Andrew Dosunmu is one of the very interesting Nigerian born filmmakers working in the international scene. His background as a fashion photographer brings a unique representation of his stories and characters which i think are admirable and worth studying.
In his two feature films he’s told the stories of African characters in a foreign land adjusting to their new environment, while maintaining a strong African identity and sense of community.
The beautiful thing about his work is how he captures the black skin and portrays Africans in a way few other filmmakers do.
But the focus today is on his film MOTHER OF GEORGE and he how uses imagery to tell a story, add subtext and let you know how the characters are feeling.
MOTHER OF GEORGE is a story of Adenike and Ayodele, a Nigerian couple living in Brooklyn, are having trouble conceiving a child – a problem that defies cultural expectations and leads Adenike to make a shocking decision that could either save or destroy her family.
The openings scene shows the wedding of the couple surrounded by their friends and family , this is one of the few scenes where they are surrounded by people. The clothing and the lighting here is the brightest in the entire film. This reflects their world and how they are feeling emotionally. Notice how the framing takes in more than just the couple and their friends but shows their world.
After the wedding their life goes on and as they discuss having a child , Dosunmu, using a frame within a frame portrays their situation as they discuss the challenges of conceiving a child, medical expenses and the expectations they are experiencing. By using a frame within a frame, he shows how they feel trapped by this situation.
One of the choices Dosunmu makes in shooting a scene is to forgo the convenstional shot reverse shot, to cover a conversation, by focusing on one character for most of and sometimes the entire conversation. Allowing the viewer to pay attention to that character and see how they are feeling,what they are saying/being told is affecting them.
Here Adenike is having a conversation with the doctor about the difficulty she’s having conceiving
Adenike being harrassed by her Mother in Law for not yet being pregnant after over a year of marriage
The character who the information is most important to is the focus of the scene.
Here Adenike is speaking with Biyi who is having a guilty conscience and want to tell his brother the truth about the pregnancy. The camera stays with her most of the time and we hear Biyi off screen
He composes his shots using architecture or props to underscore the meaning of the scene, whether it’s distance between characters or a division being created between them.
Some of his compostions represent isolation; emotionally,psycologically or actual seperation from someone. Notice how none of the images after the wedding are as bright or as colorful. Some of the scenes have a cool blue tone in contrast to the warm tones of the wedding scene.
This shot below combines the frame within a frame and also isolation. Biyi getting the news that Adenike is pregnant, and only three people know his brother is not the father. He is unable to celebrate as life is about to get really complicated.
It’s said the human face is a landscape of emotion. Dosunmu sometimes lets the shot linger on the face of his characters, without any accompanying dialogue, just sometimes silence or non digetic mood sounds
There’s a misconception that great cinematography is about drone shots,sweeping movements and all sorts but the thing about Dosunmu is that he rarerly moves his camera. He may follow a character with a handheld shot and they are usually composed, centre frame
His choice of clothing color and framing to draw our eyes to a character to make them stand out are worth noting
What i love about Mother of George is its a very relatable Nigerian story which has been told in hundreds of Home Videos, but not in the cinematic and beautiful way done in this film.
His collaboration with Cinematographer Bradford Young is undeniably a part of the great look of his films;their collaborations, Restless City and Mother of George both won Cinematography awards at Sundance. I look forward to whatever he chooses to do next and to seeing more Nigerian stories beautifully captured cinematically by other Naija filmmakers, especially those at home .