Frances Bodomo at Opening Night of the 20th New York African Film Festival. Photo by Julie Cunnah.
Born in the West African country of Ghana, Frances Bodomo also grew up in such far-flung locales as Norway, Hong Kong and California, before settling in New York, where she currently lives. The long distances only hint at the melange of cultural references and contradictions that inform Bodomo's filmmaking and her understanding of an increasingly global world.
An avid storyteller from a young age, she became hooked on filmmaking after taking a film studies course in college. Since then, she has served practically every role on a set, even a stint in front of the camera on a short. But her passion is directing. Her short, Boneshaker, explores the clash of cultures through the eyes of a young girl whose immigrant parents take her to an African Pentecostal healer against the backdrop of the Louisiana bayou. Don't be suprised if the lead actress looks familiar. She is none other than the youngest Oscar nominee for Best Actress in a Lead Role, Quevenzhané Wallis, who starred in last year's Beasts of the Southern Wild.
The film hints at the clash of cultures that so fascinates Bodomo and which she hopes to continue to explore. Boneshaker will screen at the 20th New York African Film Festival, currently underway, at the Film Society of Lincoln Center. But Bodomo has what appears to be a brisk schedule. She has already completed another short and is planning her first feature…
FilmLinc: You grew up in Ghana correct?
Frances Bodomo: I was born in Ghana, but I grew up there and in Hong Kong, Norway, California, and now I live in New York. Yeah, I'm Bodomo nomad.
FL: What was the trajectory that lead you to want to be a filmmaker?
FB: I initially wanted to be a poet and spent my childhood reading and writing, and my imagination was huge. After a while I realized my writing was becoming more and more visual. I didn't discover film until I went to Columbia and I took a film studies class on a whim. It had this explosive introduction in which I went to the library over a summer and rented 10 movies a day. I guess that was my introduction to film.
FL: What filmmakers have inspired you?
FB: Harmony Korine, Werner Herzog and John Cassavetes are my top three.
FL: And what inspired Boneshaker?
FB: It's definitely a personal story… I decided to explore this idea of being a migrant, rather than an immigrant, and going to a country and not really being a part of that country—being between three or four societies. I wanted to explore that and what is home in the 21st century.
Quevenzhané Wallis in Boneshaker
FL: In the film, a little girl is taken to see a charismatic preacher/healer. I assumed that the person playing her was an actor, but it looked like from the credits, she was in fact exactly how she appears in your film. She's listed as Dr. Stella Gwandiku (God's Warrior Princess) and the people present were in fact her congregation…
FB: She is specifically from Cameroon, but she lives in Alexandria, Louisiana. I needed a tent revivalist, Pentecostal preacher. But I needed her to be African because that was my experience in this world. There are many African preachers in Louisiana. It was magical to find her because here I am trying to do this thing and the one I found was this high powered, energetic woman.
FL: And the little girl is played by Quevenzhané Wallis, how did you find her?
FB: This was a similar thing, I had decided to shoot in Louisiana and I was trying to look for a young girl who was from a generation that had grown up here and spoke with an American accent. I just wanted a young girl and my friends had been working on Beasts of the Southern Wild and they said: “You need to audition this one girl…”
I really love directing children. I love it because it's much more of-the-moment and playing a game. Bending and manipulating in the creative sense, but doing it when they want to do it.
FL: What kinds of movies would you like to do going forward and where would you like to work?
FB: I want to work on movies that are of-the-now or the near-future. I want to be a part of movies that bring new images to the world. I'm definitely most interested in being a director. The films I'm attracted to are people caught between cultures or worlds. That would be a general way I'd tailor it. And I want to show people who haven't been in movies before.
FL: What are your favorite recent movies?
FB: Spring Breakers [laughs]. Yes definitely… The irony of the 80s and 90s. It's a movie that came from within the world. There wasn't some huge moral judgment from a higher point of view, but it does have powerful comment about that world.
FL: What should we look forward from you down the line?
FB: I just wrapped my next short, which is called Afronauts. It's about these people in the desert in Africa on the day America and Neil Armstrong landed on the moon. But they're people who are trying to beat America to the moon. We also have a Kickstarter campaign. I'm also writing a feature that follows a large funeral procession through countries on the African continent.
Boneshaker screens Thursday, April 4 and Tuesday, April 9 before feature Alaskaland in the 20th New York African Film Festival.