"'Djin' is the name of a spirit that’s in a wind. That wind blows every 30 years. It selects people but nobody knows why or who. It blows, and removes whatever uncertainties a person has about whatever it is they care about the most, leaving them to take action."
This is how director Hawa Essuman introduces the video story of her new film Djin, that she has been writing in recent months, and which bears the name of a magical wind which crosses the lives of the protagonists.
Along with the transformations of each character, the film offers a fresh look at the locations in which it is set, along the Kenyan coastline.
Hawa Essuman is a young director of Ghanaian origin who is based in Nairobi. She first approached the world of cinema as an actress, but later decided to focus solely on directing. In 2008, after short films, ads for television and music videos, she made the feature length film Soul Boy, which was produced by Tom Tykwer, and presented at more than 40 international festivals, where it won numerous awards including the audience award at the International Film Festival Rotterdam.
The second milestone in Hawa Essuman’s career came in 2012, when her project Djin won the Director’s Eye prize. The director’s eye is supported by lettera27 Foundation of Milan and promotes and supports African cinema, in particular during the writing and pre-production phases. These are some of the most delicate periods in the development of a film project, and are rarely supported by other funds or prizes.
The Director’s Eye was launched in 2012, in collaboration with the Festival de Cinema Africano de Cordoba and the co-production forum Africa Produce. A jury comprising of Nigerian director Newton I. Aduaka and South African producer Steven Markovitz selected Hawa Essuman’s Djin as the winning project for lettera27’s fund.
During the course of 2013, after the award was assigned, lettera27 followed the progress on Djin and offered its author the opportunity to talk about the project in a series of videos. The videos were produced by Istituto Micropunta, a duo of filmmakers based in Milan - who are amongst the most original players of the Italian audiovisual scene - with the help of Vanessa Lanari, the curator of the Director’s Eye, and Claudia D’Alonzo, a writer and scholar in audiovisual studies.
This resulting series of 6 videos document the words, perspectives and gestures of Hawa Essuman as she leads us through the phases of conception, writing and re-writing of the film project, as well as the difficult process of approaching and distancing herself from ‘her’ characters that every author must face in the lengthy preparatory period that each film requires.
The series of videos is therefore an opportunity to place a subjective camera on Hawa Essuman’s creative process, to provide a glimpse of a film even before it appears and is put into the form of images and sounds. Minute after minute we are able to imagine it along with the author, through the personal experiences she recounts, and a view of the places that inspired the story and its magical realism. The short videos accompany us to Kenya with Essuman, to visit the places where the film will be set, using footage shot by the author during the course of location inspections and interviews.
Aside from a close-up on Djin and its author, the videos can also be seen from the wider and more general perspective of the work of an author coming to grips with the different phases in the development of a film project, by shedding light on one of the most fascinating but overlooked phases – the writing and pre-production phase. This is often a solitary period for an author and sometimes poses a risk to the successful completion of a film. Indeed, many film projects and excellent screenplays get blocked in this phase, because they don’t have the funds to go further: i.e. to look for consultants and experts, find funding to travel and present the project at festivals, find film locations, etc. Without this phase of work it’s hard to imagine a producer being tempted to buy a project. Against this backdrop, the objective of the Director’s Eye is to support authors in this delicate and crucial phase.
Watch all 6 installments of the video series below: