Filmmaker Spotlights: Simisolaoluwa Akande!
We are always excited to platform people whose work is making waves in the screen industry. Meet Simisolaoluwa Akande - a rising filmmaker, who's made her debut with an award-winning film, currently showing on BFI player. Find the link at the bottom of the article to watch!
In case our readers don’t know, you are the recent winner of the We Are Parable short film competition, which highlights the work of 16-19 year-olds. Firstly, congratulations! Ojumo Ti Mo (2019) is an absolutely stunning film, depicting yours and your family’s grief, and the mixed emotions that arise after a difficult loss. The topic is of course deeply personal to you and your private experience, how has it felt to share this with a public audience (albeit online)?
Firstly thank you for your kind words about the film. It's been an odd experience sharing what is a rather painful and personal experience not just for me, but also for my family. On the one hand, I feel that grief and the topic of death, in general, are far too censored in western cultures. It is odd to me that what is the only guaranteed thing of life - death - is the very thing we try to pretend doesn’t exist.
I have been shocked to hear how many people could relate to my film, to hear people say they "appreciate" it. These are words every artist and person wants to hear: that their work has meant something to someone.
Although I must say that I find it hard to watch over, especially with others. I can’t begin to state the truth of what my family is feeling about being so exposed to so many people, but as far as I know, the internet is far enough away from them for it not to affect them so much.
The narrative of your film is so gentle and intimate, despite three months of phone calls being compressed into 16 minutes. Did you always have the intention to create such a personal documentary? At what point did you decide to record your calls? If so, did you visualise this outcome from the very beginning, or did you decide the format of the film later on?
My initial intention was to record a series of mundane conversations with my mom as a kind of celebration of the every day, and the work that goes into sustaining relationships (especially those that are long-distance). Following an intense conversation with my mother one night, I knew that I had to address the shared experience of my father's death. The documentary seemed like the perfect place to talk.
I didn't have a strong idea of what the visuals were going to be like, because at the time I didn't really understand what we were making. This is why it is so surprising to me when we get so many compliments about the visual aspects of the film. But all the visual storytelling came rather instinctively, it just seemed appropriate somehow.
The film is a dialogue, between family, between sleep and wake, between past and present, but were there times when you were talking to your mother and your sisters that you felt you were also talking to the audience?
What is important to know is that there is always performativity in the real. When making a documentary, there is a pretext that suggests you are presenting the real and the authentic. Often people confuse the idea that there is no performativity in real life, but there is. The performance in our documentary is what allowed us, gave us permission, to speak on these difficult subjects that we would otherwise have stayed silent about. Having an audience to speak to, helps to make you feel seen and thus makes you want to speak truthfully.
What came first in your process, arranging the words or the images?
Because this was about 3 months worth of conversations between a family of four, there was no structure to the conversations. I had to carve a narrative or create some type of structure to what was essentially formless. After this, I could place the images appropriately.
Your use of natural lighting, tight frames, darkness and brightness, gives a really instinctual feel to the film. Was this a choice, or was it just as it appears in the film, more of an instinct?
Much of the visual space of the film was rather restricted. Restricted in the sense that I had little equipment with me (just my camera and two lenses). Restricted in the sense that I was filming in the Czech Republic, a place whose architecture could not convey the feeling of home, so I limited filming to hotel rooms. Restricted in the sense that I had approximately 3-4 days to shoot. The visual space that I was able to create was due to all these restrictions.
You say ‘nobody has time to reflect back’, yet you so masterfully weave the past into the present with Ojumo Ti Mo. Is film (and this film in particular) a way of preserving memories, or re-contextualising memories, for you? Has it helped you to process the trauma of your loss? Do you find filmmaking/art in general to be a useful tool in processing these heavy emotions?
Film has always been a place of tension for me, as it is for many people of colour. It is a place that I seem to gravitate towards but also a place that often rejects me, and people that look like me. So filming myself, and my family was almost like demanding to be heard by a person, by an industry, by a medium that refuses to listen to you. Through our experiences, in a kind of sad way, we are made valid.
Though short film often features in film festivals, it tends to be an overlooked genre in terms of everyday watching/streaming for most audiences on major platforms. In your opinion, what makes short film important? Do you think short film is valued enough, and why?
I feel like I only watch short films because I want to be a creative. Short films are very much peripheral in mainstream film consumption. Short films are so important because they are super affordable, they are the best way to experiment and get used to the idea and the power of being able to create something that didn’t exist before. But short films are not just beneficial for aspiring filmmakers, I genuinely believe that short films often have a greater diversity of bodies and ideas because they are not as regulated as mainstream cinema.
What do you think the future of the short film-scene looks like? How might we encourage more people to appreciate short film?
I'm not too sure what the future of short film looks like right now. The future of cinema as a whole is going through such a big change that it's hard to say. We have to start thinking: "are our Instagram stories short documentaries?" What does it mean to make film in a world where almost everyone has the tools?
Having your film on BFI player as such a young filmmaker must be an incredible feeling. What does it mean to you for an organisation like We Are Parable to exist?
It's honestly so crazy to have my film as part of such a prestigious institution. The odd thing is that I actually don’t tell a lot of people about it, but that is probably more of my imposter syndrome showing. Organizations like We Are Parable brought what I thought were only dreams and ideals, into a living reality. It still stuns me, the power of simply giving someone the chance, the time, the attention.
With such a successful start, where do you see your film career taking you? Are you apprehensive about anything?
Having such a lucky first film has been rather scary. A part of me worries that I will become a one-hit-wonder. A part of me feels like I don’t have much talent, but I was just in the right place at the right time. I am not too sure how to work through these feelings yet (maybe I'll make a film about it) but I am trying to tell myself that none of that matters. I just want to keep oversharing, and calling it art.
What will your next project be? Why have you chosen it? How can we support it?
I really have no clue what my next project is yet. I am currently working on a script based around issues of sexuality, culture, fragmented identities (that's a lot of abstract concepts ), but I really have no idea what I'm doing, and I'm really trying to be ok with that.
Simisolaoluwa is a passionate and sensitive Nigerian-British creator that celebrates the mundanities of life to bring about intimate and personal storytelling. She began her film making journey about 4 years ago and believes she has merely scratched the surface of the art form. Find her on Instagram as @simi.notes and watch her film below!