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Work / Film

Filmmaker Samona Olanipekun explores innocence and loss in his love letter to the immigrant experience, Kindred

Samona Olanipekun talks to It’s Nice That about the thinking behind his short film Kindred, an eight minute dream-like journey into what it means to be a subject of a shifting cultural identity. “I really wanted to put across this idea of a collective journey. My parents moved to the UK in the 80s for education and to give us the best possible opportunity in life. For me, making this film was a way to explore what that meant”, explains Samona. The short is commissioned by the Barbican as part of their season titled The Art of Change; Samona was given the theme “Globalisation” to explore. “When I came across the brief I had already had a few ideas that revolved around the migration of people” he says. “In recent years I’ve had a huge fascination on the migration of people and the risks people take to venture into the unknown or the conditions that force people to take that risk.”

The result is a beautifully shot foray into untold stories by the first time director. While Samona has been shooting short films and documentaries to critical acclaim for brands like Nike, ASOS, Levis and Converse, this new project encompasses personal territory. Discussing the process he says, “I really pushed myself to try and communicate my idea in the simplest way.”

The result is simple, but understands how to invoke the poetry of lived experience. The film is set with no running narrative, just one long, song accompanied with drums, dislocated by the occasional violent shout. Kindred tells the stories of joyful lives, opening with the sound of water gushing through a lake and two boys turned away from us, gently playing, pushing and smiling, setting the tone for what life can be like when you’re not under attack.

The languid pace is interrupted by coarse demands by men in visors and helmets — emblems of the ferocious anti-immigration raid officers of border control. Here, they are French, snarling contrasts to the beatific faces of young children placed on ground that feels like their own. Using these jolts of severity to cut through the rhythmic drumming and songs, Kindred deftly invites us into the duality of the immigrant experience.

This is about a journey but mostly it is about what it evokes – joy, serenity and the innocence of youth being witness to warped faces of disgust in new lands. Shot over four days, in London and Botany Bay, Samona and his team’s thoughtful casting takes us to the place in his imagination with the help of dancer Kelechi Okafor, and singer (and pace-setter) Awo Ifaleke Haynes. Discussing the thrilling sound he says, “the song is a Ife prayer. Ife is the ancient spiritual system of the Yoruba people and it is a call to the ancestors. The song essentially says “you’re not here right now, but you’re elsewhere & we are remembering you”. My parents are both from the Yoruba tribe of southwestern Nigeria. It was important for me use the bata drums as the backbone for the film and then when I met Awo Ifelake, we were able to develop the specific sound together.”

Reflecting on the work, Samona allows us to see ourselves in Kindred as he explores himself. “There’s no definite answers” he says, “but you can see hints at assimilation and also the carefree nature of children. I think we’ve all been guilty of taking for granted the opportunities life presents us. As well as that there’s a constant struggle of living up to your parents expectations. Making this film was a chance for me to ask myself some of those questions and try to understand my place in the world a little bit better". For Samona, the work stands to open up answers for meandering questions that anyone experiencing statelessness in motion has asked themselves. In this vein, he hopes to reach out to anyone who has ever felt lost, anyone on a quest to find meaning in injustice…anyone who is a kindred spirit.

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