The former NETWORK@LFF filmmakers chart their journeys into film, talk about their heritage and their love of cinema
Defying the odds of a particularly challenging year, both Adeyemi Michael and Akinola Davies Jr have come out of 2020 swinging. The former – whose short film Entitled has played around the world to great acclaim – was called upon by streaming behemoth Netflix to curate a special collection that lifts and promotes Black voices in film, while working on a host of exciting new projects. Akinola enjoyed the premiere of his short film Lizard at this year’s London Film Festival and continues to work on a myriad of films and visual art. Speaking from quarantine, the pair check-in for a thrilling conversation on their journey into filmmaking.
Akinola: My name is Akinola Davies Jr. I'm a filmmaker based in London, and I make a mix of music videos and fashion films, but I’m moving more into narrative stuff.
Yemi: And I’m Adeyemi Michael, who’s making documentaries and narrative work as well.
Akinola: We met at NETWORK@LFF in 2018, and I remember the romance started from there. I remember you had this big Rick Ross beard, and I realised that I already knew your work, which is this fantastic Random Acts short called Entitled. It’s one of those films that you get jealous of because you wish that you’d made it yourself.
But obviously I think it’s really beautiful and familiar, especially seeing our community on camera, and honouring the matriarch. How do you chart your journey from the beginning to where you are now?
Yemi: There's an uncle of mine, that I've known since I was about 5. He used to be the guy that used to film all the Nigerian parties and events that we had in our community. I think my desire to document started from watching him. Fast forward however many years later to me going to film school, studying at the NFTS, getting a scholarship.
It took me I think 6 or 7 years after film school to get here. It took me about a year to 2 years to get orientated in the industry. I worked in TV, and learned all of the things that came with that, and then made this full short film in 2018. The world that I’ve been able to make in my voice has been finite, which I don’t mind. There are 2 worlds: the world in which I make things that are specifically me, and then the things that I make in the industry.
Akinola: So how long was it between leaving film school and making Entitled?
Yemi: I graduated in 2013. I’d started in film school saying exactly what I wanted to say. I made Sodiq, which is a 45-minute documentary that looks at the responsibility of a community and the responsibility of society in how we treat young Black boys.
When a young man was studying to become a doctor, but then is finding himself on trial for murder without enough evidence. When young people are incarcerated for misdemeanours. They’ve been let down by the judicial system but society as well.
I used to coach football in another life; for 5 years I was moving up the rungs of professional coaching while I was studying film. So Sodiq explores the relationship that I had with this guy on the team I coached.
Akinola: That’s a lot for a first film bro! I did a filmmaking workshop in 2009, which was in New York. It was like the first digital filmmaking workshop. I had graduated from uni and didn’t know what to do; I thought I wanted to join the army and be a photojournalist. I applied to this 3-month filmmaking workshop in New York, saved up all my money, sold all my stuff. And then just went, and really enjoyed it.
The first real film that I made was maybe in 2016. I’d spent 5 or 6 years assisting mostly commercial photographers and filmmakers. I didn’t know what the subject matter would be for my own film, just that I wanted to make something like Michel Gondry or Spike Jonze. So for a long time I was just mimicking the work of other directors.
Then I was filming a music video in Lagos for this artist UK Red Light. I was filming these kids from an inline skating community, and it was exhilarating. I was like damn, these are the stories that I want to tell. So it went from there, I’m making a little bit of money, self-funding some projects, working on fashion films or music videos. Then recently I just made my first short, which premiered at London Film Festival.
Yemi: I feel like people who really have something to say will always rise to say it. Our journeys are similar; we both have that innate desire to create something. To me, to say something is always to try and leave a message. Where are you at now?
Akinola: I’ve only made 2 shorts so I feel like I’m still finding my feet somewhat, but I’m wearing the right shoes. I’m in an environment that allows me to develop a lot of ideas and figure out how to tell stories. I find almost everything fascinating, so I guess the more narrative stuff I'm doing feels very liberating.
Yemi: So you feel like there's more of an opportunity for you to imagine the worlds that you want to create?
Akinola: 100%. It feels like home, I dare to say, because traditionally we’re from a place of loads of storytellers. I remember growing up in Nigeria and every Sunday there used to be a TV show called Tales By Moonlight, which we always used to look forward to, which was just stories, basically.
Watch Yemi's short film Entitled here.
Watch the trailer for Akinola's film Lizard here.