Q&A with Alain Kassanda on April 8 and 9

The term “coconut head generation” originated as an insult targeting today’s Nigerian twentysomethings, who have been sweepingly mischaracterized as lazy and apathetic. Reclaiming the term as an ironic self-moniker, a growing number of the nation’s youth are instead proving themselves to be politically and morally engaged. In this invigorating observational documentary, Kinshasa-born, French-raised filmmaker Alain Kassanda captures the words and emotions of students at the University of Ibadan in southwestern Nigeria. The country’s first university, it was founded in 1948 and is still reckoning with its colonial British legacy. Here, students have begun a weekly film club, where screenings of work by such directors as Mahamat-Saleh Haroun, John Akomfrah, and Med Hondo instigate intellectual conversation. Immersing himself with students engaged in spirited debates over contemporary Nigerian society’s ever-present power imbalances and sometimes heated discussions around ethnicity, feminism, and gender, Kassanda proves to be a forceful new voice in nonfiction by ceding the floor to a vibrant new generation.

What made you first want to be a director?
Alain Kassanda: Before making films, I was a film programmer. I have always loved the ability of films to reach my imaginary and reshape my perception of the world. It’s the need to tell stories that I felt were untold that led me to reclaim the cinematographic medium.

Was there a film or director you were inspired by or continue to be inspired by?
Alain Gomis, Soufiane Adel, Dieudo Hamadi, John Akomfrah, Frederick Wiseman, Charles Burnett…among many.

In your own words, tell us about your film. What should audiences know?
I would say that it’s an attempt to render visible the reality of Nigerian students. I wanted to depict the ordinary beauty and intelligence they display despite the challenges they face.

What does it mean to you to show your film at New Directors/New Films?
It’s a great privilege and a joy. I make films to reach an audience and ND/NF allows me to do just that. It also legitimizes my work. I’m grateful.

What was the biggest lesson you learned during the making of your film?
Never give up.

What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
Don’t wait to do things and believe in your own capacities.

What else do you enjoy doing outside of filmmaking?
Listening to music and watching my daughter grow.

What’s a film you saw recently that you enjoyed?
Magdala by Damien Manivel