Passion is a crazy thing, despite whatever madness is going on in my life, I find that it all seems to go away when I am writing, or partaking in any creative aspect of filmmaking, even for just a short time, it is my escapism.- Atem Kuol
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Atem Kuol is a young Sudanese filmmaker who is making his debut as a Writer/Director on a short film project. In a country where the challenges range from poverty and lack of infrastructure to civil wars and destruction, how does he remain optimistic and carry on with his ‘crazy’ passion in the make-believe world of filmmaking?
Atem Kuol: Honestly, I think film chose me. There is something indescribably satisfying about telling stories through moving images. In school I wasn’t very academic, I was more creative and hands on, and that’s just the way my mind works, that’s the way I think. Once I discovered filmmaking, it was an instant no brainer, we connected and I’ve never looked back since.
It was in 2007 when I was studying electronics at college, I randomly decided to take a dance music video course at the roundhouse in Camden. I had no idea what the course was about, I just decided to take this 2 hour, once a week course, I had nothing to lose.
It was a strange feeling at first because my teacher at the time was a cinematographer who had years of industry experience that was teaching us how to direct and edit these super creative music videos for the first time. I was in awe until I got into the editing room and I was given the task of editing these clips together and there was something so therapeutic about spending time alone creating these music videos.
It was a huge learning curve for me, but what was more exciting was how well I understood the process and once it was done, being able to take a step back and acknowledging what we had created. It was just mind boggling for me and definitely an experience I cannot forget. Thank you Roundhouse for that experience.
The thing that has kept me going all these years is my hunger for learning, academics was never really my thing, but being creative was. Throughout all these years, my curiosity for exploring and pushing myself, project after project has instilled this creative fire within me. That either makes sense to you or it doesn’t, I tried to articulate it into words, but something’s cannot be explained.
Passion is a crazy thing, despite whatever madness is going on in my life, I find that it all seems to go away when I am writing, or partaking in any creative aspect of film making, even for just a short time, it is my escapism.
Funnily enough, in college I studied Electrical and Electronic Engineering before my leap into Television and Video Technology at Kingston University.
At the university my Television and Video Technology course taught me the basic principles of filmmaking and a lot about broadcast TV, but not exactly how to direct. My directing experience came from shooting my own music videos, documentaries and working with more experienced industry professionals’ on their music videos and films.
After graduating from Kingston University with a 2:1 honorary degree, I worked on the London 2012 Olympic Games, which was a huge eye opener into the world of Television. Towards the end of 2012 I moved out to Spain to work for Revelation TV, the same company I did my placement for after my second year at university.
I spent two years in Malaga, Spain Directing TV shows before moving back to London in December 2014 to pursue a full time career in filmmaking.
In 2011 I decided to transition from music videos into film with a short film called The Light, in which I was 2nd AD. My next project in 2012 was my documentary, which I wrote, directed and produced called Success in Filmmaking; I then went on to produce a documentary for black history month called Murder to Excellence before becoming a 1st AD on a short film called Emily. In 2013 while working with a director who I had worked with a few times before I was 1st AD on his debut feature film Discord. I then worked on an interesting musical short film called New Chapter Musical, in which I was 2nd AD. I subsequently went to Spain for two years where I spent quality time writing and away from the industry to work on TV. In 2015, I am now back with my Writer/ Directorial debut short film Way Out.
KA: Filmmaking is not exactly a cheap venture…how do you raise funds to finance your films?
I 100 percent agree that filmmaking is such an expensive hobby; it’s not cheap and requires plenty of patience. Most of my films have been self funded, so I work my butt off for a pay check and invest that money into my passion.
Another way to generate funds for films is to run a kickstarter campaign. Kickstarter is platform filmmakers and other creative’s use to gather supporters and potential investors for their latest projects. I am currently running a kickstarter campaign for my latest film – Way Out, a short boxing drama, which touches on the subject of the long term effects of domestic violence.
Please check out the campaign and help make this happen by donating, we have rewards from as little as £5:
KA: When can we expect a full feature production from you?
God willing, hopefully soon, but in all honesty, this is my first short film in the Writer/ Director Chair. I’ve worked on plenty of short films as a 1st and 2nd AD, I’ve also produced several documentaries too, but there are still a few more avenues I want to explore before I commit to a full feature, as a Director. With all that said though, if my latest short film – Way Out takes off and we get commissioned to make a full feature, no doubt I will quit my day job and start planning ASAP.
KA: Are you a genre specific writer/filmmaker?
At the moment no, although I stay away from horror, I don’t watch horror films, nor do I ever intend on making them. I am still at the exploring stage of my career, I want to try and write a comedy, although I find in the majority of my film ideas, the common genre is drama.
Right now, one thing I am particular interested in is characters, I love writing films with strong lead characters, because the right characters can help push your story a long way.
KA: If you were not doing this, what else would interest you?
Definitely not electronics. Engineering can be a very lucrative business, but electrical electronic engineering bore me to death. I don’t know exactly, but definitely something creative.
KA: Advice for aspiring filmmakers?
There will always be obstacles in your way and excuses for you to not make your film, but stay focused and keep your eye on the prize; it’ll be worth it in the end.
KA: Mentors and Role models?
In all honesty, my number one mentor/ role model is God, without him, I wouldn’t be alive today and I give him all the glory 100 percent.
In the early days when I first started my career, a former friend of mine introduced me to a producer called Martin Johnson, who mentored me and showed me the ins and outs of this weird and wonderful industry.
Nowadays, I have a long list of creative filmmakers I look up to like Martin Scorsese, James Cameron and Francis Ford Coppola, not just because of their box office sales, but because of their artistic styles and the iconic films they have made. This argument can go on and on until the end of time, so I will just leave it at that.
KA: Challenges faced in the African film industry?
I can only speak for my region of East Africa, South Sudan to be specific. Not everyone is privileged enough to even have electricity, let alone a TV in their homes, but the ones who are fortunate enough, often watch films coming from West Africa.
Once East Africa as a whole is more developed I would love to be making films specific to that part of our nation. Very often you see in the news all the bad things in Africa being highlighted, but I recently went to South Sudan and Kenya earlier in the year and it is a beautiful place, so much wild life and forest, there are endless beautiful views. This needs to be captured on the big screen in order to open up the eyes of the media and not just highlight when they portray child soldiers in Hollywood films.
Another huge problem is all the civil wars and fighting going on. It is all these wars which are causing our nation so much poverty and destruction.
KA: What does the future hold in another 5 years for Atem Kuol and his films?
Five years? I just hope my films reach an even bigger audience and inspire more people to achieve their goals and never stop pushing themselves.
This year I am setting up a production company, so I hope in five years, we will have a good number of films in the pipeline and a strong team of filmmakers and business executives behind us.
KA: Inspire a young African in one sentence.
Never let your circumstances dictate your future.
For more information on Atem Kuol and his new film, follow the links below:
IMDb Page: www.imdb.com/title/tt4056676/combined
Kickstarter Campaign: www.kickstarter.com/projects/atemkuol/way-out-a-short-boxing-drama
Official Facebook: www.facebook.com/wayoutshort
Official Twitter: www.twitter.com/wayoutshort