watch south london mc flohio ‘fly’ in nadira amrani’s short film
Surreal realness and mythological references galore in this supernatural documentary.
Ever since Flohio broke out in 2016 with SE16, a spirited celebration of her adopted borough of Bermondsey, the Nigerian-born MC has continued to prove herself as one of the UK’s most intriguing rap talents. Lyrically dextrous with production that veers from the experimental to the club-ready, she regularly subverts expectation. “Grenfell Tower couldn’t burn me out,” she snarls with offbeat urgency on the politically charged Bands, “and I send mad love to who’s mourning now”.
Two years after Funmi Ohiosumah became Flohio, SE16 caught the attention of young director Nadira Amrani, who at 24, has already worked with the likes of Nike, The Tate, the BFI and yours truly. “I was just blown away by the song,” says Nadira. Creatively moved by Flohio’s talent and drive, she was reminded of an early idea that she’d had for a film before growing disillusioned with it. “After the BRITs and Stormzy controversy, I’d written a poem from the perspective of Icarus, the boy who flew too close to the sun in Greek mythology. I had this idea of a film about a male grime artist having a pair of wings that symbolically represented his growth as a musician. I’d been developing the script but put it on the back burner for a bit. I thought, ‘who am I to make a film about this topic?’”
Cut to today, and she’s made a film about just that. “Flohio basically inspired me to go back to this script and push the film in a totally new direction,” she says. “I just thought, man, Icarus is a woman — that was the missing piece!” A visually explosive exploration of music, art and fame, Nadira intersperses surreal, fantasy moments with snapshots of the rapper’s day-to-day life. Using flight as a metaphor to tell Flohio’s story, the poignant short film celebrates music and creativity as well as championing the ferociously talented MC. “They appeared in my life and I’ve been collecting them since,” says Flohio. “Once I collected enough feathers I knew I’d be able to have my own wings, I’d be a success, and I’d be able to fly.”
With Fly premiering right here, right now, we spoke to Nadira about the making of the film and the state of the industry.
In the film we get to see aspects of Flohio’s everyday life, like the NTS interview, interspersed with more abstract moments. What was your approach?
I rewrote the script with Flohio and when we sat down we discussed these different elements. Each scene is part of a narrative story of success, but at the same time each scene feels like a memory or space in a different room. I kind of feel like this film could be watched on a loop in an artist gallery.
Totally. So have you always been into film?
Yes, I’m a film nerd in many ways. I’ve always loved physics and sci-fi, which definitely fuelled my fascination with cameras, lenses and later film. I’ve been a big fan of Christopher Nolan’s films since I watched Memento and Inception, and when I studied architecture my dissertation was about Michel Foucault's theory of Heterotopian spaces within his films. Movies like The Matrix really opened my mind at the age of 12. I was the kid that loved Star Wars and computer games.
Who inspires you the most?
100% Kahlil Joseph. I worked as a runner at Pulse Films back in 2014 and I remember watching a private screening of his film M.A.A.D City for Kendrick Lamar and knew I wanted to make work like that. For me it was that mixture of music and storytelling that got me hooked on the idea of being a filmmaker. I’ve always been a big fan of Kanye West’s Runaway short film and, if I’m honest, you can definitely see that influence in Fly. I’m interested in surreal realness, documentary supernatural and pushing classical references onto characters you think wouldn’t fit.
Did you get into film through photography?
I’ve always loved photographing portraits, ever since I used to go for long summers back home to Algeria. I’m the family photographer documenting the growth of my cousins and people around me. That photography work definitely fed into my film making. I tend to think of films as Instagram posts. I feel like each music video is essentially three striking images or gifs, so that’s how I visualise films when I’m pitching: what would this look like as an image? What would this film be if it was 10 seconds?
That’s interesting. Who or what do you look for in a subject?
Real people who inspire me and whose work has evoked something in me. With music videos it’s really important you love the artist’s work as it’s a collaboration. I see it like the artist or musician has written a story, and as a director it is your job to translate it into the language of film. The best music videos showcase that collaboration, which I think is why Solange has created such brilliant work with her husband.
And what stories do you want to tell through your work?
I want to create experiences more than just stories. Film can be like time travel and the audio visual takes you to a physical experience. In a way, it’s a question of where do you want to take people. Sometimes strange places, sometimes places of peace and calm. I love Black Mirror and all these dystopian dramas coming out on Netflix. I loved Annihilation, it was weird and wonderful. I think one of the tricks to filmmaking is to not let the audience know where you’re going. I like not knowing what’s next, that’s real entertainment.
What made you set up director collective People of Colours? What were your motivations and what’re you hoping to achieve with the collective?
I guess I wanted to start a non-competitive director space for a diverse range of directors. I just hadn't seen a space like that yet and so just facilitated a space to grow. So far under POC we’ve done events at the BFI, V&A, ICA and the Tate Modern. It’s continuing to grow, having had our first event in Toronto curated by Sara El Jamal who’s produced music videos for Sonder and Sampha. The Instagram is really the place where a lot of directors connect.
Starting out, what were your experiences breaking into the industry? What was difficult?
I’ve worked in many different environments in many different roles, from producer, runner, editor, creative and director. The most interesting thing is to see the way in which people treat you depending on your role. I have no time for the hierarchy of old-school filmmaking. However, at the moment I think it’s an amazing time to be a female director and an amazing time to be queer and mixed race. I think, had I tried to do what I’m doing even just 5 years ago, I would have struggled far more. I think this wokeness and inclusivity has genuinely penetrated the industry and it’s great to see amazing initiatives like Free The Bid. You can see across the board, production companies are frantically signing POC and female directors because they are seeing the demand for them from brands.
93% of commercials are directed by men. What’s it like working in such a space?
It’s challenging but also kind of brilliant because the industry is changing. I’ve only just signed to Blink and have already worked on Pride campaigns, films for Nike and have been put forward for some fantastic commercials. I’m extremely excited to be a director right now. Inclusivity works within capitalism because diversity sells, so from major ASOS campaigns to the inclusivity of Lloyds bank adverts, we can see that diversity is improving. I’m seeing a direct drive from brands themselves looking for diverse gazes from diverse directors to help them sell their products. It’s like people are only just realising that the market itself is diverse, so directors should reflect the market.