Toronto International Film Festival 2021
Short Cuts Programme 04
Benjamin Dickinson & Mariama Diallo
A Black woman’s quarantine experience takes a disturbing turn when the dynamic she has with her white partner is impacted by events happening outside their cosy brownstone.
Hi Ben & Mariama thank you for talking to The New Current, how are you held up during these very strange times?
Very strange times indeed - we just got married!
Has this time provided you with any new creative inspiration or opportunities?
"White Devil" actually grew directly out of our experience of the pandemic. We had been dating for about a year and a half but didn't move in together until quarantine. This meant that our experience of living together and getting to know each other on that deeply personal level was inextricable from the events of 2020: COVID 19, quarantine, and the murder of George Floyd. These were hugely jarring and transformative moments and we knew we had to process it somehow.
What does it mean for you to be able to Premiere White Devil in the Short Cuts Section at TIFF?
We are so deeply thrilled to have been given the honour of a premiere in the Short Cuts Section at TIFF. We're particularly grateful to be able to premiere at TIFF because we love the intensely international nature of the festival and how it is able to identify such incredible work from all over the world. We had the opportunity to watch the films of the other directors in our Shorts block and we were blown away by all of them. So we're just very happy to consider ourselves in great company.
Can you tell me a little bit about how White Devil came about, what was the inspiration behind your screenplay?
So, as we mentioned earlier, "White Devil" grew out of conversations had and observations made during our first foray into cohabitation in spring 2020. Once we had decided to make a short film together, the story came together rather quickly. Particularly salient was an argument we had had earlier in the summer; we were sitting in the living room of our new apartment bickering about Persian rugs while deafening anti-protest police helicopters hovered over our Brooklyn street. It was such perfectly encapsulated absurdity - the bourgeois concerns of cohabitation butting up against the twin horrors of quarantine and police violence.
Horror satire is a really unique and interesting film genre for a short film, what made you want to tell this story within this particular genre and what were the challenges you faced bringing this to life?
There is an obvious grotesquery in death and disease that lends itself to horror. The fear and anxiety were palpable and it felt meaningful to engage with those emotions. At the same time, we found that satire was a useful tool in analysing the complex emotions that come up around the mainstream dialogue about police brutality/systemic racism.
"It's very easy to talk yourself out of making a film, especially if you're a perfectionist."
As co-writers/directors/actors when working on a film like this how important is the collaborative nature between you both?
It's essential. We had to rely on each other for everything and were in constant conversation at every point in the process.
What has been the most valuable lesson you've taken from working together on this film?
That we want to do it again! While we're both filmmakers, we never expected to work together, and never expected it to be so fruitful, harmonious and fun.
Now that you can be reflective would you consider turning your short into a feature?
We would never rule out developing "White Devil" into a feature, but it is - necessarily - of a specific time and place.
Where did your passion for filmmaking come from?
Film has been a lifelong passion for both.
Has your style and the approach to your projects changed much since your debut film?
Since this film was a collaboration between artists who haven't worked together before, both of us brought our own styles and approaches and a new aesthetic was born.
Is there any advice you would offer someone about making their first film?
Take a big swing. It's very easy to talk yourself out of making a film, especially if you're a perfectionist. Don't be a perfectionist - be a creator. Just make it.
And finally, what do you hope audiences will take away from White Devil?
In "White Devil" we're shining a light on something that's difficult to speak about but that we're all participating in. Ideally, an audience member will either feel seen or see something new within themselves. For some in the audience, we may be shining a light on blind spots that require self-reflection, while for others we are shining a light on their own experiences that have gone ignored. Ultimately we want them to be engaged.