In Conversation: Adeyemi Michael & Akinola Davies Jr Part Two

The former NETWORK@LFF filmmakers speak about their influences, their collaborations, and their contemporaries

10 November 2020

In their continued conversation, friends and filmmakers Akinola and Yemi assess the benefits of consulting your contemporaries, praise the inclusive nature of Sesame Street and discuss how going method doesn’t just apply to acting.

Akinola: Who have been your influences?

Yemi: My uncle was definitely the first. When you think about it, it makes sense as to where my films sit within the centre of the community. I like John Akomfrah. I like how he communicates his ideas, and that his work is coded. There is a particular audience that will flock to see his work, but if you really look, you’ll see that he's actually speaking to us as a community as well. 

There are also 2 brothers – which is kind of funny, because it’s like how you and your brother do your thing – called the Maysles brothers They would shoot these basic scenes of human life but to me they felt grandiose or fantastical way. What are your influences?

Akinola: This is gonna sound weird in the grand scheme of things, but I swear down, Sesame Street. When I was a youth I’d watch loads of Sesame Street, loads of Fraggle Rock, and The Muppets and all that kind of stuff. I remember even when I did that filmmaking workshop, I was like, “I want to make Kids TV.” The inclusivity in that space is a really dormant influence. And then alongside that I would have to hold my hands up and say Steven Spielberg. I used to cry at a lot of his films. This guy makes films that make people cry and there’s something about that I liked. 

The older I’ve got, I’ve been influenced by people like Haile Gerima. I love his politics, he’s just a gangster basically. He’s very militant, and I see myself as quite militant in a way in terms of my thought process. Also people I know just making stuff makes me feel like I can do that too, you know?

Yemi: I second that, definitely. Seeing those people making the work that you want to make makes me realise that it’s possible. We were both at Black Star Film Festival in Philadelphia last year where there were many filmmakers like that. 

There is a lot to be said from looking from left to right. I'm the type of person who's had his head down for quite some time, and I feel like I had my doubts because I felt alone. Then I started to look around, and that’s when I became aware of your work. I don’t know if you feel like I’m this guy who’s gassing you all the time, but it’s because I really see something in what you’re doing and your potential for growth. I really appreciate the fact that you believe in me, and that we talk. I feel like the industry can make people think otherwise. But I really feel comfort and safety in talking with contemporaries. 

Akinola: I think so too. I think we're always learning. I collaborate with people I admire, because I want to learn something from them. And maybe the feeling is vice versa. How do you choose who you work with? Because your palette is quite broad.

Yemi: For me, it’s about if I think they’re a good person. I’m not interested in people with badges, you know, “I’ve worked on this, this and this, so you must work with me.” I’m a sensitive soul, so I need people around me who get that. I choose people based on my spirit and how my spirit takes to them. We have to choose each other. 

There’s also a value system. What do you value? Are you nice to the person who's making your tea? Are you prepared to help a trainee? I love having trainees on set and I love bringing people through. It's a path that a lot of people in my community haven't tried, and I didn't have anyone that had trodden it before me. 

Akinola: I’m pretty similar. I would say I’m quite intuitive. Who I work with is based on admiration in part, but during those formative stages it’s based on how much I can trust someone. I’m very generous with trust; I don’t try to micromanage anyone. 

I saw this table reading during lockdown with Shia LaBeouf, and what I respected about him was that he read in character, even though everyone else was just reading the script. There was a dedication to his method that was really appealing. I’m trying to make everything method. Like at the moment I’m shooting a Caribbean ghost story. So we’re shooting in a real Caribbean house, with real original features. I’ve got family members helping out on it, so it makes everything feel more authentic. 

Yemi: I like that feeling of being immersed in, as you call it, method. For me, I love working with non-actors, because I feel like there’s something that they can bring. Like my mum’s not an actor, but there’s something special that an actor wouldn’t be able to achieve in her position. It’s a destructive thing as well, in terms of how the system is structured. 

Akinola: I think we should end on this plug that we’re both part of a Black sci-fi anthology series, and I’m so excited to see your film and whole series in fact, which is produced by Fiona Lamptey. And it’s really exciting that having met 2 years ago and built this relationship, that we’re gonna be part of a body of work together. 

Yemi: I think that there is something special about that collective nature and being inspired by each other’s work. I think that it’s really important to make work that feels timeless. I think we’ll look back at this time and think, “Wow, we did this together.” 

Watch Yemi's short film Entitled here.

Watch the trailer for Akinola's film Lizard here.