Frances Bodomo is a Ghanaian filmmaker who grew up in Ghana, Norway, California, and Hong Kong before moving to New York City to study film at Columbia University (BA) and the Tisch School of the Arts (MFA). She is currently developing her first feature film, Afronauts. Her first short film, Boneshaker (starring Oscar-nominee Quvenzhané Wallis), premiered at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival and played at over 20 film festivals including Telluride and SXSW. Her second short, Afronauts premiered Sundance 2014 and went onto play at the Berlinale and New Directors/New Films. Her ultimate goal is to make conceptually strong films that bring African images to the forefront.
I guess the short story is that I’m originally from Ghana, I was born there in the 80’s, and then I started moving a lot because of my parent’s jobs. So then we moved to Norway, and then we moved to California, and then we moved to Hong Kong, and from Hong Kong I applied and went to undergrad at Columbia, and then went to film school at NYU, which is where I’m at now.
It’s a grad program where you do three years of study and then two years of thesis, so I’m a thesis student there. I’m done with the school part.
I consider the film I made before Afronauts called Boneshaker to be my first film, if we’re going to call something a finished thing. But I have been shooting little things, and doing certain exercises, and I also went to film school, so there’s a lot of exercises under my belt, but Boneshaker was my first real shoot.
I was a film student at NYU, and we had to spend one whole year making a ten minute short. I thought if I was going to spend a whole year on ten minutes, I had to do something that was really driving me, that I would stay interested in, subject matter wise. I decided to make a movie about an experience I had as a child, we were living in Norway, and we got sent to live in Ghana with my aunt, and she is evangelically religious, so we were going to church four hours a day, and two hours of prayer before bed. I saw deliverances and that really stuck with me. You have your aunt, who’s this reasonable woman, she’s very strong and she’s taking care of everybody, and then she goes up at church, and she’s being delivered, and she’s rolling on the floor and she’s screaming, and speaking in tongues. It made me see religion and church as this space to be publicly intense, and publicly raw. And I wanted to express that in a movie, so I made Boneshaker.
Well as I mentioned, I come from a lot of cultures, it’s just been this absurd existence in all of these different countries, you know, little black kid in Norway, to little black kid in Hong Kong. And I’ve always wanted to be an artist, and express myself in some way. It used to be me wanting to be a poet, or me wanting to be a novelist, and then I got to a point where as much as I like literature and my whole upbringing was reading, I couldn’t express everything from all of the cultures I’m from in words. I started to watch a lot of movies. There was a summer that I was watching six to ten movies a day, my eyes like bleeding by the end of it. I love directing, because it brings together all of these elements that tell a story, but in the moment it’s just focusing on the specifics of what is in front of the camera. I think that’s really similar to the way I think, because I’ve grown up in all these different cultures, and I’m constantly switching and constantly translating.
My friend runs the Yale AIDS Memorial Project, and I was at the event, and got a call from an unknown number, and I don’t answer calls from unknown numbers, so I kind of just let it be. The call kept coming and coming, and I wasn’t answering it, because I was thinking how last year the call had came before thanksgiving, so I was expecting it the week after. And then I get an email from Emily Doe at Sundance saying can you please call me, it’s good news. So I gave her the call, and she told me, and I freaked out. It’s kind of funny because my last short was in last years Sundance, but it was just as equally wondrous and insane.
Last year I attended Sundance because I’m a film geek, and I wanted to meet all of the filmmakers I loved. You know, just talk to filmmakers. This year I have a more decided goal. I am writing the feature film of Afronauts, so I’m looking to get development for that started. It is a lot of meetings, and it is a lot of inviting people to screenings, and at the same time I’m happy to meet people that are making movies right now. I’m a film geek, and that’s why festivals are fun.
I heard the story from my Ghanaian family members, and they were sort of saying “oh those stupid Zambians tried to go to the moon.’’ I started researching that, and it interested me because I’m African living outside of Africa, so you’re always fighting these perceptions of the continent. I had been looking for a story to express the day to day life there. I didn’t want it to be something like here’s a day in everyday Africa, we’re just like you. When I heard this story, I was very happy to portray this imaginative space, because the story is dreaming about going to the moon. You think about American kids in their Halloween costumes, and they want to be astronauts, and no one is saying “You can’t do that.’’ I like the Afronauts story, because it’s an imagined history, because not much exists. They didn’t leave many documents behind. There’s one video and a couple of news clips, so you have to imagine what happened in that moment, and why they would want to do this on a character interior level. But it’s also about desire, and stuff that history can’t express. When you say Africans land on the Moon, or Armstrong goes to the Moon, you’re not talking about the desires and emotions of multiple people that led to that being a momentous event.
I’m hoping to make a documentary on subjects I discover on my visits to East Africa. I am also going to a few writer retreats and working on another short film.
Writer / Director