Excerpts of interview with writer and director, Juliet Asante Set in the slums of Africa, Silver Rain is a story of love, pain and the strength of the human spirit. Ajoa, a ‘Kayayo’ street girl from Accra, meets Bruce, the rich heir of the Timothy fortunes. Their friendship sets into motion a class war, as Ajoa struggles to cross the class divide and find love, Bruce struggles to find himself. Together, they must brave the turbulent political times, as well as the social barriers, that may just be their undoing.
In this interview, Juliet Asante, the writer and director, speaks about the inspiration behind the movie, the similarities between the Nigerian and Ghanaian film industry, and the challenges facing the African movie industry.
What’s inspired the movie Silver Rain?
Silver Rain is an aspirational story; it’s about moving up the ladder, it is a social story, it is a class-war story, about an ambitious market girl who decides that she wants to find love outside of her class and she starts a class war. It is based on a real meeting. I met a market girl in Ghana; one of those girls who help you carry your goods in the market – which is ubiquitous in African cities… I met one of them and she is a northerner; like what you’d call Hausa in Nigeria – (see, we are one people and we share so many similarities) – and her dad had over 40 kids and many wives. When I met her, she was 17 and her parents hadn’t seen her for 7 years; she had run away from home when she was 10, so I was the first person to take her home after all that time. When I met her family, they were shocked because they all thought she was dead. Back in Accra, they sleep on the street, in the market they lay under horrible conditions but when they get up, they smile and you can never tell even if they haven’t eaten. That was very inspiring coming from the other side of town… and that basically is the story of an average African; we live under very bad conditions but we wake up happy each day and I say Africans are magicians. That’s the inspiration behind the film; the strength of the people.
Why the title Silver Rain?
The name came to me; I was writing a scene in the movie in which the main character is reduced to the lowest denominator and out of her lowest point that is where she finds strength and rose up again. You find that life is like that; sometimes you have to be taken to the very bottom to come up and that is where in the tagline, there’s something that says “when there’s no place left to go but up” and there’s an African proverb that says “a goat that has a knife to his throat fears nothing”. At the point where you are at your lowest, that’s where you can find strength and rise above because you have seen it all and rain for me kind of captures that. This is because rain can mean a lot of things; rain can mean destruction, newness and a whole lot of things. In a nutshell, it captures the point where you are very low and out of that rain comes growth. That is how I got the title ‘rain’. About the ‘silver’, what is so obvious but isn’t so obvious… we all live in a society where someone who lives right across hasn’t eaten and you don’t know it or you are having problems where you are close to suicide and no one knows; everyone is going about their duty and thinking everything is fine. It’s a dual world we live in and there is so much going on and yet it is not so obvious because we all live in our individual worlds and that’s where silver came from because I asked a few people, what is the color of rain? And everyone had something different to say. Some said rain is crystal, some said blue or brown and others said clear like silver. That got me thinking about how what is so obvious, could be so hidden? Let me ask you… what is the colour of rain?
When and why do you want to screen your film in Nigeria?
First of all, my film is a Nigerian film and will be screened on the 29th of May in many of the Film Houses around Nigeria. I hope that because the date is synonymous with Nigeria’s democracy day, people will come out and watch the film. I think that Nigerians have done really well and are stepping into a new phase because the future has to be better than your past and Nigerians have done well from wherever they have come from. Rain is an important part of universal change and growth; it kind of washes away the old and ushers in the new.
Silver Rain cast from five countries – Nigeria, Ghana, South Africa, Kenya and Sierra Leone. There are two very talented Nigerians in there; the lead role is played by a Nigerian, Enyinna Nwigwe; and the supporting love interest is Uru Eke. Both are very talented people and I was very lucky to have them. I think they will explode on the Nigerian cinematic scene. Their talents can not be held in. So you see, I cannot evade coming to Nigeria. In a way I am coming home.
Do you intend to screen the movie in the 5 countries you selected your cast from?
Yes if we can. We had a very successful screening in Ghana. Now we are in Nigeria, we are talking to Kenya, South Africa. We don’t know if we would do theatrical in all of those countries but we are certainly going into all, of those countries. Elikem was on Big Brother so he is known all over Africa; there is a lady called Anabel Mbaru who was also on Big Brother. The South African, Chumani Liberty Pan, is a brilliant actor; he is now in a big soap in South Africa and his face is all over the country on bill boards; then there is our lead star, Joselyn Dumas, who is really big in Ghana; Many reviews have mentioned her performance in Silver rain. You will see her as you have never seen her perform before. She is a brilliant actress. She understands characterization and it comes through.
What inspired your cast selection?
For me as a filmmaker and writer – As you know, I wrote Silver Rain – when I’m casting, I look out for talent. I started my career in front of the camera. In 2001, I was actually Best Actress for Ghana, I was also in an HBO production, Deadly Voyage; and I’ve done quite a lot in front of the camera. So I understand acting like very few directors do; this is a blessing as I am able to empathize and communicate with the actor from an authentic place. We speak the same language so to speak and they can tell that I really want them to succeed. Added to that, I get things from the writer’s point of view and from a director’s point of view as well. I must say that when I am working on a project like that, I am in my own little heaven. With this project, the images and cast and what I was looking for was very clear. If a person spoke to my inner self and the character they are auditioning for, I saw the light. It’s almost like a spiritual process for me. There were quite a number of “well known” faces that auditioned for some of roles, but they didn’t fit .
For me, characterization is internal, you have to understand the journey of the character throughout the film, so I needed to also get that the actors to understand that portion of it. What is the difference between a celebrity and a not so celebrity? It’s probably just one film and I think that a lot of people after watching the characters in the Silver Rain, will understand that the talents we worked with need to be at the very top
Is this your first feature film?
This is my first feature film as a director. I have been in this space for a long time; I run a production house called Eagle Production and I have worked in the production space internationally for close to 20 years. So I have been around for a long time, both in front and behind the camera. I do a wide variety of genres. At many times, some of my programmes were the best running shows on Ghana television. As a filmmaker, I wanted to do a certain kind of film so I felt till I was ready to make that kind of film; I wasn’t going to make a feature film. I have a product called Mobilefliks, that puts short films on platforms.We actually have an app on the Google play store. Many of the films that came to me, where shorts. I didn’t think they were meaty enough for fill a one hour, 30 minute slot. With Silver Rain, I knew immediately that I had a feature film on my hands. Every film has its audience. I had a story I wanted to tell and till I was ready to tell that story in a way that I think would carry it best, I wasn’t going to tell it. In 2014, I was ready.
What prompted the switch from being in front of the camera to being behind the camera?
Very early, I think my second or third film, I decided I wanted to explore the directing option more because every time I was in front of the camera, I found myself more interested in what was going on behind the camera. After business school, I decided to go back to film school. The first day of class told me I had made the right decision.
The industry and the continent could do with one more person who can help move the vision forward. We need all the talent we can get to move things forward as a continent and I am happy to join the many talented people before me who continue to put in their sweat, despite the difficult terrain.
To answer the question about why I direct more than act, I would put it this way, I like acting, but I love directing and I love writing. As one grows, things shift into perspective and you focuses more on things that you love and you do less of things that you like.
It took me about ten years after I met this girl to do the film, I wrote the story down and went back to school because I am the bookish kind of person. Then sometime last year, I was in a near fatal accident and it was all over the news. So after that the realization dawned, I knew I just had to stop. Enough of what I like and focus on what I love.
With regards to the political angle to the film, was it a deliberate attempt to capture the political atmosphere in the continent?
The politics in the film is very important because it is actually what drives the film. In Africa we have many issues that afflict the continent and oftentimes, politics is smack in the middle of that. As filmmakers it’s very important that we tell our own stories. That is what Nigerians are very good at. Unlike some filmmakers around the world who try to tell the American story or the British story, Nigerians are brilliant at telling their stories.
I feel that as Africans, if we are going to penetrate the world and if we are going to make a mark, we need to tell our own stories. But we must package it in a way that the rest of the world would find it easy to swallow. Part of telling that story is telling what happens in our countries. As you know a lot of what we do for now is largely intertwined with politics,so it was only natural if you are telling a story like that that they political environment will feature. What is interesting though, is how the film seems so relevant to what is happening politically around the continent, when I had no inkling when I wrote it over 5 years ago. It just came together. When we were showing the film in Ghana, in many ways, it felt eerie the way the film fitted in with the political environment and the same thing is happening in Nigeria too! It is even more interesting that you change governments on the day that the film comes out; the 29th of May. Silver Rain is driven on the mantra of ‘We want change’ in many scenes the film, the people called for a change in government and their conditions…and so you have it.
Maybe I am a prophet. I think Nigerians will identify with the story in many ways. The movie also goes a bit into the ripple effects of our actions. Especially as social leaders and politicians.
In the story a politician made a decision; the ripple effect unbeknownst to him is massive. Actually, that is what drives the film. I think Africans are becoming more aware of these things and I think people will love this story.
What do you have to say about the Nigerian film industry?
I see a lot of growth and I say this from the perspective of someone who went to film school. For me, I always say that I am very appreciative and supportive of those who make films even when they haven’t been to film school or have no training. These are people who despite the odds get on and get it done and sometimes, those who go to film school are waiting for the perfect time and the perfect film but that is not what necessarily makes an industry grow. What makes the industry grow is going out there and doing it day to day and getting the experience. There was this film guru who said: “if you want to make film, go live life; and just make the film!” Good filmmakers actually are people who have lived life, who have something to say, who have stories to tell. People who fall, perhaps make a bad film, pick themselves up and go on to make another one. What strength people exhibit. Africans are like that.
If you look at the film industry from where it was 10 or 5 years ago, there is a lot of growth but that doesn’t mean that there isn’t potential or opportunity for more. Once we catch on with global quality levels, we will be on the home run. Nigerians have got the story telling to a T. It is in the blood. The packaging will follow. The people have begun to demand it and it is about market forces. Supply always follows demand. Once people demand quality more and more, the supply of quality will follow.
Both those who are doing the great films and those who are doing below-the-line films are all necessary for the growth and survival of the industry. We are fighting in a world that has so much and we need to put all we have on the table; the bad, the good, the ugly to progress, and then when we get to a point, you will see that society itself will begin to demand quality and when that happens, the films will respond to meet that quality and I think that is what is beginning to happen.
I think that people do appreciate quality. The places where we have showed Silver Rain; New York; we received a standing ovation, and the film is going round the United States and in Ghana, the cinemas were packed and in Nigeria, the people are going to be blown away because I’m sure it will resonate with people.
What about the Ghana film industry…?
Ghana is very much like Nigeria and even Liberia too. I lived in Liberia for a while. I’m a little bit of a pan-African woman myself. Ghana in a lot of ways, share a lot with Nigeria; we share artistes, we share celebrities; some of the Nigerian celebrities are even more popular in Ghana than here. the two industries continue to learn from each other. I think where one fails, the other kind of steps in. I think that is why when I was making the film; there was no question that I was going to make it as much a Nigerian film as a Ghanaian film. I cannot in my mind, conceptualize Ghana without Nigeria and I am one person who keeps on talking about pan-Africanism and the fact that we need to lower trade barriers between us. The fact that we need to do more trade, and share more things. As a continent we need to come together in as many ways as we can. The arts is a very important way and very easy way that we can collaborate.
Ghana still has a long way to go. There are some filmmakers who are doing well and; even then, we have not penetrated the international market yet in ways that we potentially can. We have issues like financing, skill, equipment, piracy and so it’s taking us a long time to get there but I think we are getting there.
How do you intend to combat piracy both in Nigeria and Ghana?
Piracy is a big issue everywhere. As a filmmaker, you just have to be very security conscious; we trust the film houses we are working with. They have assured us that they are doing everything they can and they have done everything they can to make sure that the film is protected and we trust them, we have no reason not to. Beyond that, as filmmakers, we have taken our own precautions to make sure that the film is protected so I think that so far, we haven’t had any cause for concern and we hope our good luck continues; no pun intended.
Any plans for future movies?
Absolutely. I am already writing my next one. We have plans and I am not going to be the kind of filmmaker who churns out movies too often because I like to take my time to do things. I think that if I take my time to do quality work, good work, waiting for me would be worth it. Even this film took us a while; we started pre-production in August last year and we wrapped in November last year. We finished everything in January 2015; we started publicity and premiered in Ghana in March.
Is there a part of you in Silver Rain?
There are many parts of me in the film. As a writer, when you are writing a script, the characters come through your eyes, through your experiences and there is no way you can dissociate yourself from that. As an individual, I have had a very interesting short life, so there is a lot of me in the film and I think as audiences and media people begin to discover me more, they’ll begin to discover the similarities. it’s more fun that way.
Aside from writing scripts, do you do any other kind of writing?
I also write for the Huffington Post. I write a lot and I have always wanted to write novels as well, but I haven’t had the time, so this is the beginning… I’m doing more of what I love and not what I like; this is the reason I am novelizing silver Rain. This is the turning of Silver Rain scriptinto a novel. I am having so much fun with that. It’s exciting because when you are writing a script, it’s so different from when you are writing a novel. The script in many ways is limiting and novel is liberating. You get to go into the heads of your characters and their background and have fun with them; something you are discouraged from doing with a script. With the novel, I can tell you what the characters are thinking, I can tell you their view of the world, background information, things I wouldn’t dare touch in the script. I am enjoying the process. The book is going to come out towards the end of the year, you have to get that.
What should the viewers’ expect?
They should expect a good time. The experiences we have had so far are captivating. you go in to the cinema hall, have a good time, and the film does give you a good time but when you come out, you start asking yourself questions. Life isn’t what you want it to be all the time and I think that is what makes the film interesting. It is a combination of film and real life.