5 Questions for Filmmaker: Branwen Okpako

Okpako wants to show people as they see themselves but in a way that others can recognize themselves as well.

From the poster art for Okpako's film, "The Education of Auma Obama."

Gender and African-diasporic identity in Germany are recurring themes in  multifaceted artist, Branwen Okpako‘s work. Born in Lagos, Nigerian-Welsh filmmaker, video artist, theatre writer-director and professor, studying political science at Bristol University and filmmaking at the Berlin Film Academy. She lives in Germany where she has made a number of films. Among them are The Education of Auma Obama – an intimate portrait of her friend from school; feminist, activist and Obama’s older sister Dr. Auma Obama. The film won Okpako several awards, including the prize for Best Diaspora Documentary at the 2012 African Movie Academy Awards.  For her first documentary Dirt for Dinner, about the first black policeman in East Germany, she won the German Next-Generation-First-Steps Award for Best Documentary Film in 2000, among other awards. Her feature Valley of the Innocent premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2003. Branwen Okpako’s latest film, the docu-drama The Curse of Medea, premiered at the Berlin International Film Festival in 2014.

Okpako lectures at universities and film schools across the world and is currently visiting Associate Professor of Film at Hampshire College in Amherst, Massachusetts.

What is your first film memory?

I used to watch my dad present his TV show on NTA Ibadan called “A Matter of Conscience.” He would interview people about the ethical questions of the day. It wasn’t a film but it made me know that broadcast media belonged to us somehow and we had the right to be present. It also taught me that media was indeed a matter of conscience.

Why did you decide to become a filmmaker?

I always loved painting pictures, particularly portraits. That’s what I do now with film. I want to show people as they see themselves but in a way that others can recognize themselves as well. I enjoy directing actors and I love to tell stories. Film does all that and because of montage and the temporal nature of the medium, it adds music and poetry. Making films satisfies my soul.

Which film do you wish you had made and why?

I am looking forward to what I will make next. I can’t wish to have made someone else’s film that doesn’t make sense. You don’t wish to have given birth to someone else’s child. I love my films and those of my colleagues too. Having said that, there are films that inspire me and give me energy for my profession. Steve McQueen gave me that feeling with his last flick. I felt like we can start to do something completely different with film now. The grip of the Hegelian dialectic is finally broken. I feel I have been chewing that fist with my work as well.

Name one of the films on your top-5 list and the reason why it is there.

Well I have just mentioned Steves film 12 Years a Slave. I also love Sembene Ousmane’s films especially Camp de Thiaroye. He is a master counter narrator, such a cool stylish and incisive storyteller and teacher. I love the films of the colleagues of my generation as well; Akin Omotoso‘s control of drama and comedy by turns. Andrew Dosunmu brings the poetry and grace. Tsitsi Dangaremgba whose film Mothers Day was like fresh pepper soup after too many beers. And Khalo Matabane, who can dance with all the devils and still get his message across to God.

Ask yourself any question you think I should have asked and answer it.

“When are you coming to Johannesburg to show your films about Christopher Okigbo, “The Pilot and the Passenger” and “Christa WolfThe Curse of Medea?”Whenever you invite me Katarina!

Further Reading