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Director Jenn Nkiru on greenlighting projects, life without a mentor and her love of 35mm

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Jenn Nkiru is a British-Nigerian filmmaker, born and based in Peckham. One of London’s most exciting rising directors, she has steadily been creating a name for herself with her distinctive visual style and powerful use of sound through her short films for the BFI, Condé Nast, Channel 4 and the Tate.
Her most recent work, a dreamlike piece titled Rebirth Is Necessary, commissioned by Nowness, is ‘a personal powerful exploration of blackness’ and is a winner of the 2018 Canal+ Award.
What has being a ‘rare’ creative meant to you?
It has meant pushing beyond traditional approaches to making work and stretching the boundaries of my work in both form and approach as a necessity to getting work made.
This has meant I challenge and interrogate my work in ways not typically done. No stone is unturned, no opportunity is wasted.
What kind of challenges have you had?
Several but the single most omnipresent challenge throughout my career has been transferring the confidence and belief I have in myself, my work and my ideas to execs/those in positions to green light projects. I didn’t and still don’t look like the typical packaging of what the majority of others with my job look like: I’m a woman, I’m young and I’m black: the optics of this is still rare within my industry and the old guard is still getting used to this.
Things are a little better/are getting better now, but that has always been my single biggest challenge throughout my career: How do I get you to believe and engage in the reality that I can in the same way I’m confident and know I can?
How have you found your own way? Any mentors?
I haven’t been fortunate to have a career mentor per se. For the most part, I’ve had to find my own way – following and trusting my intuition and internal compass. On a creative level, I’ve had incredible support and encouragement by genius filmmakers Haile Gerima and Bradford Young. I like to refer to Haile ‘the salt’ as he’s a source of so much knowledge. If there’s anything particular I’ve learnt from him, it’s that process and discovery are most important – the eventual work simply serves as reportage of the process and discovery. Focus on this and everything else will naturally find its space among it.
Has being ‘rare’ influenced your view of creativity?
It’s less an influence for me… being ‘rare’ is simply my world view of my creativity. Naturally, this means it is embedded in the style and form of what I do. I don’t do things like most but I’m super in pocket with myself and my own creative cadence and rhythm which I love. It’s a constant evolution which I enjoy.
What defines your creative style?
I’m still establishing my style but a definite constant in my work is the relationship between visual, sound and music. They each hold equal importance and often play character roles in my work. I love shooting on film and ultimately if I had the choice I’d shoot everything on 35mm film – the texture, depth and vibrancy are like no other – you just can’t duplicate that in digital. I shot my last film, Rebirth Is Necessary on 35mm and you can feel all that energy within it.
If anything typifies my work at this point, it is that I do everything in-camera meaning no visual effects – what you see is how and what was shot. Again, this was been born out of necessity: I’m not working with big budgets so out of need my style developed to get as much in-camera as possible. I like to think the tactile nature of my work also fuels the energy of translation between myself as the creator and my audience.
What stories do you like to tell with your work?
My inner visions and my mind’s eye are abstract. Some describe them as radical. For me, this is simply how I see things and the stories of those around me. I like to give consideration, time and space to this in my work in the way it deserves.
I’m interested in stories that require us to question ourselves and what it means to be ourselves. Ultimately, I want my work to encourage audiences to ask questions. Nothing is for sure. Everything can and is to be questioned if we want to move forward.
Any advice to those who are rare creatives?
Yourself, your ideas and your stories are valid. Keep going, keep pushing. If you’re at the place where it seems super hard or it’s just not going your way, do not stop, rather keep on and go harder – this point is the testing point, the tipping point of your evolution. It’s the point at which your greatest change and development will happen if you keep on or the point at which you will come undone if you choose to stop. It’s all your choice, never forget that.
Keep on keeping on by any means necessary – even if you have to take gaps or breaks, always get back in the saddle and keep going.

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