This Twitter generation of filmmakers. The one’s who have seen great advantages with technology and the chance to transcend word of mouth with internet hype. With their self- reverence and performative lifestyles of what film makers should look/be, the celebrity directors, the #fortheculture addicts obsessed and tasked with the responsibility of lifting Nollywood out of mediocrity. The Africans returning Africa to us. Kill them the way we killed Jay-Z.
And if the assassination attempts fail, we can be consoled by the sporadic streaks of light within the fetid pit of small celebrities and disruptors. With enough time, commitment and honest feedback the crop can expand into a worthy definitive movement for post-modern neo African cinema, with its accompanying visual signature. Uche Aguh, the doctor turned actor director screenwriter and co-founder of 55 media is a streak of light in the dark.
Along with his partner and deft camera assistant, Dennis Schmidt whose camera work is a testament to the consistency of quality, the duo are shaping up to become indie darlings. With just as many hits as misses, the path will be filled with challenges but the sheer quality of their ambition and small executed projects make them ones to root for.
Uche Aguh’s directorial hand is visibly informed by the umbrella arthouse term, films made with artistic consideration over financial ones. The Moonlight’s and Whiplashes, Angelina Jolie’s failed attempt at capturing the romance and angst of being rich, straight, thin and sad on vacation in Europe(By the Sea). Spliced across all of Uche Aguh’s endeavours is yearning. His characters wear it on their faces like the color on their skin. A lot of lines wrapped in the fervent need to be poetic sounding. In his debut, I Still Do, a man pleads with his wife, we can only see the back of his head facing her. She looks bored, stoic. Only blinking to acknowledge any form of response to his pleas. We cannot see his face, but it pours out apologies and promises, his voice reflecting his desperation for some kind of repentance. She never acquiesces, she only stares back as if waiting for him to finish. The film is a series of verbal exchanges. Of anger repentance and the rainbow between the edges. The couple quibble over infidelity, over racial slights, gender challenges. Each too busy baring their pain to understand the others.
The films has a specific obsession with internal insanity. The kind performed through long pretty sentences that do not always work. For instance, in Azubuike, we are treated to too much repetition, of image and spoken word despite the humble and beautiful theme paying homage to the woman.
The concept short for Americanah carries much of the same things. Adapting key scenes from the book we see again man, woman and a more verbal interaction. As a director Uche chooses his cast with a remarkable eye. In the released audition tapes for his next ambitious project(The Beautiful Ones Are All Mad), we are treated to sublime selections. For all of the intricacy of craft nothing beats the response of seeing Rizelle Januk’s eyes.
One would be remiss to mention Uche Aguh without Dennis Schmidt. The films tones pulse with a sense of ache. The subtle lighting hinting at the promise of one more layer, sweeping camera angles that glide through the sets and the actors bodies with a focus akin to lustful gazing. Dennis only flaw is that he cannot allow the camera to make his actors ugly, even when they do ugly things we marvel at their articulation or looks. Their films are compensated with swift musical choices, a selection of tones deftly leading the watcher in the direction of feelings like subtle instructions.
Still in film school, it is too early to tell if the romance of the arthouse form will follow the ambitious team long term or if his works are limited to actors staged in iconic indie poses(mulling in tubs, laying on floors with their heads joined, crying in fields while being held). Or if he eventually breaks into less poetry based forms of exploring human understanding. In the TBOAAM trailer his character says “the lies we tell ourselves everyday about who we are end up being more real than who we really are.” Well, Uche’s specialty is beautiful damning lies.
Uche Aguh, here is to your future. We are rooting for you.
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