by Borte Tsogbadrakh
Abraham Adeyemi’s directorial short-film debut, No More Wings, won the award for Best Narrative Short at the 2020 Tribeca Film Festival. The film tells the story of two lifelong friends, Isaac (Ivanno Jeremiah) and Jude (Parys Jordon), who meet at their favourite South London fried chicken shop. They touch on both their shattered dreams, success and the importance of home.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Adeyemi for Quench Magazine, discussing the creative process behind this project, whilst asking him about the experience of premiering his film during a pandemic.
I know the script of No More Wings was written as part of Soho’s House global screenwriting competition, so I wanted to ask you how that came about? Did you draw inspiration from anywhere specific?
The script was inspired by two people I knew growing up, so I just imagined what it would be like if they crossed paths again today. What would their conversation be like? Where would they meet, and what would be some of the things that still link them together?
When the competition came about, the announced theme was ‘time’, which could be interpreted quite loosely, and since this script idea had been living in my head for a while at this point, I found it easy to put my story to paper.
What were some of the main challenges of translating from script to screen and how did you find the process of directing the film as well as being the scriptwriter?
There were two main challenges in terms of transforming it from script to screen. Firstly, the film is set both in the present and past, which is very expensive to shoot. So, if you don’t have the financial resources, it can be very difficult to achieve what you initially envisioned for the film. For example, it was very important to me that the chicken shop of the past was portrayed accurately- with having different prices, menus and design of the place.
The second challenge that I had was the moment towards the end, when both worlds crossover. I could imagine the scene in my head, but it was very difficult to verbally communicate my vision for this. It also didn’t help that we left this scene to shoot until the very end since the film hangs on this moment, but somehow we managed to create the desired visual thanks to a lot of work in post-production as well.
Some of the main themes in this film include identity, friendship and what ‘home’ means for someone. Therefore I wanted to ask what London personally means to you but also what it represents in this film?
London for me is home. I was born and raised here, so it’s very close to my heart and irregardless of where I may end up in the future, it’ll always remain my home.
As for the film, the opening shot of Morley’s, the chicken shop, instantly sets the film in South London. Even with the music choices, we went for a lot of South-London oriented songs that were popular amongst the local community in the mid 2000s. It was important to me to capture what I consider to be home, which is clearly reflected in my choice of location but also in the things the character’s are talking about as well; especially when it comes to what part of London they’re from.
This leads me to my next question: London’s different identities in terms of geographical location play an important part when one of the main characters, Isaac, tells his friend that he’s going to be moving from South to East London. For someone, who is not necessarily from London, could you explain a bit more about these different areas having different identities? Could this film have been filmed anywhere else but London?
Londoners are very territorial. I remember when I was at university, there were lots of people from different backgrounds, including different parts of London. I noticed that you’re very territorial about the place you’re from and this is expressed through everything from music to fashion. But I always say that the film could’ve been shot anywhere. If you strip it down, the plot’s about two people growing up together in the same environment but then their lives go towards different paths. Therefore, with the broader strokes and themes, it could’ve been shot anywhere, but then my decision to place it in a South London chicken shop gives it more nuance, detail and texture.
The film also touches upon the consequences of gentrification, more specifically the harm done to local residents and ethnic minority communities who have been living there their whole life. What is your view when it comes to communities being pushed out of their own areas and what can be done to support local communities?
It’s really difficult, because it’s a double-edged sword. Of course, you’d want the community that you grew up in to improve but if this happens at the expense of your existence and displacement, then that’s incredibly unfair. Equally, I understand there’s an economic factor and it’s really hard to please everyone. For me, I want the choice to live where I’ve grown up my whole life. I think it’s about affordable living- that’s the problem with London anyway. It’s outrageous that we don’t have a basic standard of living that’s widely available to people who wish to rent without paying extortionate amounts of money. There’s just so many complicated layers to this issue that I don’t have the answers to, but I wish there would be someone who could find solutions that would be kinder to local communities without breaking families and cultures apart.
On a lighter note, the entire film takes place at Morley’s. I’m an international student, so I only discovered the UK’s chicken shop culture a few years ago. But what makes this so special and do you have any nostalgia associated with it since it is the key setting within the film?
I think it’s so special, because where else can you get a meal for £2?! I’m not saying it’s healthy, but it’s such an enjoyable indulgence. I always say part of the importance of the message in No More Wings is that we’re seeing that everyone is welcome in this community. I always talk about when the riots happened in London in 2011, chicken shops were not scared because it’s always been a place for the community.
I can think of many memories where I went to a chicken shop after school with my friends just like Isaac and Jude do in the film, but with Morley’s it’s always been the Crème de la Crème. Morley’s is just South London.
Also, massive congratulations for winning the jury prize Best Narrative Short at Tribeca film festival! Could you talk a bit more about the process of premiering a film at a film festival, perhaps even during times of a pandemic?
Yeah, it was chaotic, essentially. We never screened at Tribeca. The festival was meant to be in mid-April and as we all know by then we were knee-deep in a global pandemic and still continue to be. It’s somewhat bittersweet in that for the foreseeable future this film will only be available at digital, online festivals and you don’t get to have the enjoyable experience of physically visiting the places you’re premiering the film in; getting to physically interact with audiences and to have conversations with peers.
On the flipside, what’s been so amazing about it is the level of accessibility that’s created. We premiered it at a local cinema in London around a year ago and of course the question that everyone was asking was when other people will get to see this. Realistically, this probably won’t be possible until 2022. Our aim for this project is to submit it to festivals and their regulations require that films can’t be online whilst they’re being considered.
So it’s been amazing that I’ve been able to share this film this year during a time where things seem to be so morbid and dark: to give people ten minutes of whatever they get from this film and to hopefully take them away from tough reality. Also the bigger picture for this film is that I never intended it to be closed-off and elitist. I want everyone to see this film: school children, parents, black people but also a wider non-black community. It depicts black people in a way that we don’t so often see. The fact that it’s just two young men having a conversation in a chicken shop, I believe tells a very humanizing story.
Since we’re a student-led university magazine what would your best advice be for young people to get into filmmaking? Especially for ethnic minorities who want to pursue a creative career, is there any advice you could offer?
I think it’s just so important to tell the stories you want to tell. Not spend time worrying about if the film is going to appeal to a wider audience. In No More Wing’s case, I have friends who’ve seen the film and connect with it in hundred layers that someone from a different background might not, but that doesn’t mean that the latter won’t enjoy it.
I think Lulu Wang’s film The Farewell is another perfect example as well. There’s certain things within that film that went over my head because it depicts a different culture, but I think that’s precisely what’s so good about it since it makes you question things.
So yeah, I guess my advice is: be as specific as you want to be, because that’s when you realize that so many human experiences are the same anyway.
Lastly, are there any upcoming projects for you and what are you looking forward to in the new year?
I’m currently developing three different TV series, so that’s insane and keeping me very busy. I’m doing the same with a feature film as well and outside of that I’ve also been in and out of the writer’s room.
In the new year, I’m looking forward to getting away. I love travelling and that’s been one of the sorest points of this year and I’m also hoping that this whole Covid-19 thing will ease a bit so that we can return to a new normal soon.
I’m also just excited about where my career is going and No More Wings has just been the gift that keeps on giving- it’s changed my life and I can’t wait for the things that may still come. Let’s just see what happens, we’ve submitted it for consideration to secure a nomination at the Academy Awards. But regardless of whether it gets chosen or not, we’re just so proud of this film and I’m so grateful that it’s gotten me into the next stage of my career.