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Masterfully inspired by Afro-futurism: Amartei Amar on TsutsuƐ
Sunday 5 February 2023, by ,
Set in a small Ghanaian town at the edge of a large landfill site that spills into the ocean, the sons of a fisherman, Sowah and Okai, struggle to cope with loss of their eldest brother who drowned during a fishing expedition. Haunted by his demise, Okai believes their brother is still out there…
Speaking at the Clermont-Ferrand International Short Film Festival, filmmaker Amartei Amar explained his choice to draw on the aesthetics of such movements as Afro-futurism. He does so masterfully. This short represents some of the most beautiful facets of the genre with its intermeshing of innocent children’s play, socio-political reality and supernatural elements grounded in millennia of myths and traditions. A stunning and ingenious piece of work.
What was the starting point of TsutsuƐ?
TsutsuƐ was born through three spiritually interwoven true stories. The first was from an experience our Producer had when a neighbourhood boy discovered a dead body in an open sewer. As he went to tell others, a storm broke and washed the body away. By the time he managed to get everyone to the spot, it wasn’t there. No one believed him and was he labelled crazy. It wasn’t until three days later, that the body was discovered in the ocean near where the sewer connects with the sea that the boy was believed. The second story comes from within my own family. Some years ago we lost the eldest brother of my father. He was survived by ten children, all grown except for the last born who also happens to be the only boy. His father passed and was even buried in the UK whilst he was still in boarding school here in Ghana. Because my cousin never got to see his father buried, he couldn’t emotionally comprehend the loss when he was told. This manifested in him believing on numerous occasions that he saw his father in the streets and in the faces of other men. The spiritual connection with his late father and the mental toll it took on him during his formative years is something that has stuck with me since. The third true story came from a documentary we were doing on the fishing industry in Ghana. How 70% of what the fisherman take out of the ocean with their nets is just trash. Because of this, they must go deeper out into the ocean and into harsher, sometimes life-endangering, fishing conditions. It is a fearsome task for them, because in Ghanaian culture to drown at sea is to have a spirit condemned to wandering the earth without knowing where is home.
The scenes that take place in the dump are particularly striking visually. What gave you the idea of filming there?
Shooting there was paramount to me as I wanted to create a dramatic dichotomy between the power of the artificial reality versus the natural one, but also show how their global rivalry has an effect on the human condition and the intimate realities within it. The landfill and the ocean to me are brothers rather than enemies and it was important to create a spiritual correlation between the two showing how both are places of play and danger; peace and trauma.
Can you tell us a bit more about Elisha Kirtson-Acquah and Idrissu Tontie Jr., who play Okai and Sowa? Their performances are really powerful.
This was Elisha’s first time acting and he’s actually from the town we shot in so we’re all very proud of him. He just has this energy about him. A fearlessness in his physicality, yet possessing a sort of quiet wisdom in how he sees the world. For me it was important that we were able to capture this side of him. I’m still in awe of him as he was just eight years old at the time of filming, but still continues to grow in the best of ways. With Tontie, I’ve worked with him before on the short film Vagabonds. It was also his first time acting as he was ten years old then and I could say the same about him as Elisha. He has a talent that I can’t wait for the world to see. We are going to do a feature film with him as the lead so exciting times ahead. Both bring amazing amounts of dedication and intensity to their work and I can’t wait to work with them again.
How did you shoot the scene that takes place at night, on the shore? How challenging was it, technically?
The logistics of this shoot were possibly the hardest I’ve ever faced. But we all knew this going in. The one thing I love about independent film, and even more specifically short independent film, is that in order to achieve a look or even just one shot, we have to go to these places and do it in the reality of the moment. With every environment, we have to, as filmmakers, endure what the characters go through. We are on the field, in the real spaces, so we have to find a way, through simple or complex human ingenuity. Honestly, everything you see, we just did in the simplest way you could think of, paying attention more to safety for cast and crew, while trying to achieve it.
What’s your favourite short film?
My favourite short film is hard to say because there are so many that have meant so much to me. A one that still is a little treasure for me to watch every now and again is Nefta Football Club by Yves Piat.
What does the Festival mean to you?
This will be my first time for, Clermont-Ferrand, but its reputation to me as a filmmaker is that it is a champion of short film works by auteurs with unique voices both emerging and established. That, at its core, harbors a deep love for the craft of short film and the incredible role it plays in both the creation and evolution of a filmmaker.