I was interested the experience of Black people in Berlin.
How did you get into film school?
IMK: I moved to the Institute for North American Studies at the Freie Universität Berlin, where I discovered the history of American cinema. This somehow triggered my interest in and ultimately passion for filmmaking.
I started making films, although those first attempts would be better described as “working with the camera.” At that time, the Freie Universität had a media centre, as did the city of Berlin. The city media centre used to offer short training sessions for a couple of days to anyone interested in learning to use a camera or editing. I was a regular at both media centres. I started making a kind of documentation in the city. I was interested in migration and the experience of Black people in Berlin. I started documenting every conference related to these topics in Berlin, I was there with my camera. We had an African organisation at the time that invited African writers to take part in conferences in Berlin. I filmed all these events.
How did you move on to making fiction films?
IMK: I met an Iranian filmmaker called Nader Ahmady, who offered me a position as assistant director, which is how I learnt about mise en scène, scriptwriting, and so on. Afterwards, I started making my own short films with African protagonists. At some point, I realised it would be better to study at film school. I applied for different schools and was lucky to be accepted at the Film University Babelsberg. That was the time when people like Raoul Peck were in the city. When I arrived in Berlin, Peck was finishing his training at the DFFB in Berlin.
I met a few other African film students, including Wanjiru Kinyanjui, Tsitsi Dangaremba (who is now living in Zimbabwe) and Auma Obama, who is the half-sister of Barack Obama and was also at the film school. Before I got into Babelsberg, she actually helped me to get access to the DFFB facilities to do some editing there.
It's very interesting that you mentioned Wanjiru Kinyanjui, as we’re also showing a film she made while she was a student in Berlin called BLACK IN THE WESTERN WORLD as part of the Fiktionsbescheinigung programme. There was obviously a kind of solidarity between you Black students, but did you also talk about your projects and maybe about the onscreen representation of Black people? Did you meet Raoul Peck during his time in Berlin?
IMK: Strangely enough, we never actually managed to meet while I was in Berlin. We only met after I’d left, in France. But I used to meet with other Black film students living in Berlin. I met Wanjiru Kinyanjui many times. We talked about our problems but also about our films – she was already known with her work at the time. I wanted to find out more about her experience. As a young, naïve and impatient student not yet in film school, I had no idea how difficult the situation could be. I just wanted to tell more stories. After some years, I understood exactly how difficult it is to be an artist, a filmmaker belonging to a minority, in a country like Germany, in a city like Berlin where your history, your stories, your perspective do not have any intrinsic value for people.
Which is a loss for Germany!
IMK: When I look at Germany today, I can see that the population has become more diverse and many people who left Germany could have made a huge contribution to the country by bringing it certain perspectives that are still missing today. You see Raoul Peck is working internationally, Tsitsi Dangaremba is a renowned writer, Wanjiru Kinyanjui has made a good career for herself and so on. All these people who are now outside Germany could have been so important for the country.
Back then I felt misunderstood. I had the feeling that the right representation was completely missing. Black people were missing. We didn't exist. They live in the city, you see them everywhere, on the U-Bahn, on the streets, in cafés, but they are absent from the media. Black people are falsely represented in the media. The consequences of this are dangerous because mainstream society then easily falls prey to the fake pictures painted of us. This is something that needs to be changed.
We have to create other types of stories, a greater diversity within fiction...
IMK: People in Germany often wonder why German film seems so provincial. You don't see many German films in the USA or internationally, one of the reasons for that is that their topics are backwards; they don't represent contemporary Germany at all! In the US, where I live now, you can't make a film with a completely white cast anymore. You have to start there.
Did you talk about such topics as not being white or the role of diversity at film school?
IMK: No. That was simply not a topic of discussion for Germans at the time and I did not have tools to address that back then.