[EDITORS NOTE: indieWIRE is publishing two interviews daily with Sundance ’07 competition filmmakers through the end of the festival later this month. Directors with films screening in the four competition section were given the opportunity to participate in an email interview, and each was sent the same set of questions.]
U.K. filmmaker Newton I. Aduaka‘s “Ezra” is described by Sundance as a “deftly observed world [that] draws impressive performances from [a] young cast to bring audiences into close contact with the life and mindset of a child combatant.” Inspired by his own war-torn upbringing, Aduaka’s film is the story of seven year-old Ezra, who is kidnapped by rebels while en route to school. After taking him into the jungle and training him as a soldier, he finds himself seven years later sitting in front of a “Truth and Reconciliation Commission,” which asks him to piece together a maze of facts surrounding the night of a devastating attack on a village. What is presented as a confession turns into a trial as his mute sister chooses to reveal a secret kept from her brother. Aduaka has been honored in Africa with a Best First Work prize for his previous film, “Rage” at the Ouagadougou Panafrican Film and Television Festival in 2001 as well as a best short film nod at the same event for “On the Edge” in 1999. “Ezra” will screen in the World Cinema Competition: Dramatic at the upcoming Sundance Film Festival.
Please introduce yourself…
My name is Newton Ifeanyi Aduaka or Newton. I was born in a little town in eastern Nigeria called Ogidi on the eve of the Biafran War. After the war ended, my parents decided to move to Lagos, the Nigerian capital. They had lost all in a devastating war that saw the death of over a million people. After a series of coup d’etats which saw one military dictator after another and the collapse of the social and education system, at eighteen, I left Nigeria and moved to London to pursue a study in engineering. By chance, I discovered cinema, became obsessed, went to the London Film School and have been or tried to be a filmmaker ever since.
Please talk about “Ezra” and how the initial idea come about.
The primal idea to make a film on “child soldiers” was not mine. I was approached by Arnaud Louvet at Arte, the French TV broadcasters, [who] asked if I was interested in the subject. I had finished my first feature, “Rage,” a fiction film dealing with teenagers, hip hop and multiculturalism, which Arte had acquired and screened. I of course was developing other projects but they told me they wanted to move quickly. It ended up taking nearly three years, writing, researching, shooting and post. This was a project ready to go, with people I’d hoped to work with for years. Arte had worked with a roster of highly independent filmmakers I had a lot of respect for and admired. It was an honor.
Please elaborate a bit on your approach to making the film.
In the interim between “Rage” and writing, I had made a couple of shorts with which I was trying to define my cinema–I was searching for a direction. I tried out things that would later go into “Ezra,” including improvisation, solid rehearsal time, spontaneity, and being in the moment myself because I demand that of the actors. I didn’t want to turn up on set with pre-chewed vision of the scenes. I wanted to engage with the moment.
How did the casting for the film come together?
The casting was put together through auditions in Sierra Leone, Uganda, England, Rwanda and France. I cast Richard Gant from the American TV series “Deadwood.” Richard is a fine actor who was so generous to the mostly inexperienced cast and to me. Some of the other actors I had worked with on earlier films.
What do you hope to get out of the festival, what are your own goals for the experience?
I stopped many times during the writing and researching phase of “Ezra” to question myself often enough asking what place of mine was it to tell this story or “event.” I was a war child, yes, born in Biafra, but all I remember from that war, aside from what I got to read, was fear, insecurity and instability. I remember my family running a lot from place to place–fleeing the bullets and mortars. Biafra lasted three years as a country before it collapsed and lost much, and I was four when it all ended. I asked myself many times making this film if I was setting myself up for total failure. How do I begin to tell a story dealing with “the child soldier,” African conflicts, politics, tradition, colonial heritage, neo-colonialism, judicial and spiritual justice, lies, betrayals, memory, truth and reconciliation and so on and so on? Too many themes to deal with in one film, but all were interwoven and inseparable. I had these issues and I wanted, through fiction, to explore them in an engaging and emotional way. “Ezra” is finished and world premiers at Sundance ’07 in January. I have never been so emotionally drained.
“Rage” had a minimal cinema release in the UK and screened on Arte. We never quite found the right sales agent for it. I am hoping Sundance will be good to “Ezra,” that [it] will go the other way. But who knows, right?
Please describe the moment you found out you were accepted to Sundance.
The moment I found out about Sundance, I was flooded with elation–a sense of knowing you’re not crazy or out of touch. The selectors at Sundance were the first people outside of the production team to see the film. They saw an early cut and were quick with their response–I believe it was a five day turn around time from sending it in and getting a “Yes.” Then the anxiety of all that needs to be done to get it there–hit me.
What is your definition of “independent film?”
My pure definition of an independent film is “Rage,” my first feature. It was made according to the original precept, beg, borrow, steal money, and then like a fool who believes in what most people can’t see, throw all that into a film, like jumping off a cliff and hoping your intuition [will let you] fly. It took us four years.
With “Ezra” I knew we had most of the budget, there wasn’t much standing around. We got down to it. The toil or perseverance are common elements in the making of independent movies, but it is not what makes a film independent. A film is independent when it has a clear filmmaker’s vision and point of view.
What are some of your favorite films, and what are your favorites of 2006?
I would say I am influenced by the line of cinema begun in the 1950s by the Italian neo-realists. But I also am a great admirer of poetry in cinema like the films of Tarkovsky, Maurnau etc.
My top ten films of 2006? I have been too busy this year to watch enough films in order to answer this question.
What are one or two of your New Years resolutions?
My New Years resolution? I try not to be too presumptuous.
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