Saturday 20th September saw the screening of two new short films “Kebab” and “Ackee & Saltfish” at the Rio Cinema, in Dalston, Hackney, by independent film makers (who I will introduce you to shortly). I had the pleasure of being a part of the audience in what was a surprisingly satisfying experience, particularly for what set out to an ordinary Saturday afternoon.
I offer a brief review of the two films from my perspective, and – as I’m sure you are by now used to – a reflection on the wider issues that were raised.
Kebab by Abraham Popoola (@abefeels) was stirring. It is set in the kitchen of a house shared by two young men. Anthony (played by Jamael Westman) – a university educated, office professional. A well to do young man with a brazenness and condescension that can turn the milk in your tea turn sour. His flat mate, Cameron also university educated, is a victim of his current circumstances of unemployment, apathy and despair. He has found, what seems to be a recent attachment, some kind of overzealous comfort in his Christian faith.
Anthony arrives home at 2am with a Kebab, and is startled by the presence of Cameron sitting alone in the kitchen, glass of water on the table, with an entranced stare into the distance. They begin to dialogue. Each sentence reveals a little bit about their circumstances and beliefs, as well as their character. It is well written, with a good balance of humour and tension.
Cameron complains emphatically about the fact he has not eaten all day, and it is Anthony’s duty to share the Kebab, who has had enough, and reminds him that he needs to work to get money to pay for food, and the rent he owes him. And that his ideals of living and working in pursuit of his passion is unrealistic.
The narrative enters the religio-philosophical realm of discussion. The highlight of which is Anthony rhetorically demanding “doesn’t it say in your book that heaven helps those who helps themselves”, to which Cameron replies “no”, though he knows it is true.
Anthony then forces Cameron into a humiliating compromise offering him the Kebab only if he cleans his shoes, not with his sleeves, as he attempted to do but with his tongue. Anthony is forced to seriously consider, which raises the tension and leaves the audience in suspense, until he makes the decision and is taken on a path that dramatically changes everything.
*WARNING: skip this paragraph because this is spoiler where I discuss what happens in the end. If you don’t want to know what happens. Move on.
THIS PART IS FOR THOSE WHO WATCHED THE SCREENING YESTERDAY AND ALREADY KNOWS WHAT HAPPENS:
The scene where Cameron snaps and finally stabs Anthony to death then returns to his seat and with all the satiating calmness in his bones to devour the Kebab is what makes the film so stirring and gripping. And I could completely identify with this character, not necessarily for the violence but for the fact that it was a very intelligent use, by the film maker, of an extreme example to illustrate a point or evoke a particular response/emotion from the audience. We often identify with struggle, but we emulate or deify, and make gods of, success or those who are successful, which immortalises them to the point that even we believe that they are not worthy of death (judgement), regardless of what dehumanising acts they may commit.
Kebab works really well at analyse the dichotomous narrative of power that exists between the oppressor and the oppressed, the poor and the rich, the corporation and the worker, the privileged and the unprivileged, and their relative juxtaposed experiences due to their position in a global hegemonic society.
We often expect those who are suffering, poor, and disempowered to be the most righteous, peaceful and non-violent in any given situation, when in fact, the consequence of their suffering often occurs as a result of circumstances that are forced violently upon them.
This is film that offers a lot of food for thought. The challenge will be though, if it is to be expand to feature length, creating a plot/storyline and narrative that is encapsulating, and perhaps, offers the audience more insight into the characters.
Ackee & Saltfish by Cecile Emeke (@cecileemeke) is comparable to walking up to a wardrobe, opening it and, at most, expecting some nice clothes, but instead being transported into another world of conscious critical thought. It is the Narnia – or at least has the potential to be in a full length feature – the veritable Narnia of critical independent film.
It is set in Dalston, Hackney, and follows two beautiful, stylish, intelligent, engaging young black women Olivia (played by @finding_seiko) and Rachel (@scarlet_voice) as they venture in their local area to buy a prepared meal from an independent shop they frequent in their younger years.
The trailer, which I really enjoyed watching, makes you expect nothing more than a romantic comedy. “I want a Common (the rapper)… a nice bald headed brother with a beard” Olivia says.
What actually followed was a deluge of critical thought; through the brilliant use of intelligent humour, wit and sarcasm, the film progresses to touch on issues affecting local communities such as gentrification, class, education, racism, as well as religion. It was engaging right the way through.
The story flows from the personal to the political, the sensitivities of which, is so well captured and expressed sincerely through the natural onscreen dynamism the actors have with each other.
One thing I particularly liked about this film is that it came from the perspective of black women, sharing their story, interacting with each other, without the pressures of other groups that try to dominate that narrative, which is too often overlooked in the mainstream.
I fell in love with how it was shot. The visuals amazed. It made Dalston high street - a street that I personally have such fond memories about whether it is the Centerprise Bookshop that was closed down some years ago or walking through Ridley Road Market with my mum on a Saturday carrying all the shopping in the cold until I couldn’t feel my hands – look so endearing and captivating. The imagery had a vibrancy beyond that which you would ordinarily see.
Ackee & Saltfish does well to tackle multiple issues that are affecting the inner city communities in London. It also presents the characters in such a dichotomous way, in regards to critical conscious thought, very much in the way that Malcolm X and Martin Luther King are presented – “it’s not every day Malcolm X”, challenging the audience to choose the character they identify with and venture introspectively to see where they may lie in this debate. I think it has a lot of potential to be expanded into a full length feature or webseries.
Abraham Popoola and Cecile Emeke are exploding with so much potential as independent film makers, making a craft of their art. What I find most endearing is how much each of their productions comes from such a personal place, as if it is gutted out from within them and poured out to the world. I would encourage all to support what they are doing and follow their work.