I came to realize, as soon as last weekend, that there are two kinds of conversations:
The loud ones that decenter the individual filmmaker and cast the light on the shortcomings of others. These are commonly held in Twitter spaces, boiling with the advocative fervor that’s popular on social media. The young filmmaker is wont to enjoy this kind of conversation. After all, it’s a collective fight against the gatekeepers hoarding all the opportunities. These conversations give the impression that important work is being done. And maybe work is being done by pointing out these lapses but I worry that the young filmmaker could easily be consumed by this and forget what really matters.
The second kind of conversation is unremarkable in appearance. It’s a known truth that’s easily forgotten and will only be relevant if it’s regularly brought to the fore of the mind and negotiated with daily. I was reminded of this last weekend. A friend of mine met with a senior colleague and they talked about a Nigerian film that has enjoyed global success. My friend expected the acclaim but remains enamoured with how a story so simple in delivery could be adored by all. The senior colleague quickly pointed out that the simplicity of the film is a function of storytelling excellence. The directors of the film took the time with their idea and pruned it till it was as clean as a bone. This did two things to me. I was reminded, again, that simplicity is complex; and that filmmaking, like any career, demands time to gain an appreciable level of mastery.
At every moment in a filmmaker’s career, even he/she may not know it, he/she is torn between these two conversations. Getting caught up in the righteous noise or hunkering down to do the work of skilling up. I’m not suggesting it’s a binary situation, far from it. The industry does need to get better, and the louder the demands for change the more likely anything happens. My call for caution is, however, directed at the insidious nature of misplaced priorities. Joining in the call for change while forgetting your primary duty of honing your craft, of preparing for the opportunities that could open up when a shake-up does happen. Wouldn’t it be shameful if the activist filmmaker isn’t any better than the supposed gatekeepers? The way out is to face the work. Add to the noise, if you have to, but don’t stop studying. Cork the shades and insults, channel the frustrations into books and video essays. That’s the only way to stay at the top when and if you do get to the top.
There’s a naughty realization I’ve chosen to take away from all this– our standards are in the trenches. Take a look at the quality of products from neighbouring countries and you’re bound to shake your head in despair. The cheat here is to console yourself with the notion that skilling up by the barest minimum will create such a separation from the majority that stands you out immediately. I know it’s a rather mischievous motivation to get better, but I think it’s a valid one.
Get better, young filmmaker. Make it your obsession. The industry needs your skills more than your frustrations.