By Tambay A. Obenson | Shadow and Act May 23, 2012 at 11:26AM
Continuing on with the series... but first, as always, a recap, for those just joining us. You can obviously skip this part and jump right into the interview below.
Announced last fall, the 5 filmmakers selected for the next class (2011) of Focus Features' Africa First program were Oshosheni Hiveluah (from Namibia); Cedric Ido (from Burkina Faso); Mark Middlewick (from South Africa); Akosua Adoma Owusu (from Ghana); and Zelalem Woldemariam (from Ethiopia).
For those unfamiliar with the program... launched in 2009, Africa First was created "to foster and develop long-term relationships with some of the most promising up-and-coming filmmakers from continental Africa."
The aim is that, through financial support of the program and mentorship provided by the Focus Features Africa First Advisory Board, to bring African filmmakers into an environment that will allow them to grow as filmmakers with an international audience. Each year, five filmmakers are awarded $10,000 each for production on a narrative short film made in continental Africa.
Kisha Cameron-Dingle, producer of such such projects as Spike Lee's 2000 film, Bamboozled, and the 2005 TV drama about Rwandan genocide, Sometimes in April, runs the Africa First program for Focus Features, and her company,Completion Films, has a first-look and consulting deal with the company.
As well as on-site work in Africa, the progam includes a weekend of workshops in New York City with the program’s international advisory board of experts in African cinema.
We posted an into to the program interview with Kisha a few weeks ago (read it HERE if you haven't; you're strongly encouraged to do so); and as I promised, interviews with the 5 new filmmakers selected for the new current class (who are likely in production on their films right now, or soon to be), as well as their advisers, were forthcoming.
I've already posted 7 entries - 4 filmmakers and 3 advisers.
Today's entry is my conversation with another one of the advisors - June Givanni.
June has worked in film and broadcasting as a film and television program consultant for over 25 years, specializing in African and black film internationally, and is a knowledgeable resource for black and African cinema.
Your name and background?
My name is June Givanni and I am based in London, originally from the Caribbean. But I am a curator specializing in African and African Diaspora cinema for nearly 30 years in the industry. I work internationally and I used to run the African/Caribbean unit at the British film institute and I program Planet Africa at the Toronto Film Festival for a number of years. Now I work as a freelance consultant and I program the Africa International Film Festival in Nigeria and I program African cinema at two festivals in India, and I freelance.
This isn’t your first time as an advisor?
No, the advisory team is constant, since the beginning, and most of us have been on it since the beginning. One or two have come and gone, but most are the same group from the beginning. And our role as advisors is actually to help kick start and to support the projects that have come to, or that have won the award at the Africa First program. To help kick start the procedure and to support the filmmakers as they are setting up their project. They are coming to New York with a lot of expectations and it’s quite a big thing and what Focus provides is this network who know the industry in relation to the continent, and who know the industry in the international sense.
As advisors, we’re filmmakers, producers, curators so we know across the industry, we’ve worked in development, so we have the background to help support this early stage and offer an opportunity for exchange. We comment on the scripts, we comment in one to one sessions, but we also have an opportunity to get to know the filmmakers and they have an opportunity to get to know us and ask us questions in a more informal environment as well so it can get intense as a mix of formal and informal exchange.
As an advisor, are you involved in the filmmaker process from start to finish?
Well, we’re involved- we help to promote the ideas because we’re totally committed to the ideas and it’s something that was quite unique when it started and is quite unique, and we really do support the idea of what Focus is doing so we help to promote a lot of the work. We put the word out there. We’re not involved in the selection of the projects. That’s done in-house at Focus but then we are brought on to look at their scripts, their work, and we have a summit with them, and we give our input into what can happen.
When they leave, they have contact with us for the rest of their careers and lives but usually what happens is they’ll send us further drafts of their scripts and any other things they might need. Sometimes they need a producer want to know who would be useful for the project. They might need an effects person or they might need help to raise finance for the project because what Focus provides may not be the total budget. Also, when their films are finished, they may have questions about the rights. Focus takes the US rights but the filmmaker takes international rights and it’s about what you’ll do with it.
Have you watched the films from the previous classes? General thoughts?
Yes, I’m very happy. They’ve played at top festivals and have won awards. Since there is such a large response to the call for entries, Focus is able to pick the ones that have potential. It’s not always the ones that are the most experienced and it’s not a simple selection because the selection always offers people that come from very different backgrounds, because some filmmakers who haven’t made a lot of films prior to coming onto this. Sometimes you have actors that come toward film and show they have strong storytelling skills. They are coming with skills that still need development in terms of directing and filmmaking so you get a range of people on different levels. So the result is that wherever you’re starting, you’re taken to the next level and that is the most important thing and of course, because this film has been on the stage of international platforms and also Cannes, people are interested.
Often we get criticism on Shadow & Act about the fact that it’s an American studio funded program, and that fact might influence the authenticity or the "African-ness" of these films and filmmakers.
I don’t think so. I don’t think so at all because what we do as advisors is advise. The awards are already agreed at the stage that people come to the summit and those awards are made based on what they’ve made as previous work and the projects they want to do. This summit is only to support them as they shape it toward production so Focus does look at their script and give advice but Focus is not shaping it. What we give and what Focus gives is advice to the filmmakers. It’s still the filmmaker’s project. If they go off and don’t follow any advice they are given in terms of how they might improve the story or narrative, it is still their project. It’s not heavily directed or controlled as people might think.
Finally, thoughts or expectations that these films are representative of Africa, and any pressure or maybe even a "burden" felt, because you’re representing Africa on a global stage?
I don’t know that it’s a burden. I think the filmmakers feel pressure because it’s Focus and they see it as a great opportunity. They know they’ve got an opportunity to show Focus Features what you can do as a filmmaker. We try to tell the filmmakers, forget all that pressure and focus on your project and making it the best possible because the integrity of the project will make it universal. Stick to what you think is important in the story and that’s what Focus is looking for. Don’t try to shape yourself into something you know you’re not because you lose integrity and are lost by doing that.
I’m really proud that a lot of the filmmakers are finding their own way and they’re coming up with solutions to budgets and producing, showing their creativity. And as I said, the background of these filmmakers is very varied. Some are experimental filmmakers, some are actors, and what they’re bringing in terms of skills to respond to lack of resources, etc. is very creative and we get surprised by it, and there’s going to be even more talent coming through. Some have already made features. It’s going to be a good period when we look back on this.