5 Questions for a Filmmaker: Hawa Essuman
Essuman believes that confining any storyteller to labels like "African stories" is a disservice to the story and the one telling it.
Kenyan-Ghanaian filmmaker and actress Hawa Essuman’s fascination with telling stories with pictures and sound led her to filmmaking via commercials and TV, which she continues to nurture as full-time fortunate indulgence. Her feature film Soul Boy (2010) was screened in over 40 festivals around the world and honored with several awards.
Essuman, who is also a music video director, is currently in production for two documentaries: Logs of War, about extractive industries and the delicate balance between development and destruction, is set in Liberia. Distance is about how the growing trend of people moving, as a way of life, impacts on their identity and relationships.
What is your first film memory?
The first film I ever saw on the big screen was Star Wars, although I didn’t know it at the time. I was four or five and the day care centre was taking a group of children to the cinema. I was over the moon to be picked. I remember the seat feeling incredibly large. My craned neck and saucer eyes didn’t move for the length of the film. I was transfixed. Immersed. Absorbed. I went home dreamt about it for days after.
Much later, in my early twenties, when we were talking about the film, I mentioned that I hadn’t seen it. My friend borrowed it and while watching it, all those long ago experienced feelings came rushing back. It felt like I had returned to something important.
Why did you decide to become a filmmaker?
I don’t think there were one particular defining reason, but more like a culmination of reasons. One was that I wanted to tell stories. It’s through stories that we learn and share thoughts.
Film has a power that we currently take for granted because they are so ubiquitous. Overload doesn’t diminish power though. Film has a way of moving and influencing people, like other art forms. Except with film you get to play with all other art forms to create your vision. I really don’t think any other medium allows that.
I like how the story one tells with film sits in people’s minds. It gets them thinking in a way they probably wouldn’t otherwise, simply because they allow themselves to suspend reality enough to fully engage, no matter how far-fetched a thought process is. I like that an idea being echoed back to society in images and sounds, makes one consider a specific perspective. Film widens our own horizons, whether we realize it or not.
Which film do you wish you had made and why?
There’s quite a few. The list rotates. Pan’s Labyrinth by Guillermo del Toro and In the Mood for Love by Wong Kar Wai are two. Both films are beautiful in their romanticism and darkness/tragedy. I love the fact that there are no clear-cut lines and that no one is spared, which is what life is about. Both films explore the human capacity to go beyond oneself for whatever our conviction is. Making us our best or worst selves.
Name one of the films on your top-5 list and the reason why it is there.
“In the Mood for Love” is always on that list. It is such a feast for the eyes – beautifully shot and crafted, so deliberate. I just really enjoy how Wong Kar Wai makes a meal of human relationships. Abandonment and pain make for interesting bedfellows and in their commiseration have their own emotional affair – a theme that he explores and treats really well.
Ask yourself any question you think I should have asked and answer it:
“What do I think about the concept of ‘African stories’? I think that confining any storyteller to a label is a disservice to the story and the one telling it. And I’m not really sure what purpose that serves. At the end of the day it’s about telling a good story. Inspiration is fluid. How about, we just tell stories and make films as they come to us, and through the body of work try determine who we are/were as artists, keeping in mind that identity is in constant flux.