An 18 year old youth offender is trying to get his own business going as a mechanic. But enterprise isn't so easy when you're a young, black male with a criminal past. And it doesn't get any easier when you're framed by one of your new clients for a harrowing crime.
Hi Barnaby, thanks for talking to TNC, how is your 2020 going?
2020 has been kind to me so far. But we are only in January. Ask me again in June!
Congratulations on having Wale selected to British Shorts, what does it mean to you to be part of such a great showcase for British Films?
It's nice to be included in a festival that's specifically curated to showcase the best of British shorts to a foreign audience. Berlin is a city I've had an obsession with since my early twenties, so to have my film shown to an audience in a city that I have such fondness for is wonderful.
Wale was BAFTA nominated in 2019, did you imagine you would get this type of recognition for your film?
I liked to imagine it, but I didn't believe it would really happen. Wale was my first film, so I had no prior experience of the festival circuit. For the film to get the BAFTA nomination was extraordinary.
Do you ever get nervous ahead of a festival screening?
The first time, yes. But after that it's more of an excitement to see how people will react. It's particularly interesting to see how different audiences around the world receive the film.
What are the biggest challenges that face an independent filmmaker?
Being taken seriously. When you start out, you have nothing to show people to prove that you can do it. You're trying to convince people of your talent without any evidence, so that's obviously a struggle. Finance is hard to come by. You have to claw, tooth and nail, for everything.
Can you tell me a little bit about Wale, how did this film come about?
I was looking for a subject for my first short film and I was reading a lot of stories in the local papers about racial tensions in my area of London between the police and the black community because of a number of incidents of police killing young black men through use of unnecessary force. This created the premise in my mind of a character who is so afraid of the police that he doesn't call them, even when he is in a perilous situation.
What was the inspiration behind Wale?
When I was shopping in a local market, a guy approached me with a business card. He was a young mechanic who specializes in fixing Volkswagens (which he'd noticed I'd been driving). We chatted for a few minutes and he told me about the issues he'd been having finding clients. This plight seemed to be entirely circumstantial rather than a reflection on his talent or personality. When I was driving home after that interaction I basically wrote the entire script in my mind.
" My immediate reaction after having made Wale was to do something totally opposite. Something quieter and more controlled, which became my new short Dad Was."
What would you say have been the biggest lessons you've taken from making Wale?
There's so many. But the key one would be to surround yourself with talented people and you'll find that your job as a director becomes infinitely easier. Making a film is like putting together a family. So try to find as many brothers and sisters to do it with (and avoid the weird uncles).
Have you always had a passion for filmmaking?
I've always had a passion for film. But the passion for actually making the films came a bit later. You hear stories about Scorsese storyboarding ideas for films when he was still in the womb or Spielberg making movies on a Super-8 before he could speak. I wasn't like that. I didn't realise that there were people behind the stuff I'd seen at the cinema or on TV until I was a teenager and even then, it didn't seem like something available to me. The famous directors you'd see or hear about seemed like these faraway mythical geniuses from a different world and time, in the same way that you think of great literary figures.
My first experience of making any kind of films were skate videos. I filmed a lot of friends skateboarding and we'd cut them into films on iMovie. I loved doing that but I couldn't see a career in it, and neither could the teachers at my school. So I went to university to study politics and then started writing commercials after that. Being on set for those commercials reminded me of what I'd wanted to do in the first place; make films.
How much has your approach to your films changed since your debut?
With Wale I had so many ideas that I wanted to put into the film. This was probably because it was my first film and so there was all this pent up energy and desire to try all kinds of different shots and methods that I'd never had the opportunity to do before myself. So the film was quite exuberant for a short. Lots of locations, lots of scenes, almost like a feature film condensed into 20 minutes. My immediate reaction after having made Wale was to do something totally opposite. Something quieter and more controlled, which became my new short Dad Was. So I think your approach to the next film is dependent on what you did with the previous film. There's a need to evolve and move on.
What has been the best piece of advice you've been given?
Is there any advice you would offer an aspiring filmmaker?
What are you currently working on?
We're in pre-production for another short film at the moment. And I'm developing/trying to find finance for a number of feature ideas which I've written.
And finally, what message do you want your audiences to take away from Wale?
That's up to them. I think the film raises a number of questions, but it's for the audience to decide how to answer them.