This is part of a series of articles for Who We Are., an online takeover exploring the artistry behind black British film.
We Are Parable caught up with Caleb Femi, poet and director for a quick chat. Using film, photography and music, Caleb pushes the boundaries of poetry both on the page, in performance and on digital mediums. He has written and directed short films commissioned by the BBC and Channel 4, and had his poetry commissioned by the Tate Modern, the Royal Society for Literature, St Paul’s Cathedral, the BBC, the Guardian and many more. Between 2016 and 2018, Caleb was the Young People’s Laureate for London working with young people on a city, national and global level. Caleb performs and speaks internationally gracing major stages, institutions and festivals.
What was your first experience of cinema?
Seeing Bring It On (2000) at Peckham Multiplex when I was just a kid. The ticket was £2 and I had a pocket full of pick ‘n’ mix jelly babies. I went alone.
Tell us about some of your inspirations?
When I was nine years old (I think), I watched Howard Zieff’s My Girl (1991). It was the first film that brought me to tears – that “where’s his glasses” scene. It was the first time I truly experienced the all-consuming power of film. My world was shifted and suddenly I understood more about the world and about myself. It was at that point I became addicted to film. Many years later, that feeling I felt watching My Girl has stayed with me, motivated me, inspired me to create film that has that all-consuming effect on somebody else.
What’s your approach to filmmaking?
It begins with the ‘what if?’ I examine the story I want to tell, identify its core truth and pull it out. I then begin to decorate it with ‘what if?’: what if this was told like this instead of that, what if we ask this question instead of that, what if we show it like this instead of that. I let my imagination colour the flesh of the story while leaving the core truth untouched – all with the aim to offer a new perspective to our universal experiences. A perspective that will hopefully have a profound effect on the viewer, leaving them a different person at the end of the film than they were at the beginning of it.
What’s the biggest challenge you’ve had when creating your work?
Aside from acquiring funding and resources, it’s making the complicated seem simple. Communicating the essence of a complex emotion or condition or experience is a difficult thing to do. There is a fine science in balancing what is shown and what isn’t. What is said and what isn’t. I am still learning this.
Tell us about Survivor’s Guilt, the film we’ve shown as part of Who We Are.
Survivor’s Guilt puts a comedic and science fiction lens on the serious topic of PTSD and young working-class black men. The topic is a complex one and, as someone who has lived with the heavy hand of PTSD, I felt a therapeutic release in the making of it. My hope for the film is that it serves as fertile ground from which rich and meaningful conversations are had about how we support young men affected by PTSD or other mental health issues, such as anxiety and depression.
What’s next for you?
What’s next? More film, more film.
Caleb Femi’s short, Survivor’s Guilt, is available to watch for free as part of Black Eyes, Black Lives – a collection of shorts curated by Iyare Igiehon. The collection is part of the Who We Are takeover, produced by We Are Parable, in association with the BFI.
Originally published: 17 July 2020