My location: Fairfield Halls, Park Ln, Croydon CR9 1DG
Directed: Precious Hair & Beauty, Mandem, Wilson, Champion
After a string of acclaimed short films, John Ogunmuyiwa is now directing for the BBC and Netflix. We met up in the Croydon park that has shaped his perspective.
“I grew up in Croydon. It’s an interesting place. You see a lot of different things. You might see a madness, something quite funny, something quite sad. I like the park because it’s where I come when I’m trying to think of ideas. You can come here and just sit and observe. It’s got a nice vibe. Serene.
I picked up film studies as an extra thing; I thought I wanted to do computing. I was doing photography and there was a camera called the Canon 550D which could take photos and film. I sold some stuff, got some birthday money and bought the camera, and then I was just trying to experiment. No one had jobs, we were 16, so we’d just go out and try stuff. My friends were all creative and I could say, “Stand here” or, “Let’s go talk to these people and film it.” I’m thankful everyone was around, because the older you get, the harder it is to be spontaneous.
I treat every film like a dissertation. That there’s a question and this film is answering it. So the first film [Wilson, made with Channel 4] asks, “What if you were in a world where you couldn’t express yourself?”. What does that look like? I always think there’s more to the world than what we see, so I take what I see and I ask, “What if?”, and add another level or layer. It could be magic or sci-fi, but it all comes from observation, from truth. Your truth, my truth.
The most recent film [Precious Hair & Beauty] is set in a West African/Nigerian hair salon. You’re in the salon, looking out the window, watching things go by. I’d had the idea for at least six years now. I was getting my hair done, looking out at random things happening and what’s so weird about growing up in ends was that weird things happened and you got used to it. There’s a place called Thornton Heath and it’s got a ninja. He’s just this guy, with a samurai sword and a leather jacket. But we’d be like, “Oh you saw the ninja? Yeah, I saw the ninja,” and you become accustomed to it. Anything can happen, but it’s always normal at the same time and that’s what the short’s about, the madness of the high street and how you can have aunties and yummy mummies and students and drunks and it’s all funny, but then it all shifts.”
This interview first appeared in Industria Studios London ‘zine available to pick up for free in London Picturehouse and Curzon Cinemas.