alaskaLand, the first feature narrative by Chinonye Chukwu, is making its New York premiere Sunday, February 17 at 4:00pm at ActNow Foundation’s New Voices in Black Cinema.
In alaskaLand, a young man named Chukwuma, an Alaska-raised Nigerian, struggles to balance his cultural heritage with the pressures of the larger world around him. After a family tragedy forces a two-year estrangement from his younger sister, the siblings reconnect in their hometown, creating new frictions yet inching toward re
Chinonye Chukwu, born in Nigeria and raised in Alaska, earned an MFA in Film and Video from Temple University where she has also been an instructor in Media Arts and Media Production. She is a director, producer, and screenwriter whose previous works include the short films The Dance Lesson, a recipient of the esteemed Princess Grace Award and a Regional Finalist for the 2010 Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Student Academy Awards, as well as "Igbo Kwenu!” a recipient of the “Best Motion Picture Award” and “Best Screenplay Award” at the 2009 Diamond Screen Festival.
In an interview, the filmmaker explains her inspirations as a director and her aspirations for future projects.
What made you want to become a director?
I've wanted to be a director since I was 12 years old. I don't think anything specifically made me want to be a director; I just also thought and felt visually. I often dream in cinematic sequences. Sounds and music have always moved me to imagine certain characters or storylines. Telling stories cinematically is definitely something I'm meant to do in my life.
Which character in your film was the most difficult for you to bring to the screen?
The main character, Chukwuma, was probably the most difficult, because he reminded me of some of my deepest vulnerabilities regarding my own cultural dichotomies, and I had to be confronted with that during every single rehearsal and day of shooting. But I think that's one of the reasons why he's so relatable, because he is real and represents some very deep layers of humanity.
What are your favorite films and the ones that inspire you to do what you do?
Federico Fellini's work, especially 8 1/2, has expanded the possibilities of cinema for me. His work has completely transformed the way I think about framing, composition and blocking. Kevin Jerome Everson exemplifies pure artistry to me. His work is breathtakingly simple and powerful, in form and content. He's really shown me the power in minimalism.
Some of my favorite films: 8 1/2, My Life to Live, Pan's Labyrinth, Life is Beautiful, A Screaming Man, The Hours, and you know what, I gotta say it: Coming to America.
Is there a passion project that you can share with us that you’d love to get off of the ground?
I would love to make a feature film in Nigeria. I know exactly the story I would tell. Hopefully, you'll hear about it soon enough.
Who would you love to work with that you haven’t?
I would love to work with Coleman Domingo and Viola Davis.
What’s next for you?
I recently completed a short film, called bottom. I'm finishing up two different feature scripts, one that I'll be directing in the near future. I'm also about to go into pre-production for a film adaptation of an amazing short story. I'm in a completely different artistic space than when I wrote alaskaLand almost three years ago, and am so excited about the work I've been creating lately and will create in the future!
On addition to the the New Voices in Black Cinema screening, alaskaLand also shows at the Pan African Film Festival in Los Angeles on Feb. 18. Check out a review of the film by S&A's own Jai Tiggett right HERE.
New Voices in Black Cinema is done in partnership between ActNow Foundation and BAMcinematek to bring quality independent Black film to Brooklyn. See more about the festivals lineup, including screenings of The United States of Hoodoo, High Chicago, The Undershepherd, and FOUR at BAM.org/NewVoicesinBlackCinema
This profile was written with the assistance of Brianna Eaton.