As our Call for Entries Countdown begins, ASFF looks at a selection of innovative films from each category of the 2016 festival. MDUDU BOY (directed by Ella Smith and produced by Dominic Tighe) screened as part of the Family Friendly genre, and as part of the Youth Engagement programme on the opening day. The story follows a young hero as he grows in confidence and realises his potential.
ASFF: The film was inspired by a trip to Kenya in 2014. Could you describe how the journey has inspired the film, and how aspiration plays a part in the narrative?
DT: This film was inspired by a trip that the writer and director Ella Smith made to Kenya. She heard a story a while driving in a taxi to Mombasa airport about the taxi driver’s son who loves football. He asked for her opinion. He said he could not afford both, but what should he buy him first – a new football or new football boots? She was so touched by this simplicity that she began to think about the story. She was touched by the optimism of the people she met in Kenya and their zest for life. We wanted to capture that spirit in the film. That it’s okay to THINK BIG.
ASFF: Do you think that this short has a political edge, considering the amount of poverty which is depicted?
DT: It isn’t designed to have a political edge but we did want to inform the audience of living conditions and way of life for this community. We wanted to inform in an indirect way – through a narrative rather than documented like you might see one the Comic Relief videos. We hope the story and characters will engage a younger audience who in turn will learn about kids their own age and how they live.
ASFF: How do you think that the short works as a sort of visual bildungsroman?
DT: That’s one way of looking at it! We wanted it to be seen very much through the eyes of the boy and the other kids in the film and not adults which is why you never see any adults in full. It struck us that the kids there are wise beyond their years already, in a very different way to children here due to the circumstances. Don’t forget the boy is out working earning money every day to feed his family. We feel that Mdudu Boy goes on quite a journey in the space of 20 minutes and he has found a new confidence by the end so, yes it could be considered as a coming-of-age story.
ASFF: How did you collaborate with local communities to create the short?
DT: This was one of the most rewarding elements to the whole process. I should point out that there are no actors in MDUDU BOY. Every character you see in the film has never acted before and are real life members of the community. We worked with two charities, Glad’s House in Mombassa and Kivukoni School in Kilifi. We were so lucky to have the support of these brilliant organisations and we cast by holding fun drama workshops with the kids. All the kids in the film are brilliant so we got very lucky. We cast the adults in the film by literally walking around the streets asking if people wanted to be in a film! We held auditions on street corners and behind shop huts. We wanted to community to feel part of the process and they were very enthusiastic.
ASFF: Do you think that the film had an influence on the communities involved, in terms of sharing the filmmaking process and making it a collective venture?
DT: I hope so. We have arranged a few screenings for the community in Kilifi and they have been hugely attended. The last one was shown on a make shift screen that hung down from football posts on a dusty football pitch, which was apt! Reports I have heard back are all very positive and the community are happy to have themselves represented in this way. We draw very large crowds while filming on location and people were very keen to learn about how the process. I wanted to make a film for the community by the community and I think we achieved this. I am happy to say that as a result of working on the film our lead boy now takes part in the National Youth Theatre of Kenya and has travelled up to Nairobi for residential workshops and productions.
ASFF: The vibrant landscape plays a huge role in the short – why do you think it’s important to marry up the affecting, dream-filled narrative with the realistic depiction of Kenya?
DT: You have to remember that the lifestyle that these people have is all they have known. Whilst conditions are hard for them, they also make the best of what they have. I was struck by the optimism and positivity and generosity of spirit that every person we met had. As children, we all have dreams. You don’t need wealth or a big house to let your imagination run free. Football is a universal language in the film and so too is dreaming big. It’s important that our hero has the chance to “think big” as he is told to do by the kind woman in the story: just like any other child. This just happens to be his circumstance.
ASFF: How do you think Mdudu Boy communicates a kind of universal language?
DT: You could apply Mdudu Boy’s story to any child anywhere in the world, and even with a different sport. We might well develop the idea…
ASFF: How did the short form help the content of the piece to come to life?
DT: Because it was short we were able to concentrate on one character, our hero. I think this focused the story. We were also able to drop in and capture one day in this boy’s routine. Well, and the following morning. Because of this were able to get a sense of the daily life and chores that Mdudu Boy has to go through. It was a challenge though, but I think Ella’s script was so well crafted that it felt like we had seen a feature in the space of 20 minutes.
ASFF: What do you have planned in terms of future projects?
DT: We heard a story while on location in Mombassa about a street woman’s fight to regain custody of her child who was taken form her by the authorities. She fought the system and her fight took her to the top of government. She eventually affected a change in the law. We were so inspired by this story that Ella and I are developing it into a feature script… We are “thinking big” with it so watch this space.
Enter your short film into ASFF 2017 by 31 May. For more information: www.asff.co.uk/submit
1. Trailer for MDUDU BOY. Courtesy of Vimeo.