In Ghanaian director Anthony Nti’s short-film ‘Da Yie’, we follow the story of two friends in the prime of their childhood.
Feisty Matilda, who wins the opening scene of a game of catch-the-rooster, and her less adventurous, but close friend Prince.
The two are living that carefree childhood in a village in Ghana. The cinematography perfectly captures that tone through its rich and vibrant colour in the first few minutes.
After some cajoling from Matilda, Prince heads out despite his mother’s warnings, to sneak in a game of football. But upon meeting Bogha – a charming foreigner who speaks other languages, the spell starts to unravel for the children.
In Twi, ‘Da Yie’ means good night, and in the case of Matilda and Prince, their foray into the real world ends when they come home, and bid each other a good night, as they would every other day, only this time with the knowledge of what’s really out there.
The film was nominated for this year’s Oscar’s shortlist for the Best Live-Action Short category.
The Africa Report spoke to director Anthony Nti, who lives in Brussels, Belgium.
(The interview has been lightly edited for clarity)
TAR: It starts off as a very innocent story. We have two kids playing, with one egging the other to come out despite the possible wrath from a mother. It’s a very simple moment, but it gets out of control afterwards. What was the inspiration behind it?
Anthony Nti: So that small idea is semi-based on autobiographical moments. When I was a kid, I once got into a situation. I was this kid that was doing all kinds of stuff, I could play football, I could rap. I was all over the place and I got into situations where I didn’t realise the danger then. But later, I realised, wow, [things] could have [gone] wrong.
And so we wanted to play with the idea of the theme of the innocence of children that comes into danger when it gets collided with the adult world, and that’s something that we felt was a universal thing. Nowadays there is a thin line between children and adults, which has its advantages. But it’s also something very dangerous also, so we wanted to play with that, but not so black and white, we wanted to have a grey area.
The adult character, Bogah; he’s sort of the friendly character that takes you into the real world of adults. But in this case, he doesn’t just take you into that world, he really showcases all the bad things that can happen. You have a drug dealing and you have potential exploitation of the children. Everything is crammed into this afternoon outing. What was were you trying to show with his character?
Bogah [means] a foreigner. Bogah comes from the first immigrants, the first Ghanaians that immigrated to Europe. They went to Germany, they went to Hamburg. And people from Hamburg, they called them the hamburgers. But in Ashanti the letter ‘R’ is not something that is used very often. So when people went back from Hamburg and went back to their families, they started calling them bogahs, because they couldn’t say burgers. And so that stayed, and that’s something that’s used by everybody.
The interesting thing about it is that there are all kinds of reasons why a foreigner will be there, in the sense of maybe he has a business. He had a business in Europe and he came back, there are all kinds of questions. And it is also like he represent[s] the character that from the outside, has this look but he can charm you and he’s very diverse because he speaks different languages, [and] he is this character that can figure out his way through anything.
[Then] there are these kids that are figuring it out, and you have these [three] characters [that] are dealing with peer pressure. And I wanted them to collide.
It’s a sort of story that could easily be replicated in a lot of different countries, even in Europe and in the Americas, but also across Africa. Was it to show another side to Ghana that appears to look good from the outside, but things still happen?
For me it wasn’t just necessarily Ghana, I wanted it to be like a universal story because I encountered some situations here in Belgium also. And so that’s why every time I tell [ a story], I always find [a] universal [element].
But I place it in the local environment.
What I wanted to show [was] the cinematic experience that you can have in Ghana. And with my film, I didn’t necessarily want to do a critique. It was more just to create awareness about that theme of peer pressure and also the innocence of children that can come into danger. And that’s something that happens in Ghana, but also elsewhere.
I found it interesting in the end when the kids managed to escape, and they get home. And then we see quite an image of Matilda slowly going through the motions of cleaning herself getting ready for bed, but then for Prince, we don’t see that. It’s like the day’s events affected her more than it did him, even though at the start it was a reversal. Was there a certain way that you wanted to portray that loss of innocence in the end?
That was something we wanted because the three characters all have an arch and Prince ends up with the evidence. And what does he do? He just hides the evidence. And for Matilda, [despite] how strong she is, it did touch her.
But tomorrow’s going to be a new day. At the end of the day life goes on and they got out, it was ok. It was actually a good night.
Looking at future projects, what are you looking at or what are you working on?
We are working on our feature film. We are writing it. It’s inspired by the book of Chika Nina Unigwe. She is a Nigerian-Belgian writer, and she wrote this book On Black Sisters’ Street. The book inspired us to draft a screenplay.
It’s about Nigerian women who come to Europe. And then they have to pay their debt by doing prostitution. But we follow this character that actually wants to become a madam or her path is to become a madam.
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