Telling our Stories: Achille Brice & Eka Christa Assam

On September 3, 2014, former Akademie Schloss Solitude resident Achille Brice and fellow filmmaker Eka Christa Assam presented the German premiere of three film shorts – I.C.U., I-BEMSI and Beleh – at Generationshaus, Stuttgart. Barbadian artist and writer Katherine Kennedy, who is currently in residence at the Akademie acting as a correspondent between the Caribbean and the community here, spoke with them after the screening. The conversation provided an opportunity to discuss not only the works themselves, but the larger context in which they function in Cameroonian society. Through a series of questions, observations and personal anecdotes, cultural exchanges occurred, emphasizing the importance of perspective in both the telling and appreciation of a story.

Read the interview originally conducted for the Akademie Schloss Solitude Blog below:

The German premiere of I.C.U., I-BEMSI and Beleh. Premiere pictures courtesy of Eka Christa Assam.

The German premiere of I.C.U., I-BEMSI and Beleh. Premiere pictures courtesy of Eka Christa Assam.

Katherine Kennedy: Can you begin by telling me about your background in acting/filmmaking, and the context you are working out of in Cameroon; is there already an industry you are situating yourself in, or is it now emerging?

Eka Christa Assam: I actually studied accounting after high school, but I always wanted to act. At some point I dropped out, and after a year or two I got my first movie role in 2006. After being in a couple of films, I realized I wasn’t interested in the kind of scripts that came my way. In Cameroon, the film industry is still trying to find its feet, especially the English speaking section. Many filmmakers try to copy what Nollywood – the Nigerian film industry – is doing, which is mostly home videos for entertainment that don’t follow cinematic techniques, and I wanted more from the genre. I felt that film was tool we could use to address some of the issues we are facing in our country.

Eka Christa Assam

Eka Christa Assam

After a while I tried writing and directing my first short – but that didn’t even make it out of post. It was very hard because I hadn’t been to film school, I had no experience. I tried to read up on it but I don’t think I was quite prepared yet. I tried to get books on filmmaking, looked for information online and studied lots of Western films. Then I met Achille, who had been here at Akademie Schloss Solitude, and he was kind of like a mentor. He gave me pointers and sources for material, and he helped me with the second short, Doormat, which was 6 minutes long. With that piece I got accepted into the Durban Talent Campus 2012.

The second project we worked on was Beleh, which has been doing really well. It’s been screened at 12 festivals to date and won best short film at the ZAFAA African Film Academy Awards in London in 2013 and got a jury mention at the Africa International Film Festival (AFRIFF) in Nigeria. It’s a slow process, but it’s picking up – the more you do, the more you improve, and because we have no formal training we learn on the job. It’s a bit of a struggle, but now that our work is getting out there and we’re getting opportunities to interact with other artists, we’re learning from them, getting inspired by their work, and approaching our own work from a different perspective.

Achille Brice

Achille Brice

Achille Brice: In terms of coming into the industry, I wasn’t even sure I wanted to be a film artist at first. I started as more of a recording artist and I was editing pictures for fun part time. A Cameroonian director had seen some of my work, and approached me in 2003 to suggest I try my hand at video editing. The first movie I ever edited was feature length; it was chaotic, but it was an amazing experience and ever since then I have been doing a lot of homework, trying to gain experience. I was lucky to be selected for the Durban Talent Campus in 2008, and in the same year selected for the Berlinale Talent Campus in Germany, so I think those were turning points in my artistic career. I got to meet professionals that have been in the industry for a long time, network and share ideas. I think that was a source of motivation.

Being able to manipulate scenarios, in a sense giving meaning to nothing, is what brought me to the industry. As Eka said, I discovered it was a platform where I could pick out relevant topics, and use video to break a barrier that other genres cannot really cross in the same way. I would say the artistic scene in Cameroon, especially in film, is slow because there are no real film institutions. If you want to become an artist you have to take the initiative in educating yourself.

ICU Poster big

KK: Given that the industry is still in its latent phases, did that lead to the founding of BinAm Studios? What are some of the obstacles you’ve had to overcome?

AB: There is a problem with movie financing because a lot of investors don’t want to put their money into a sector where nobody has had formal training, but I think it’s a necessary risk to invest in and encourage talent. BinAm Studios was created as a platform to celebrate our own, because the general population of Cameroon tends to embrace foreign products. Sometimes when we do movies, people say that we’re copying Nigeria, but we’re trying to tell our own stories. It’s a gradual process; first we have to prove our worth, and then we can use this platform to showcase ourselves so that Cameroonians and those living in the diaspora know that things like this can happen in our own home. I founded BinAm Studios to cultivate this field while exposing our best. We have amazing actors, directors and producers who don’t get recognition because people think moviemaking is just a part time thing, but for me moviemaking is my saviour. It’s where I found my home.

ECA: Film is more than a hobby – it’s a passion and a profession, and you have to find that balance. Too many people do it for the wrong reasons. They may not even be finished editing the first draft, and they’re already starting on the promotion because they want their friends to know they will be on camera. They’re in a hurry to get it out there – but why are they doing it? The reason determines how well it is done. I feel that, as much talent as we have – and there are so many talented Cameroonians – once your attitude gets tainted, your whole art will crumble. And that is one of the biggest problems in our industry. We don’t have a market for our films yet, so the challenge is for us to be able to find our own voice and style, and make the public believe in our ability to present unique content.
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Announcement of FRESH MILK’s Local Resident Artists for 2013

FRESH MILK Local Resdiency Announcement

FRESH MILK is pleased to announce the selection of contemporary creatives taking part in its 2013 Local Residency Programme, sponsored by support received from the Arts and Sport Promotion Fund, Ministry of Finance, Barbados.

The residency programme was first launched in 2012, beginning with a short but successful 5 day local residency in March, and has since included projects with artists who have been based abroad, visiting from overseas and from other Caribbean islands.

The latest call for proposals was once again for local participants, and five artists working in a variety of media were selected for the available residency slots.

The creatives are:

  • Visual artist and animator Versia Harris;
  • Photographer Mark King;
  • Playwright and actor Matthew ‘Kupakwashe’ Murrell;
  • Filmmaker Cabral ‘LARC’ Trotman, who will be collaborating with spoken word artist Adrian Green.

The dates of these four-week long residencies are to be announced. The programme kicks off with Versia Harris, who is in residence from February 25th – March 22nd prior to embarking on her international residency at the Vermont Studio Center, USA in late March.

About the Artists:

Versia Harris

Versia Harris

Versia Harris is a Barbadian artist living and working in Weston, St. James. She graduated from the Barbados Community College BFA in Studio Art programme in 2012, with an award from The Leslie’s Legacy Foundation for the most promising student, and will be taking up a residency at the Vermont Studio Center in March 2013. She created a narrative of an original character to address the perceptions of self, as it compares its image with unrealistic standards. Her primary media includes pen and watercolour on paper. She also uses Adobe Photoshop to manipulate her drawings and create animations.

Website: http://versiaabeda.tumblr.com/

Mark King

Mark King

Mark King is a Barbados-based photographer. In 2011, he participated in a screenprinting artist in residency at the Frans Masereel Centrum in Kasterlee, Belgium. In the same year he was selected by Lucie Foundation for their E-pprentice program and paired with acclaimed photographer Roger Erickson for a six-month apprenticeship. Mark recently was artist in residence at Alice Yard  in Port of Spain, Trinidad.

Mark has called Barbados, The Bahamas, Brussels, San Francisco, and Washington D.C. home. His international experience directly informs his projects. As a constant outsider, Mark’s work examines the people he encounters during his travels as well as his relationship with an ever-changing environment.

Website: www.markkingismarkings.com

Matthew 'Kupakwashe' Murrell

Matthew ‘Kupakwashe’ Murrell

Matthew ‘Kupakwashe’ Murrell is an actor, playwright, director and poet with special skills in film, photography and singing. He has successfully completed his BA in Fine Arts, with a special in theatre arts and a minor in film. His first national play debut ‘Precious’ came in 2005, written by Sir. Hilary Beckles and directed by C.M. Harclyde Walcott. He has done several plays such as ‘Yellowman’ directed by full bright scholar, Meredith Coleman Tobias, ‘Dutchman’ directed by famed Nigerian director, Dr. Esiaba Irobi, ‘Odale’s Choice’ directed by Sonia Williams, and ‘Looking Back at Sodom’ directed by Winston Farrell, amongst many others.

 In addition to winning several awards regionally and locally, Matthew is also the founder of emerging Barbadian group Yardie Boy Theatre, which is dedicated to showcasing Barbadian/Caribbean stories. Their works are focused on social and political issues, and seek to be the voice of a generation.

Yardie Boy Theatre’s Facebook Page: www.facebook.com/backyardtheatre

Cabral 'LARC' Trotman

Cabral ‘LARC’ Trotman

Born in Toronto Canada to Barbadian parents, LARC as he’s affectionately known to most is a filmmaker, arts educator and community activist. After the year of the gun in Toronto (2005) LARC decided that it was critical to play a small role in creating safe spaces where young people could acquire skills while discovering positive outlets of expression. He started by designing and facilitating filmmaking workshops in low-income, inner-city communities where he began to link many of the current issues faced by youth to a lack of leadership/mentorship in the community. He also noticed a real lack of ancestral/family values and connections with the many gang related black youth he worked with daily. His community work intensified, spreading out to various public housing communities across Toronto from Community Centers to Elementary, Middle School to High Schools.

LARC is developing a feature documentary entitled Hidden Bruises: HIV & Violence in the Caribbean, a documentary and awareness campaign contributing to the national and regional effort to reduce the prevalence of both HIV & violence against women in the Caribbean.

He continues his arts education and filmmaking work in the Caribbean at the Errol Barrow Centre for Creative Imagination, University of the West Indies, Cave Hill Campus, Barbados; coupled with his independent company Skylarc Pictures through the First Light Project Arts Education program.

Adrian Green

Adrian Green

Adrian Green is a Gold Award winner in Barbados’ National Festival of Creative Arts (NIFCA), a three time Barbadian Slam Poetry Champion, and two time winner of the Emancipation Roots Experience Show. Green represented Barbados at CARIFESTA X in Guyana and has performed to audiences in several countries, including the USA, Ghana, Grenada, St. Vincent, Dominica, Nevis, St. Thomas and Tortola. He has released two albums of poetry, “Random Acts of Conscience,” and “Hard Ears.”

As the co-founder of Iron Sharpen Iron, Green has been instrumental in producing the longest running and most successful open-mic show in Barbados.  These open-mic shows were designed to help emerging performing artists develop and have been instrumental in the uncovering and propelling of a number of young artists to the national stage.