Interview by Miranda Schiller @mirandadadada
Nakom is a tiny village in northern Ghana. Iddrisu, a talented medical student, has to return there after the sudden death of his father. He has to face the expectations of responsibility for his family, and his new life in the city slips further and further away from him. Through his story, Nakom tells the story of daily life in a remote village, the challenges of preserving traditional life in modern times, the conflict of generations, the big and small injustices of a patriarchal society, but also the beauty of rural life and the cohesion of the family.
With the co-writer, Isaac Adakudugu, a Nakom native, and writer and co-director TW Pittman having lived in Nakom for two years as part of a Peace Corps mission, and most of the cast made up of the village population, they are very close to the actual village community. They successfully avoid clichés while creating a relatable and very authentic-seeming setting.
I met directors TW Pittman and Kelly Norris for an interview at the Berlin Film Festival, where Nakom had its world premiere.
Is Iddrisu, the main character, based on a real person or a model character dealing with representative problems?
TW Pittman: A bit of both. He is certainly based on people like Isaac, our producer and co-writer, as well as our lead actor (Jacob Ayanaba). As far as the characteristics of this character are concerned, there is also a lot of myself that I put into this character, in terms of the temperament, the decision-making. I think to a degree everybody feels that push-pull of obligation and desire, having to balance your own ambition and goals and the responsibility you’re feeling towards your family or your community.
Let’s talk about the female characters and gender roles in the film. While there are some very strong women, it does seem like their role in the story is they are coming up with problems that Iddrisu, the man, has then to take care of. Especially since you’re female filmmakers, was that something you observed in the village society?
Kelly Norris: We are definitely very sensitive when it comes to gender dynamics. I find that the women are very strong in the film, particularly Damata (Iddrisu’s younger sister), but she’s also very tragic. I see her as just as bright as Iddrisu, but her future is very different. The access that she has is very different. And she realises that the systems in place aren’t necessarily for her personal goals and her drivenness. I think that that’s something that we do witness, and I think that we witness that outside of Nakom too, I’ve witnessed that even in my own experience. You have to carve your own way and make your own destiny for yourself.
TW Pittman: That hierarchy, that idea of being dependent on the male figures is kind of written in the code of this society and so you see the women trying to negotiate their lives with those restrictions on them. You find ways of working within the system that exists, and there’s a bit of subversion in these roles, I hope people can see the intelligence of the sister character and that she obviously does deserve every opportunity that the male character is getting.
Have you shown the film to the people of Nakom yet?
Kelly Norris: Not yet! We can’t wait to do it! During any difficult times that we’ve had, we used that to keep our energy up, that we will one day be able to go back and show the film, that’s what kept us motivated.
TW Pittman: I hope we’re going to find ways to show it’s not only in Nakom but in the whole of Ghana. Most of the film industry is based in the southern part of the country, there aren’t really any stories being told about the northern part of Ghana. The film industry is similar to Nollywood, in Nigeria. The films tend to be genre-based. But you could say that about Hollywood too. It’s also similar to other film industries in that access is limited, and often comes with being in a relatively privileged position. Hopefully that’s somehow able to expand, and you are going to see more different kinds of films and broader stories. And hopefully the international community will be looking out for them. Because I think that people are looking for different kinds of narratives, not just the same stories of war or strife or poverty. For us, that’s not a representative experience.