Constance Ejuma, co-producer and co-actor, discusses “Ben & Ara” with Africa on my sleeve
The Producer-Filmmaker-Actor Constance Ejuma who was born in Cameroon and grew up in the United States, has been interviewed by our talented blogger Africa on My sleeve. In this conversation they talk about the film “Ben and Ara” where Constance plays also the character of Ara, as well as her identity and also her story as a filmmaker.
AOMS: Was there a particular event or time that you recognised that filmmaking was not just a hobby?
CE: Before ‘Ben & Ara,’ I never really considered myself a filmmaker. I’ve always been an actor and up until that point I’d viewed the acting profession as a separate thing. I remember the moment I realized I wanted to be a storyteller. There was one summer where I got to watch a lot of Bollywood films and even though none of them were subtitled, I was fascinated by the fact that I could still understand the story. There was something about good storytelling transcending language that made me interested in the world of cinema. It wasn’t until I was about 16 that I realized that acting could be a viable field to pursue to satisfy this desire I had to tell stories.
AOMS: Films evolve through the creative process – sometimes most dramatically in the editing process. It’s often really hard to reconcile the difference between what we desired and what we achieved. How have you encountered this and how do you move through it?
CE: The editing process is really tough because it’s the time that you get to see what you actually have on your hands. Sometimes expectations and reality meet. Sometimes they don’t. When that happens, you have to work with what you have and allow the story to shape up the way it wants to. In our case, we had very limited resources so we had to make the best of what we had. Fortunately, the final product turned out OK.
AOMS: What one theme out of the many running through the story resonate/d with you or influenced your decision to take on the Ben & Ara project?
CE: I liked the idea of two people with completely different philosophies having an encounter and somehow being compelled to change their thinking. So much conflict in the world could be avoided if we just took a moment to put ourselves in someone else’s shoes and allow ourselves to see the world through their eyes, even just for a moment.
AOMS: One thing the film does well is offer several diametrically opposite view points on big issues such as religion/faith or lack of it without overdramatising, as do other storylines that attempt to discuss such issues . The question is was it difficult to keep the cinematic depiction of the story grounded given the subjects addressed in the story often Elicit polarised view points?
CE: I think the most grounding element of the film is the love story between Ben and Ara. While their intellect makes for interesting conversations, their philosophical debates can be fairly abstract and hard to grasp. But that’s the very thing that feeds their love and attraction to each other, which is the main thing the audience picks up on and holds their interest.
AOMS: What advice would you give to someone who wanted to have a life creating film?
CE: There isn’t a specific blueprint for being a successful filmmaker and in this day of smart phones and YouTube, there aren’t as many barriers to creativity as there used to be. So I’d encourage aspiring filmmakers not to wait for permission and to create storytelling standards based on personal taste rather than what’s popular.
AOMS: What makes a film great for you? Are there certain qualities that make a film better for you?
CE: A great film either surprises me, hits me in the gut, or keeps me thinking long after I’ve seen it.
AOMS: What films have been the most inspiring or influential to you and why?
CE: This is always a tricky question for me because there are so many films I like from completely different genres. I was still trying to figure out the answer to “Mulholland Drive” years after I’d seen it. “The Matrix” definitely caused a mental shift not just in the way I thought about what was possible on film but also in what’s at the core of a good story. The staging device used in Lars von Trier’s “Dogville” kind of blew me away. “Enter the Void” remains a favorite because of it’s exploration of life after death. And my current obsession is “Tanna” which took me back to that experience I had a child tapping into what’s at the core of our shared narrative as human beings.