Diembe had its premiere at the end of 2015 and after doing a few rounds on the short film festival circuit, it has finally been released online.
The film tells the story of a teenage Kenyan boy who moves to the UK with high hopes only to be welcomed by bad weather, ignorant pupils and even worse, touchy feely girls. As he struggles to fit in at school, one unlikely friendship with a curious classmate is going to change everything.
We caught up with director Anderson West to give ask him our #TBB10 to find out more about the film.
1# What inspired Diembe?
Diembe was inspired from my own and friends/family of mine, experiences. I moved from the USA when I was a teenager back in the early 2000s and I experienced a lot of racism/prejudice but also friendship and an interesting new culture. I felt I hadn’t seen a story like mine in film so thought, why not try and make a film out of this.
2# Is it possible that people from back home are still in awe of the prospects of living on western lands, if so why is that?
Even though I’m from the US, a lot of my friends and family are from poorer so called “3rd world” countries. I have seen first-hand that people think the West is a land of opportunity. In many ways it is compared to the situations that they are currently in, the things we take for granted here for instance clean running water, free school and access the higher education, etc. But I definitely think that the “West” is a lot more closed than it once was. But if you live in poverty and the media you consume daily is telling you that the “West” is the best and most civilised part of this planet, aren’t you going to want that eventually?
3# If you were writing a letter to someone ‘back home’ who wanted to come to the UK give three reasons why they should and three reasons why they shouldn’t?
If I was writing to someone in the USA I would tell them – 1. A more chilled way of life, 2. Better access to higher education 3. You have a bit more of a social cushion than in the States. Three reasons not to – 1. Movies come out later here (haha), 2. Weather is terrible 3. Chavs; Yobs.
4# What has been the biggest reaction / feedback to Diembe?
The biggest reaction is from people who have lived or experienced a situation similar to what’s in the film and say is that it is real to life. The best feedback I have received is people asking when the feature is coming out.
5# Tell us a bit about the journey of Diembe, from idea to its actualisation?
Diembe I guess has always been brewing in the back of my mind, but it became a concrete film idea about 6 years ago as a very different film. It was going to be far more whimsical Disney like film at first and based solely about Diembe’s adventures in Africa. However after making a documentary about coming to the UK as a teenage and being a minority, featuring friends of mine, I realised the stories of these people were so similar to mine. At that moment I knew that it was important to make a down to earth, real to life story that spoke for the experience of many people. So myself and a good friend of mine (and Co-Producer of Diembe) Andy Salamonczyk, came up with some ideas about what kind of film this could be. I then worked on it non-stop for a year in my free time, perfecting as much I could. I then got to a point where I felt we had everything we needed available to make this film except the funding.
6# What was the most difficult thing bringing your idea to life?
Other than funding, which I am sure everyone will say, I would say putting your ideals/beliefs out there for everyone to critique and comment on. The one thing we should have in this life is the right to believe what we want, but it’s important to know that not everyone will agree with you and you have to be okay with that. It’s quite a vulnerable process, but I remember someone telling me “if you can’t take the time to be honest about what you want to say, why should I waste my time watching it?” so that’s always been in the back in my mind.
7# What’s the most valuable lesson you’ve learned taking this short film on the road as it were?
Be honest with yourself and what you want to say. I feel in this industry it’s so easy to get caught up with what you think will “tick the right boxes” or what might be on topic. But for me if you are honest with the story you want to tell, you will find an audience. I think with mediums like YouTube, you don’t necessarily need the traditional routes to reach an audience. So why not stay as true to the film you want to make as possible. Then just do your best to tell everyone you know via social media, word of mouth, publications like TBB etc. Having said that, I think it is important to think about whether you want your film to be a short (and for me short film is no longer than 15 minutes now), a feature film, or a series. As depending on which one you make will help you when it comes to securing investors/funding for your project.
8# How are you feeling socially, politically and what are these effects having on your creativity?
It’s easy to feel pessimistic about the current political climate, but at the same time, we can’t pretend like the last 8-10 years have been a bed of roses. We are constantly told negative things so we feel hopeless, but for me I think in times like this, it’s important to stay true to your beliefs and to fight for what you believe in. Because political and social cycles change, but being honest with yourself never changes. I think periods like this can have a negative and positive effect on your creativity. Negative because when you watch the news and see how discouraging it is, you want to make a film in protest. But I think you have to understand the topic your story is about and the news doesn’t always tell you the full picture. So in the words of an old friend of mine “shoot what you know”.
9# What’s next for you?
Right now I am working on a couple of scripts and a documentary about the Windrush generation that moved to Staffordshire & Cheshire area in the 50s and 60s.
10# If you could be anywhere in the world right now, where would you be?
I don’t know, New Zealand seems cool but it’s very far away. Probably somewhere hot.
Find out more about Anderson West via his website andersonwest.co.uk