Interview: Leila Djansi (I Sing of A Well director)

I Sing Of A Well is one of the best Ghanaian movies I've seen and I made that clear in my review here. After watching "I Sing Of A Well", a few questions lingered in my mind. So I decided to ask Leila Djansi, the director, a few questions about the movie, and herself. She is the founder of the Los Angeles based production house Turning Point Pictures. Her critically acclaimed screenplay for Movie Africa "Subcity" won the best screenplay award at FESPACO in 2007 and WorldFest platinum award winning film "Grass between my Lips". Normally, I would use the answers to make my blog entry but I thought I'll try something new this time. So here goes.

Mighty African: What was the motivation behind doing this movie and choosing this time (circa 12th century, etc)?
Leila: I love period pieces. And doing a movie on slavery has always been my ambition.

Mighty African: What are some of the projects you worked on before you travelled abroad?
Leila: Oh my. I worked for Movie Africa, I was a writer there, and I wrote a whole bunch of his movies; some really successful ones are “2gether Forever,” “The Sisterhood,” “Jezebel,” and the FESPACO Official selection “Subcity.” I also did some work for “GAMA,” notably “Legacy of Love.”

Mighty African: What are some of the projects you worked on since you travelled abroad?
Leila: I am a lover of documentaries. Almost everything I have done since I left have been documentaries for the Travel Channel, Sci-Fi Channel, some private schools and organizations, and my own private documentaries. My narratives, which are not works for hire but my own festival piece works, include “Grass Between My Lips,” “Revelations,” “Love Letters,” and a couple of others. All the others have been crew positions for other production houses.

Mighty African: How was the audition process for ISOAW?
Leila: There was no audition process. We handpicked the cast.

Mighty African: How long it take to write the movie and then shoot it?
Leila: The script I wrote back in school in 2007 as a short animated film. It took about 3 months I think, to get it to a feature, and then we started to develop and prep. Thus the entire production process took about 8 months.

Mighty African: I haven't seen many Ghanaian movies with Ewe lines. Why was Ewe chosen and how did the cast receive it?
Leila: I am Ewe. I don't speak any other Ghanaian language with authority like I do Ewe so I chose a language I could control. The cast liked it. Seventy percent of them spoke Ewe, really. Luckie especially has this interesting Togolese accent.

Mighty African: Slavery is a touchy topic. We hear mentions of it in the movie but no scenes of slavery. How does this time of slavery affect the characters?
Leila: We shot scenes of slavery. I choose not to add them to the cut available because of certain technical concerns at the time we were ready to export the cut. This first part simply sets the tone. The real deal slavery makes its debut in the 2nd and 3rd installments. The characters were denied a certain amount of freedom, you know. Living in unpredictable days. But, each individual also realizes that life must go on regardless and, it did.

Mighty African: You are credited with part of the soundtrack. Do you have training as a singer too?
Leila: I had a type of non-formal training as a singer and as a songwriter. My Aunt, Mary Mc-Palm, is a Doctor of music, and for whatever reason since I was little, she has engaged me in music making. I’ve been told I have a passable voice. I had a band when I was in junior high. We performed at school functions and all. I had so much fun with it. Good old days.

Mighty African: You are one of few Ghanaian film makers based outside, what advantages does that give you over those based on the continent?
Leila: Oh my…advantages. Exposure; proximity to a world of film technology, techniques and theories. But, it depends on what you are doing as a filmmaker outside or inside. With the Internet so accessible right now, even techniques can be learned online, somewhat. You won't be exposed to them here either if you are not involved. I edit on AVID and half the time you get trouble shooting help by logging into the AVID forum. Hollywood is
very do it yourself, go get it yourself type of industry.

Mighty African: Are there any disadvantages?
Leila: I miss home. That's my disadvantage. I have been blessed. Someone grabbed my hand from school and got me where I am now doing what I do, so I can't remember disadvantages here. Then again, I am only 3 years in it as a working professional so…. I still have a lot to learn. The disadvantages I have experienced came from working in Ghana. Thus, let's say the whole Hollywood Industry thing is better structured whereas the whole Ghana thing is not. In that regard, in Ghana, there is room for a lot of errors, people taking advantage of you, and getting away with it too.

Mighty African: One Ghanaian movie producer called 'movie premieres' a waste of time, energy and money. How did premieres for ISOAW in Ghana go?
Leila: The premieres for ISOAW could have been better. It’s safe to say it was Safo who made this statement. For him this maybe true, but from my professional point of view there are a lot of variables that decide to do or not to do a movie premiere, such as the script, cast and budget. The decision should be based on single projects, not collectively.

Mighty African: When will the movie, ISOAW, be out on DVD or VCD?
Leila: I have no idea yet.

Mighty African: Thanks for your time.
Leila: I thought you were taking me to dinner for my time? Just kidding. You are welcome Hon.

Mighty African: How about dinner when I visit LA? :-)

Check out more of Leila's work at IMDB.


Abena Serwaa said…
Great piece Ato! Very informative. I really want to see the film now. I like the interview format of your post. Out of curiosity how was the interview conducted? Phone, skype chat, facebook chat? Isn't technology just grand?
Anonymous said…
She is beautiful and smart. is she married? I'll like to apply.
Myne said…
These young doers and walkers motivate me. Kudos and all the best to her.
MIghTy African said…
@Abena, I did it through Facebook. Technology is just completely awesome. Facebook especially. Cut costs, makes things easier, it's just amazing!

@Anonymous - I'll ask her and get back to you all.

@Myne - it's great to Ghanaians everywhere putting out quality stuff. It's grand :-)

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