WIDENING THE LENS COMPETITION Q&A with Ako Mitchell

Winner of the 3rd Prize Pitching Award

Ako Mitchell, writer and director

From: London

  1. How do you feel to have won 3rd Prize at the Widening The Lens competition?

I’m very excited and grateful. I’m extremely passionate about film and filmmaking and have been since I was a child. I’m very much at the start of my filmmaking career and this is incredible encouragement to help me continue along the path to ultimately making my first feature film.

  1. What story idea did you pitch?

I pitched a story called Wrestlin’ Jacob. It’s essentially about what happens to a person (Pastor Jarman) when on the day of his greatest triumph he is confronted by his greatest source of pain and conflict – his sexuality.

  1. What inspired the theme?

I’m a distant relative of the ‘King of Gospel Music’ – Reverend James Cleveland. His death was surrounded in great controversy with rumours about his sexuality brought forth by a lawsuit from a male alleged ex-lover. I also have two now deceased gay uncles – twins – who struggled with balancing their homosexuality with their positions in the church and the community. One of my uncles died of Cirrhosis of the liver and led a uniquely challenging life living as a gay man in an impoverished black community.

  1. How does it address diversity and the idea of challenging limitations of character and story development?

The story will be set in London’s West African church community and gay community in Leytonstone. The story will essentially focus on four characters and be set in one location, making the storytelling economic and targeted as is appropriate for short film.

  1. Does your film stimulate audience debate?

The film raises any number of contentious issues. There is the precarious relationship between religion and homosexuality, which crosses cultures and faiths. There is also the question of conflict between minority and majority cultures. How do immigrants adopt to a new culture yet retain some sense of specific identity? How far should this extend? I’m hoping the film can be a catalyst for these discussions.

  1. How did you get into filmmaking?

I have been primarily an actor and I made my first short with a close group of actors as a passion project. This involved seven months of co-writing and workshopping a script with loads of input from our little community. We slowly raised private funds through working and saving – and eventually shot the film that became I’m in the Corner with the Bluebells , which premiered at TIFF in 2014, won Best Drama at the Sunderland Short Film Festival, and Best Director at the Mica Film Festival in Brazil. I’ve very recently completed work on my second short Box Red, a silent single-take political satire.

  1. What’s your top tip for other new and emerging filmmakers?

I’m still very much learning myself but I would only say keep writing and creating projects. Find a mentor, collaborate! It seems to be like anything one aspires to pursue: practice, practice and more practice leads to better results.

  1. What’s your experience and thoughts regarding a lack of diversity within the film industry, both on and off screen?

There are many complex drivers for the lack of diversity in the film industry but programmes such as Widening the Lens, aimed at redressing the imbalance, are a very positive step forward and provide vital encouragement for diverse filmmakers to pull them inside the tent and change the landscape a bit at a time, in a way that is affirmative and fruitful.

  1. What are your ambitions for the film concept after the festival?

I’ve been interested in the topic for some time and I am very excited to bring this film to fruition. The funding would help us launch a crowd-funding campaign to raise the full budget for the film as well as give us a base from which to pursue other private and public funding. It would essentially be an invaluable boost to the life of the film. Ultimately we’d like to screen the film as part of Black History Month and Stonewall related events, as well as screen in schools. We’d also pursue the backing of our friends – the prolific Team Angelica (publishers of ‘Black and Gay in the UK’) who are heavily engaged in black and gay themed progressive art.