nwaobiala sent me their film to watch and thirty seconds in I already had so many questions. It’s my first interview for BEDA and not going to lie, I was a little nervous at first. Tying to set up my voice recorder, mumbling apologies as I tried to look like I understand technology. Ah, the joys of Google Meets at 10am before coffee.
They’re really patient though, tactfully ignoring my mini meltdown as we immediately bond over our shared love of multidisciplinary film makers like Issa Rae and Michaela Coel. “It takes a lot of concentration, practice and belief in yourself” they express, talking about how they started in film. Writing is a big part of their process, there’s a literary sense and an appreciation of story and characterisation in their work and honestly, it seems like a lot of work, not just to start but also to keep going.
“Film is an expensive path, which is why I started out with writing and photography, and built up to short films. You can never really have enough money for this sort of thing, the bigger the project, the more it’ll cost”. Preach. As a magazine solely driven by blood, sweat and dreams of moving out of our parent’s houses I completely understand.
I’m curious about how to mitigate that, how to go about creating films, a famously expensive artform, in a famously expensive city?
“Collaboration is a good way to conquer that, when you work with people who are invested you can find a way to make your resources work for you”. They describe their collaborators with a lot of warmth. Kabi Kimari is a good friend, so when they were looking for someone they would be comfortable working with, Kabi was a natural choice. Their other collaborator Natasha Ayoo they met at a party and the way it all came together was pretty serendipitous. “It didn’t feel like a lot of pressure, they’re all down to earth people”.
It all seemed to come together perfectly, and as they talk about their creative circle I’m wondering how much setting and place play into their work. Because these sort of interactions, where you’re just chatting with someone and then you make a film is a big part of the way BEDA started and seems to be a core aspect of creative culture in Nairobi.
“I have scripts that are very place specific, there’s context to the story so place can be important., But for my film chasing, it’s about internal revelation so it could be made anywhere., It’s really about people which is why it was important to find the right people to make it with”.
I pry a bit into other scripts they’re working on (as a writer myself I guard unfinished projects the way I imagine other people feel about their kids) but they’re a good sport about it.
“I sent a script I finished recently to different competitions and honestly…I was told the characters were interesting but the plot wasn’t it. But I also wonder if people get what I want to do. I took a screenwriting class and I found that in these spaces people who may not really be my audience project their own conclusions onto the story”.
It’s genuinely difficult to picture film on a page, the characters and the people involved breathe so much life into a story. Reading a script like a book doesn’t always work, so sometimes it’s best to just forge ahead and see how it translates. “The inverse is true too! When I was watching Inception I didn’t really get it, but when I read it it made so much more sense”. I’m glad someone does because I didn’t get Inception at 16 and I still don’t at 26.
It’s so interesting to talk to someone who moves across mediums with such ease, translating a script to a visual medium takes a lot of moving parts.
Music is one of those moving parts and an important layer to their film chasing, and I wanted to know more about their approach to sound-mixing and sound production because it gives such a sense of atmosphere to this film.
“For me, a lot of sound in my film happens organically. In my previous film called all about desire, I had a friend playing violin and it was really out of tune, and I used it for the film to create an atmosphere of chaos. There was a lot of push and pull and opposing forces to that film so it worked. For chasing, I heard Kabi playing the guitar and as we were listening I was like, wow this could really work. It meshed so well with the visuals. The sound was really a happy accident”.
They talk about the issues around budgeting and how they would like to be more intentional in the future. But as discouraging as money stuff can be, it forces you to be hyper aware of your environment. Constantly looking for that moment, or that sound, or that perfect lighting. Sometimes these constraints leave you open to the world to make it work.
As I watched the film for the fourth or fifth time, scribbling my questions down on the side, I was struck by the care that’s taken with the colour palette, the scene changes, and the harmony between the environment and the actors and the music.
“For this film it was all about internal revelation and introspection. I wanted it to be dreamy, hazy, like something you saw but you feel you may have imagined it. The words that are being said are thoughts. Dreams are a reflection of your reality, the stuff that you see can end up in your dreams, it’s this in-between state”. And they definitely succeeded, this film feels like a step out of time. There’s something nostalgic about it, like a memory you’re not sure is quite yours but feels familiar anyway.
Now we get down to brass tacks, the number one anxiety for any creative person. Perfection. What does perfection mean to you? And how does it help or hinder your process? (I asked this for me guys, I’m neurotic about everything and I need to know that there’s light at the end of this tunnel).
“Sometimes I feel like I’m split in two. I grew up with a family who had really high expectations from me academically, there was always pressure to excel. And I’ve definitely internalised those expectations when it comes to my art. Even though they aren’t completely aware of all of my artistic projects, I take a lot of that energy with me. So even when people really love what I do there’s always that sense of internal pressure and it definitely affects how I view my own work”.
It’s really comforting to know this is a common issue, “ I want to be as good as Issa Rae right off the bat, but art is a craft, you have to work at it. I’m trying to practice grace and understanding, we’re still progressing, we’re all still learning, and that’s okay”.
It’s like an interview-therapy at this point. The way social media has impacted artists adds so much pressure, you feel like if you aren’t some genius savant by 21 then that’s it for you.
“Oh yeah, social media can be really toxic, it’s a tough place that we’re in. One on one with my friends, people are so supportive but the social media landscape makes you feel like you have to know everything. Especially on Twitter where everyone feels they know everything. Balancing where you’re at with where people think you should be can be complicated”.
I completely relate to that. Just through this interview it struck me how important it is to have these conversations about social media, finances, and the pressure to be perfect with other artists because it makes you feel less crazy and alone in it.
“I’m talking to my perfectionist viewers but really for everyone, we have to give ourselves grace. That’s the takeaway with chasing but just in general. Take some time to reflect, take some time to be grateful for where you are and how far you’ve come”.
That leads me to my final question, what advice do you have for new filmmakers?
“Collaborate with your homies. It’s the easiest way to make the type of work you want to make, don’t wait for someone who’s “big” or for that grant or for that application. Look to people you already know, people you get on with and who’ll support you. Nairobi is great for that too, they’re so many creatives with such an interesting point of view, and people are really willing and flexible to collaborate”.
This has been illuminating, and really inspiring for me as a writer as well. As we wrap up they tell me about how they play bass in a band, and their plans for future films and music. You can find them on their website nwaobiala.com and their Instagram @nwaobiala419.
Also it’s my first interview but they told me it sounds like I do this all the time so as far as I’m concerned, flattery will get you everywhere.
Seriously though, their approach to filmmaking is genuinely thoughtful, collaborative, and it was a true pleasure to have them on as our first featured filmmaker on BEDA. Check out the full film below and follow nwaobiala!