As part of our Black History Month programming, California Film Institute is spotlighting four local Black filmmakers we think our community should know about. We have invited these filmmakers to write an essay responding to our theme, “Celebrating Black creativity in cinema”, and reflecting on what inspires them to create. Throughout February, we will publish a weekly essay from this series.
This week, we are kicking the series off with, Osinachi Ibe, who is curating our Black History Month program. Osinachi is a Nigerian-American filmmaker, artist, and programmer based in the San Francisco Bay Area. She creates intimate, feminine portraits that meditate on the complexities of the spirit, heart, and the divine. Her work is expressive and incorporates elements of narrative and experimental cinema, and poetry. Osinachi earned her MFA in Film Directing from Chapman University where she received a graduate fellowship. She is a recipient of the Meredith MacRae Memorial Award from Women in Film (Los Angeles) and the Leo Freedman Foundation Fellowship in Film Grant. She is a recipient of the 2022 Sundance Uprise Grant Fund and received second round consideration for Sundance Institute’s 2023 Development Track. Osinachi is currently a filmmaker in residence in SFFILM’s 2023 FilmHouse Residency where she is developing her first feature film, Tales From Under the Sun, a surreal drama about love and transcendence.
Osinachi Ibe Reflects on Black Creativity in Cinema
For me, creating art is intuitive and my artistic practice is a form of spiritual practice. A lot of my work comes from my curiosity about themes and questions that reoccur in my life. Themes like what it means for a person to be inherently good, the connection between humanity and divinity, and love, redemption, and transcendence. I am currently developing my first feature film, Tales From Under the Sun, which is about two childhood best friends who discover they have fallen in love with each other during their first summer apart, and embark on a spiritual journey that changes them forever. The film primarily meditates on first love, transcendence, and transformation but it explores some of the other themes and ideas that I am curious about.
I am also very inspired by art and artists I encounter, especially when it comes to contemporary independent cinema. Something that really fascinates me is narrative-documentary hybrid films —just when you think you’ve seen every genre of cinema, something new and sublime emerges! Hybrid films energize me and feel like an exciting new cinematic frontier. I have a tremendous amount of respect for the artists who are exploring this form of expression. One of my favorite films from last year, The Unknown Country (Morrisa Maltz, 2022), is a hybrid film about a woman traveling though the Midwest, to the Texas-Mexico border, while mourning the death of her grandmother. The film poetically weaves documentary vignettes about the people the protagonist meets through her journey into the larger narrative story. I had the pleasure of talking to the filmmakers and the lead actress about their creative process. I felt liberated by their ability to find a process that was specific to the way they wanted to work, and a creative expression that is unique to them and the kind of films they want to make.
The liberation I felt makes me think a lot about Black creativity, which is so important in cinema. The freedom to honor your creative curiosity and go where it naturally leads you is a gift and necessity to any artist. Like all others, Black artists should be able to create whatever is in them to create, without mandates. It’s this freedom and support that makes authentic Black expression and Black art possible—two things the world is richer for. This allows Black artists to bear witness to their lives and the dynamic life around them, and profess it as only we can. The diaspora is so large and there is so much we have to show and tell—all valid and vital. I am happy to see so many different forms of Black artistry being embraced in contemporary cinema.
A film I recently saw that beautifully captures this freedom and dynamism is All Dirt Roads Taste of Salt (Raven Jackson, 2023). The film is one long poem that mediates on seminal moments in the protagonist’s life. It asks its audience to be patient and fully present with the character as it gently moves back and forth through her life—through her grief, through her desire, and everything else she experiences. It is affirming to see a film that honors a quiet, simpler portrait of Black humanity. This film, and others films I have recently seen in the Black cinematic canon, embody aesthetics and structures that feel true to Black and African storytelling. I highly recommend watching All Dirt Roads Taste of Salt when it is released later this year! A few others I recommend are If Beale Street Could Talk (Barry Jenkins, 2018), Daughters of the Dust (Julie Dash, 1991), I Am Not a Witch (Rungano Nyoni, 2017), Eyimofe (This is My Desire) (Arie & Chuko Esiri, 2021), and Mami Wata (C.J. “Fiery” Obasi, 2023). These films capture the vastness of Black artistry, and the profound beauty in our life and culture. The last two films, Eyimofe (This is My Desire) and Mami Wata are especially inspiring to me as a Nigerian artist—the renaissance currently happening in African cinema is beautiful and fills me with delight!
AVAILABLE TO WATCH:
– Osinachi Ibe
February 4, 2023