The goal of the Brunswick Cinema Club is to “reconnect their environment and soul with the cinema they create be it through dream or reality.”
The films of founding members Edem Kelman and Michael Mante have recently been featured as part of The British Blacklist’s sister festival, S.O.U.L. Fest. We caught up with the founding team, Michael Mante, Nikita Kesselev, and Edem Kelman, ahead of the release of Edem and Michael’s latest films Princess and Sandpaper.
Hey, Michael, Nikita and Edem, please introduce yourselves...
Edem: I’m a filmmaker. Togolese, born in France, raised between Bedford and London.
Michael: Also a filmmaker, and British-born Ghanaian.
Nikita: Film Director, and British born Russian.
How long have you each been making films?
Edem: I started making films around the age of 19. Every summer I’d make something pretty small with the money I’d saved up that year.
Michael: I’ve always been interested in artistic things and had a poetry phase. In a three year period, I’ve made two films: Body Language, a short art film in 2017, and Sandpaper in 2019 which was my first narrative.
Nikita: When I was about 15, I would make short one-minute clips on Movie Maker with footage I recorded on my phone of my friends, my cat, or just my surroundings. At 18, I made my first real short film which was terrible, but I gained a world of experience from it.
What interests you about film as a medium by which to tell stories?
Edem: Film has the ability to transfer emotions to its audience like no other medium. It offers the filmmaker the ability to say ‘this is how I see and feel the world, here it is for you to experience too’. This can be very powerful, whether it’s to slide viewers a political message, draw tears, or just give people a good time.
Michael: Image and sound have such a strong evocative power and as somebody who wants to explore and share personal feelings, fears, and emotions, film is where I’ve experienced those things most strongly.
Nikita: Films allow you to take your dreams and physically see them in front of you. It enters into another stream of consciousness which no other art can enter because it deals with time – the forming and manipulation of it. Filmmakers don’t just capture a single moment, but a lifetime of moments; a lifetime of emotions.
What are some of your favourite films?
Edem: Friday Night / Vendredi Soir (2002) – Claire Denis taught me that emotion is found in the space between the glances, the body and the background. Bless Their Little Hearts (1983) – As a young black man, it’s perhaps the most accurate reflection of men I’ve grown up around; complex, flawed, loving and trying. Wonderland (1999) – A lost gem, but one of the best films to commit London to screen!
Michael: A Brighter Summer Day by Edward Yang – it literally transports you into a time and place where the textures just seep into you over the course of the runtime. The Master by Paul Thomas Anderson for its oceanic depth of emotion and for the freedom of its form. Ugetsu by Mizoguchi for the way it snatches you from reality into a spirit world and Ran by Kurosawa for its sheer excellence and use of colour and composition. Stalker by Tarkovsky teaches a new way of watching and experiencing film. Fanny and Alexander by Bergman was able to turn interior spaces into psychological realms that reflected his internal reality and feelings.
Nikita: Andrei Rublev (1966) – Aside from its scale, ideas, masterful directing and genius, this film attracts me because we see Tarkovsky himself in Rublev. Sansho Dayu (1954) – Every shot is riveting, Mizoguchi’s sensibility in how he creates and builds emotions is just indescribable, you just have to see it. Winter Light (1963) – Bergman revolutionised cinema and taught generations of filmmakers that there is no better subject than oneself, one’s own thoughts, that’s all you need to make a film.
Edem, you’ve just released your latest short film Princess – tell us a bit about it.
Edem: Princess is a simple story of a mother and daughter’s journey through the city. There’s a long lineage of the ’mother and daughter’ stories – it feels folkloric. I felt that recontextualising this tale with black characters hadn’t been done before; like taking the age-old Cinderella story and flipping it with characters that look like me.
What was it like working with actors Robinah Kironde and Keren Osei to develop their mother-daughter relationship?
Edem: It was a great experience. Robinah’s very professional and patient. We spent as much time as possible with Keren just hanging out prior to shooting: we spent an evening together shopping for her school uniform and coat, followed by a McDonalds. The idea was that they would form a solid relationship so come shoot day (a hectic two-day shoot around London), Robinah would be someone she could turn to. The outtakes are full of tender moments, Robinah rubbing Keren’s hands to keep her warm or the two of them just playing together.
Michael, you’ve just released your latest short film Sandpaper – tell us a bit about it.
Michael: Sandpaper is a short film about a young man who stumbles upon a creative community group and becomes acquainted with the leader. It was my first narrative short film and first time directing a script I’d written. It was a really great experience working with the cast and crew. We shot it over 3 days on 35mm 3-perf film.
Sandpaper is particularly powerful in its exploration of black male mental health – is this a theme you find important to explore in your work?
Michael: Thank you. I tried to speak to what I know to be true of myself and some people I know or have observed. I think what draws me to writing or directing is the chance to try and explore certain emotional truths. For myself as a black man, there are certain emotions or feelings that I’ve never seen validated and never really known where to go to talk about them or figure myself out. One element of the character in Sandpaper is in him being offered the chance to open himself up and become more than the pain that’s defined him. A lot of black cinema is steeped in trauma and it would be great to perhaps make films that strive to no longer be defined by trauma but to be open and full of new possibilities.
So, let’s talk about the Brunswick Cinema Club – how did it come about?
Edem: We formed in London, early 2019, I was hanging around the Curzon cinema where Nikita was working at the time. We were both going through life stuff and Cinema was how we were dealing with it. We spoke of Bresson, Jenkins, the Dardenne Brothers, Loach, Leigh, Kieslowski, Bergman, Burnett, and Tarkovsky on a 20-minute lunch break. I immediately called Michael and was like ‘he’s the one, he’s like us, but better’. Now we’re ready to expand, we’re going to curate screenings, talks, and just grow the club.
What aspects of each other’s work do you most admire?
Edem: The complexity of the material Nick writes taught me to dig deeper and look further. Michael’s the most cineliterate person I know, the way he deconstructs films has broadened my own lexicon when it comes to the camera.
Michael: Edem has a big heart for humanity and he really does the leg work and the introspection to look for the truth in all its hiding places! For Nik, I admire his sheer love and knowledge of cinema and art. It’s a special skill to be able to confront life and emotions in that realm of writing and directing.
Nikita: Without Edem and Michael I’d probably be washing dishes somewhere in London. They gave me the confidence I needed to reach a potential I thought I never had. Edem’s films are heartwarming. He taught me to see the normality of life as a story. The way Michael is able to convey his most inner and deepest emotions in his work has baffled me in its sheer magic, he is a magician of visual storytelling.
What other projects have you got on the horizon?
Edem: I’m off to work/shadow on a couple of TV series’ (COVID permitting). I’m hoping to learn more about the physical side of filmmaking. I’m also working on another short with a fantastic friend and producer, Noah Reich.
Michael: I’m in the process of preparing another short film and developing a feature film script or two.
Nikita: I’m currently editing my short film Four Strings. Aside from that well, I have an idea for a new film but only on how the camera should move, now all I need is a story haha.
How can we get involved with the Brunswick Cinema Club?
Nikita: Anyone who wants to get involved can, we’re always looking for like-minded filmmakers to join us, we sort of have this dream of starting a new British wave of cinema, anything is possible. The only thing we require is that you have an absolute love of cinema.
Both Princess and Sandpaper are currently available to watch via film festivals. Princess will be screened as part of the This Is England festival in Rouen, and Sandpaper will be screened as part of S.O.U.L. FEST, available to watch via BFI Player from the 21st – 29th August.