Nuru Rimington-Mkali: 22-year-old winner of Filmaka.com's $5m feature prize

"No matter how powerful an enemy is, you can always escape - there’s always a way, somehow. But how the hell do you escape your own head?"

Nuru Mkali

Director of I Refuse to Forget, winner of $5m feature funding prize, and Laura MacDonald, Creative Director for Filmaka.

nuru_rimington_mkali.jpgBack in 2000 TCM's £5,000 short film prize seemed huge -  you could almost make an El Mariachi for that much money. Fast forward a few years and there's Iris' £25,000 Gay & Lesbian Short Film Prize, before MySpace's MyMoviesMashup prize of $1m raised the bar once more. And then Filmaka.com came along with it's $5m full feature film finance prize and rewrote the rulebook.

Picture it. You’re 22 and making your first tentative steps as a filmmaker. You signup with a website and start making films in the hope of getting your work seen by an impressive lineup of judges – Neil LaBute, Wim Wenders and Werner Herzog – and pay £10 to upload each film. Then, after winning a series of contests, they offer you $5m to make your first feature. No film school. No climbing up the ladder from tea-making. No depending on the favors of well connected relatives. No casting couch.

Hold back your envy, and meet Nuru Rimington-Mkali, the London filmmaker who did just that with his winning film I REFUSE TO FORGET. After seeing the film - which we stream below - I had to find out more, and went on to interview Filmaka's Creative Director Laura MacDonald as well...

Congratulations. How did you find out you'd won?
Deepak sat me down for a meeting in the restaurant of his London hotel, and - after ordering me a nice, chilled and freshly-squeezed glass of orange juice - casually told me that I’m going to make my first feature film. Needless to say, I wish I’d asked for a pint of Guinness. Or two.

What inspired ‘And I Refuse To Forget.’?
It was inspired by several moments in my time working as Front Of House at the Albany Theatre in Deptford. Whenever we hosted cabaret nights, it was my job to clear all the tables - and every time I’d take the tablecloths through to the laundry room, I’d have this bizarre sense of déjà vu triggered by the smell of surrounding washing powder. I had really vivid memories of being trapped in a large cell with white-tiled walls and floors, like I imagine they have in abattoirs. But the roof was made from some kind of intangible gelatinous membrane, about two-foot-thick with carefully regulated vibrations running through it to cause refractive distortion. I could just about make out the form of figures standing up around the top of the cell, looking in at me.

I quickly realised that this recurring memory wasn’t my own, so I mused on it for a while and concluded that it must be the residual echo of myself being held in some kind of sense-related experiment in my youth. So I created Andy Lipman, to indulge this daydream - and distance myself emotionally from the realisation.

It deals with mature themes - regret, synaesthesia, synchronicity - how much do you draw on personal experience?

Quite a bit. Personal experiences are all I know for sure, and many of those I don’t quite understand. Films are a great way to send up an emergency flare, asking “Hey, am I alone in feeling this way…?”. The answer, I’ve realised, is no.

What effect did you want to achieve with the film?
I’d never done a paranoid thriller before, so I wanted to try and create an overwhelming montage with a narrative through-line. I wanted to try and get across Andy’s sense of information overload, and also take a shot at tackling one of my innermost concerns: no matter how powerful an enemy is, you can always escape - there’s always a way, somehow. But how the hell do you escape your own head?

What equipment did you use?
I shot everything with the Sony PD170 and a Canon XL1s. Voiceover was recorded into an MDP500 with a Sennheiser K6. Pretty low-end kit, I suppose - but it’s how I’ve always shot.

What was the total budget?
£200 for my actors. Eilidh helped immensely, by stepping in at short notice and allowing us to shoot in her apartment, with Mitch sniffing her own clothes. I kind of feel that this should have been payment enough for Mitch, but he almost had a nervous breakdown; smelling cucumber slices with me insisting that his motivation was a covertly militaristic cessation of power in Nicaragua. So I gave him money as well.

Can you remember when you decided you wanted to make films?
It was too long ago to really pinpoint. I’ve always known it’s what I want to do - ever since first seeing ‘Jason and the Argonauts’, ‘Metropolis’ and early James Bond movies. As with many filmmakers, ‘Blade Runner’ was the first time I caught a glimpse of just how cathartic cinema can really be; to just lose yourself in another world. My earliest obsessions were all Japanese Anime, from early ‘Guyver’ and ‘Dominion Tank Police’, to ‘Ghost In The Shell’ and ‘Appleseed’. ‘Akira’ is one of the finest pieces of cinema ever, in my opinion - animated or otherwise.

What was your first film?

My first film was a thirty second 8mm animation about an alien called Widget. I could never get the film developed, so I’ve never actually seen the finished film. In my head it was better than Star Wars, so it’s probably best for it to stay as a self-deluded masterpiece. Nobody can prove me wrong, after all. Have you seen it…? It would have changed your life!

What kind of stories and themes interest you?

Anything about the functioning of human interactions. I guess that’s a poncy way of saying ‘people’. I’m fascinated by anything that attempts to tackle the bizarre nature of society and civilization; the traditions and cultures that we build around ourselves in an attempt to separate ourselves from the animals. “The Emperor’s New Clothes” is my favourite morality tale - it’s one of those truly fundamental studies of the way we work as a species.

Do you have a feature project already prepared?
I’m currently working on developing one of three possible features with Filmaka. The focus at the moment is an extension of the animated series that they commissioned me to create earlier in the year, called “It Started With Soap”.

Can you tell us anything about it?
It’s about humanity resigning to it’s own extinction, and the efforts of three pioneering scientists to stop the rot that is slowly encroaching our planet. All the cheery stuff.

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Laura MacDonald – Creative Director, Filmaka.com

How did Filmaka come about?
Filmaka was set up by a collective of industry professionals from the US, UK, Germany and India in 2006 (launched in November). The idea was to create a platform for professional young filmmakers to experiment and showcase their talent to people who can really help develop their careers. Filmaka was the brainchild of established producer Deepak Nayar, (Bend It Like Beckham, Buena Vista Social Club, Lost Highway), who he set up the company through his network of contacts. The principal aim was to attract talent, identifying filmmakers that he and his partners want to make films with.

What is the thinking behind it?
Well for the first year beta phase, members were charged a minimal annual fee (U$5 for the year, U$10 for uploading a film – we’ve now dropped the sign up fee, but uploading remains the same) so that only the filmmakers who really wanted to make their voices heard would get involved. With a star studded and extremely busy jury, Filmaka had to ensure that the quality of films warranted the time of its esteemed judges (Colin Firth, Werner Herzog, Paul Schrader, Wim Wenders etc). So the community was grown very carefully and steadily with a truly international presence (offices in Los Angeles, London and Mumbai, next will probably be Tokyo...)

With a $5m competition prize it must have some pretty big backers..?
At present the backers are Filmaka and that budgetary figure is an approximation. It may be more, it may be less but we’re talking to a variety of potential partners. Nuru needs to deliver a script next and we’re very confident in his ideas and ability. Filmaka will oversee the entire production of the film.

How do you see the contest as different from something like MySpace's MyMovies Mashup?
Well our rigorous selection process for one. Each ‘filmaka’ has had to make at least two films to a theme set by Filmaka (Family Gathering, Stuck in Traffic, Behind Closed Doors has just launched). Every month we ask our community to make new films for the site. We test the ideas that our community have and we give them feedback. Each entrant has to vote on 5 other films every month or they get disqualified. We wanted to ensure that the community talked and learned together. Every person who sits on our jury, has to contribute over a period of time and we’ve always urged the jury to provide feedback to the filmmakers. We want to develop the careers of our members, to help them learn from mistakes and improve. We also commission web series from a selection of ‘filmakas’ whose ideas we find exciting and these are proving very popular. So in essence we’re becoming the first digital entertainment studio. We have management contracts with William Morris, we’re working with FX Networks and brands such as SAB Miller and soon MSN. We are THE professional filmmaking hub for emerging talent and on top of our monthly feature film competition we now have a documentary arm and our branded competitions reach out to other parts of the filmmaking community such as music video directors with our UNKLE Restless competition and screenwriters, actors, producers, composers.....we want to involve everyone and are working on interesting ways to do so.

Will you seek to use the web or the filmmaka community in innovative ways for the production, sales and distribution of the film?
Yes we’re formulating ideas for this now actually. We absolutely want to involve our community as much as possible in Nuru’s feature. We are constantly blown away by the level of talent and the quality of the content that is submitted to us. We would be crazy not to harness that energy and enthusiasm.

What attracted the judges to Nuru?
Each entrant was judged on his/her body of work with Filmaka (at least 3 films) and their feature idea/script. We created a short list of 7 ‘filmakas’ from 37 in total. Nuru had also made a series for us. The diversity of his ideas as well as the complexity and maturity of his writing were key factors. The jury and the Filmaka team were all consistently impressed with him and his abilities. After serious deliberation, he came out on top amidst fierce competition.

He is very young, how much freedom will he get on the project?
Nuru may sound young but by his own admission, he’s been waiting 10 years for this to happen. He left school at 16 and has taught himself filmmaking from the internet. He’s incredibly driven and talented and we’ll give him as much support and as much freedom as he needs. Deepak and Filmaka believes that creativity should be given room to breathe, that development execs can cause more harm than good. So, we’re all trying to give Nuru the space to develop his ideas and his talents, but in the knowledge that any questions or problems he has, we’re here for him all the way. This is not just “a deal”, this is the read thing, he is going to make his first feature.

How do you see the filmaka advisers, ie Neil LaBute, being involved in the process?
This is still being worked out. We will be able to answer this when contracts are sorted and we’re a bit further down the line but they will be involved. Everyone behind the scenes is excited to support Nuru and his first feature. We all have absolute faith in him.

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