Film. It trounced the competition at the African Movie Awards – it took 6 – and won Angolan actor Hoji Fortuna a best supporting actor award for his role as Angolan gangster Cesar in the film. Viva Riva! also won best feature Film at the 2011 Pan-African Film Festival in Los Angeles. It was during the question and answer session at the AFI with the film’s director Djo Munga that a woman in the audience took issue with the film’s scenes of sex and violence, that she felt would serve to reinforce stereotypical images of Africa.  « Read the rest of this entry »

Tim Reid Offers Scholarships to Diaspora Filmmakers in London

March 31, 2011 § 2 Comments

Tim Reid addresses filmmakers at the British Film Institute Southbank in London

It certainly feels like an age since I posted here; my apologies. Travel sometimes does that to you. I spent a few days in the UK on my way to Sierra Leone, and as you may know, the internet in Freetown is pretty patchy…. In any case I was invited to a great event by my friend Makeda in London just before I left. It was an event organized by the Black World Cinema Collective and the Legacy Media Institute. Producer, filmmaker and actor Tim Reid, popularly known for his role in the TV series Frank’s Place, was talking extensively about the African Diaspora. Delivering a presentation entitled “Cultural Propaganda for Purpose and Profit,” he asserted that emerging black filmmakers have the advantage of a unique cultural experience in telling their own stories. Reid was at the British « Read the rest of this entry »

White Actor plays Black African in Ghanaian film Elmina

March 9, 2011 § 1 Comment

Ato and the townspeople listen to their chief

In what he expects will seriously challenge your suspension of disbelief, performance artist Doug Fishbone came up with an intriguing ploy. This “white guy from New York” living in London assumed the lead role in the all-black Ghanaian film production of Elmina. It is the latest in a series of art explorations by Fishbone that seek to disrupt viewers’ sense of perception and reality. The film deals with the struggle of local residents in the Ghanaian coastal town of Elmina to hold on to their land, against the wishes of a corrupt chief, when oil is discovered there. Much of Fishbone’s past work fuses humor and satire, in which he places consumers in the awkward position of questioning their own understanding of representation and culture in the media. Well, in this film there is little comedy, except if one considers the insertion of Fishbone as the lone white character amongst an otherwise completely Ghanaian cast in a « Read the rest of this entry »

Interview: Roger Ross Williams, Academy Award-winning Director (“Music By Prudence”)

January 24, 2011 § 2 Comments

“It has totally changed my life,” says filmmaker Roger Ross Williams, director of the Oscar-winning documentary Music By Prudence. Afrofusion caught up with him at the posh B. Smith’s restaurant in Washington, DC a few days ago. Williams became the first black film director to win an Academy Award when Music By Prudence took the honors for Best Documentary Short at the 2010 Oscars. But Williams is not even talking about the Oscar that his film won, nor the several other accolades that followed the release of this remarkable documentary. It is a true testament to the power of independent documentary filmmaking that the effects of his initial encounter with a 21-year-old young woman with a punishing disability named Prudence Mabhena have reached far deeper than he ever could have imagined. How rare is it for an indie « Read the rest of this entry »

Filmmaker Nikyatu Jusu does Skype Interview with Afrofusion Lounge

December 15, 2010 § 5 Comments

Nikyatu Jusu has not even yet graduated with her Master of Fine Arts (MFA) from New York University’s Film School, but three of her films have already won multiple awards. Her thesis film Say Grace Before Drowning, whose screenplay had already captured a Spike Lee Scholarship, recently won her a $50,000 Panavision equipment grant at the Bronze Lens Film Festival in Atlanta. Her second year short, African Booty Scratcher, won an HBO award, and her latest « Read the rest of this entry »

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