If you do not know that there is an exploding African film industry that is second to Bollywood & tops Hollywood in the number of films produced every year, then you need to get out from under your local rock & get a little more global. While there is huge buzz around African films being made by African filmmakers on the continent, there is a new generation of Africans making films who are following in the footsteps of great internationally renown filmmakers from Africa like Haile Gerima, writer, producer & director of the award winning internationally acclaimed film Sankofa.
These new generation filmmakers are western trained & often western born filmmakers who have taken on the mantle of telling the stories of Africa & Africans from history, to drama, to documentaries, to animation & even sci-fi thrillers. There is a long history of African filmmaking in all genres that seems to be forgotten in an era where Nollywood’s straight to DVD soap opera style stories are driving what the world considers the African film industry. These new young filmmakers refuse to be pigeonholed & are creating for the type of big box office success that brings the experience of going to the theater back to Africa & to the rest of the world by sharing their unique perspective through their global fusion.
One of these new generation global African filmmakers is Sam Kessie, a London born, Ghana raised & now Atlanta residing writer/director/producer/set designer and all around film creator, who has done it all from the bottom up into an award winning filmmaker taking on the daunting & epic task of telling the story of one of Africa’s sports heroes, Azumah Nelson AKA The Professor! After football, most African nations are extremely passionate to the depths of their soul about boxing & no African nation has cultivated Africa’s globally historic standing in the world of boxing more than Ghana,West Africa & its main boxing hub town of Bukom- home of the Muhammad Ali of not just Ghana but of the entire continent of Africa- home of the man who is affectionately known as “Zoom Zoom- The Professor”.
Sam Kessie has courageously put on the boxing gloves to a golden globes championship as the sole woman amongst giant men producing the documentary film “Zoom Zoom -The Professor”, covering the historical career & rise of a young man from the boisterously tough quaint fishing town of Bukom, located in Ghana’s capital of Accra. Azumah Nelson put African boxing on the map KO after KO & became an international superstar with an entire continent behind him as he became the only African to have ever been inducted into the World Boxing Hall of Fame. In yet another black star move to be the first in setting their own standards & paving their own paths, Sam Kessie who has been chosen to be part of National Geographic’s “2011 Women Hold Up The Sky Series” featuring films by trailblazing female filmmakers, has added an educational element to the documentary entitled Zum Zum: The Career of Azumah Nelson, which is being toured nationally in places like the National Geographic Center in Washington, DC on April 2,2011, to educate the world about the life of Azumah Nelson beyond boxing.
Azumah Nelson holds his title of “The Professor” to heart as he has made it his life’s mission to educate the children of the black star nation of Ghana, West Africa. The Azumah documentary project started as a piece to help bring awareness to the Azumah Nelson Foundation in conjunction with his children’s book to raise 23 million dollars(USD) to build an educational sports complex for underprivileged children in Akuse, Ghana. This entire documentary project came together with the aid of Geodrill showing that corporations & artists can work together toward the betterment & social responsibility in supporting, preserving & serving the culture of a nation, along with fans & supporters donating time, money, footage, music & whatever they could to bring the story to life about a man who is bigger than life to most Africans, whom he has inspired not only through his globally recognized accomplishments, but also through his compassion & dedication to continue to give back to his nation & to Africa as a whole. Today hip-hop artists from Africa name check him in their rap songs & young boxers from Bukom like Joshua Clottey who has garnered international fame, fight in his name & shadow because he paved the path to respecting the strength, power & intelligence of the African fighter. This deeply rooted love for Azumah Nelson is what brought Sam Kessie back to Ghana as a modern day griot utilizing the medium of film to continue to tell & pass down the stories of Africa’s greatness to the next generation.
“I hope this leads to distribution for him in the future, but this being for such an honorable non-profit cause, I hope it gets a chance to circulate around, hopefully in the festival circuit. I hope people who normally wouldn’t consider watching a boxing story of a young man from a little coastal African nation who believed his destiny was to become a King amongst Kings fulfilling his destiny beyond anyone’s expectations as he rose amongst the greatest, would get the opportunity to do so.” Sam Kessie
1. Who Is Sam Kessie?
A dream maker, traveler, adventurer, volunteer, story teller and difference maker!!!!
Individually pushing boundaries, and collectively inspiring others to do the same. It’s pretty simple. I do what I love and keep doing it. I want others to not only feel my passion in what I do, but be moved by it. As a filmmaker, giving back to future filmmakers in Ghana is really important to me- it’s giving them the opportunity to be in control of telling a story. Their own unique story.
2. Were you born in London?
Camden Town!!!! Best part of London. I live for Camden Market!
3. What brought you to filmmaking?
I have always had a brain that constantly formulates stories and a pretty vivid imagination. Ever since I can remember as a child, I have always in one way or another written stories, poems and little plays. It was always a hobby though. After years and years and years of trying to figure out my calling I eventually found my true self in being able to bring visuals to words and create something that made people feel something. It was pretty funny to look back and release how I never completely left the world of art. For instance, even though I was a science major in high school in Ghana, I was very much active in the drama club. Never understood why one of my speech day prizes was a book entitled, Movie and Methods. I guess they knew. In the end, I was never fulfilled with anything else. Now I am happy doing this. It’s really what I was really good at in the end.
4. Where did you study filmmaking?
I studied filmmaking at the American InterContinental University in Atlanta.
5. What filmmakers are you inspired by?
Quite a few. One who does quite a bit and constantly is Alfred Hitchcock. Being a student of psychology, it was really interesting to be able to relate a lot of his stories to the deeper darker psychic of the human being and behavior. Although he many times was able to touch on a lot of complex and intense subjects, he managed to find a balance to tell these stories with such intellect and sometimes such satire, that made people watch even if they didn’t want to face the issue.
6. How would you describe your style of filmmaking?
I don’t think I have a style yet. I think I am still evolving and growing. I would say a lot of British dark humour influences my style often, resulting in my stories, even though might look colorful would often times have pretty dark subject matter. A bit of juxtaposition.
7. How did a young female Ghanaian by the way of London become the lone female amongst men producing a documentary about who most of Africa & the world see as Africa's # 1 Boxer of all time, Africa's greatest, Africa's Muhammed Ali?
First of, it was an absolute dream come true. When I moved back to Ghana with my family at a young age, I remember being upset many times because Ghana at that time, had only one channel and so of course when there was an Azumah match on, that was the only thing on. Eventually I started to appreciate his drive and determination, I couldn’t wait to see him in action. Visiting Ghana after almost a decade of leaving for school, I was lucky to meet this great champ through a mutual family friend. After spending time with him, learning about his foundation and his children's book in the works, I came to learn he had been trying for a while to get a documentary about his life done. After showing him some of my work, he was more than happy to pass on all & any footage he had that could be used to tell a low budget simple story about him becoming such an inspirational Black Star ambassador to Ghana and Africa.
8. Are You a Boxing fan?
Huge! Especially now after spending time on putting his story together.
9. What made you want to tell this story?
He is such an inspiration to me that it was an honor to tell this. I wish I could have done more, as there is so much more of his story to tell. But this being such a low budget, just being able to even get part of his story out there is great because people need to and should know about this fantastic man.
10. How long did it take you to do the Zoom Zoom/Zum Zum film?
All in all about 7 months.
11. What was your main role in bringing this documentary to life?
I wrote, produced and edited Zum Zum through my production company, Sankofa Pictures.
I have always said there really isn't a director on this Azumah documentary. This documentary became a "conglomerate" of information and footage over several years and from several places and people. I basically tried to assemble a simple story as best as I could. It was at times hard to find some concrete information, some footage of him and also most of the footage around were unusable without being extremely creative with it. I wish I would have found footage of him when he was younger, both for interviews and b-roll as well as a few other things to tell a very very solid and strong story; However, this was a low budget film and since there was a deadline on this project we had to use most of what we had and could find. I am still happy and proud of producing this with Azumah and his team and I hope we continue to find ways to tell his story as well as other Black Star greats as best as we can.
12. With a Film like "The Fighter " doing so well at the box office, winning many awards & possibly winning the Oscar this Sunday- do you ever see a film like "Zoom Zoom-The Professor", about not just a town but an entire continent's boxing hero catching global interests ?
ABSOLUTELY. In fact, there was almost the chance of us creating a feature film based on this story once we were done with the documentary. I don’t think it is too late. His story is as exceptional and unique as the man himself. Coming from such a small country and from such poor background, his humility and story would definitely capture a lot of hearts all over & Bukom is a boxing town like no other that the world would be amazed to have a birds eye voyeuristic look into. If the world thinks Boston has great characters then wait until the are introduced to the unique characters of Bukom.
13. As Ghanaian, born with a English accent living in Atlanta...do you consider yourself as the part of the African film industry , The European film industry or the American film industry..a just a filmmaker of the world?
Definitely filmmaker of the world. I don’t want to ever be put into a box or niche... Since I love all forms of stories, I want to tell all stories that interest me and make a difference. I want to reach to all people who love a good story.
14. What made you move to Atlanta?
I consider myself a world traveler. I ended up here about 7 years ago. This is where I am for now. Not sure where I’ll be tomorrow. Thinking of Patagonia Hahahhaha. Atlanta is beginning to get it’s footing in the film industry though, so I may lay my hat here for a couple more years.
15. What have been your triumphs & obstacles as a filmmaker?
Oh my... There has been so many different ones at so many different times. The biggest obstacles for me though has been trying to get projects off the ground and done as a director. The biggest triumphs have been being able to get most of my projects off the ground and completed. I have a few that didn’t quite go as well as I wanted. But for me, just to be able to get something that is great and I am also so grateful for the experience that comes with it. I have been lucky to have a few that have been appreciated by both a smaller and larger audience and received accolades for them. Everyday is a new day of class for me.
16. Does your tri-continental experience influence the scope of your filmmaking?
It really does. It has allowed me to have a wide and open appreciation for a lot of different styles of storytelling/filmmaking. It offers me an endless ‘library’ of information and experience that helps me create hopefully unique films and stories
17. What projects are you currently working on?
I am currently working on raising funds for a summer project my charity, TKAFoundation (Tomorrow’s Kaleidoscope of Artist) is helping with in Ghana this summer. We will be offering the kids from the Street Academy in Ghana creative programs as well as teaching the basics of filmmaking. They will get to make their own 2 short films at the end and we are very excited.
I also am working on hopefully directing my first written feature Killing Harry- A dark comedy about a man who is sent back from the dead to find out who was responsible for his death before he can rest in peace. The only problem is, who was it?
18. What is currently on your play list?
I have over 20,000 songs on my ipod and it’s constantly growing. I have everything, Nina Simone, Daft Punk and Jamiroquai to my Hip Life and Afrobeat to Danny Elfman and Radiohead. I love music and have been learning how to play my favorite instruments lately. Music is such a stimulant to story telling
19. What do you see as the future of filmmaking?
I see it as being an outlet to bring awareness to what needs to be made aware. It’s a teaching tool. It brings together the senses that can help influence and create a change.
20. What do you want the Sam Kessie story to be in 5-10 years?
To still be making movies that people would always remember... whether they loved it or hated it and hopefully help create positive change through it.
Quickfire Questions: Getting To know Sam Kessie... Deeper
-Proudest Moment: Finishing my senior thesis, Sales Day. It reiterated to me that I made the right decision becoming a filmmaker and not anything else.
-Lowest moment: When I have almost walked away because I thought I couldn’t pull off a project or when people haven’t taken me seriously. I am glad I always come to my sense and remember passion.
-My passion for Art... Comes from My vivid imagination and experiences
-I am most satisfied when: I have a fantastic team to work on with a project. It’s such a special bond when creative people come together and give a part of themselves to make something so beautiful and organic. Also when I have my mango sorbert!
-I am least satisfied when: People around me are not motivated or excited about their own passions. It is extremely draining and distracting. Also when I have loose corn in my food. It’s either on a cob or cream corn.
-Love is: Life
-Hate is: Death
-Freedom is: From love
-Fear Is: Hate and jealousy
-I'd rather travel: On a motorbike or bicycle than an SUV
-I can't live without: African cuisine and beaches
-I can live without: War
-My Heros: My Parents, Dr. K. Nkrumah, Da Vinci
-Top 3 places to checkout where I live /or top 3 things that I like to do in general:
Little 5 Points (a really cool artists community type area), photography, Lilburn Cafe (Best smoothies ever)
-Top 3 things that i like to avoid in general:
Traffic, the Georgia DOT and unmotivated people
-My favorite vacation spot is:
Just anywhere new! I love traveling
-Top 3 things to checkout at my favorite vacation spot:
Well it’s usually the same, - The people and places that are cool, the food, the culture- esp music
-My dream vacation spot that I have not been yet :
Tamale -Ghana, Istanbul - Turkey and Buenos Aires –Argentina