Identity Politics

‘Otherness: Interrogating the Politics of Racial Identity in Modern Britain’, part of the ‘Re-Rooted’ season at London’s Rich Mix, provides a space to watch films, exchange ideas and make connections. The series features films from a group of dynamic ASFF alumni directors, including The Long Goodbye, Aneil Karia’s Oscar-winning drama with Riz Ahmed; Cherish Oteka’s BAFTA-winning The Black Cop; Mitch Kalisa’s Play It Safe, which claimed the Audience Award at the South by Southwest Festival and Cornelius Walker’s Oscar-nominated Black Sheep. We speak to the programmes’ curator Tomisin Adepeju, whose own short Appreciation played in Bounce Cinema’s Guest Programme at ASFF in 2021.

ASFF: How did this programme of shorts begin?
In early 2019, I was doing a series of screenings in my friend’s small warehouse space. But it wasn’t just a normal screening, because I didn’t want to bring people together to just see films, have a Q&A and go home. I think there are platforms, like Bounce cinema, that do that very well but I really wanted to engage in in-depth discussions about the themes, issues and beauty in the work. That’s something that interests me more and makes for a more insightful discussion. So I thought I’d create a screen series, focusing on the subject and themes of the work. This ultimately informs the films I show.

ASFF: Can you talk about the themes that bring the films together?
TA: All the films in the programme explore themes around otherness, specifically being Black or South Asian in Britain. What does that mean as a Black man? How do you navigate your identity in a space that doesn’t allow you to embrace who you are?

ASFF: How did it fit into Rich Mix’s ‘Re-Rooted’ programme?

TA:  I think Rich Mix are trying to encourage people in the community to host events that are culturally specific. I wouldn’t say it was luck, but when I approached the cinema about my event, it was good timing. My series is a great fit for their ‘Re-Rooted’ series, which runs throughout the year, and it’s the perfect time to really launch what I hope will be a long series of films.

ASFF: Your own short Appreciation played at Aesthetica. How was the experience?
TA: It was such an incredible experience. I got emails and Instagram messages from people who attended the screening and said that they loved my work and it made them emotional. That was really humbling to hear. ASFF is a festival that I still want to go to and hopefully I can attend this year. Festivals are an important platform for independent directors like myself. I’ve been signed to my agencies through festivals… so it’s really changed my life. I always encourage young directors to not just have their films on their laptops. Yes, you can upload to YouTube and Vimeo, but there’s nothing quite like film festivals.

ASFF: Do you have other ideas for more short film screenings in the future?
Yes! I want to explore the power of West African cultural spaces, like barbershops and hair salons, and how those spaces really work, as a hub for people from adopted homelands to make their home. There are a lot of great short films that fit into that theme too. I also want to explore themes around fairy tales and fantasy work. I’m always just trying to find themes that would stimulate intellectual discussions around not just the craft of filmmaking, but also the power of imbuing universal themes that transcend cultural boundaries.

Otherness: Interrogating the Politics of Racial Identity in Modern Britain takes place at Rich Mix cinema, London, on 25 May.

James Mottram