Interview with Filmmaker Ryan Njenga (GORGEOUS)

GORGEOUS was the winner of BEST SOUND & MUSIC at the November 2021 BLACK Feedback Film Festival.

1. What motivated you to make this film?

The intense anger I felt in the summer of 2020 at both the rise of alt-right politics and the death of George Floyd. I’m only 23, but I already feel like I’m close to getting desensitized to the murder of black men and women at the hands of police enforcement or vigilantes. While I felt proud to be apart of the protests and see so many motivated to protest, I felt annoyed knowing that to some, this is just a trend – in 2014, it was controversial to say Black Lives Matter, I had to defend that motto through the halls of my high school every day after the trial of Trayvon Martin. Now, it’s cool, it’s brand-friendly and everyone’s posting about being at the protest, the same people who had expressed prejudiced thoughts and actions. Off these emotions, I decided the best approach to speak my truth was through a visual poem.

2. From the idea to the finished product, how long did it take for you to make this film?

I had the initial inklings for the idea in the summer of 2020. I started writing early 2021, filmed in March 2021 and released on Juneteenth, a year after the protests occurred. All together, it was about a six month process, from the typewriter to the finished product.

3. How would you describe your film in two words!?

Black Beauty

4. What was the biggest obstacle you faced in completing this film?

Honestly, we filmed so much material, it was hard deciding what to throw out and what to keep. DeVonte Brown, our Director of Photography, captured a lot of beautiful imagery that I would love for the world to see. But, ultimately, I knew we had to whittle everything down to the most impactful imagery possible, which, I think we achieved.

5. What were your initial reactions when watching the audience talking about your film in the feedback video?

I was happy they understood what me and my co-writer, Vance Malekani, were going for. I felt especially ecstatic on one reviewer picking up on a lot of subtle references we put in the piece – the Birth of a Nation reference, the specific choice of Mickey Mouse whistling at the end, etc. It made me more proud of the work we did.

Watch the Audience FEEDBACK Video:

6. When did you realize that you wanted to make films?

When I was in the fifth grade, I decided I wanted to be a TV writer. I was a big fan of Arrested Development, The Simpsons and Seinfeld and I loved the idea of writing, creating worlds for characters that reflect and exaggerate our own lives. In the seventh grade, I fell in love with both American New Wave films in the 70s – Taxi Driver, Eraserhead, A Clockwork Orange – some French New Wave and the work of Spike Lee & Paul Thomas Anderson. The latter two especially inspired me, showing me that black stories can and should be told on the big screen and that you can explore a wide array of styles, genres and subjects – as long as it’s authentically you. That’s when I knew I had to write and direct.

7. What film have you seen the most in your life?

Most likely Inherent Vice. Hot take, but I think it’s one of PTA’s best films. The melancholic, drugged-out tone is beautiful and it has some of the most subtle, hilarious, clever gags I’ve seen in my life. Close seconds are If Beale Street Could Talk and Moonrise Kingdom

8. What other elements of the festival experience can we and other festivals implement to satisfy you and help you further your filmmaking career?

I don’t have anything really. I think WildSound has done an incredible job.

9. You submitted to the festival via FilmFreeway. How has your experiences been working on the festival platform site?

Great! I don’t know what I’d do without it – I’ve found so many different festivals and opportunities I would never have heard about without it. FilmFreeway is a life saver.

10. What is your favorite meal?

Chipotle Breakfast Wrap at Mildred’s in KC. IYKYK.

11. What is next for you? A new film?

Yes! We have a film dropping in 2022 – WISH YOU WERE HERE. It’s a romantic dramedy following a couple as they deal with their break-up. It’s my most ambitious film yet and I got to work with the best team for it. Tim Harte, who scored GORGEOUS, also scored this one. We have a few things planned for it, which you can up with on my Instagram – @ryanknjenga. GORGEOUS is my favorite project I’ve released so far, but this new one might just take the cake.

By matthewtoffolo

Filmmaker and sports fan. CEO of the WILDsound Film and Writing Festival www.wildsound.ca

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