‘Nakom’ (2016) was filmed in the Ghanaian village of the same name. There is no running water or electricity, and the subjects are steeped in tribal tradition. This deeply rustic setting both attracts and repulses the lead character, Idrissu (superbly played byJacob Ayanaba), a talented scholarship student on the cusp of medical school who is drawn back home by the death of his father. The film directors, Kelly Daniela Norris and T. W. Pittman were present at the IFFI 2016 screening of their film.
San Francisco natives Norris and Pittman previously made ‘Sinnerman’ (2009) and ‘Sombras de Azul’ (2013). Their seamless partnership drives ‘Nokam’ as well. On their first day in India, still a bit dazed from their flight to Goa, Norris and Pittman came all the way to the “pistachio-painted” The Peacock newsroom to discuss their latest movie.
Pittman spent two years in Ghana as a Peace Corps volunteer, in the same village as the film setting. She says, “it struck me that it was a view of a part of the world that is not understood by Western culture. It was totally eye-opening to experience a lifestyle that literally scratches an existence out of the earth. I was taken in as a child of that community and I still feel that way.”
Thus, “I think the most important thing for us was to tell the story of the village of Nakom – to show its uniqueness, its warmth, its struggle, its beauty, its humor.”
There is lots of negative stereotyping about Ghana and Africa around the world. Norris says, “in times when there are films that we associate with trauma or political violence – these big headline sensational stories – our goal was to tell a more nuanced humanistic story. The more specific you are the more universally the story speaks, and that holds true with every project that we have tackled.”
Considering the fact that the ‘going to Africa’ trope is done to death in Hollywood movies, is there an irony that filmmakers from America are trying to do away with stereotypes while traveling to Africa? Pittman explains, “this is a place that I and Isaac (Adakudugu, co-writer) know intimately. We knew that we had to be honest and faithful to what the village was. Of course this is a film that has a multi-national and global perspective – and I think it benefits it.”
“I wouldn’t have been able to commit to a project like this had I not lived in Ghana,” Norris adds, “we have trust and I know that Trav has a special bond with the village of Nakom.”
(A version of this article was first published in The Peacock, 27 November, 2016)