Conversation with Writer & Director Gilbert Bassey on his short film ANANZE AND THE ZIPMAN (2021)
“Your imagination is your power”
The title subtly reminds me of the Ashanti folk hero – Anansi the spider and his adventures. Known for his mischief, wisdom, trial and triumphs. Like the spider stories, Ananze and the Zipman circles around a dark web of corruption as our protagonist Zipman fights injustice. A film that require your listening ear as the filmmaker speaks through Zipman (Uzoamaka Aniunoh) as she delivers an impeccable monologue taking us into the world of her intent and actions.
“people like you blind us to the reality that all it takes to create real change is action. You lie everyday overstating your importance and power, thereby killing our moral to act.”
FR: Your film is memorable in its conceptual framework, from writing to production design. Why did you make this film?
GB: I made the film for different reasons: To make something that spoke to the situation of Nigeria in some way, shape, or form. I had to adapt the script to fit this desire. Originally, the script was about rape and revenge. But I had to rework the direction because I’ve not had a personal experience with rape and felt I wouldn’t be able to offer an ingenious depiction.
FR: Great. Is this your first short film?
GB: Nah. There’s this black and white 7-mins beauty, you can check it out here https://youtu.be/gFX8N5CuGtE . It’s titled Wole’s Revenge, it was made in 2019
FR: Wole’s Revenge is “beautiful”; an impressive visual metaphor evident in the film and as seen in your recent short film. What inspires your stories?
GB: My interests, likes, and dreams (aspirations). I’m interested in the mind, life, self, progress, freedom, etc. I like spectacular stories, stuff that’s not normal. I like storytelling that messes with time and scene arrangements. I like sci-fi, action, thriller, fantasy, adventure. Mostly sci-fi and thriller. But I don’t like stuff that’s too weird sha. There’s a nice balance to have. Christopher Nolan seems to know how to strike it.
Of all the things I dream of, a better Nigeria is at the apex of the apex. It’s so overwhelming that nothing seems to compare. As in, every other thing seems to flow from there. For example, a key function of most of my stories is to reshape the Nigerian mindset, or at the very least, present another lens from which to view our reality, one that’s solution driven as opposed to escapist or complainist.
FR: “..to reshape the Nigerian mindset…” In your recent film, how would you say you were able to do this? I see the socio-political commentary present, however, how does it intend to drive a solution as you have suggested?
GB: Lol. I can’t say what it is because it’s political. However, it’s self-evident, whether you’re aware of it or not. Though I’ll admit, the goal of this one wasn’t so much to reshape a mindset as it was to introduce an alternate consideration. In my world, reshaping the mindset is a more positive act, one that promotes/suggests/propagates the right kind of ideas that I think could get us out of where we are.
FR: Let’s talk about your idea of vengeance. Ananze and The Zipman is built around an act of revenge. Are you of the opinion that to attain peace, war/violence is expedient?
GB: On the contrary, I think war is the worst thing that could happen. When the violence starts, it won’t take long before we forget why we’re fighting. Also, don’t forget that there are people with arms to sell and aid to give, and the moment war starts, their only goal will be to prolong the war as much as possible so that they can keep benefiting. This doesn’t even take into consideration the world political struggle that will ensue over which world powers will increase their influence in the African continent. Then the starvation. Oh the starvation. Also don’t forget the destruction, because of all things, this is the worst. When the dust settles, which country would we be living in? Whenever in doubt, look at Syria and what happened.
If violence is to be the way, then only one kind can work. Targeted violence, one that is effective and doesn’t usurp the peace we currently enjoy. Violence that does its research to know exactly who the enemy is, and focuses its chaos there and only there.
FR: What is your idea of superheroes? What would you define as their function?
GB: In my view, the primary function of superheroes is to point us to the better parts of our nature. Their secondary function is to help us fulfill wishes we can never attain in real life.
Some people could say that their function is to give us hope, but if that were true, that would be a lie. Superman doesn’t give me hope because I know his story is a total fabrication. I can learn from him, but I can’t draw hope from him. He doesn’t live in my world. Rather, I see what he stands for and it appeals to me. It helps me understand that that is good and the bad guy is bad.
In Zipman’s case, her call to superhero hall of fame is the overriding sense of justice—which is taken so far that it becomes an evil unto itself (in her full character arc). Given the level of injustice in this country, it’s hard for one not to feel the need to create a superhero who helps retain some sense of justice.
FR: “overriding sense of justice — which is taken so far that it becomes an evil unto herself” Is this what the red door means? (As we constantly see) That she is trapped in her own imagination/eagerness to revenge.
GB: Oh…I’m not that meta. Haha! The red door simply signifies a transition into another layer of existence. Regarding the quote you referenced, I was speaking of her overall character arc. This isn’t something that is shown in the short film as it was supposed to unfold during the course of the story—this is sort of an entry point into a larger world/story.
FR: The female superhero. While writing or after, did you think of the character as a feminist in the contextual meaning of things?
GB: Oh…no, not even in the slightest. Her pain was too much and her mission too grand to be fitted through feminism. I think it would distract from the main point. She’s strong because she’s a woman and not because she’s a feminist. Women are innately strong; they don’t need to identify as feminists for this strength to manifest. I dislike labels in general because it doesn’t take long before they are misunderstood/hijacked/corrupted/etc.
FR: I’m not a fan of labels too, but we often find that audiences/critics want to help define an artist by the kind of film they do. So if I’d ask, what kind of film would you call your recent film
GB: As in genre? Let’s do this. What genre do you think it fits?
FR: I’m on the hot seat now. Lol. I usually don’t like to box films into genres but for the sake of it. I might suggest it is “AfricanJujuism” as Nnedi OKoroafor explains that “it is a subcategory of fantasy that respectfully acknowledges the seamless blend of true existing African spiritualities and cosmologies with the imaginative” So maybe this is the world you have created?
GB: An interesting view. I would call it Supernatural thriller because it makes use of existing words to adequately describe what the film is. Is it a thriller? Yes. Does it have supernatural elements? Yes
FR: You have made an interesting film is what is important. One that is visually smart.
GB: Thank you. Maybe not so smart as it leaves many confused.
FR: Well often not the fault of the storyteller. I believe audiences must take their own meaning from a work of art no matter.
GB: Maybe not the fault of the storyteller, but definitely their responsibility. I believe that one owes it to their story and the money it cost to make it for it to be accessible to as many people as possible without it losing its uniqueness or logic.
FR: Of course. I should agree but not every work will give you this. A Terrence Malick would not be a Woody Allen despite the cost of production wouldn’t you agree?
GB: A solid point.
FR: So what did you find most challenging with the work?
GB: Getting it made and somewhat released. The whole process was a rollercoaster. I tried to keep a diary during the period. From funding to casting, to recruiting the crew. A whole damn lot.
FR: How did you fit the actors to the characters?
GB: For Zipman/Joan I had considered other actors in the casting process but we went forUzoamaka. She’s a great actor. It was a good choice. With Ananze (Chimezie Imo), I had told him a year ago, so it was quite clear he was the man for the job.
FR: What was the budget for the film. If you’d like to share
GB: Under N2million but we got a lot of things for free, owing to the passion everyone brought to the project.
FR: And can you give me an in-the-moment story about a project you’d like to work in the future?
GB: There’s actually a lot, but there’s this story called “Rebels FC”, it’s a Football story and it’s going to be f****** ace. It’s a story that got me crying while creating it. So yes, that’s it.
Watch Trailer here