From a simple fascination of the beauty and delicateness amongst African women when making their hair in salon stalls at local market places, Ishaya Bako created a globally recognised and 2012 African Movie Academy Award-winning short film, Braids on a Bald Head. This short film has been showcased at international film festivals such as the Cambridge International Film Festival (2010), Festival Tous Courts Toulouse (2011), Seattle International Film Festival (2011) and the Clermont-Ferrand International Short Film Festival France (2011) among others. Titles in Bako’s filmography are: School of Curry (December 2009), Blue Baby Elephants (July 2009), The Filipino Guide on How to be Invisible in London (April 2009).
Let’s meet Ishaya Bako (Twitter: @naijafilmmaker) and learn more about his career and of course the making of the award-winning “Braids on a Bald Head.”
How did you go into film?
My background was in Information Technology. I studied MIS at Covenant University (Nigeria), but I felt if I stayed in IT I would have killed my colleagues with blunt pencils [figuratively speaking of course]. Right from my industrial attachment, I figured that working in cubicles wasn’t my thing.
I had acted on stage in school and have always loved writing, so after a nasty accident during my youth service, my near death experience, I spent the following year soul searching and convincing the powers that film is it…
Then I got into the London Film School.
Before we travel to (talk about) London Film School, who are the powers?
Family, myself and God (laughs) but family mostly, I mean, they were going to fund film school – which as you know is pretty expensive.
So how did you convince Family that FILM was it?
I said it’s film or die. I said I’ll walk the streets of port harcourt and shave my legs – so they caved in at the leg-shaving threat…(laughs)!
But on a serious note I was pretty convincing when I said I wanted to do film…
And London Film School happened…?
No, London Film Academy happened first in 2007. I did a-month course there that cost £1,500. I just needed to make sure that FILM was it you know, to convince myself and my family.
I got a distinction for the course and acceptance to the MA program at the London Film School (LFS) in 2008 – that was surely more than a convincing sign.
It was after that I went to LFS and the rest they say is history – two years, and another Distinction result.
Congratulations Ishaya, great feats. Let’s unpack that bag of history and visit “Braids on a Bald Head”-
Braids on a Bald Head, my graduation film, the child you can’t help being proud of (Ishaya beams with joy).
Can you give us a peek, what is “Braids on a Bald Head” about?
It’s a day in the life of a Hausa (Hausa is a tribe in Northern Nigeria) hairdresser and how she’s able to ask for better in her marriage after an experience that questions her sexuality.
With Braids on a Bald Head, I wanted to make a good film… and I wanted to make a Distinction (in school).
What inspired you to write “Braids on a bald head”?
I wanted to tell an intimate story about women. It started in the hairdresser shop in the market. I wasn’t there making my hair… I was watching.
My mom owned a provisions store at the market so I just walked around, and came across this hairdresser shop.
I loved the intimacy and care that was in the hair shop…nurture, gossip, fights and advice all balled into one…between hairdressers and their clients.
Quite typical of hairdressing stalls in market places…
Yeah, so, it began there.
I wrote a hairdressers scene and my central character had to be a hairdresser, and then it evolved from there…creating a relationship with one of her clients that obviously could not be had.
When the Award came through, what’s the first thought that hit you?
To be honest, I was in the process of creating this film so long and so deep I didn’t even know how good the film was or is – I’m talking about both the international recognition the film has garnered and winning the AMA award.
AMAA’s reputation has grown over the years, however, the person who really convinced me to put in my film was my friend, Onyeka Nwelue, an author, and I must say that I have no regrets.
…About international recognition, your film has been featured at various film festivals across the globe – what has been the reaction abroad?
Reaction has been fantastic. It was screened at my school and at the National Gallery in London at my graduation ceremony and it was a little overwhelming how much people loved the film.
Festival run began at the Cambridge Film Festival before its big opening at the Clermont-Ferrand International Film Festival in France, February 2011. The film was shown in front of 3000 people and the audience reception was awe-inspiring. I suppose people thought it was daring for an African film (the LGBT theme within) and they couldn’t quite believe a man made it and the subject was handled with such proficiency.
Needless to say, I have been really pleased with the reception of the film, and even with those that didn’t quite care for it (which I do not mind saying are very few). It was my graduation film from school so there was a lot to take from it.
What’s your perception of Nollywood, it’s always interesting to know a filmmaker’s point of view?
I have a love-hate relationship with Nollywood.
On one hand I have to admire the determination and ingenuity of creating an industry quite literally from very little to a multi-million dollar enterprise that employs a lot of people and has garnered an immense and loyal following the world over. On the other however, sometimes I feel sad at the kind of work that comes out from the industry.
Film is an art and a business. There’s a beauty to it when handled right and when in the wrong hands, well, it’s repulsive. Unfortunately in Nollywood, there are many wrong hands. However, I am hopeful. There’s a sort of revival in the arts in Nigeria- literature and music has escalated leaps and bounds in the last decade, it is only natural for film to follow. When that happens, you’re sure to find me at the forefront.
What talents would you like to work with in Nollywood, since it isn’t all bad?
I’d really love to work with Olu Jacobs and Zack Orji. I think pitting them against each other in a political thriller will be explosive. I’d also love to work with Mannura Umar and Lucy Ameh again. They were fantastic in my film and I think given the right material, can do amazing things.
…and on the international scene, which talents catch your fancy?
There are so many actors I admire and would want to work with on the international scene. Top of my list would be Dakota Fanning and Ryan Gosling. They are two actors I really respect and admire and I’ve followed them from their early works till now. Ms Fanning has worked with practically all the heavyweights in the industry and has held her own with anyone she’s shared the screen with and Mr Gosling just has an edge a lot of his contemporaries can only dream of. They are actors I really admire.
As an award-winning filmmaker, do share with us what you feel are the qualities of a good film?
I’d say SOUL makes a good film.
It might sound cliche or pretentious, but you know a good film when there are goosebumps on your arm, tears in your eyes or you keep remembering it three days after you saw it.
It’s the characters, the story, the direction, the set design, the music, the dialogue. Film is beautiful, but difficult to pull off; there are so many elements that make up a good film.
At the core of it, I’d say every good film has a soul from Hitchcock to Del Toro!
“Braids on a Bald Head” trailer