Ghanaian filmmaker SELASIE DJAMEH is looking forward to graduating film school and getting on with her storytelling. Her last two projects have a searing political edge and she has a way of spinning women’s suffering into poignant visual snippets. As a third year cinematographer student at the National Film and Television Institue (NAFTI) in Accra, Djameh has incorporated many topics focusing on the experiences of women into her films.
Film hadn’t always been on her horizons, though. It was photography that first sparked her attention – a passion she found difficult to pursue in school due to the subject’s exclusion from her art classes. As mobile photography began to gain popularity, Djameh became interested and this led to her a fascination with moving pictures. She applied to film school, beginning a lasting passion for the profession.
With such a strong theme of women’s power running throughout her films, it is hardly surprising that filmmaker Selasie Djameh quickly answers yes when asked if she is a feminist. Djameh is interested in feminist theory with relatable contexts. “Feminism”, she says, “means standing up for women’s rights whenever that comes up, even though it may be hard and a lot of people don’t understand what feminism is about”. She points to the stereotypical view of an overly aggressive woman who’s always angry as a way the movement is often misinterpreted. “There are a lot of guys who still say, ‘Oh you’re a feminist, we have to be careful around you,’” she shares with a grimace on her face. For Djameh, the conversation in Ghana is just beginning, expressing her delight about attending a number of events for last month’s International Women’s Day.
If the conversation is just starting, then Djameh’s films are an excellent way to drive the dialogue. My Red, a short piece on menstruation that she made for last year’s NAFTI competition, tackles social perceptions about periods. In the film, Djameh (also protagonist) faces the monthly ritual with a new attitude – dressed in all white, she dances, the red marks visible between her legs. It’s a challenge and celebration all at once, a reconfiguration of a routine processing that many world cultures view with disgust. Explaining her choice of shots, Djameh says: “I noticed that with a lot of women and girls, one of the worst things that can happen to you is to get stained, to get stained in public or school. But then again, all of us get stained at one point or another. It’s completely normal.”
The response from viewers, she describes, was mainly shock: “People at school enjoyed how shocking and different it was”. When asked why such a natural bodily function is viewed in a negative light, Djameh muses, “first of all, it’s seen as private – you don’t talk about it, you don’t share it. Also there’s this idea of being unclean. But with My Red I wanted to spark a conversation about periods, about how they are normal.”
Djameh also has her own stories to tell about the challenges of being a woman in the film industry. She points to an incident just one week ago that highlights the disregard she is shown on the grounds of gender. “Apart from the Production Manager, I was the only other woman on the set.” she details. “I was the cinematographer, and I was surrounded by all these guys. During pre-production, we discussed the kind of shots we were going to do. When we got to the location, suddenly the director takes me aside and tells me that he was discussing with the other guys that we should change certain things and we were just about to shoot. They can’t just change without discussing it with me. I don’t think this would have happened if I were a man”.
That’s just one story of many that Djameh can tell. “I notice that most of the women filmmakers in Ghana are directors”, she observes, “so that’s much easier because you have control over the whole production in the first place. If you’re the camera person, you don’t have that much control. There are very few women cinematographers. In my class we are 14, and there’s only 4 girls. We are the biggest group of women in a cinematography class yet”.
Djameh’s second film tells the story of two sisters who fight and one decides to leave home.
With one year left to complete, Djameh’s thoughts are naturally on the future. She describes the industry as challenging due to its small size. “There may not be regular work, but there will always be people making films.” As for her own work, Djameh wants to continue highlighting the many issues that women face. “There are so many stories that we never get to tell,” she lights up. “Whether that’s about accepting your body, dealing with relationships, or female friendships. Those are all things that I struggle with and I draw from my own experiences.”
Story by Liza Tait-Bailey