Writer/Director Josza Anjembe talks about her Award winning Short Film, ‘French’.

A deeply emotionally engaging film, French hits the bulls-eye on the social relevance of cultural identity. I was amazed that French, in just 21 minutes, Writer/Director Josza Anjembe, could take the audience on a mythical ‘Hero’s Journey’.

Josza Anjembe’s French has received thirty awards and was selected for over 110 prestigious film festivals.  French is inspired by true events and popular with film audiences, having received eleven audience awards among its unprecedented accolades. This exciting drama shares the plight of a young lady whose dream is to become a French citizen.

At seventeen, Seyna a teenager from Cameroon, is passionate about France history, the country where she was born and she  deeply loves. Her diploma in hand, and approaching her majority, Seyna aspires only to one thing: getting French nationality. But her father Amidou, is fiercely opposed.

Senya prepares herself to look good in her citizenship photo

Director Josza Anjembe, is a French documentary filmmaker, and a journalist. She began her love for this field with her first documentary Cameroonian Massage, which was broadcast on French television and selected for numerous film festivals. Her award winning film French, was inspired in part by her real experience and the issues that ethnic minorities face in France.

What is your training in screenwriting?

Josza Anjembe: I never went to cinema school. I got experience with images from my work as a journalist that led me to make documentaries. Live-action came naturally for me at times when I wanted to say things. So I did a training, I read a lot of books about scriptwriting and I went to the cinema a lot.

Is the story personal?

Josza Anjembe: Yes, it was inspired by my own true-life experience. My father is Cameroon, my mother is French. When I went to get my French citizenship papers, the words ‘you are out of frame’, and unable to get a photo identity image, were actually said to me.

Senya is told the painful fact, “You are out of frame”.

Was the ‘Hero’s Journey’ intentional, or just a gift for great storytelling?

Josza Anjembe: It was all intentional. On the paper, it was made of dramaturgy – mixed with the feeling that I had to write this story, that it was the right thing to do. But it was only after shooting and editing the movie, and showing it to the audience, that it all became emotion. The feedback from the audience, the way they perceive the movie, the way they react to the pain and emotion gave the movie a dimension I only understood later.

What films or stories inspire you?

Josza Anjembe: There are a lot. I can’t talk about all of them. Cassavetes, Bergman, Andrea Arnold, Terrence Malick. But I believe the movie that touched me the most, and I can see again and again without getting fed up, is The Color Purple.

I thought the imagery was intimate, sensitive and personal. Who was your cinematographer, and what kind of relationship do you have?

Josza Anjembe: My cinematographer was Noe Bach. He is 25 and comes from a great cinema school, La Femis. For the movie, I met with 4 or 5 directors of photography. Noe was going on a set on the day we met. He is shooting a lot. He is passionate about his work. I was exhausted that day, after meeting the people that would make my crew. Unlike the others, we directly started to work with Noe. He asked me a lot of questions about my goals, my taste. But mostly he was neither talking about my CV nor about technical aspects. We talked about the scenario from the emotional point of view. He was dealing with technical aspects. He was also very reassuring. He never gets angry, always speaks calmly and asks me if I am sure of my choices. He doesn’t question them but tries to make sure I do the good ones. I really recommend him.

How did you select Grace Seri? Did you have auditions aside from her being willing to shave her head? What is her background?

Josza Anjembe: I met Grace thanks to my producer. I was looking for a comedian that could play a young taciturn teenager. Nelson told me to look on the Paris Conservatory’s website and Grace was there. I was not immediately sure after seeing her picture but we made her come to the casting. When I saw her coming I was sure she was the one. She had something deep in her personality as well as something elegant, a bit strange, and a way of moving that was already predicting a great actress. The shaving scene topic quickly came out. It was actually a condition to get the part more than a question. Grace never got scared of it. On the contrary, it was stimulating for her. She understood quickly it was the character whom was shaving, not her.

Is it important for you to feature women’s issues, or Ethnic minorities?

Josza Anjembe: Both are as important and can’t be separated when it comes to me. Unfortunately, when you are a woman from an ethnic minority, you cumulate chances to be a victim of discriminations. Violence made to women are far from over, and racism persists everywhere in the world. So yes, nowadays, the cinema I want to make takes this dimension in account, even if I also want to talk about other subjects. But it will always be there, at least in the background.>

With the volatile nature of today’s world, what Social Issue would you like to tackle next? What is your next project?

Josza Anjembe: I am focusing more and more about the subject of sexual orientation. It’s a subject that touches me particularly. Therefore, I want to write about it. My next short movie will tackle this issue.

Producer Nelson Ghrenassia, graduated from Paris La Sorbonne with a PHD in Cinema. He has produced more than 15 short films, which were widely broadcast on television and in prestigious festivals including Locarno, Cannes, Palm Springs and Clermont-Ferrand.

Newcomer Grace Seri stars as Seyna. She graduated from the National Drama Academy in Paris. On stage, she has worked with many directors including: Georges Lavaudant and Sony Labou Tansi. French is her first movie as a lead actress and her talent isn’t going unnoticed, as she has won many best actress awards including at the Clermont-Ferrand Short Film Festival.

Included in the many awards, was the Grand Jury Award at New York International Children Film Festival, which was given by Sofia Coppola and Gus Van Sant.  It is an Oscar qualifying festival.

Recent and forthcoming film festivals include, Rhode Island Film Festival, Rooftop Film Festival in New-York, Urban World Film Festival in New York, in September. The Heartland Film Festival in Indianapolis, in October.

All the Best to French and Josza Anjembe.  Thank you!

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