Mark Maina talks his genre-bending short film Neophobia
Written and directed by Mark Maina, Neophobia tells the story of a young woman, Fiona Bosibori (Joyce Maina), whose strict routine causes her to have strange recurring dreams.
Neophobia is an unconventional film, and that’s a good thing. In only 17 minutes, this Kenyan short will blow your mind, emancipate Joyce Maina and introduce another side of Brian Ogola you didn’t even know he had.
Written and directed by Mark Maina, Neophobia tells the story of a young woman, Fiona Bosibori (Joyce Maina), whose strict routine causes her to have strange recurring dreams. Looking for answers, she seeks the help of a therapist, Dr Adam (Brian Ogola), who advises her to let go of her routine and open herself up to new things.
“Showmax has given filmmakers in Kenya an opportunity to showcase their work. With the growing age of the internet, it is now easy for our work to be accessed so far away with the click of a button,” says Mark Maina, whose other works include the critically-acclaimed psychologically thriller Consigned to Oblivion and short film Home.
As far as genres go, it’s hard to put Neophobia in a box. While the comedy in it is not lost – Brian Ogola’s vernacular accent deserves its own comedy special – the film also blends elements of fairytale romance with subtle fantasy to create a genre-bending piece that only an ambitious filmmaker like Maina can pull off. But what does it take to make a film as unique and unconventional as Neophobia? Maina tells all.
1. What inspired you to make this film?
Living in a place where the ratio of women to men is considerably high, I have met and conversed with a lot of youth with different characteristics. Overall, most of these youth wear masks and are not themselves. This prompted me to make a film that passes a message – one should love themselves before loving others.
2. How is Neophobia different from other Kenyan films out there?
Neophobia pushes the genre benchmarks of Kenyan filmmaking up a notch by introducing different styles rarely found in African films like whimsical storytelling.
3. Joyce Maina and Brian Ogola, how did you come to pair the two as the lead characters?
Brian Ogola is one of the main characters in a feature film project I have been planning to do. When I got the idea of Neophobia, I just called him up for a role in order for us to familiarise with each other on set. As for Joyce, a casting director recommended her for the role once he read the script.
4. How did you feel when Neophobia scooped four awards at the UDADA Film Festival in 2017?
I feel very proud any time my films win awards. It proves that I am headed in the right direction and that I have a great team behind me.
5. Neophobia was the only African film screened at Cannes last year. What was that experience like?
It was such an amazing leap to attend a festival that is considered the largest film event in the world. I met many notable people; among them was Barry Jenkins, the writer and director of Oscar-winning movie Moonlight. I also met an executive at Paramount Pictures with whom I am currently in contact with regarding a current project. I can’t say much about the project, just that it is a mix of film-noir and neo-noir thriller. At the festival, I also met with the Bilateral Affairs Advisor, International Policy Unit at the Centre for National Cinema in France and we are currently in talks about co-producing a science fiction film.
6. What does this achievement mean to you and your work?
I feel like I am really growing; breaking into an international arena is not easy and Neophobia has made me realise that we have great stories and talent that can get international recognition. Every film we make should be better than the last. That is my motto. Going up and up!
7. What are some of the challenges you faced while working on this film?
Scheduling conflicts – marshalling the entire team was the biggest challenge. As you are aware, in Kenya we don’t really have a commercial film industry, so most filmmakers prefer to make films while maintaining a day job (I am a great example) or sign up to several productions in order to have financial stability. That said, getting the entire cast and crew on the same day was not easy, especially considering the fact that there were also last-minute location and equipment confirmations.
8. This year started on a high note for Kenyan filmmakers, from the release of Disconnect and Supa Modo to Wanuri Kahiu’s Rafiki becoming Kenya’s first feature film to be showcased at Cannes. What more can we do to build the film industry?
I believe we have great stories to tell, but we should think outside the box. We should be engaged in high quality and creative storytelling for film more than TV. I think we are making good progress with TV, but we need to focus more on film. There are many other discoveries I made about what would make the industry prosper. On top of the list is to break away from what has been traditionally done, although we can still learn from it. My devotion now is to expand our genre benchmarks. Let’s have more risk-takers as we tell our stories, and in turn we will encourage financial risk takers to invest in our productions.
9. As a filmmaker who delves into different genres and experiments with unique elements, what famous filmmakers inspire your work?
Of course Steven Spielberg, Christopher Nolan, the Coen Brothers, Alejandro Innaritu and Alfonso Cuarón.
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