Perspective is everything
Perspective has a Latin root meaning ‘look through’ or ‘perceive’, and all the meanings of perspective have something to do with looking – a way of regarding situations or topics etc.
In cinema, perspective is the worldview of a director. How his knowledge, beliefs, life experiences and desires and even other films shape their outlook. It influences the storytelling style, tone, approaching scenes and the overall outcome of the film.
Some directors have such a strong perspective that they make films that become a part of the cultural zeitgeist, with a life, which continues long after the credits have rolled. Others make enjoyable but forgettable films; like chin chin, its tasty but no nutritional value or real impact on satiating hunger.
Let’s dive into this.
There are five films in the Mission Impossible films series (a 6th out in 2018). Directed by John Woo, Brian DaPalma, JJ Abrams, Brad Bird and Chris McQuarrie, they each brought different interpretations based on their perspective of the character and how action set piece should be mounted. Similarly, while maintaining the same tone, Doug Liman’s Bourne Identity is visually different from Bourne Supremacy & Bourne Ultimatum, directed by Paul Greengrass.
John Hughes had an unrivalled view of teenagers, which stood out from every other high school films, which came off as written by someone who had forgotten what it was like to be a teenager. His perspective made his films relatable in ways many other teen-centric films never managed to achieve. Spike Lee, Woody Allen, and Martin Scorsese are all passionate New Yorkers . Each set many of their films in the city. But each’s experience as; An African American, Jew and Italian American shape their perspectives, which leads to them painting the city in different ways.
Woody Allen’s existential worldview, pessimism about relationships through the lens of a neurotic Jew, is what made films like Annie Hall and Manhattan such brilliant pieces of cinema. Spike Lee’s experience as a black man in America enabled him to make a film like Do the Right Thing. Scorcese’s feature debut, Mean Streets, was influenced by the neighbourhood he grew up, reflecting the shenanigan Italian American young men he got up to.
Photographer turned filmmaker; Andrew Dosunmu spent most of his adult life in Europe and North America. This perspective influences how he tells stories about immigrants and Africans in a foreign land in his films; Restless City and Mother of George; same for “Gone Too Far” by writer Bola Agbaje and director Destiny Ekaragha.
Udoka Oyeka and Nadine Ibrahim, made No Good Turn and Through her Eyes, respectively, addressing the Boko Haram problem, each film has a different approach. Oyeka told his through the eyes of a Doctor who has to uphold the Hippocratic oath and treat a bomber. Ibrahim’s is seen through the eyes of little girl from the North and the choices it leads her to make.
Stephanie Linus and Omoni Oboli made Dry and Wives on Strike, respectively, films addressing female genital mutilation. One as a drama, the other walled with comedy, taking different tones and overall aesthetic and execution. Ousmane Sembène – Senegalese legend acknowledged as one of the fathers of African Cinemas’ – body of work had certain recurrent themes; history of colonialism, the failings of religion, the critique of the new African bourgeoisie, and the strength of African women. Those are the stories that matter to him.
Similarly, Nigerian film icon, Tunde Kelani makes films about Nigeria’s rich cultural heritage and his perspective fuels his promotion of the culture, by what he wants to say about his people. Perspective enables directors to bring something different to similar stories already told. Think of what Spielberg brought to Saving Private Ryan, which no other film about WW2 produced decades before, had done.
A director’s artistic point of view is just as important as their technical competency. If this didn’t matter, an AD or PA could be handed a shot list by the Producer and there won’t be a need for a director. Perspective determines the stories a filmmaker chooses to tell and how he/she chooses to tell them. It’s what makes some films, timeless classics we watch for the 77th time and others just another movie we let run in background like white noise. It’s why we follow the career of some filmmakers and get excited about every film they release.
When many Nigerian filmmakers bring their perspective to the stories they tell, it elevates it beyond the generic mechanical work of a hired hand into the tapestry of an artist. These stories will travel and let the world into the experience of these characters in a way Western filmmakers can’t replicate.Film provocateur, Spike Lee said, I’ve been blessed with the opportunity to express the views of black people who otherwise don’t have access to power and the media. I have to take advantage of that while I’m still bankable. We need an ecosystem, industry and world where as many of them can thrive.
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