Aesthetics are political and representations of Africa deeply political. The cinematography of the film is important both to enhance the story and to tread the delicate balance of representing the lives and stories of the women we are working with and avoiding racial and gendered metaphors of ‘Africanness,’ orientalist narratives of ‘otherness,’ and cosmopolitan clichés that there is a universal category of woman that makes everyone just like us. Yikes! That is a lot of issues to fit in one sentence and a lot to think about when making a film. To tread this balance we need a talented cinematographer, someone who can make a film that is beautiful and difficult to watch, that captures the essence of the stories these women want to tell, and fundamentally does not do a Conrad/Bono/Economist that veers between binaries of afro-positive and afro-pessimist.
So lucky for us, we’ve found just the person who is not only massively talented but willing to work on an ambitious project full of aesthetic politics. This person is Craig Devine. Craig studied under Brian Tufano’s tutelage (if you know little about film and read this blog for the IR and HIV/AIDS content, he is like the Kim Hutchings/Peter Piot of the film world) at the National Film and Television School. He’s already won awards and is widely recognised as ‘one to watch’ among cinematographers. In sum, he’s a gem of talent that I am delighted to have working on the film.
Craig is full of ideas as to what the film will look like, he and Director Leanne have already set up a film watching group to discuss inspiration and ideas (I will be gatecrashing this like an unwanted parent), and my dropbox is heaving with guiding images that he adds. This makes me happy as I like to learn more about aesthetics and the visual style of the film: I have a clear sense of what the film should not look like but am excited to work with someone creative who has ideas about how to visualise some of my academic work and the stories of these women. This is really the best bit for me: seeing how written ideas will become visual.
I cannot stress how important the visual representations are to the film. Get this right and we remain true to the aims of what we wanted to do when making the film. Get this wrong and we fall into an exemplar of postcolonial critique (if unfamiliar with such critique check out the greatest hits of Stuart Hall, Achille Mbembe, Edward Said, VY Mudimbe, and er because we work together the decolonising IR great, Robbie Shilliam). I’m sympathetic to postcolonial studies and while open (ish) to criticism this is not the kind I want. I can’t say how the film will be perceived and received, however I can say that I am acutely mindful of such critiques when making it. From our meetings thus far, I know the film’s aesthetic is in safe hands with Craig.
To find out more about Craig and his work and watch some clips of what he’s done, check out his website www.craigdeandevine.com