Sunday, 21 September 2014

Kebab and Ackee & Saltfish (film review)

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.

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.

Tuesday, 26 November 2013

“Moon Child” - (Yuanfen 緣分 ) - NEW POEM

I’ve been reading up a bit on the Bhuddist philosophy of Yuanfen, in which it is believed that friends/relationships occur either through fate or destiny. Relationships that happen through fate, are those that just happen, however, they are meant to just teach you lesson so that you may progress and grow as a soul. Relationships that are destined, however, are the ones that last the biggest test of all, the test of time. A destined relationship will endure the most trials and tribulations, suffering, heartache and pain, so that it may continue to be. 

Now, I want you to think of the last person that you met. Think of when you met, think of how you met, and now think of why? Now I want you to think of someone else that you met, who you could now not even imagine living your life without.
Other than immediate family, and even in that case it is arguable, most of the people we meet happens to be through chance, through randomness, through a series of seemingly unplanned coincidental consequential acts with such definitive factors. This Mandarin proverb  really captures the concept well: "it takes hundreds of reincarnations to bring two persons to ride on the same boat; it takes a thousand eons to bring two persons to share the same pillow".

With each person we meet, there is an amalgamation of fine, precise details that lead to the encounter. A moment later, you would have missed the train, thus never seeing, the girl who later becomes, the love of your life. Or conversely, you missed the train, and there departed, unbeknown to you, the love of your life. Such fine details operating like clockwork. 

This eventually led me to write a poem (don’t act like you are surprised, it’s what I do!). The background of this poem has quite a funny story to it. It begins at a bar in central London. I was out with three of my male friends, being inconspicuous, nonchalant and cool, as you do. There was a birthday party, lots of women glammed up, men were dressed to impress. There I was, half way between a day dream and a prayer when this incredibly beautiful woman walks into the room. It was as if the light of the moon shining through the window lit up the path for her  to walk through. Correction, glide through. I was marvelled. I pointed her out to my friends, none of them were able to see what I saw - which further reinforced my belief in the idiosyncrasy of beauty – and hastily urged me to “go and talk to her then”.
Talk to her? What kind of….? I thought I was being set up. How can I just go up and talk to a woman with an ethereal, transcendental beauty ordained by divinity? I was more single than an orderly queue at a cashpoint, but still that wasn’t a good enough reason.
My friend, seeing my outraged reaction to his suggestion, then stated “you’re not even going to talk to her, you’re probably just going to go home and write a poem”.
I was enflamed, “of course I’m going to talk to her”, you know, because that’s what men do. Apparently. So, I spent the next 10 (it was probably closer to 45 mins), trying to hype myself up and get ready. It didn’t work. Ultimately, to cut a long story short – I’m really not trying to embarrass myself any further – I did end up going home and writing a poem. The poem isn't necessarily about the girl who I didn’t speak to, however,  the poem is more so about such moments that we let slip through our fingers. Though the story is anecdotal, it is symbolic in understanding the eventuality of causality. That who we do meet, and build relationships with in the future, is often because of who we didn’t in the past.
I really believe that Yuanfen is an existing principle which manifests in our everyday lives.
The poem is called “Moon Child” (Yaunfen ) and you can read it below.
I will be releasing the video soon so please look for it, but for now, you can read below or download the image. 

“Moon Child” (Yuanfen 緣分 )

Life is the complex amalgamation of the beautiful and tragic,
the beautiful is she,
the tragic is knowing that I will never be with her.
Never feel the smooth of her skin, the soft of her hair,
place my hands on the small of her back,
or hold them together, like a prayer.
We pray for love, but we say love is blind,
so it's no surprise that it rarely finds its way to us.
We stood, worlds apart, but then you moved closer and smiled
it reminded me of my childhood; all that was joy and laughter,
playing run outs, hopscotch and had,
cassette tapes and pencils,
dancing to Michael Jackson – Bad. Real bad.
I dreamed a stencil of your silhouette outlined in the moon,
Moon Child,
your glow was too bright for my eyes made dull by the sorrows of this world. 
I watched you walk by, like a ballerina on a cloud,
like notes on a hymn sheet you were the beautiful harmony,
I imagined your voice like peace.

Your face
brought a stillness to my heart that is only matched by poetry,
but as you moved closer to me, I felt the blood rush through my veins
like a thousand stampeding elephants,
broken blissful benevolence,
excuse me for my silence, I was simply in awe.
Last I saw was you walk out of the door,
knowing that I was never going to see you again,
I decided to write this poem, to remind me, that in each day,
life gives us an opportunity to turn something from the tragic
into the beautiful. So I'll say these words
and hope that they are carried up by the wind
like candle lit lanterns across the night sky.