An interview with director Jim Chuchu
Your African Metropolis contribution Homecoming is partly science fiction, and your upcoming photography book is set in post-apocalyptic Africa. What is your fascination with apocalyptic scenarios?
I like apocalyptic scenarios because they test everything that human beings take for granted. They remind us of our mortality, of how little time
we have on this planet, of how small we are and how abstract and empty the things we think are important (like money and power) actually are when
compared with silly things like good food and sun-basking.
Would you like to see more science fiction films being made in Africa?
Yes, I would – but not in a way that gets lost in special effects and technical wizardry, it would be great to see films that simply imagine what
the choices we’re making now will look like when extrapolated many years forward.
Do you produce films primarily for an African audience or for viewers outside of Africa?
I don’t think I consider an audience very much while creating – who can tell what human beings will like or dislike? I make things the way I see them
in my head, and when the finished creations go out, it’s very cool when people understand what I was trying to do. Sometimes, people see
the finished work in completely different ways, and that’s also interesting.
Your film was selected to be screened at the Toronto International Film Festival. How do you feel about that, and were you surprised?
It’s great! Intimidating and exciting at the same time. Intimidating because I find it difficult to watch anything I’ve done with an audience, and exciting because it’s my first time attending a film festival as a film-maker. I missed the Durban premiere of African Metropolis.
In your opinion, what is needed to take filmmaking in Africa to the next level?
This was my first film, so I haven’t yet gathered the experience (and/or the audacity) to comment on African filmmaking.
Which director, African or otherwise, do you admire, and why?
There’s a young Kenyan director known as Abstract Omega whose images always make me stop for a minute. I find the stories he’s interested in disturbing, but his imagery is always very beautifully constructed.
Elsewhere, I just discovered the work of Kahlil Joseph. He’s amazing – his films are like dreams; like visual doodles, fragments, hazy memories. They’re constructed very strangely, the details are impenetrable, but I always get a very strong emotional reaction watching them. I want to make films like that when I grow up, films that say so much without saying a word.
Do you think films have the power to change perceptions about Africa in other continents?
Yes, more so than the still images which have already done so much to create troubling perceptions of Africa in other continents. The perceptions I think are more important are the internal perceptions, how Africans see themselves and each other, what we believe being African is or isn’t.
How does your background as a photographer, video artist and musician influence your directing?
I suppose having a photography and video art background sometimes makes me want to explore moving images purely for their visual interest,
rather than their narrative impact. That urge is something I had to learn to rein in when I’m shooting narratives such as Homecoming. Music always goes
hand in hand with most of my directing – many stories have been inspired by listening to music, and I hear music in my head while directing particular moments.
You are the founder and director of “The Nest” collaborative artist space in Nairobi, where regular film screenings are held as well. Please tell us more about the project.
I’m a co-founder of the NEST, together with friends George Gachara, Njoki Ngumi and Sunny Dolat – all of whom I’ve worked with for several years on different projects.
Kenyan culture and arts can be very uniform at time, and artists who work too far away from the mainstream sometimes are discouraged by this homogenizing force. The NEST is a collaborative and multi-disciplinary art space, we’re very interested in finding and working with emerging artists
whose work we find different from what we see in Kenya. We’re also very interested in cultivating an audience that is open to different voices, hence
the regular film screenings. So far, we’re very happy and surprised at how open the NEST audience is to new experiences, and we’ve also found some
very interesting, quirky new artists whose work excites us.
I read in an interview with you that your band, Just a band, made it a rule to never appear in their own music videos. Does this apply to your filmmaking
as well? Would you ever consider doing a short cameo appearance in front of the camera, like say, Quentin Tarantino does in his films?
Yes, it does! I’ve never been a big fan of Quentin Tarantino’s cameos – I find them very distracting. Also, I’m very uncomfortable on the other side
of the camera, so it’s very likely that I’ll never do a cameo ever, anywhere!
Miriam Daepp of the Goethe-Institut interviewed Jim Chuchu ahead of the Toronto International Film Festival.