Black & African Cinema is in good hands

So i recently watched MOTHER OF GEORGE , the Andrew Dosunmu film that won a Cinematography Award at Sundance. Having watched his debut feature RESTLESS CITY a few weeks before seeing MoG, i realize that, like Spike Lee’s penchant for African American stories, Dosunmu has one for the story of Africans in diaspora.

His partnership with Cinematographer Bradford Young produces very rich visuals which are a delight to look at, and i personally love how they shoot Black skin. Dosunmu’s fashion photography background is very clear in his compositions and his art direction, and his love to traditional African music and classic artists is clear and present. Though his films are very arty and sometimes get carried away in their own beauty thereby creating a disconnet, i do think he is an interesting director and i look foward to his next outing, especially if he reteams up with Bradford Young. Like Spike Lee who has a long creative partnership with his DP, Ernest Dickerson, Dosunmu and Young may be another great Nubian duo.

Young is also a rising star in the cinematography world and has also worked with Ava DuVernay and Dee Rees. Now im not one to look at films/people/talent based on shade of Melanin, but i do think that the rise of someone like Young and his collaboration with these directors is a great thing for both Black and African cinema. His available light style and his visual versatilty has won him Cinematography Award, U.S. Dramatic, Sundance Film Festival for lensing “Pariah”,”Mother of George” and “Aint them Bodies Saints”. At age 37 he still has a very long career ahead of him and if he keeps up the momentum, in another 20 years we could speak of him the way we speak of Deakins and Willis now.

Dosunmu was tapped to direct the Fela biopic that Steven McQueen had been previously attached to, and even if that doesnt work out, i hope to see him shoot a film in Lagos one day and see how he brings that delicious visual style of his to the city of excellence.

Bradford Young

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Candle goes out for “The Prince of Darkness”

When it comes to Cinematography, in the last 40 years , there are two names that stand out for their brilliance,and their contribution to cinema; one of those names is Gordon Willis. He shot films like The Godfather Trilogy, Annie Hall, Manhattan, All the President’s Men and many other classics.

His distinctive trademark lighting of using shadows and not allowing eyes to be fully seen earned him the nickname Prince of Darkness.

Willis recently passed away but his legacy lives on, many directors and cinematographers have been influenced and inspired by the body of work he has left behind; and that’s the thing about great work, it speaks for you

Good Night Prince

NIGERIA WINS AT SUNDANCE – Mother of ……..

So i’m on facebook the other day,and saw some chatter about Mother of George. Apparently it has won a cinematography award at Sundance. First, it didn’t sink in, until i decided to go to YouTube and check out the trailer again. Then i saw the delicious visual palette on display and i found myself watching it over and over again.

Then the realization. A Nigerian film, directed by a Nigerian , telling a Nigerian story won at Sundance, one of the worlds most respected film festivals. That’s quite an achievement.

Now, i really don’t know what that means for Nigerian film makers as a whole. For one thing it shows that we can make films at that level and of that mastery. It shows the world that we aren’t all defined by what is the popular way of film making that the world knows us for .

As Dosunmu is not based in Nigeria or a part of it’s popular industry , in not sure if that will make them think it’s a once in a blue moon event. But i do think it can inspire a lot of us to do better, same as “City of God” made us think WOW!! We can do this too.

I haven’t seen MoG, but from what i gather, it’s not a new story. It has been told hundreds of times by other home based directors, but like a friend of mine says, 5 directors can tell the same story, from the same script, what will distinct one from the other is the EXECUTION.

As the trailer has wet my appetite, i do hope the film it’s self will be satisfactory.

It really would be wonderful to see Dosunmu bring his visual flourish to the life and world of FELA, whose Biopic he has been selected to helm by Focus Features

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ODE TO CINEMATOGRAPHERS

“A cinematographer is a visual psychiatrist – moving an audience through a movie … making them think the way you want them to think, painting pictures in the dark.” Gordon Willis, ASC.

A lot of people have no idea what a cinematograher brings to the table in the process of making cinema. They are one of the director’s closest collaborators and contribute significantly to the cinematic story telling we see in films like The Godfather, No Country for Old Men, Manhattan, The Shawshank Redemption ans do many others.

With the advent of digital film making and celluloid being phased out; DSLRs have democratized film-making, which is great thing, to indie film makers and especilally those of us in this part of the world.

Like everything in life there are two sides to the coin. It has made a lot of people that know a few setting on a camera and can set up three point lighting to call themselves “cinematographer”.

But is it really that simple? Do we disrespect the craft/ profession by doing that? Why are we so eager to claim title we have not worked for, trained for or willing to go to whatever distance required?

Isn’t it as much a craft as sculpting, oil painting? Why do so many people think that by lighting, pointing a camera and recording sharp images , they are automatically a cinematographer?

Cinematographers are often the unsung heroes of Cinema, and i think that is quite sad.

Here are some of the best in the game talking about what they do.

The Future is FAME

So a little while back i’m watching Fame, the 2009 remake of the 80’s classic. If you’ve never heard about either one, Fame is a movie that chronicles the life of seven different young people admitted into the New York School of Performing Arts . They include a drama student Doris that wants to act on the stage and screen., another drama student Ralph that just wants to be on the stage. Coco that wants a career in drama music and dance.Leroy who longs to be a dancer. Montgomery that wants to be a word famous actor. Bruno a music student and Lisa another dance student. We also follow their teachers and everything they go through in the four years that they journey through the school. Some of them go on to achieve their dreams due to talent resilience and skill development and it doesn’t work out so well for some others.

That movie also reminded me of Backstage , a South African tv show also about a performance arts academy and the trials of the students who often learn that it takes more than just talent to make it in the creative and entertainment industries.

Both got me thinking seriously that there is the need for a performance arts academy in Nigeria. Performance Academy both at the secondary level and the tertiary level.

With the growth of the movie industry there is a need to feed it with new talent, who have crafted said talent into skill. Currently, when an audition is called for there a lot of walk ins People without any training or any acting experience that just want to be famous. A lot of people like those are cast everyday in home video productions and it leads to disaster on the screen. Now granted, people can have ambitions it’s great when a diamond in the rough is discovered. However we have to remember that a movie is like a chain, and the actors are meant to be one of the strongest links, cos even with a great director,out of this world cinematography, and £100m budget, if the acting link is weak,the house of cards falls.

Acting is a profession and it should be treated as such, not just a hobby people just jump into, or a means to satisfy the hunger for the spotlight. Kids that want to be doctors go to medical school. Aspiring lawyers to Law School, why can’t aspiring actors put themselves through the same ropes to achieve their dreams?

I’ve been fortunate to work on two seasons of a talent show and in the course traveling across the country i saw the hunger in the eyes of young Nigerians to become actors, singers and dancers. Some should consider an alternative career but for those that have the X-factor, they need a place that they can attend to harness those talents, a school where they can receive the proper training and go on to become the next Fela, Lagbaja , Onyeka Owenu ,Chiwetal Ejiofor. David Oyelowo,Nonso Anozie. Nigerian, both home bred and Western raised who are globally recognized for their various talents. And I’m not just talking some place where they have 6 weeks of classes,taught by someone that can’t act in the first place and are dubbed actors.

Instead of spending four years studying a “safe” and professional degree which would make them just another corporate zombie. They could upon finishing secondary school be admitted into this academy. For narration sake let’s call it the Lagos School of Performing Arts(LSPA). The same way a student would write JAMB or SAT to seek admission into the University, these talented kids would audition to enter the Academy and they will be admitted based on merit into a degree course like any of their other colleagues in a regular University. At the end of four years they come out with a Bachelor’s degree. We have private universities started to educate professionals in other industries don’t we ? Just think what a Performing Arts school could do for the Creative and Cultural Industries.

Now, lets say three students seek admission into LSPA. Bola who wants to be an actor. Chioma who wants to become a dancer and Uwem who wants to become a composer. They all audition and successfully get admitted and begin their four year journey into the creative arts, harnessing their talent and developing it into a craft.

Upon graduation they all begin their forte into the creative industries. Bola goes straight away and auditions for tv shows and movies and soon lands work on a soap, where his ability stands out from everyone else who had no training, He knows all the techniques Meisner,Method, Character,Improvisation, he knows how to wield them like a skilled pianist in a concert. This standout ability from everyone else that entered through, “i sabi person there”, or those that just served as eye candy.

His performance on the soap catches the eyes of Writer/Director Kenneth Alli an NFI and NYFA graduate making his feature debut after a string of successful short films an documentaries and award wining tv shows. He’s looking for a fresh face and he’s found his leading man in Bola. It turnout out to be a breakout role for the actor and a smash hit for the director.The two form an alliance similar to Scorcese and Deniro, and go on to make many more stunning films. Did i forget to mention that Uwem scored that first film,based on Bola’s referral and people could just not get the sounds out of their heads. Uwem had been making original scores and music for the theater, radio and advertisements and the movie project was just what he needed to fully show his capability.

Chioma the dancer gained popularity in her neighborhood when she taught a couple of high school girls some great moves for their Press Show. At that press show is a Ayo , elder cousin to one of the girls, and a renowned music video director who needs a dancer and choreographer for his latest video. She creates something unusal and unique for him and it spreads like wild fire, leading to a score of music videos offers. Soon there is a higher demand for her, artists and fans wanting dance classes, and to handle the demand she opens a dance studio. It’s a gigantic hit and aspiring dancers from all over the country come to learn from her.

5 years later somewhere in the city, a TV producer is making a talent show and he needs a Judge/Mentor for the hopefuls & mentor for the finalists He asks his teenage daughter who the hottest dancer is in the country is and Chioma is mentioned. He tracks her down and hires her as a judge on the show, which becomes a monster hit .

Now that’s a nice neat scenario and it doesn’t always happen that way. Some people remain in the doldrums of obscurity for the rest of their career, some never make it and give up finding something else more secure. But some do make it through all the rejections and the gigs way below their talent and training, and eventually they make it. They become stars in their own home and some even gain global recognition.

Having sat through numerous auditions ranging from sitcoms, dramas and movies, my discovery is that 9 out 10 auditionees have no training. They’ve never taken a course, a class or any form of training on a professional or amateur level.Many don’t even have an idea of what a monologue is, they just heard about an audition, have an aspiration to act and show up.They already define themselves as “im an actor”, even though from their audition is it evident that they don’t know the first thing about acting or capability to convincingly deliver a line. Let’s not even talk about finding a connection with the character or their motivations. How is a director meant to work with people that wake up one morning and decide “im an actor” just cos of the desire for fame? It does not apply to engineering . law or medicine,so why should acting be taken any less seriously?

Now, there are some people who have the natural talent and they build it up along the way but there is still a need for training. Even naturally great writers have an editor that helps them polish up what they produce. Performing artst still have voice coaches and producers to help them perfect what they have. Many of the best actors in the world today either went to a school of performing arts. Cut their teeth in the theatre or started acting right from their pre-teen days.Putting on shows for their friend and family. Going on to act in school plays and then enrolling in a performing arts school, a theatre program or skipping the academia and touring with a theatre troupe, learning the ropes hands on. Just like an apprentice would from a master.

Grammy wining performer the late Amy Winehouse had the natural talent , and that talent was enhanced by attending first the Susi Earnshaw Theatre School and then the famous Sylvia Young Theatre school .The school also produced a variety of performers such as Singer/Actress Billie Piper, All Saints group members Nicole and Natalie Appleton,actor Ashley Walters(Bullet Boy) and numerous others in the British music and television industry. Alongside their training they received their GSCE, which was a pretty good deal if they decided to go and get a degree in something else.

Perhaps the most prestigious and well known performance arts academy is Julliard, located at the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts in New York City. Founded in 1905 it trains about 800 undergraduate and graduate students in dance, drama and music. Founded as the Institute of Music Arts because there was no Music school in the US and too many students were going to Europe. Sound familiar? The school offers various programs and degrees

.Bachelor of Fine Arts or a diploma.
.Bachelor of Music
.Master of Music,
.Doctor of Musical Arts.

Know who graduated from Julliard? Here’s just a few of them Christopher Reeves(Superman),Ving Rhames(Pulp Fiction,Mission Impossible),Kevin Spacey(The Usual Suspects,American Beauty),Bradley Whitford(The West Wing), Robin Williams(Flubber,Hook),Anthony Mackie(Adjustment Bureau,Notorious),James Marsters(Buffy,Smallville),Steve Guttenberg(Short Circuit,Three men & a baby),Marcia Cross(Desperate Housewives,Melrose Place),Val Kilmer(The Saint, Tombstone, Heat) and those are just from the dance and drama department. I’d list the music department alumni but it be moot at this point. …..Ok, i’ll mention two. Remember the pink panther theme? Yeah, that one.The composer Henry Mancini is a Julliard graduate. Also remember the Star Wars and Superman themes, John Williams , also a product of Julliard. Im sure the picture is painted very clearly now.

On mentioning this topic on Twitter it started an interesting debate , and the case for “natural talent” was presented. It was stated that some people don’t have to get training because they have natural talent. But i disagree, even with natural talent there is still a need for professional training.

Many people have a natural talent for design, whether it be cars,or buildings but Toyota or a Housing company wouldn’t just hire them based on natural talent without any formal training in ALL that is required in safely and properly designing a car or building.

Taking it further and out of the world of the arts. In sports there are many people born with talent, people like Usian Bolt, Tiger Woods, David Beckham,The Williams sisters.They were all talented in their various disciplines at young ages. Upon noticing those budding talents, their parents took them to coaches and schools where their raw talent transformed into professional skill. They just didn’t become champions and professional athletes based on raw talent alone they went through years of grueling training to refine themselves from ambitious kids to trained professionals. Even as trophy winners and world class athletes, this athletes have coaches till this date.

Just ask yourself, what would the Premier League,NBA,Olympics be like if all the athletes were admitted based on raw talent alone?

For the Film industry to rise to the next level and take prominence on the global stage, we need more people actually trained in the creative arts, as a profession, rather than just it being filled with people that stumble into it. We would see better written scripts, greater performances, directors that take us on phenomenal journeys. Cinematographers that paint with light and show us amazing moving pictures. We’d have more people dedicated to their performance, doing the necessary leg work it takes to portray their roles. These are the disciplines that would have been ingrained in them while in school. We don’t treated our Medical,Law,Engineering or any other profession with such nonchalance , i think it’s time we gave the same respect to the Film Industry.