Interview: Ako Mitchell

With a diverse range of short films on offer in the 2017 selection from FilminuteI Promise faced some stiff competition. But Ako Mitchell's moving and emotional work managed to strike a chord amongst Cineuropa Shorts audiences who ultimately voted for the film to win the coveted Cineuropa Shorts / Filminute Audience Award for 2017.

You can see the film here:

Cineuropa Shorts caught up with Mitchell who talked to us about his background and the inspiration for the film

Cineuropa Shorts: Tell us a little bit about yourself and your background:

Ako Mitchell: I'm primarily an actor and filmmaker based in London. I cut my teeth on my first film project - the feature length documentary 500 Years Later - released in 2005 for which I co-directed and co-produced. The film took me to Senegal and Mali and was quite an adventure in perseverance and quick thinking. We once travelled between cities in a donkey cart - on a motorway! My first short film, which I directed and co-wrote, I'm In The Corner With The Bkuebells was about Genetic Sexual Attraction and screened at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2014.

CS: Where did the idea for I Promise come from originally?

AM: The scenario came from an actual encounter with an homeless woman whilst walking along in Soho with my friend CJ. CJ was at this time confronted by a homeless woman she'd meet about two weeks prior. CJ was devastated by the woman's rapid deterioration and desperation that'd developed in such a short time. I found the moment quite painful and sad. It lingered with me long after.

CS: How did you cast the film?

AM: I knew that I wanted to work with my producer Zara Plessard - who played the homeless character - as she's such a great actress. The other ladies were friends who together matched the energy of the original scenario with me and CJ. Also, I was keen on making it an all female story so I switched the gender of my character.

CS: How long did it take to make the film?

AM: It took us about two days. We knew we wanted to shoot in a congested area to reflect the real life scenario so we took a couple of hours to block the scene with the camera in another location out of town (London). We were then very prepared on the day to shoot the scene in town. It was very tricky as it was done in a single continuous shot. There were many distractions on the street including a man determined to be in shot. It took about 11 takes to get what we needed. It was stressful but very rewarding in the end.

CS: The film is very poignant and thought provoking – did you find it difficult to try and do something like this in a minute? Or was it liberating to have such a constraint?

AM: I thought the constraint was very liberating. We had to capture just a moment of time and be very economical with storytelling. In fact, it actually highlighted just how long a minute is on film and how much you can populate it with story.

CS: Have you been pleased with the reaction to the film?

AM: The reaction has been fantastic and surprising. I'm really thrilled to bring such a poignant subject matter to the fore. Also the three actresses did a really fantastic job of making the scenario truthful and real.

CA: What do you plan to do next?

AM: I'm working on a short film called Wrestling Jacob about a Black London pastor who has unwanted feelings conjured-up by a surprise male visitor. I'm also developing a piece around sexuality and the elderly.

06 December 2017, by Laurence Boyce