REEL Ladies get a hold of Ghanian Filmmaker, Leila Djansi. Leila talks about her journey in the US & Ghana Film Industry. Leila is the founder of Turning Point Pictures, an independent production company that deals with social issues. Her current project is Red Soil, starring Laurence Fishbourne and Kimberly Elise.
RL: How did you know you wanted to pursue film?
LD: I started off as a science student. I wanted to be an OBGYN. But I’ve been writing since the age of 10, so it was a hobby. I met a filmmaker when I was 19 and he turned one of my scripts into a movie. I changed my major and never looked back since then.
RL: You have background in Producing for television, tell us about that experience.
LD: I started with Movie Africa in Ghana, it was fun and hard work, I enjoyed it but I felt there was something missing. Then I tried with Television but got bored. I was writing for the same show, same characters, same everything, producing the same show over and over again, I got bored there too so I left the country.
RL: What do filmmakers need to know about the Ghana Film Industry?
LD: FAST. It is quick. They do everything quickly; it doesn’t matter whether it’s good or bad. They just want it fast. Quickies. But it is a very passionate filmmaking industry. They love what they do and are very eager to learn and advance. Its easy to shoot there, the crew and cast might be a bit difficult because they are not very disciplined and no protocols exist and then with the speed thing, it might get frustrating because things might not get done right. Then you have to realize that these are people who are in this for either fame or money so the art part of it is not there. So when you begin to talk about “creating” you become a “booklong” someone who knows too much. They don’t want that.
RL: You tackle tough issues with your films, what is the main message that you want to get across to you audience with your films?
LD: Personally, I believe the best way to solve a problem is to find out what you contributed to the problem. Africa… we have a lot of issues but we also have a lot of excuses. We have an answer for everything instead of accepting that we as Africans contributed largely to our problems and stop blaming other people all the time. Once we cannot accept that we cause some of our problems, we will not look for a way to solve them. My messages center on that theme, what we are doing wrong and how we can right our wrongs. I want us to be proud of what we got right and be honest about what we got wrong.
RL: Being a Ghana woman and filmmaker, what are some big differences that you see between the American film culture and Ghana’s?
LD: Discipline, organization, resources, freedom to create, opinions, more ideas, influences, support, challenge, adventure, those are the
differences between Ghana or African film industry and Hollywood.
Everything listed above is here in Hollywood and lacking in Africa, except Kenyan and South African film industries. People are all for risk taking here. Taking chances, trying new things, telling stories as intriguing as Lord of the Rings and Pirates of the Caribbean. We have science fiction in Africa. Lots of it. I am working on a trilogy to shoot in about 2 years, Legion of slaves, an African adventure on the slave trade, told by Africans. Our side of the story told at home. I am looking forward to instilling that sense of exploration of film material in our filmmakers.
RL: Which culture has been harder for you to produce your films?
LD: Filmmaking is hard anywhere. Ghana was though, here is though. You have to be prepared and be though yourself to be a filmmaker in any culture. Once you’re dealing with human beings, It’s bound to be though.
RL: Tell us about starting Turning Point Pictures.
LD: That was the easy part. We are still in formative stages, yes we have done a good number of work but we are nowhere near where I want us to be. Gradually though.
RL: Your new film, Red Soil, stars some powerhouses in the acting industry. How did this project come about?
LD: My sister called me about 5 years ago, (she’s a journalist) and told me about this elementary school principal who sent his students into the farm of some cocoa merchant during school hours so the students pay fees to go to school but end up slaving on someone’s farm and the principal pockets the money they are paid for their labor. I remember when I was in school in Ghana we go on most Fridays to the teachers farm to weed or harvest his crops and I hated it. I came to read not till the ground for food that will not be shared with me. It resonated. I started to develop Red Soil.
RL: What’s next for you?
LD: A lot. I am starting a fund in Ghana and Nigeria to Fund and Distribute African movies to the world market. Bridge the gap somehow. That kicks off with our maiden production Tulips staring Robin Givens and an array of African movie stars. http://www.tulipsfilm.com.
RL: What would you like to see from women in film?
LD: Stories that champion the cause of women all over the world. An avenue for financing for movies made by women. That’s the biggest thing. Finding money for a movie. And women in film should watch Tulips when its released. There is a message there for all of us.
More about Leila and Turning Point Pictures HERE