Anderson West is a filmmaker who is always looking for new stories to tell and his latest film, the Of Africa Cinema Homeland feature Diembe, is a shining example of his storytelling abilities. As well as making short films and documentaries, he has made films for companies such as TalkTalk, United Utilities, Derby University and many others. When he is not working on his personal projects he is Director/Producer at Fuzzy Duck.
This is the first part of a two part interview, in this part we discuss filmmaking, homeland & identity with Anderson.
How did you get into filmmaking?
I got into filmmaking when I took a media studies class, in high school here in the UK. My teacher, Mrs. Barnes, got me into filmmaking. She just said, ‘try taking media studies’ and we made some films in class and then from there, I thought oh this is kind of really cool. In college, I took media studies and continued to make films. I always liked films and I didn’t think it was like a real career option but it was something that really interested me as a hobby; and then now it’s something I do for a living. So yeah that’s how I got into it.
So how does cultural identity affect the way in which you make films and what do you want to see in the films?
That’s an interesting question. I feel like I went through a period where in university I didn’t necessarily want to make too many films on culture because I didn’t want to annoy people who may have had enough of it. I was really concerned with what everyone else was thinking, it was a silly phase of my life really. And that became really frustrating because I felt like I had lot of stories to tell in regards to culture because I was born in Florida, United States of America; and my mom is British and my dad is West Indian and I was living in the United Kingdom (UK).
Coming to the UK I experienced a lot of racism. Where I lived in Florida, it was quite multicultural. There were people from Puerto Rico, Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Haiti etc. around when I was growing up. Then I came to where I live in England and there were just white people and some people of Pakistani or Indian descent, but mainly white people.
High school was an interesting time because I was one of only less than a handful of black students in my entire school, and definitely the only black male in my year. And obviously as an American as well, I saw things from a different perspective. As I got older, I realized I had a lot to say and I could do that through films.
With films in the UK, the problem is that you see loads of films that are based on gang based thrillers or living in the hood in London. The only [portrayed] experience of a black person is in a London council estate and people having to avoid knife crime and gang life. And it was really frustrating because I’ve been here for 15 years and I’ve never experienced any of that. So, I thought that it was important to talk about the experience of black people as I have had growing up.
Going into wider themes of culture, I think that’s still something I’m figuring out because you go through identifying with who you identify with. In terms of my parents, they are from Montserrat (Montserrat was a British colony) but then I’m an American and I’ve been in Britain almost half my life so I’m kind of a mix of cultures and that is what I’m trying to figure out and I’m in the process of figuring it out. I feel that it comes across more in my films now than perhaps when I was younger because if you don’t respect and understand your culture, you’ve got nothing really. This is because your culture is in a lot of cases your identity.
What does Homeland mean to you?
I don’t know. To be honest, that’s a really deep question because obviously, you can say with ancestral homeland, as part of the African diaspora, it’s Africa. However, I don’t know exactly where in Africa, maybe somewhere in Ghana or somewhere in West Africa perhaps. I’m not sure if you’re going to follow the slave routes… but in terms of homeland I might say for a long time it was the US for me. But in terms of where I most identify with or identify with being – as I got older I said Florida but now I’ve gotten married; I have a child here and I’ve been here most probably more years now than I’ve been in Florida. So, yikes is it Britain? I don’t know. I think at the moment Homeland for me, when you take it away from the place, it’s more about where you feel most comfortable being yourself or feeling that it is your most comfortable environment. I guess it can be wherever really, where you feel like you don’t have to pretend to be someone else.
Photo of Anderson West provided by Anderson West.