I first had the privilege of meeting Nigerian filmmaker Chika Anadu at Cannes Film Festival in 2011. Privileged/saddled with my yellow press badge (the lowest of the low grade of press badge – it was only after a few days that I realised that queuing in front of the Palais first thing every morning was NOT the best, or only way for a yellow badge holder to get to see the films premiering that evening), non-plussed at the prospect of not actually getting to see all the films on my list when I wanted to see them, I wandered the film market, the Short Film Corner, and various events, looking for more than the same films and stories that every other press person at the festival would cover ad nauseum.
Chika was one of my finds from the diaspora at the festival that year. Sadly, a lost camera and then an interview that had her head cut off (I think my intern was a little too enamoured of Ms Anadu to pay attention to the framing of his shots – yes, despite my badge status, I had an intern at the festival) meant video footage never to be seen again (by me, anyway), so I came away from Cannes with less than I’d aspired to achieve.
Two years later, I find that B for Boy, a debut feature film by one Chika Anadu, is in the BFI London Film Festival line-up in the First Feature Competition! A tale of modern, Nigerian, middle class family life coming up against traditional pressures and expectations, B for Boy tells the tale of Amaka, career woman, wife, and mother of one (alas, a girl), as the demands and machinations of in-laws and family elders threaten to unsettle her otherwise happy home.
It seems I needn’t have gone all the way to France to meet her after all, but having done so made it that much easier to set up an interview this time around – and with much more successful results (no camera involved).
WOO: You have a Bachelor’s degree in Law and Criminology, and an MA in Africa: Human and Sustainable Development. When did you decide that filmmaking is actually what you want to do, and what was the reaction from your family/parents?
CA: I have loved filmed from when I was a child, but I never considered it as a future career. It wasn’t till I saw Cinema Paradiso in 2006 that I realised that Filmmaking is what I should be doing. My mother was supportive right from the get go.
WOO: So what, exactly, about Cinema Paradiso appealed to you so much that it resolved you to such a drastic change in career choice?
CA: Cinema Paradiso does not even make it to my top 20 favourite films, but it’s how everything came together so beautifully. From the script, to the casting, the directing, the cinematography, production design, editing, and the music. Ah the music! Still listen to the main score almost every week. I just knew that this is what I should be doing.
WOO: So, after seeing Cinema Paradiso, realising that filmmaking was for you and getting the green light from your mum, what was your next step and were you at all daunted by the prospect of what you were embarking on?
CA: Daunted, no – I don’t scare easily. My life finally made sense, and I was excited about my future. However, there was no way I was going back to school to study anything for another three or four years. I was done with that. So I tried working on other people’s projects, but didn’t find any where I felt I could learn what I needed to learn.
Then I was having tea with a guy I was introduced to, about the possibility of working with him at his production company. He asked me if I’d written anything, and I said yes. Then he said ‘why don’t you just shoot it’? And I thought, “duh!” Best advice I ever got.
Second best advice was when a filmmaker friend of mine Jesse Quinones, who was preparing to shoot his first feature, Calloused Hands, advised me to just take the money, pick a date and shoot. (I had been in despair about the fact that the only person willing to give me money for B for Boy was my mother, and I didn’t want to have to take it). It’s amazing how simple words can give you such clarity and relief.
WOO: So, since embarking on your filmmaking journey what has been its progression to this point?
CA: Well, in 2010 I dared to apply to the Cannes Cinéfondation residency, and to my surprise they accepted me. While I was doing the residency in Paris, I found out that I was chosen as one of the five winners of the Focus Features Africa First Program. All this happened less than a year after I made my first two short films. I entered the film industry sprinting, but not for long.
WOO: From what I’ve seen of your short films, and now with your first feature, B for Boy, your work seems to focus primarily on women, particularly with regard to what is expected by them and of them where marriage is concerned. Would you say your films raise issues of concern to Nigerian and other African women only, or do you feel they can resonate with women on a wider social and regional spectrum?
CA: Actually a mentor friend of mine drew my attention to that only earlier this year. I wasn’t aware of it. It was never a deliberate decision to make films about the ‘woman experience’. Having said that, we are all many things – for example I’m Igbo and Nigerian, a director, a filmmaker etc., but I feel what affects me the most, especially the way people/society view or treat me, is the fact that I’m a woman, and I’m fascinated by that. While my work is usually about the Igbo woman experience, there are many aspects of my female characters that women everywhere can and do relate to.
WOO: Your work tends to examine the convergence of traditional and modern social mores, with a particularly middle-class slant, yet you chose to do your first feature in Igbo rather than English. What was the reason for this decision, especially given that English is widely spoken in Nigeria (as the official/administrative language) and the fact that many Nigerian films are in English? Where you never worried that using Igbo might limit the audience for your film?
CA: It never occurred to me to make B for Boy in anything other than Igbo. It’s a family drama, and we mostly speak Igbo in my family, so it didn’t make sense to me to make it in English. My favourite films are in languages I don’t understand, and it didn’t stop me from enjoying them.
As a filmmaker you make your films with the audience you want to attract in mind. The audience I’m targeting doesn’t care about the language spoken in the films they watch. They’re interested in more important things like story, performance, cinematography etc.
WOO: B for Boy recently debuted at the BFI London Film Festival where it was in First Feature competition and received a jury commendation, and next month it has it US premier at the AFI Film Festival in the Breakthrough section. As a Nigerian filmmaker, primarily based in Nigeria, how do you see your work playing out on the world stage and do you feel any burden of representation?
CA: I feel no burden to represent anyone. It’s great that the film is being well received, and I hope that continues and in turn has a positive impact on my career as a director.
WOO: The Nigerian film industry, widely known as Nollywood, can be perceived to be not just a regional film industry but as a broad genre range. I’ve met other Nigerian filmmakers in the diaspora who refuse to classify their work as Nollywood. How would you describe/classify your work and how do you hope it to be perceived/received?
CA: Nollywood is a genre, and not the entire Nigerian film industry. However none of the ‘New wave’ of directors in Nigeria would know what was possible without the Nollywood model, so I’m grateful to them for showing us that our stories are of interest to people other than Nigerians. I would describe myself as a filmmaker, period.
WOO: Are there any filmmakers whose work you particularly admire and/or who inspire your own work?
CA: There are a lot of filmmakers I love whose work doesn’t inspire mine at all. For example: Quentin Tarantino. From his films you can see that he has a wicked sense of humour, and I love that! Three directors whose work directly influences mine are Paul Thomas Anderson, Darren Aronofsky and Susanne Bier (her Danish films). You’ll notice that they all don’t make feel good movies, same as me, and their films are always visually simple but beautiful (and I hope mine are!).
WOO: There seems to be a developing trend of black actors in the diaspora seeking out and taking opportunities beyond their own national borders, whether it’s from the UK to the US, US to Nigeria, Africa to Europe and the US… Are there any particular actors, in Nigeria or from across the African diaspora, you’d like to work with?
CA: No. I prefer to discover new talent by holding open auditions.
WOO: Given the title of your Master’s degree, I’m assuming that Africa will feature predominantly in your work. Do you plan on making any films outside of Nigeria/Africa and, in particular, do you have any Hollywood aspirations?
CA: I don’t know what you mean by Hollywood aspirations, but I definitely don’t intend to only make films about Nigerians or Africans. I want to make films about people, any people.
For the next year or two I’d like to hone my directing skills by directing TV adverts/commercials and TV series. TV is really hot right now, particularly in the US, and I would LOVE to get a chance to direct some of those ridiculously brilliant scripted shows. So if anyone can help get me into gigs like that, get in contact!
WOO: So, still fresh from the thrill of the global premier of your first feature, what do you have lined up next?
CA: For the next few months? Festivals! Festivals! Festivals!
Speaking of festivals, B for Boy will be screening on 13th and 14th November as part of the Breakthrough section of the AFI Film Festival.