LFF 2019: In Conversation with Appreciation director, Tomisin Adepeju

Film Editor | Graciela Mae Chico

Written and directed by one of the rising new voices in British cinema, Appreciation is a drama that poignantly explores an African Pentecostal pastor’s navigation of grief and cultural identity following a personal tragedy. Filmed in London, the film flaunts striking visuals and Adepeju’s flourishing distinct directorial style. Aside from Appreciation’s selection in the programme, Adepeju is also one of the twelve filmmakers selected for the BFI NETWORK@LFF cohort of 2019. He is currently working on the feature-length adaptation of his multi-award winning film, The Good Son as well as a new short film in collaboration with Bounce Cinemas. During this year’s LFF, we talked to Tomisin about Appreciation, Diasporic cinema in London, as well as the development of his feature debut. 

GC: You’re one of the most exciting and trailblazing voices in the UK filmmaking scene at the moment, I know that you studied Film Studies at Royal Holloway, but I was wondering what sparked your endeavour to filmmaking itself? Did you always want to venture into storytelling?
TA: Thank you so much for the kind words. I knew I wanted to be a film-maker when I was 15 years old, I studied Film Theory at Royal Holloway because I wanted to really understand cinema in a deeper and profound way. So I knew studying film theory would allow me to have that exposure to different types of cinema. It was really an incredible experience, I discovered Italian Neorealism, Iranian cinema, French New Wave and other films I wouldn’t have seen otherwise. I still made a lot of films during my time at Holloway, I befriended all the guys that did Media Arts and was able to use the kit and equipment from the course.

GC: I was lucky enough to watch Appreciation during this year’s LFF and was truly taken aback at your poignant navigation between a character’s grief and cultural identity, when did you begin developing the project?
TA: I shot Appreciation at the end of August 2018, the film began it’s life two years before that – I spent a long time really trying to understand exactly what I wanted to say with it, balancing the themes around death and grief and the inherent cultural identity took a long time to work out. The film really found its identity in February 2018 when I read an article in the Metro that reported the death of a young black man who was a victim of knife crime. The article painted the young man as a hoodlum and gang member when that wasn’t actually the case. I did further research and realised that the young man was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. However, what really captivated me was an interview I watched with the young man’s mother who was clearly deeply mourning the loss of her son. Despite this unimaginable pain, the woman conducted most of the interview with a profound strength that I wasn’t expecting. It was at that moment I knew that the film was going to be directly inspired by this brave and strong grieving mother.

GC: The film’s score is such a powerful aspect of Appreciation, can you talk more about who you collaborated with for the film’s score?
TA: The score was composed by Ben Stanbridge, an immensely talented composer. I met Ben at a film festival in Leeds in 2016, I heard some of his work after our meeting and knew that I wanted to collaborate with him. Appreciation is our third project together. Ben is incredible because he is able to perfectly interpret what I want to convey, I don’t have to say too much to him and he runs away with it. I wanted the score for this film to really articulate the protagonist’s grief and pain, I didn’t want it to be overt or overpowering in any way, finding that balance isn’t easy at all. Ben was not only able to execute what I had in mind but really go beyond that and surprise me with a nuanced and perfectly realised piece of music.

Tomisin Adepeju discusses Appreciation

GC: I know your prior films were also set in London, what draws you back to setting your stories in the city?
TA: I moved to London from Nigeria when I was 12 years old, so this city has become my adopted home. I’m particularly drawn to stories that capture the Nigerian-British diasporic experience. There is a wealth of stories that exist within this very rich community. I am encouraged by the fact that films like THE LAST TREE and FARMING were recently widely released in mainstream cinemas but we need more stories that reflect the experiences of individuals from this particular community. I am excited to contribute to that with my work and hope other film-makers are encouraged to share stories that reflect their own personal and unique African experiences.

GC:  As this is for The Founder, do you have any advice for the current Media Arts students / aspiring filmmakers? Is there any advice you wish you were told while at university?
TA: My advice to aspiring film-makers would be to find out what stories they want to tell. That’s the most important discovery I made during my time at film school, every film-maker has their own style and unique way of capturing the world. Film-makers like Spike Lee, Paul Thomas Anderson, Alfred Hitchcock, Martin Scorsese have perfected their voices and cinematic styles, their films are so different because it reflects their tastes, influences and sensibilities. Find out what type of film-maker you want to be, do you want to make dramas, rom-coms, horror films, dark thrillers? Find out what you want to make and hone it by practice. Make lots and lots of films.

GC: Lastly, can you tell us more about the upcoming feature-length adaption of your short film The Good Son?
TA: The Good Son is a 14-minute short I made in 2014, the film was incredibly personal to me because it captured my experiences as a Nigerian-British 21-year-old. The success of the short and my deep, personal relationship with the themes and issues presented has inspired me to turn it into a feature. The feature will build on the ideas the short explores, it will touch on themes surrounding identity, family, love and race. I am currently working on a new draft of the script and can’t wait to realise it next year. 

Find out more about Tomisin: 

Website: https://www.tomisinadepeju.com/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/TAdepeju

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