SUNDANCE 2023 World Cinema Dramatic Competition
Adura Onashile • Director of Girl
"I didn't want to do any sensationalisation or dramatisation"
by Teresa Vena
- We talked to the Glasgow-based filmmaker about her directorial debut, a very intimate portrait of the relationship of a mother to her daughter
In the World Cinema Dramatic Competition of this year's Sundance Film Festival, Scottish filmmaker with Nigerian roots Adura Onashile screened her first feature film Girl [+see also:
interview: Adura Onashile
film profile], which processes some personal experiences of its director, but also has a very universal language. We spoke to Onashile about how she developed her characters and her artistic choices, including her use of music.
Cineuropa: Why did you want to tell this story?
Adura Onashile: There are different reasons. A very personal one, for example. There is a moment in my life, when I was a child and I was stuck with my mother in a flat, in a similar way to my young protagonist. But besides this, I thought about more universal topics I wanted to talk about in the film. When do we fully become ourselves in the process of growing? Legacy is very important in it. What do mothers transmit to daughters and how does that affect them? When do we let go of the past and of our trauma? I wanted to explore this special mother-daughter relationship. There is only one child, which makes it even more particular. The connection between them is difficult, it evokes a claustrophobic feeling, still while keeping its beauty.
Did you learn something while working on the film?
I didn't realise parenting was so tough before having my own daughter. I also see that there is something instinctively that makes us keep repeating the same things over and over. I hope to change this process of legacies. I try to be incredibly careful with my daughter. It is important to be able to see, in such a relationship, that everyone has different needs.
Did you do any specific research for the film?
I wrote the script over three to four years. During this time, I had many conversations with the community, with women who were based here in Glasgow. I got to know many who have trauma, but tried to bury it in motherhood. It's possible to keep it down, but only until something else happens that triggers something in you and pushes the trauma back to the surface. I met a lot of people in tough situations.
Why did you decide to never tell more about the background of the mother in the film? Why was this important and was it clear from the start?
It was my decision from the beginning. Sometimes I think we become obsessed with contextualising people's experiences. What matters is now. We don't have to base our judgement on the past. Just watch what people see in the moment, there is no need to ask, for example, for how long they have been there. I know what it's like to be judged before they know you. As for myself, I don't need to see what happened to feel what the person feels. I didn't want to do any sensationalisation or dramatisation.
Did you also have alternative endings in mind?
There is a cut of this film where the ending is more expressionistic. I wanted to have it less didactic, but it was difficult to sell to the producers.
How did you choose your main actress?
My casting director wondered if I absolutely wanted an actress from the UK to play the mother or if we could look to African actors from everywhere. We decided the latter and found Déborah Lukumuena. She elevates the character to the next level. It was already clear on her first tape she sent us. I found with her my dream Grace. She is able to hold so much in stillness. Déborah is a very special actor, who is becoming a filmmaker right now and I am very curious to see what she will do.
How did you work with the two actresses to prepare the roles of mother and daughter?
We did rehearsals mainly to enable them to create a close relationship. They had to be comfortable with each other. So we met over 3 weeks, every day for half a day. We discussed the script, but we were also playing a lot and moving around, everything to make them feel comfortable.
Music plays an important role in the film. How did you choose the different songs and the score?
There are a lot of scenes where there is no context, there are massive close-ups. This means that there has to be sound. It should feel universal, ageless and have depth. I like the voices of women that comment on the story like a Greek chorus. For the relationship between the girls it had to be more commercial music, and for Grace's Congolese background, I chose more melancholic music, that gives a feeling of space, that expands and carries the weight of history.
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