Cinema’s magical largely lies in its ability to give our stories their own lives, whilst imprinting them with our identities and providing space for those stories to bloom. Today, access to this super power is greatly improved and many people, especially from marginalized communities, are empowered enough to translate the intricacies of their lived and inherited experiences into a medium that is accepting and nurturing. Omolola Ajao’s Fufu Film Project is a magical example of the magnificent ways in which film can serve as both an iridescent light illuminating corridors of our lives as Africans as well as a thread to connect to the lives of others like us with similar stories.
As a young African woman filmmaker in the diaspora, Omolola is invested in protecting and transmitting West-African cultures and traditions through a three part film series where each project bleeds into the next as a cosmic web of storytelling. In this interview we speak to her about facing her work and the experience that come with that, especially as a young woman filmmaker operating in a western space as well as the drive to bridge the generational gap in indigenous knowledge by preserve it in film.
DANDANO: How would you describe The FUFU film project to a potential viewer?
Omolola Ajao: Well, The FUFU Film Project is divided into three main short films, in no particular order. One, is a short silent film/photo– Ojo Isinku. Two, is Prodigal, which is the documentary short and the last is the narrative short, Fufu (Ojo Itaoku). All three films interconnect together (specifically the last two– the documentary and the narrative) considering the viewpoint of young West-African women in a Western landscape–specifically Nigerian women in a Canadian environment– reflecting on their unique perspective of the severance and continuance of taught culture and tradition and its’ cycle down from our teachers (our parents, specifically our mothers) to us as women and so on. The project considering African womanhood, young African womanhood.
DANDANO: What led you to create such a body of work which seems engineered to observe and address ways by which West African cultures manifest and are preserved in the diaspora?
Omolola Ajao: Migration for my family was a very isolated experience. Born in the South American country of Guyana, as the last child into a Nigerian immigrant family of five, I was born into an active search of settlement that my parents had been in years before my siblings and I had come along. For the majority of my life my Nigerian parents have migrated to new spaces and environments constantly working towards a better life. My childhood and much of my adolescence, a constant state of migration and temporary settlement. To create the sense of a home despite constantly moving, the maintenance of African traditions and constant routine was vital. The replication of these traditions that originated from Nigeria creating the ultimate fabric of our moving but stable home.
DANDANO: What are some of the reasons that informed the project? Where there any thematic or production reasons that called for three parts?
Omolola Ajao: Many things have informed the essence of this project. African cinema, Black American cinema, European Cinema. Films like Charles Burnett’s Killer of Sheep, Sembene’s Black Girl. My own cultures and traditions and simply being.
Being a young African woman in a Western landscape amongst these cultures and traditions continue to be a learning, intriguing experience. A lot of these traditions that I’ve grown up with, traditions that I love and admire— actively protect patriarchy, misogyny. Some traditions that have been influenced by white supremacy and by European colonialism. At the same time I reside in a predominantly White landscape, an environment that doesn’t necessarily benefit or cultivate these African traditions for me. So this project looks at the crossroads of traditions as an African woman that I aspire to continue, but I also aspire to change, and maybe even severe.
The main reason why I broke it into three parts, is because this concept is very experimental, also all of these films consider reflection, but in three different yet overarching ways.
DANDANO: With the second part, Prodigal where you interviewed three Nigerian-Canadian women, I’m interested in knowing what you learned in regards to how the younger regeneration are preserving their cultures as well as integrating into other cultures. Is there anything that was particularly unexpected?
Omolola Ajao: Alot! At the same time I saw myself in their stories which was really intriguing and surprising for me to witness. I know most Nigerians always say we’re the same, the same household, the same culture, the same values. However, Nigerian parents are strict, and specifically the passing of culture continues to be strict, so it always feels really personal. But outwardly to talk and discuss with African women who mirror me in ways, it was really empowering in a way. To talk openly about our childhood, our families, our beliefs was really impactful.
DANDANO: Does creating The FUFU film project have a personal resonance with your own journey as well, as a young African woman filmmaker in Canada and also as someone who has had to move about a lot, experiencing and learning from many different cultures?
Omolola Ajao: This project is me. It really is to the definition, who I am. I think that’s what’s pushed me so far within creating it, because it’s who I am currently in this life. A young African woman.
DANDANO: What has been your biggest challenge so far and what have you learned from overcoming it?
Omolola Ajao: Filmmaking is really not slight work! Especially theses stories that differ from the norm. I think a lot of people forget that, even I. Everything is a lot of planning, organizing, talking, deliberating, and money on the off-chance that you create for yourself but also you’ll create something that people will resonate with. I think understanding that has been a difficulty of mine in this project, because creating tangible and effortful work requires that,especially from everyone on your team working on this project.
DANDANO: How can we support this project?
Omolola Ajao: Since we’re past the pre-production stage, and through grants and fundraising, we’re entering into the production stage for the last film, it would be great if you could just anticipate the release of the entire project, especially on the festival circuit. On my film account (ig– @omololajao), I will be sharing some things, if you’re interested, and it would be great to hear from anyone who has any supportive words to a young filmmaker.
Interview conducted by: Hakeem Adam
Image credit: Morgana McKenzie via Omolola Ajao