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December 11, 2019

Adversity enhanced my creativity – Award winning director, Julius Amedume

Adversity enhanced my creativity – Award winning director, Julius Amedume

Echoes From AMAA…

BY J.K. OBATALA

 

Psychodramas normally   don’t have wide audience appeal among Africans, on or off the continent. But Julius Amedume’s Rattlesnakes — adapted from a Graham Farrow play, by that name — is a globally acclaimed exception.

Filmed in Montecito, California, during the raging forest fires of 2017, Amedume’s 86-minute feature has earned accolades in Canada, Haiti, the United Kingdom, the U.S.A. and, most recently, Nigeria.

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He and J.K. Obatala conversed at Providence Hotel, Ikeja, in the morning after the African Movie Academy Awards (AMAA) ceremony, at which Rattlesnakes received the “Michael Anyiam Osigwe Award for best film, by An African born director, living abroad”.

Though an Ewe, from eastern Ghana, the 42-year-old writer-director grew up in Britain and holds a Masters in Directing Fiction, from the renowned National Film and Television School, in Beaconsfield, Buckinghamshire.

In this pre-dawn interface, Amedume expatiates on, among other things, the early influence of television and his evolving relationship with Rattle snake’s producer and star, Jimmy Jean-Louis. (They first collaborated on a short film, that won at AMAA, in 2011).

 

Congratulations, on your AMAA award. Before we start, why not introduce your film?

Thank you. Rattlesnakes is what you might call a “psychological thriller”. It’s based on an 18-year-old Graham Farrow play, which I adapted.

It’s about a man called “Robert McQueen”. You find out, as the story opens, that he’s a spiritual therapist. He treats women for emotional and psychological problems.

One day, the protagonist goes to an apartment, to meet a client. And he’s jumped by three men wearing ski masks. They accuse “McQueen” of sleeping with their wives, and tie him up.

It’s a little bit like a mystery — a whodunit kind of movie — where, as the characters reveal information, you’re gaining insight.

All of Farrow’s characters were Caucasian. But when I took on the project, I decided to make them black… Also, the original play was a straight-forward drama, rather than a psycho-drama.

The lead character is Jimmy Jean-Louis, who plays “McQueen”.  A guy named Jack Coleman portrays “Richie Hanson,” the second lead.

 

Why did you choose to do a psychodrama?

I’m interested in characters who live, not in the mainstream, but within society’s underbelly.

I chose to do a psychological thriller, because I find those types of films extremely entertaining. To me, the tension and mental nuances, between the men in the hotel room, is more important than their physical action.

 

How is the film being received?

Very well. When working out the scenario, I imagined myself sitting in the audience, watching the movie. This apparently paid off, since Rattlesnakes won the 2019 “Audience Award,” at the prestigious Pan-African Film Festival, in Los Angeles!

It has garnered nominations and awards at quite a number of other festivals, as well. These include: “Best Film,” at the Haiti International Film Festival; a Screen Nation award (U.K.), for “Independent Film Production”; and “Best Film” at the Miami, Florida (U.S.A.) Urban Film Festival. It opened the Caribbean Tales Film Festival, in Toronto, Canada, and won “Best Film”.

Rattlesnakes was also nominated for “Best Film,” at the Rwandan Film Festival, which adjudged me “Best Director” of an African-made film.

Where did you do the shooting?

We shot the film, over a period of 12 days, in Montecito, California, during the Thomas fire– one of the biggest forest fires of 2017. Nearly 100,000 people were evacuated from the area.

After four days shooting, the fire marshals came, and ordered us out of the area. We left our equipment behind — hoping that the wildfire would subside, and the marshals would allow us to go back in there, and shoot.

But it soon became obvious, that the fire wasn’t going anywhere! So, we hatched a plan, to steal our equipment back!

 

“Steal” your equipment!?

Yes. Myself, Jimmy Jean-Louis and Tommy Maddox (our cinematographer) drove, like, 15 to 20 kilometres around the police blockade.

We reached the location and, under the cloak of darkness, loaded our equipment in the vans — then, stealthily, made our getaway!

Shooting resumed in Los Angeles. But the change of settings, required that I rewrite the script.

 

So, how did that affect the movie?

Our forced evacuation, caused a certain amount of dislocation. So, we lost the script and some of the footage. And then, we had managed to do a 13th day of shooting–and lost that footage as well!

Nevertheless, I think that, when you have a body of work, which everyone is involved with and committed to, certain problems can actually result in creative improvement–and that is what happened.

We had a 10-hour shooting day: But lost two hours daily, from having to rewrite the script. Otherwise, the story wouldn’t fit the new locations. Yet we not only overcame that adversity, but also ended up with a much-improved storyline.

Why did you decide to shoot in California?

Well, because I always wanted to make a film in the U.S.A. And also, when I originally adapted the script, I changed some of the characters and updated the setting.

I made Los Angeles the new setting, because it was the perfect place for my revised storyline. I also changed the protagonist’s occupation.

He became a sort of spiritual guru, instead of a conventional therapist — since gurus are trending in Los Angeles, at the moment…

 

You say spiritual gurus are “trending”? What do you mean?

Because Los Angeles is a place where there are lot of lost people–if I can be frankly honest. There’s a lot of New Age practices and teaching, which some people are resorting to, for help in coping with life’s problems.

These are mainly upper-middle and upper- class women, who have a great deal of disposable income. They can, therefore, afford to spend money, getting gurus to comfort them, spiritually.

 

Where has the film found its biggest audience?

I would say, in the black diaspora and the African market. To be sure,Rattlesnakes contains a lot of universal themes. Even so, black audiences tend to gravitate towards it more…

 

What are some of the themes, in Rattlesnakes?

Some prominent themes are, relationships, the secrets we keep from our partners and also karma–you know, the belief that things we do in this life, will affect us in the next…

 

Is this the first movie you’ve directed?

No. I’ve done a number of short films as well as a low-budget feature, called A Goat’s Tail. But this is my first proper feature–you know, with international distribution and global exposure, etc…

 

What are you taking away, from AMAA 2019?

As usual, the highlight, for me, was networking with film-makers, in the diaspora and within Africa. It’s always gratifying to meet individuals, with whom I may later be able to collaborate…

I have loads of ideas. But, you know, being an independent film-maker, is sort of about “Where do I get the money from?”

So, I think the more I can collaborate with other film-makers, on interesting stories, then, the greater my arsenal will be, in relating to bigger audiences…

 

How did you get involved with Jimmy Jean-Louis–your producer and lead actor?

I met Jimmy in 2006. I had an entry in the Pan-African Film Festival. He also had a film in the festival. We suggested swapping: You know, “Come and watch my movie, and I’ll watch yours”. Then we went for coffee together–which lasted about five hours.

In short, we gelled and decided to collaborate. Rattlesnakes is our second project–and we’ve got many, many more planned.

 

Why did you decide to become a filmmaker?

The thing is, I got into films when I was six. I was quite sickly, as a child. I was deaf, in one ear–which was cured, through an operation. Then I got tetanus, measles and chicken pox. So, I couldn’t start school, until around age eight. Hence, I had lots of time, to watch television.

I’m the youngest of four children. My dad worked nights and my mom days. My father would come home at around 11:00 or 12:00 p.m. and tutor me…This was in southwest London…

 

You grew up in London?

Yes. I spent all my life there… When my dad fell asleep, I’d be left watching black and white movies — film noirs, musicals, soap operas, etc. I’d watch television till 4:00 o’clock, in the afternoon, when my mom would come home. That’s how I got interested in filmmaking.

At sixteen, I made my first short film — called Safe Sex. It was about three black pairs, who met at a party. The story unfurls, around the fate of each couple.…

I ended up writing, directing, shooting and editing the whole thing because my four colleagues decided to quit, when they discovered how much work was involved!

The experience would, ultimately, prove beneficial. It taught me self-reliance. So, when adversity strikes — as it often does, in filmmaking — I can draw on a databank of hardships, to strengthen my resolve…

 

What about your personal life? Are you married?

At the moment, no. But I’m in a relationship with someone in the U.S.A…

She’s half Jamaican and half Barbadian. We’ll probably end up marrying and having children.

My early congratulations!

Thank you very much…

 

By the way, what did your parents do for a living?

In Ghana, my dad was an accountant for Shell Oil. And my mom taught psychology…

Psychology? So, that’s why you’re doing psychodrama!

Yes! .…

Alright. Thank you very much.

And thank you, sir.

Vanguard