Joseph a. Adesunloye is making the kind of movies we all need to see. 

Joseph a. Adesunloye is the one filmmaker you should definitely know.

Award-winning British-Nigerian filmmaker Joseph a. Adesunloye films havea strong undercurrent of identities and sexuality running throughout his films. He was nominated for the BFI IWC Schaffhausen Filmmakers Bursary Award at the 60th BFI London Film Festival in 2016. In 2017 Joseph was longlisted ‘Best Debut Screenwriter’ for the prestigious BIFA Awards (British Independent Film Awards) where his film White Colour Black was longlisted for a total of two Awards including the category of ‘Most Promising New Comer’ for the film’s star Dudley O’Shaughnessy.

Off the back of the success of his first international feature film White Colour Black, we sat down for an exclusive interview with Adesunloye. His first for any publication on the African continent to discuss his thought-provoking and challenging new film Faces starring Terry Pheto.

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GQ: Your new movie Faces just had a successful debut at the Durban Film Festival, did you envision how people would respond to it when you were making it? 

JA: To be honest I was very surprised by the reception of the film at DIFF. Of course, you want your film to get a reaction from an audience, but this was on a scale I didn’t expect. People came out from the City and the Townships to see the film and their react afterwards was humbling. I love being in Africa and sharing the work here.

GQ: What is Faces the movie about?

JA: Faces  is a bold multi-narrative film set across four storylines that follow a group of characters as their lives begin to unravel. Aisha (Terry Pheto) is in a marriage that has become stale, when her wish to get pregnant finally becomes reality, she receives some very unexpected news. Louie and Gaspard (Matthieu Charneau) are a male couple who are happily in love but when Louie’s female financée (Oreka Godis) suddenly shows up in the picture, all that they hold dear begins to fall apart. Adam and Luke are best friends, but an attack on Adam at a party threatens to create a schism between them. Sindiso runs a charity for women to which she has dedicated herself. When the centre begins to have financial troubles with the real risk of closing, Sindiso played by Shingai Shoniwa must question her fundamental motivations. In the middle of the bustling city we watch as their worlds begin spiralling apart.

GQ: And what is Faces about to you from a personal stand point as the Director? 

JA: First, I have to give a special mention to the UK organisation NAZ who commissioned the film. The work that they do to highlight inequalities and fight stigma is remarkable.

For me, Faces was a way to look at some very difficult truths that still exist in our societies especially across Africa and confront them. I believe in people’s right to live life without stigma, fear, to have the freedom to whatever faith they choose and freedom to love whomever they want; this stretches across gender and ethnic groupings.

GQ: Tell is about your journey to getting into film, how did it all start, when did you discover you had a passion to tell stories? 

JA: As a child I always loved storytelling and I loved story time which was part of my childhood growing up in Nigeria. I loved films. My mother would get all kinds of films from across the world from her travels and from colleagues returning from various destinations at the airline she worked, so I was exposed to a lot of various kinds of storytelling and I knew fairly early on that I wanted to be part of the stories that took me to many places. I got into ‘film’ straight from secondary school. I knew I wanted to make films. So, I went through a classic route into film. I studied English Literature and Films Studies at the University of Aberdeen and then I went to film school at the London Film Academy. I was always interested in film holistically and I couldn’t separate myself from writing and directing.

GQ: The movie industry seems to be more open to black stories, well at least as far as we can see. But, we are on the outside, for you whose on the inside and is a black film maker is this the reality and how has this helped your own story telling? 

JA: I think there has certainly been a shift in the Western film industry for the need to also tell black stories and we have seen that the successes of Black led films like Moonlight, Get Out and Black Panther have wetted the appetite of executives. These remarkable filmmakers have laid to bed the lie that black led stories don’t sell. We Black people have found a way for a long time to tell our own stories; only that it wasn’t as well resourced and hopefully now that the industry is catching up, we will begin to see the change be sustainable. The reality is that we need resources to make film and I have always operated in a manner where I knew I had to make films come what may, what has changed since my first feature White Colour Black and now my second feature Faces is I am now getting meetings with film executives in a more meaningful way than in the past.

GQ: Away from the film industry who is Joseph? What makes him happy, sad and what motivates him? 

JA: Well I am an only child which means in many ways I learned to be happy in my own company so I don’t fear being alone. But I have a lovely tight group of friends who are my family. I like the theatre a lot. I don’t know if I can truly be away from the film, because cinema makes me happy, I am very keen to watch a lot of work from around the world. But I have a particular love for African, European and Asian cinemas. What makes me happy is very hard to quantify but life makes me happy. I try to live life in a way that keeps me contented. It terms of what makes me sad? Well, there are a lot of things happening in the world at the moment that makes me sad. The way refugees are being treated globally but especially in Europe and America makes me deeply sad. To some extent, I just wish people would just remember our shared humanity. Things have become too insular in many places. But hopefully, we will turn a corner.

GQ: How was it like working with Terry Pheto and how did that come about? 

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JA: Working with Terry was such a delight. Terry’s such a powerhouse of a performer and actor.  After first meeting Terry in London at the BFI London Film Festival in 2016 at the gala of the premier of her then new film A United Kingdom, we met again in South Africa when I was at the Johannesburg Film Festival for the African premier of White Colour Black. We became friends and stayed in touch. And when the chance to make Faces came Terry was the first person on my mind. I desperately wanted to work with her and it is such a privilege to call her a friend.

GQ: Who or what inspires you?

JA: A lot of things and people inspire me, beautiful paintings and amazing photographs can really transport me to places. Other Creatives also motivate and inspire me. If I had to name a few people who inspire me, then there’s a few but at the top of the list has got to be Wong Kar-wai, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and my dear friend Sindiso Khumalo.

GQ: Three of the biggest highlights of your career?

JA: I have been fortunate to have highlights and pin-points which have moved my career forward. The first major highlight of my career was in 2014 when my short film Beyond Plain Sight premiered at the Raindance Film Festival where it was nominated Best British Short Film. That really moved my career forward. Then White Colour Black being shot in Senegal was a great privilege for my first feature film and then having the film premier at the BFI London Film and with it the nomination for the BFI IWC Bursary Award. The third highlight was a series of meaningful meetings in LA earlier this year, where I am currently in consideration for a major American feature.

GQ: Your favorite film genre? 

JA: I like various genres and would love to make films across various genres. But I have a special place in my heart for dramas because I associate a great importance to telling human stories. Sadly, major dramas are struggling to be made at the moment and to be seen in global cinema, but I think these things ebb and flow and dramas will always be a cornerstone of cinema.

GQ: The best advice you have ever received? 

JA: Work hard and never give up.

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