Wale: An Interview With Director Barnaby Blackburn

Everyone wants a second chance in life for when they make mistakes, but we often take for granted just how easily these chances can be taken from us. More to the point, it can be so simple for somebody to lose everything they’ve worked for, all due to public opinion. Wale tells the story of a young boy in London who is trying to get his life on the right track, but finds himself at the mercy of a sinister plot. It has been screened at the Arizona Film Festival, the Brooklyn Film Festival (as an Official Selection), and the Norwich Film Festival (UK).

FRONTRUNNER interviewed the director Barnaby Blackburn to get a firsthand look.

Raphel Famotibe as ‘Wale’
Wale (2018)
Dir. Barnaby Blackburn

What inspired this story?

Wale is about a black teen with criminal history trying to reinvent himself in modern London. I think a lot of people live in a bubble where they think that if somebody wants to make a change in their life they can just wake up one day and do it. They don’t realise the societal obstructions in the way of someone of a certain race or background. Racism in London is central to the film. When I wrote the script, there were a number of fatal incidents involving the police and kids from local black communities. From what I was seeing and hearing, young black men didn’t, and still don’t, feel like the police are there for them. It got me thinking about what you might do if you didn’t feel like you could call the police in a grave situation. Those thoughts are what ultimately inspired the script for Wale.

Can you explain the opening sequence?

I wanted the audience to understand very quickly the world that this film lives in and the environment that surrounds Wale’s character. The streets are teaming with commotion and lawlessness. Everything that Wale wants to get away from is right there on his doorstep, making it as difficult as possible for him to make his fresh start. I wanted to create a documentary feeling to all of this, so we shot these sequences handheld out of the back window of my car late night in Hackney. Some of the shots were staged but a lot of them were just things that were happening on the streets as we drove around.

Clare Perkins as ‘Wale’s Mum’
Wale (2018)
Dir. Barnaby Blackburn

What was it like pulling such a bait-and-switch in such a short story?

I think people sympathise with Wale’s character very quickly and they want him to succeed. After the first five minutes of the film the audience might think that things are working out for him and he’s going to make a success of himself. But that’s obviously not the way the world works and things begin to unravel very quickly. I wanted people to really feel the injustice of the things that happen to Wale, so I scripted and shot it in a way that makes you feel like the floor has fallen out from under you, because that’s exactly how Wale feels in those moments.

What message do you want to send?

It’s not my intention to deliver a specific or overt message. I’d rather people take away their own meanings and interpretations. I find films more powerful when their intentions aren’t spoon fed to the viewer but spark some afterthought instead.

Have you thought of expanding this plot?

Quite a few people have asked me this question, but I don’t have any plans to make a feature out of Wale at the moment. Not because I don’t think it’s possible, but I have other projects that I’m more interested in at the moment. Wale was a two-year process to make so I’m excited to move on to other stories!

Tell us about your future projects.

I’m preparing to shoot another short film. This one is about an eight year old boy giving a eulogy at his father’s funeral. And I have two feature projects that I’m developing at the moment through my production company, Dark Glass Films. Watch this space!

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