Joseph Adesunloye is an award winning British-Nigerian Filmmaker. He was nominated for the BFI IWC Schaffhausen Filmmakers Bursary Award at the 60th BFI London Film Festival in 2016. The following year Joseph was longlisted ‘Best Debut Screenwriter’ for the prestigious BIFAs (British Independent Film Awards) where his film White Colour Black was longlisted for a total of two awards including the category of ‘Most Promising New Comer’ for the film’s star Dudley O’Shaughnessy. Joseph graduated from the University of Aberdeen with a Masters of Arts English Literature & Film Studies.
I had the pleasure and opportunity of speaking to Joseph after a screening of his debut feature at the London Film Academy, where I as a student moderated a Q&A with him and his collaborators (a team that has impressively been working together since the days of attending LFA together). This young filmmaker paved his way in the film industry as one of the brightest young directors tackling current topics in his films that deal with diversity and struggles of characters trying to find their place in today’s world. After graduating in 2008 he started freelancing in film and set up his own film production company, DreamCoat Productions.
His last venture into short film 46 also premiered at the 25th Raindance Film Festival in 2017, and was nominated for Best UK Short putting a spotlight on its outstanding and bold treatment of the subject of male rape. The film deals with one person’s inner demons, and provides a platform for viewers to discuss many important topics that were widely discussed during the year of 2017.
In 2014 Joseph’s short Beyond Plain Sight also premiered at Raindance and was nominated ‘Best British Short Film’.
Joseph, being an independent filmmaker tell us how you feel about film festivals in general?
I am a huge fan of film festivals because I think they are very important for several reasons. After going through the effort to make the work you want the film to premiere at the very best festival you can possibly get. Festivals often allow you to reach an audience in a physical space – they are also great for meeting people and to gain your film some press. There are usually a lot of people from the industry and other filmmakers so it’s great to be able to network.
Plus, it’s also a very important signifier of the great work everyone has done to get the film there. You can never ignore that it is also a good way for people to have some fun after everyone has put in blood, sweat and tears to get the film made. It makes cast and crew feel special and that the decision to go on that journey with you was worth it.
Can you share some interesting festival experiences?
Funny enough my first major festival foray was back in 2014 when my short film Beyond Plain Sight was screened at Raindance. Going to the festival for the first time with my work felt great so I will never forget that experience.
CinemAfrica in Sweden was a very good festival that I really enjoyed because they had gathered amazing peers from around the world, it felt special. Also it was an African Film Festival I was able to catch up with what people were doing on the continent and in the diaspora. I also got to spend some time with the legend that is Julie Dash.
Congratulations on having another film of yours being screened at Raindance – it’s a very strong piece. How was it to work with your actors in preparation for the film?
It was very good to be back at Raindance so thank you. 46 is a very challenging film in that it deals with the issue of male rape. The preparation with the actors took a good amount of time. Adam Strawford, Guetan Calvin-Elito who play the two leads and I spent a lot of time workshopping it, dissecting the characters, really unravelling the world that they inhabit because it was a fairly difficult role for them to play especially the character of Luke in the film. We had to navigate a line around why he would do that and how he arrived there given the circumstances. So you have to kind of make sense of that with the actor, however difficult it is, that internal journey has to be believable.
So, for me it is a mixture of just meeting up regularly, talking, reading, going through notes they may have and any notes that I have for them. This is all before we even get close to getting on set. We worked on it for about two months before we even started shooting. That’s a real privilege as an Indie filmmaker to have actors who are willing to give that much time because they believe in the project and the material.
The performances in your films are exceptional. What makes the characters you put on screen unique?
I would say I am fascinated by characters who don’t exactly fit into the confines of the spaces that they exist in. Something is always just off-kilter. I also like the representation of different types of people on screen so that affects the kinds of characters I write.
I like writing bold and challenging characters for my actors. If you make actors leave their comfort zones to play something truly risky then often you get magic.
But there’s also a lot of trust between me and my actors I would say and affects the kind of performance that I get.
Your work is very visually enticing, and there is a certain musicality to the way the films flow. What does your creative process look like when you are creating the visuals for the project you are working on?
Thank you. I am a big fan of various classical cinemas from around the world and they tend to influence the temperament of my films. Time is certainly something that is important to me – I allow it to unfold. The world can sometimes feel so rushed and when people encounter my films I want to slow time down for them a little bit. To have them immerse themselves and that leads to a certain musicality that you allude to.
Aesthetics in cinema is also very important to me. There’s enough ugliness in the world and I don’t want to make physically ugly films, even if I am dealing with an ugly topic. Gritty cinema is something that is interesting to see in other people’s work but not something I want to make myself. My process involves a lot of reading, watching films, looking at photographs, magazines, visiting art galleries etc. Film is such a multi-disciplinary medium that, so many other Art forms become so useful to be cognisant of. I keep visual mood boards for myself, so I am a big fan of Pinterest.
Finally, working with my Cinematographer and Art Director on the look of the film and the kind of shots that we’re going to do is important for me; I have found that to be something that gets richer the more we do it.
All of your films tackle very strong and current topics which are most certainly important – When you are creating a new project, are you listening to what the world is talking about?
I don’t go out of my way to make things that are currently being discussed. It has somehow happened that my work so far has seemed to coincide with conversations that are happening in wider society.
There are things that exercise me and there are curiosities that I have about characters and I just go with that. I guess it would be fair to say that I tend not to want to make my audiences feel entirely comfortable, so I spend a lot of time thinking how I can subvert an environment that is meant to be safe into one that isn’t.
It’s good of course to make films that appear topical but I also want to make films that last, that can become timeless so following a fad is not something I like doing. I either find topics that fascinate me and write about them or I challenge myself to go to uncomfortable places. I like dealing with topics that might be taboo to some extent.
When we spoke last time, you told me you have been working with a lot of people since the days of film school? How important is it to work with the same crew, and when should one change their frequent collaborators?
Yes, I work with many people from my film school days – I also have others which I didn’t go to film school, but have worked with for a long time.
The truth is when you find people you like working with and with whom you achieve interesting things – there’s less incentive to want change. I think it is very useful to have a good circle around you. I was fortunate enough to have forged special relationships with some people I went to film school with. We have been able to continue to collaborate over the years, and they are also very dear friends of mine which is also very important. I don’t believe I would actively encourage people to change crew, but I have two or three Cinematographers that come to mind immediately I have anything that I want to do.
The truth is I don’t often go out of my circle to find my key crew unless they are busy. But you also must remember that we are all growing together, that’s why I like the nature of our collaboration. Growing together means that people will move on to bigger things and that’s great to know that in some way I have been a part of their journey and they mine.
Can you tell us a little bit about your second feature?
Faces is a multi-narrative feature film set across four storylines that follow a group of characters as their lives begin to unravel. Aisha is in a marriage that has become stale. When her wish to get pregnant finally becomes reality, she receives some very unexpected news. Louie and Gaspard are a gay couple who are happily in love but when Louie’s female financée suddenly shows up in the picture, all that they hold dear begins to fall apart. Adam and Luke are best friends, but an attack on Adam at a party threatens to create a schism between them. Sindiso runs a charity for women to which she has dedicated herself. When the centre begins to have financial troubles with the real risk of closing, Sindiso has to question her fundamental motivations.
How was the experience of doing a second feature film in comparison to the first one?
In many ways the experience of doing the first is more exciting because it is the first. You have dreamt about it for years and for it to finally come together is special. Plus, we were lucky that my first feature White Colour Black was mainly shot in Senegal so it was very challenging logistically, but because it was a different country and a terrain that we didn’t really know, there was a great sense of adventure and urgency to get it done. We had to move around the country a lot because we shot in many different locations, so I guess I didn’t really have time to process it whilst it was happening. We just had no respite in the schedule and we didn’t have the budget for reshoots, so there was a lot pressure to make sure we got it done.
For Faces we shot in London – but again we filmed all across London, so it was also logistically challenging. On the first day of our shoot which was supposed to be at the Royal London Hospital courtesy of Bart’s Health NHS Trust, right during the time of the cyber attack on the NHS. The crew turned up for the first day of the shoot and we couldn’t get in. We waited for about three hours to see if we could get access, but we couldn’t. Then we had to cancel the day and regroup.
That wasn’t fun for the team. My 1st AD, Line Producer, PM, Production Coordinator, Stylist, and Art Director headed off into emergency meetings at Shoreditch House where we had to change the entire schedule. We had actors and locations that had specific availabilities and often the two wouldn’t match so there was a lot of movement in the schedule, all because one day got cancelled. People fail to realise just what a living breathing organic thing film is. Even with saying this, the experience itself was great. I was very fortunate that I got to shoot my second feature within a year of my first, so I don’t take that for granted.
How has going to a film school shaped your unique sense and style?
I don’t know if going to film school shaped my style necessarily, but I think watching films certainly did. I did Film Studies as half of my degree at University and I think that certainly enhanced my literacy of cinema in the context of time and movements. Exposing myself to many different types of films made me aware what kind of things and temperaments I liked. That has played a huge part. Don’t get me wrong – going to film school was very useful, but I would say more so in terms of the people I met.
You are very active on social media – How do you feel the film industry has changed since the rise of technology in the last 15 years?
For me I think social media is a thing that has to be embraced. As an Indie filmmaker it’s the most direct access I have to my potential audience and them to me.
For example, I remember watching Ava Duvernay’s Insta stories whilst I was prepping and shooting Faces. She was in New Zealand shooting A Wrinkle in Time with Oprah; every day I’d watch their spectacular locations, amazing shots from helicopters etc.. I followed her all through that into post-production. Ava is very prolific on social media and I find that to be very generous of her. You get so much insight into the process from that scale that otherwise remains a mystery for most Indie filmmakers. I would really recommend that film directors follow her.
Tell us something up and coming filmmakers would benefit from?
It goes without saying that you need a huge amount of self-belief to go with your talent to continue to be an Indie filmmaker. Often times there’s no clear path forward, but you just have to stick to it.
Collaborations are important – new tech allows us to make films with ever smaller crews, but you still need people to make films. Get together with people and just experiment, especially if you have access to camera and sound equipment. It’s a great learning curve, you can afford to make mistakes and that’s important because you learn from them in a way that doesn’t cost you much. I made films that I have never released or allowed anyone to see but I learned from those mistakes.
Festivals are important. Raindance opened a career path for me because I was able to take myself more seriously as a filmmaker.
Lastly, I would say as Indie filmmakers we need to pay more attention to and learn more about distribution. That’s a lesson I took away from my first feature. You really have to do the leg work to try to get the film distributed yourself or at least a lot of work to find the right people to help you distribute it.