Interview: Anthony Nti and Chingiz Karibekov Talk About Writing, Producing, and Directing Short Film ‘Da Yie’

Co-written by the talented emerging duo Anthony Nti and Chingiz Karibekov, Da Yie has garnered four Oscar-qualifying Grand Prizes Leuven Short Film Festival, Clermont-Ferrand Short Film Festival, Indy Short International Film Festival, Melbourne International Film Festival amongst its 25 awards and 140 high profile film festivals selections.

Interview by Anna Harrison

Chingiz Karibekov

Could you explain the timeline of this movie to me? When did you first get the idea, and how long did it take to get from the idea to filming to distribution?

Working with Anthony, we always ping-pong ideas with each other. We would make each other laugh telling stories of our childhoods. Anthony once told me a story of how he dodged a slap from his aunty, who wanted to punish him for coming home late. Afterwards, he had to wait a while for her to calm down. We laughed and imagined that situation. What happened before this and what could’ve happened afterwards. It became the foundation of a story about peer pressure and loss of childhood innocence. It took us a while to find the money to get it made, and we were really ambitious. We didn’t want to compromise. At the end, it took us more or less three years from production to final product. 

Were there any major script changes from conception to end? How many major drafts did you have?

There was only one major draft of the screenplay. We spent most of the writing process discussing the story. Because we were in charge of the production ourselves, we had the liberty to change the dialogue and structure the way we saw fit. In fact, we finished the final screenplay two weeks before shooting and kept it mostly to ourselves. Only the DOP, Goua, me and Anthony had access. We simply summarized or told the screenplay to everybody else. The actors were told what to say with the outline of the scene in mind. 

As both co-writer and producer, how much input do you have on set during filming?

The set was a very collaborative place. I was also the assistant-director and production designer. That being said, I trusted Anthony and the DOP to really fill in the magic during the shoot. We had a very clear idea of what the film should be. Besides, Anthony is the best director in the world, in my opinion. He could direct a chicken into an Academy Award winning performance. Case in point, Da Yie. 

Were there any things that you wished to do as a writer, but couldn’t feasibly do from a producing standpoint?

As a writer-producer, you are challenging yourself in both directions. You want to realize what you wrote, but at the same time, write something that is feasible in terms of production. But in all honesty, I never worried about what wasn’t possible. Instead, I wanted to focus on how to tell the story. We had an idea of how to keep the audience engaged, we understood the structure of our story and tried to keep the compromises to a minimum.

Are there differences between writing children and adults? Is one more challenging than the other?

Stories about children are inescapably linked to the reality of the adult world. If there are children, there are adults as well. One affects the other. We wanted to tell a story where the world of the children spills out into the world of the adults. A seemingly dangerous place. There was no difficulty in writing either, the difficulty was in finding a way to connect both in a way that kept you engaged.  

What is it like to write in a non-native language?

Anthony and I have written a short film before where the main characters only spoke Bulgarian and neither of us speaks that language. So, in fact, Da Yie was easier to write, since this time at least one of us understood Twi. But in terms of writing, we always seek for something universal in every scene. Emotion is always translatable. We tried to stay true to the characters. Understand them. As long as you can empathize with being a kid, you can write any kid in the world. 

What takeaways do you want the audience to walk away with after seeing the film?

The story is about understanding what peer pressure could lead to. Both for Matilda and Prince, as well as the Bogah. In almost every scene, there’s a character who is being pressured into something, whether it’s to play football, to wrestle at the beach or maybe something even more sinister. This could seem fun, childlike and magical, but it could also be dangerous. 

What’s the best way to overcome writer’s block?

Having conversations helps. Doing research. Menial tasks. Revisiting an old favorite film or book. There’s so many things that can inspire you. Everyday things. 

Anthony Nti

Could you explain the timeline of this movie to me? When did you first get the idea, and how long did it take to get from the idea to filming to distribution?

Chingiz and I had the idea to tell this story as far back as 2015. At the time, it felt a bit too ambitious, we wanted to do it in Ghana and we wanted to do it right. We also had no idea whether we’d find the money to shoot it the way we wanted to. At some point, around 2017, we just decided to buy the plane tickets, knowing there was no way of getting around it. We took it upon ourselves to find the necessary resources by the time we were supposed to leave. We did a lot of commercial work, set money aside, bit by bit, so when the time came, miraculously, we were able to gather enough money to shoot. In Ghana, we only had a month to do everything and luckily we were able to finish on time and on budget. However, when we came back home, we were completely broke. Which meant that for a long time, we had to really hustle for the edit, while doing other projects at the same time. We tried to find time in between, and perfect the tone and the structure of the story. In 2020, we had our international premiere in Clermont Ferrand. After that, everything kind of fell into place. Although, the pandemic derailed a lot of our plans as well. Making this film was an exercise in patience. 

Were there any major script changes from conception to end?

The most significant rewrite was changing the gender of one of the main characters. You see, Matilda’s role was initially written for a boy. However, when we actually met Matilda during the casting process, we immediately fell in love with her. We knew she was the perfect fit. Otherwise, the script stayed the same, because she fit the role so well. She could act, she was a real presence and was great at football. We had the idea that her character would sometimes rap during the film and Matilda being so talented, actually wrote her own lyrics. It’s her own words in the story. She continued to impress us during the shoot. But otherwise we were lucky to be able to shoot what we wrote. 

The child actors in this film were so natural and open; what was it like working with them? How did it differ from working with adults?

My previous short film, Kwaku, which had its premiere at Clermont Ferrand in 2014, was also filmed in Ghana, where I used local kids for the main roles. I have learned a lot from the experience and wanted to continue this process. To add a little mixture, I wanted a professional actor to join the cast, Goua Grovogui (The Resurrection of a Bastard). This proved a good mix of authenticity and professionalism. 

Just before the shoot, we spent some time getting to know Prince and Matilda. This further influenced and informed us in the writing process. Together with Goua, we did some workshops and acting sessions and we even did a preliminary shoot. Just to get the kids accustomed to playing to the camera. However, the kids were so smart, they didn’t require any hand-holding. We only had to do minimal rehearsals during the shoot. They understood the story, they understood blocking and the nature of cinema acting. 

Prince often carries a video camera around with him. How old were you when you started to become interested in film?

My first time being interested in filmmaking was in Ghana. Every Sunday after church we would go watch TV at my uncle’s house in Madina, the city where most of Da Yie takes place. One day we saw the movie Fresh from Yakin Boaz. A powerful movie that tackles themes such as the loss of childhood innocence, which served as an inspiration for Da Yie. In the film one of the bad guys got shot and died. The next Sunday we saw a new movie in which this same actor appeared. This caused a huge amount of confusion in my head. I later asked my uncle how this was possible. He explained how movies were not real, but staged. After that I had always been interested in how films were made, but I only started making films when I started film school as a teenager.  

How does co-writing the script affect your directing? Does it give you more freedom?

I’ve always co-written with Chingiz, so I am very used to going through the writing process before directing. When it came to Da Yie, it had its positive effects as the story was semi-autobiographical. I was with the characters from the beginning, I understood them and the story very well. I never looked at the script, while shooting because I knew the story by heart. Also, writing the story gave us a much greater understanding of what is needed in all aspects of the production, which is handy as we were the producers too. 

Could you explain why you showed the group of schoolchildren singing over the credits?

We wanted to end the film with the feeling that it could have happened to anybody. To achieve that we wanted to bring the audience to a place where kids are safe. School being the most interesting place for us. I remember in primary school, before school started we had to assemble and do the national pledge. It felt like the right way to end it. Seeing Prince and Matilda among them. 

It was also a way to tonally get back to a more childlike environment, after the tense climax to the story. But it helped to emphasize the message of the film. What happened to Prince and Matilda could’ve happened to any kid. 

What takeaways do you want the audience to walk away with after seeing the film?

I want the audience to be aware of how the innocence of children can come in danger when confronted with the adult world. But it was also important for me as a filmmaker to create a cinematic experience despite the heavy thematics. It’s not a film to point fingers or to scare. It’s also important to not see things as black and white, but to be open to different perspectives too. 

What’s a film you wish more people would see?

Touki Bouki by Djibril Diop, It’s an amazing piece of cinema by an inspired filmmaker. It’s a classic story of love and moved me deeply. I feel like more people need to witness the talent and power of African cinema. I didn’t grow up with it myself, discovering it only later in life and it’s a shame, because there is so much beauty in it.

Da Yie Trailer

You can buy Da Yie on Vimeo

You can also read Anna’s capsule review of Da Yie or you can follow more of Anna’s work on Letterboxd and her website

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