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SxSW 2017 Interview: PAA JOE AND THE LION director Benjamin Wigley

by Jason Whyte

"This is a film about life, love and death told through a coming of age story of Jacob and his father, the greatest living Ghanaian coffin maker, Paa Joe." Director Benjamin Wigley on PAA JOE AND THE LION which screens at the 2017 South By Southwest Conference.

I hear you are back at SxSW this year! Tell me about what you have had here in the past, and your favorite aspects of the city.

I had a short film called PS YOUR MYSTERY SENDER that played back in 2011 about the unusual and unwrapped gifts the fashion designer Paul Smith was receiving in the post from a mystery person for the last 20 years. I didn't actually come to Austin that time but I am very much looking forward to being here with my first feature film PAA JOE & THE LION.

So how did you get into the movie-making business?

I am an artist and a filmmaker, so I began studying art, then I specialized in film and continued to study different aspects of film, video and post production; well I'm continuously doing it. I was able to acquire some equipment when I had just graduated and I also got myself certified as an FCP professional trainer in the early versions, so I was lucky enough to have developed both creative thinking in art and the technical skills to produce my ideas. I then went on my first major adventure to Siberia to make a documentary about my journey to meet a man that 5000 followers believe is the Second Coming. This was an epic project and I was lucky enough to have received the help from an old tutor to edit the hours of footage I had shot into a 46 minute film. I thought that 30 hours was a lot then, but we had over ten times as much for PAA JOE & THE LION! I was able to then show that piece of work to many different people and it got me more projects, and to cut a very long story short, it essentially all began there.

How did this project come together for you?

I was browsing the blog site of fashion designer, Sir Paul Smith, the subject of my short film, PS YOUR MYSTERY SENDER. I noticed a post about an exhibition of extraordinary coffins that was taking place at a boutique art gallery in London, the Jack Bell Gallery. I went to the exhibition and was blown away by these objects. Not just because of their confrontational presence in the form of chilli pepper coffins, coffins in the shape of Nikon cameras, eagles and Star beer bottles but because of the concept that was imbued within them. These objects encapsulated the memories, the ambitions and the lives for whom they were made for one big life story in one inanimate object.

I spoke to the gallery owner who gave him the contact details of Paa Joe. I built up a relationship with Paa Joe via the Internet and Skype and secured a tiny amount of money from EM Media to go to Ghana and research the subject. I went out there, solo and laden with kit, and Paa Joe picked him up from the airport. Thinking he would go out there and capture enough footage to make a short film about the objects, about the artworks themselves, I came back having discovered a character, Paa Joe, and an awareness of the pivotal point in Paa Joe's life that Ben had happened upon. I then approached producer Anna Griffin stating that there's a big story here to tell. The pair embarked on the mission of telling this story of life and legacy and ultimately, a story that encapsulated the art of love and death.

What keeps you going while making a movie? What drives you?

If you are artist or filmmaker who believes in a project, and feel confident that your opinion counts for something, then you just carry on. There was never a question of giving up, just a question of how are we going to do it. Some films don't work and then you do drop those ideas, but you learn to know which ones are the winners and worth fighting tooth and nail to finish.

And showing here at SXSW in the Vision category is testimony of knowing, despite other people's individual opinions or beliefs about the project, believing in our own abilities, creative approach and strength of character and subject. That I should continue to trust my instincts and make the work I think is interesting or worthwhile.

What was your biggest challenge with this project, and the moment that was the most rewarding to you?

Raising the money and the support was extremely challenging but also editing the film myself was also a huge mountain to climb. But through both challenges we overcame and I have learnt so much from everything on this project.

I am about to get technical, but I would love to know about the the visual design of the movie!

I worked with many different formats from DSLR, GoPros, Sony Camcorders, Bolex 16mm film cameras and when you watch the film you will see the experimental visual approach I was interested in producing. I re-filmed 16mm hand processed film imagery projected onto smoke, I made my own lens extension tubes out of foam and duct tape, we strapped GoPros to spinning generators, we combined visual manipulations in front of the camera with green screen footage, and working with the fantastic Mark Pyper to create a collage of special effects.

What are you looking forward to the most about showing your movie here in Austin?

Seeing the festival in real life. Festivals are always fun but I should imagine this will be one of the best, and showcasing the most interesting and creative talents around right now.

After the film screens at SxSW, where is the film going to show next? Theatrical, online, more festivals?

Not sure yet, but hopefully lots of interesting places!

If you could show your movie in any theater outside of Austin, where would you screen it and why?

On Labadi Beach in Accra in Ghana, so we could show it to Paa Joe and Jacob's entire family while listening to the sea and watching the sun go down.

What would you say to someone who was being disruptive during a screening of your movie? are a twat!

We have a lot of readers on our site looking to make movies or get into the industry somehow. What is the ONE THING you would say to someone who is wanting to get into the filmmaking business?

Just make films and then you already are.

And finally, what is the greatest movie you have ever seen at a film festival?

I watched THE ACT OF KILLING at Sheffield Doc/Fest and that was good. I also like Tarkovsky's STALKER a lot.

We hope you enjoyed this SxSW filmmaker interview as part of our coverage of SxSW 2017. To see the entire series click on the Live Report sidebar on your right. We will have interviews posted all throughout the festival so be sure to visit us often for more coverage!

This is one of the many films screening at the 2017 SXSW in Austin, Texas taking place March 10-18. For more information on this film screening times, point your browser to or use the SxSW GO App for Android and iOS.

Jason Whyte,
Twitter: @jasonwhyte / Facebook: jasonwhyte / Instagram: jason.whyte

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originally posted: 03/08/17 14:16:51
last updated: 03/08/17 14:18:52
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