Destiny Ekaragha's debut feature film, Gone Too Far!, follows two incredibly well received short films, Tight Jeans and The Park, onto the screens of her local film festival, the BFI's LFF. But those films were back in 2008 and 2009, so the audience has been waiting to see her debut as a feature length director.
Four years later, her debut feature film is about two estranged brothers, one raised in Nigeria and the other raised in London, whose differing traditions and cultural influences clash over the course of a single day on a South London estate. Adapted from Bola Agbaje's Olivier award-winning play of the same name, the film has some serious issues to chew-on but retains its wit and sense and humour throughout. Destiny has delivered a bold, genre-challenging film that showcases great promise and huge talent.
Women and Hollywood met her at the London Film Festival, where she is included in the Best British Newcomer category.
Women and Hollywood: What drew you to Bola Agbaje's award-winning play?
Destiny Ekaragha: I knew the play and the characters were familiar to me -- immediately it was a film I wanted to make. I don't want to have to make particular types of films with particular types of people -- I could make films with Nigerians, white people, Chinese people. I'm interested in the story.
But with this film, I knew these people and I could identify with them because I am second generation Nigerian. I don't think of myself as being English or British, even though I was born and grew up here. I think of myself as Nigerian -- those are my cultural influences. Nigerians don't think I'm Nigerian, but when I was growing up in London I was judged as a black African. You were okay if you were English and it was okay to be West African, but being African was different. I wondered, what am I? But as I've gotten older, I've become okay with being Nigerian. I identify most with my Nigerian culture and heritage -- it is who I am and, of course, my film is about identity. It's about being black and British, it is about being Nigerian -- but you should know that there are different types of black British and different types of Nigerians. My film explores the differences. Really, I've made a film about unity and about the similarities between people rather than the differences.
WaH: What advice do you have to offer other female film directors?
DE: Don't carry it with you. You know what I mean -- the chip. Don't walk into a meeting, or a screening, or an opportunity with a chip on your shoulder. I'm under no illusions about being a black, female, first time film director, but I don't carry it with me -- if I did, I'd get nowhere.
WaH: And any different advice for first time feature directors?
DE: Filmmaking is feast or famine. I was told that I shouldn't be a filmmaker unless I was willing to give up everything and go hungry. I was willing to do it -- I was prepared to go without. I knew there would be famine. I made three short films, the two in the LFFs and one for Channel 4 and then I started to work on this film. I worked on it for two years before anyone at all was interested. That was the famine. Then one day I organised a script reading, about a week after I heard from a man from the BFI. We met a week or so after that, and suddenly I had a film in pre-production. That wasn't really feast, but it was better. Now is the feast. I was shooting this one year ago and here we are. The famine is around the corner, though.
WaH: What is the biggest misconception about you and your work?
DE: I suppose there are misconceptions when it comes to marketing -- deciding who the audience is and selling the film to that audience. I think sales agents sell black films that are about drugs and crime, gangs, immigration, poverty because that is what they have sold before and they know how to do it. I am a black filmmaker with a film about black people, but these people are not gangsters or drug dealers. I don't know people like these characters in the film. And the amazing thing about making a film about these every day people is that it has never been done. It is something different. I am proud of doing something unique.
Black females sometimes feel there are stories they have to tell, stories they must tell because they are black females. I don't feel that at all -- I make the films I want to make and I wanted to make this film about these people. My only allowance is that there are so few black actresses on screen and so many good, black actresses working. I actively want to find roles for black actresses -- I know their work is good and I want to put them in my films.
WaH: Do you have any favourite female directors?
DE: I love Andrea Arnold, but maybe that's too obvious? She is brilliant.
I also love Gurinder Chadha. I was inspired by a scene in Bend it Like Beckham where the Mum prays -- she prays in her own language and there is no translation -- the scene is stronger for it, unapologetic, clear and powerful. You didn't need the translation! I was asked to put subtitles in for some of my film and I said no, because of Gurinder Chadha. She didn't do it, so I'm not doing it! That scene is much more powerful without subtitles than it would have been with subtitles -- Gurinder set a precedent. People are not stupid!
Another thing is that I respect Gurinder Chadha's personal life. It's inspiring. She has a family and she keeps directing and that is what I want to do. That is what women directors need to do if they want to have a family. Nigerian families are big -- my grandmother had ten children -- and I want a family.
You can still catch Destiny's film, Gone Too Far!, at the London Film Festival on 18th, 19th and 20th October -- and you should. Details here: www.bfi.org.uk/lff