Sundance Film Festival 2021
Akinola Davies Jr
Juwon, an eight-year-old girl with an ability to sense danger, gets ejected from Sunday school service. She unwittingly witnesses the underbelly in and around a megachurch in Lagos.
Hi Akinola thank you for talking to The New Current, how have you been holding up during these very strange times?
Hi, thanks for taking the time to talk to me! I really appreciate it. I’ve been ok - really caught on to cooking, exercising and watching tiny house modifications online!
Has this time offered you any new creative inspiration?
Yes always - time alone in one’s own company is pretty crucial. It’s such an intimate setting with yourself. You are able to mine your thought process, question your choices and become a lot more curious. Especially when the outside world isn’t able to stimulate you as much as it normally does. I’m reading a lot more and listening to a lot of global podcasts - just learning about a range of things - hopefully that feeds into my creativity.
Congratulations on having Lizard selected in the International Shorts U.S Fiction section at Sundance 2021, what does it mean to be part of such an amazing line up of short films?
Thank you so much for saying that - I’m super humbled. Moreover, I’m really happy for the cast and crew, who were 90% locally based. There were only 4 members of the crew who weren’t Nigerian. They all deserve it so much. My producers, actors, production designers, production assistants are all brilliant and it really means a lot to be part of something so prestigious. Equally, the line-up looks fantastic and I can’t wait to see all the shorts.
As this is your International Premiere does that add any extra pressure on you and your team?
Pressure? No way! I’ve said a bunch of times privately, film making is incredibly difficult and my main objective is always to make a good film, first. What we collectively did exceeded my expectations and that for me and the crew is the real win. Festivals are fantastic and we are all honoured to be a part of them, but they are a bonus. So, no pressure - just gratitude and excitement to be part of the conversation, to meet people and continue to learn and grow as a filmmaker.
You were part of Berlinale Talents 2020, what was this experience like for you?
Berlinale was really cool; it was quite intensive and really geared towards providing filmmakers with an understanding of the mechanics of the industry. I enjoyed it because I love films - I tried to watch as many as possible which is damn near impossible but with the year that 2020 became, I’m glad I did because we haven’t been so fortunate to go the cinema. I’d happily recommend Berlinale; I met some really fantastic people and really admire their selection.
"Being brave is critical to me as a storyteller - if I’m not scared then I’m not challenging myself."
How did Lizard come about and what was the inspiration behind your screenplay?
Lizard is based on a culmination of things that happened to me as a child. Things I saw, questions and experiences I thought I made up but actually lived through. I had to really revisit a lot of these themes, moments and weave a story together which to me feels balanced and steeped in fantasy. In terms of how it came about - I saw a few short films at London film festival in 2018 as part of the talents and realised what a fun medium short films are. After that I wrote Lizard.
You co-wrote Lizard with your brother Wale Davies, will you collaborate with Wale again in the future?
Yeah 100%, Wale is brilliant! My best friend and an incredible storyteller - he was the only person I knew who had written a screenplay, so when I wrote the story there was no one better to give words to it. Yes, we’re going to write a lot of things together for sure, we already wrote a second short which we just completed. I think that’s the beauty of film - it can be the most collaborative space, and for me that’s the real joy of it. Mining thoughts, experiences and piecing it together to formulate something poetic.
How flexible are you with your script, do you prefer to stick to what was planned or do you allow yourself to go in new directions?
I’m super flexible - like I said, collaboration is key. Me personally, I want everyone to feel like they have a stake in what we are doing. So the development is crucial - all ideas are welcome so long as they add value and nuisance to the story. No matter how little a detail, it’s crucial for everyone to be able to add to it. That way you get the best body of work. Equally, I’m open to moments of spontaneous magic happening on set. For the most part that’s an extension of what the actor, cinematographer or gaffer have to offer - so yes, we stick to the writing but hopefully by that point everyone has offered some feedback. But also, there is the edit and everything is back on the table again.
What was the biggest challenge you faced making this film?
The biggest challenge was self-doubt. I remember getting pretty anxious when we drove to set every morning. I had to download the calm app so I could meditate before we’d arrive. On the first day of shooting, I had to take a bit of time out with my brother and one of my producers to ask what the hell we were doing! They assured me that things were going well and not to panic - after that things just started to fall into place.
Should filmmakers push the boundaries of the films and stories they want to tell?
Filmmaking is extremely broad and no one should feel they need to do anything which doesn’t feel right. It’s a space where people should be encouraged to find their voice and that comes in many different shapes and sizes. One of my favourite directors, Haile Gherima, said film making is a weapon and that resonated deeply with me. For me, it’s a tool in which to plant ideas and philosophies, to empower, to challenge and to reflect the spectrum of humanity. I can’t speak for anyone but for me I see it as a weapon to centralise my community, break from stereotypes and generational trauma and foster ancestral dialogue.
Have you always had a passion for filmmaking?
For me, image making more so than filmmaking. I realised quite late that the way I learn is from being engaged with an image. My imagination takes me to places and helps to ask questions. Filmmaking was so far away, so I didn’t really imagine I’d be a filmmaker. I wanted to be a writer (journalist) so it was more a passion for storytelling.
Has your approach to your films changed much since you started out?
Yes, I think so. When I started I was really into aesthetics - wanting to mimic others I admired. Your Gondrys’, Spike Jones’, Hype Williams, Little x and Ritchies, but after a while I guess it became important to understand why I wanted to be a filmmaker and why I wanted to tell the stories I’m interested in. Since then, I’ve been focused on philosophy and form. I’m very obsessed with the why’s and the process more that the execution. Being brave is critical to me as a storyteller - if I’m not scared then I’m not challenging myself.
What is the best piece of advice you would offer an emerging filmmaker?
I think it would be to learn yourself. If you’re committed to doing this for the rest of your life, then don’t rush - learn as much as you can from whoever you can (preferably not from egomaniacs) but nice people who are open and empathetic. It will improve you as a person. Position filmmaking as a lifestyle and you’ll enhance your ability to execute your vision.
And finally, what do you hope audiences will take away from Lizard?
Hmm, I don’t really know - I’m curious to learn from the audience. I know my intention behind making it - for me it’s about dialogue. I want to have a dialogue with the audience. I want to know what they think - I love engaging in theory with an audience so maybe it’s that they watch it and have a response which makes them curious.