Anastasia Osei-Kuffour’s latest project is the biopic, Chevalier.
Assistant director to Chevalier’s director Stephen Williams, Osei-Kuffour’s plans to become a sought-after director are taking shape. Her previous experiences include directing Ryan Calais Cameron’s Typical (Soho Theatre), Faith, Hope & Glory (Radio 4) and On the Ropes (Park Theatre).
Osei-Kuffour shares with The British Blacklist what working on Chevalier taught her …
Please introduce yourself …
Hello, I’m Anastasia Osei-Kuffour, a director and writer. I also write poetry and produce. I work in theatre, audio drama and increasingly film. I am a Black British woman of Ghanaian heritage from London, who loves to tell powerful stories which act as catalysts for change and equality.
Describe your life right now in a word or one sentence …
My life right now has a lot of variety, it’s busy and fulfilling.
Tell us about Chevalier and how you came to be assistant director on it.
For a few years I had been praying for the opportunity to learn more about filmmaking by getting on a film set – I learn best by observing and getting involved. I had been talking with producers and directors in the film industry to learn more about how things work. During the pandemic, I had Zoom chats with a producer and asked her to bear me in mind. When Chevalier was in pre-production, she suggested me to Stephen Williams (director) as someone who could be a good assistant to him. I met Stephen on Zoom and he accepted me on the project. This was a dream come true because not only was I going to be on a set but it was an actual job, getting fully involved in pre-production and the shoot. It was also exciting that I was getting to go to another country for 5 months and be
fully immersed in a feature film of this calibre.
As you explored the story of Joseph Bologne / Chevalier de Saint-Georges, what intrigued you about him?
I had not heard of Joseph Bologne before working on the movie; it was a complete joy to discover such an inspiring remarkable Black man living in 18th-century France. I love true stories and the power they have to reframe history and bring balance to the skewed/narrow version of history we get taught in school. There are period dramas giving the impression that Black people were not living in Europe or were not prominent at that time, this movie shows this to be a myth. Additionally, this was a remarkable man who was highly talented as a champion fencer, composer, violin player and more.
Classical music is a genre of music where the maestros mostly talked about are white men, and still to this day people of the global majority are not who many think of when they think of the stars of classical music. It is powerful that this movie features a Black man who was a virtuoso composer rivalling Mozart, regarded by many has highly talented and making a living making music and having it performed in concerts and operas. I love how truth has the power to set minds free from deceptive ideas, ideas that categorise certain races as inferior to others. The journey we see Joseph go through, as Stephen would say (always quoting Bob Marley), is about emancipation from mental slavery.
Tell us about your experience as an AD and how you worked alongside the director Stephen Williams.
I was really blessed to have Stephen as my boss, such a highly intelligent and charismatic director who is collaborative to the extent of allowing me to be deeply involved in all aspects of pre-production and the shoot. It was a great benefit to my professional development allowing me to learn and contribute. The level of respect he had for my years of experience being a director in my own right, is rare. He allowed me to have a voice in the
room. Many times he would turn to me and ask, “Anastasia what do you think?” to the surprise of others in the room. I got to support the development of the script, and the casting process, carry out research and feedback to the team. My favourite part of this experience was being part of the meticulous planning of the shots for every scene. It was a great honour to be standing in the middle of greats in the filmmaking business – Jess Hall, Geoffrey Haley and Stephen … being able to hear the discussion and decisions being made and being able to throw in my thoughts too.
What did you learn about yourself working on Chevalier?
Having such a supportive boss who trusted my instincts – whilst always having time to answer my questions and help fill the gaps in my knowledge, was a massive confidence boost. Though there were aspects of this experience that were a steep learning curve, I came out of it feeling empowered and believing I am able to be a director at the level Stephen is, one day. I learned that I am capable, and I need to believe in myself and the years of hard work I’ve put into developing my craft.
Why was this a project you said yes to?
This story is exactly the kind of story I desire to bring to life and bring to the masses myself. A story that brings the marginalised to the forefront and brings truth to the world with the most extraordinary dynamism and excellence is what I strive to be the conduit for always. It was a no-brainer when I heard about the story and then read the script, I said yes to the job without hesitation.
What did having this story brought to life mean to you personally?
Knowing about his existence and excellence is inspiring for me as a Black artist myself, it affirms that I can be excellent and have an impact too. I hope seeing the movie has the same effect on those who watch it.
Reflecting on your quite extensive career directing, radio drama, theatre and film – is everything going to plan?
I feel blessed to have had the opportunities and experiences I have had in the 11 years I have been working in the industry, I am achieving my goals and dreams, bit by bit, but it has been challenging and the journey has not been straightforward and according to plan. I’m sure so many artists can relate. The twists and turns have made for an interesting journey. I feel blessed that I am able to do what I love, despite financial struggles and as a Black woman, always having to work really hard to prove that I am capable. I know there are others who haven’t been able to survive the financial instability and the inconsistency of work – I almost didn’t – but thank God I am still here. It has sometimes felt like it is taking longer than it should do to get to a higher level as a director. When most directors at their highest level don’t look like me I have had to dig deep to resist any feelings of imposter syndrome.
Now with every project I work on, I see myself getting more and more confident that I am good at what I do and that I have something uniquely valuable to bring to the project and bring to the world.
Highs, lows, solutions to getting Chevalier completed?
This was an ambitious project with a limited budget and filmed in a location which had its benefits and its challenges. Creativity is the key, having your prep to fall back on is what makes you swim instead of sink and it was inspiring to see Stephen pivot at every challenge and come up with more creative ideas when restrictions or bad news inevitably came. Ultimately everything that happened worked to make the movie better. I believe the sign of a great director is that they are always able to find a way to honour the story despite the parameters or barriers
that present themselves. It was particularly exciting to be in meetings with Stephen’s highly talented team,
meticulously working out montages set to precise timings of music, and it was always a joy to just listen to Stephen talk about filmmaking. I learned so much.
Chevalier is in UK Cinemas now