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Categories: Interviews

Parrish Stikeleather talks process and passion with director Josza Anjembe regarding her moving, and much-awarded, short film French.

Having already received over 30 awards and been selected for 110 film festivals, The Spread was keen to chat with Josza Anjembe about her moving short French which is centered around 17 year-old Seyna and her dream of gaining French nationality despite her father’s fierce opposition.

What sparked the initial idea for French?

It’s a long story! I wanted to tell another story which was, by nature, fitting the length of a feature film and many people told me it would be hard to begin with a feature without experience. At the time, I had no idea. Therefore I searched within my own intimacy the thing that affected me the most during the last few years. And I remembered this event, when I renewed my passport for work they told me I was “out of frame” because of my “afro” haircut. I decided to make a movie out of it.

Josza, your background as a filmmaker is in documentary. What attracted you to the world of narrative filmmaking for this specific story?

As a journalist, I was only swearing by documentary, a medium that I still like as much as I did. I was not expecting to ever do fiction films. No one in my family is working in the cinema business, and I was not going to the movies so much. But one day I got dumped by my greatest love and I started to write. I showed my essays to a friend whom advised me to look into fiction, which I did. And it was groundbreaking. I loved it! Since then I can’t stop it!

In terms of the filmmaking process, what were some things that you learned about making documentaries that helped you make French?

Documentaries have taught me that cinema means that there is time involved in writing, thinking, researching, failing, and starting over. Therefore, I didn’t see time as a constraint but as an ally. As I was saying before, fiction is an accident in my path. I didn’t ask myself how the documentaries that I made could have helped me to direct movies. The only common point between those movies is the demanding nature and the honesty I force myself to always have. If those two conditions are not gathered, I consider that what I have to say doesn’t deserve to have a movie made out of it.

The entire cast is fantastic, but Grace Seri certainly stands out with an excellent performance as Seyna. How did you all come to cast Grace?

In France, it is hard to find a black comedian of Seyna’s age. Not because they don’t exist, but because industry doesn’t make them visible because of reasons I won’t talk about now. However, my producer advised me to look at the Paris Conservatory. I found Grace there and when I first saw her I knew she was the one, before she even said or did anything.

The family all had such great chemistry together on screen. Did you all have a rehearsal period, or just jump right in with filming?

You are right. The challenge regarding this family was to create unity. Therefore, we made rehearsals in which we were not caring about the text. We ate, danced and played boards games. It was the only way I found to create a complicity between them.

How did you and Nelson Ghrenassia come to work together as Director and Producer? Is this your first time collaborating?

When he saw me he couldn’t resist! No, I am joking. A friend told me about Nelson. She also gave me a list of producers that could be interested in French. And randomness made us meet the next day. I came to see him saying: “Hi, I am Josza and I got a scenario”. Two or three days later he called me back and we started to work together. It was the first time for me and I think now that I made the right decision.

What were some challenges, whether creative or logistical, that you encountered while making the film? And how did you overcome them?

The biggest challenge was to succeed with the shaving scene. There are no tricks. That was my experience. We couldn’t miss this scene, otherwise the whole movie was going to the trash. And we went, with my team, naturally toward this crucial moment. I am not someone who likes conflict and I believe I like people. It was mutual on the set and this day I felt it. There was a great silence and a lot of respect and love at this moment. Many cried. It seems to me it happened this way.

What projects are up next for you?

For now I am writing a feature film which is taking all of my time. I have other ideas for later but I am not the kind of person to jump the step: I go slowly but surely.


Parrish Stikeleather

Parrish Stikeleather is a Telly Award-winning writer & director from Wilmington, North Carolina. Through the making of hundreds of short videos pieces he has found his home in the form of narrative-driven fiction. A fan of movies, first and foremost, Parrish enjoys not only making films but collaborating and talking to other filmmakers about their different approaches and styles.

Posted on Sep 25, 2017

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