Ernest Napoleon is an incredibly talented actor, writer and producer. He recently released ‘Kiumeni’ – a film where he used all three of his talents – which went on to win two awards at the Zanzibar International Film Festival 2017. The film looks at the differences between the poor and the rich in Tanzania and, although a comedy, tells an incredible story. We caught up with the actor.
Your recent film ‘Kiumeni’ received rave reviews. How important was it for you to highlight the differences between the rich and the poor in Tanzania?
I am have always been very fascinated by “fish out of water” stories. Rich and poor dynamics lend itself naturally to that kind of scenario. It was also important for me to show the human side of the rich and the poor as we more than often judge a person due to the economic situation without any other consideration. Humanizing their situations in this movie hopefully will make people remember that rich or poor is a just a condition and that we are human first with somewhat under different circumstances and beliefs.
Why do you think so many people identified with the film?
I think most people can relate to a situation where one had to do things that they weren’t 100% on-board with to satisfy the person they love. Also being a comedy movie in itself gives it a built-in audience. Comedy is a difficult genre to execute properly but when it works, it resonates with a lot of people. Additionally, I think the actors in the film played their characters in a very natural way which helped the audience identify with them easily.
You both wrote and produced the film. How important was it for you to be involved in both aspects of the production?
The script is a blueprint for any film or TV show. Without a good enough script, one shouldn’t attempt to make a movie even if the money and the talent are there. So fundamentally, even when I am producing a film that someone else wrote, I would have to love the writing for me to get involved. It is important for producers to produce the material that they believe in because every project has a very tough road that one can only keep on going if they are absolutely in love with the script.
What was the biggest challenge when it came to the writing?
I think the biggest challenge of writing these days is to have a good balance between commerce and art. As you know, a film is an artistic expression but its also a commercial property that is consumed as entertainment and cost money to make. All these factors have to be considered when writing an independent movie while staying true to the story. At the end of the day though great writing is still paramount to getting anything made.
The African film industry is growing at a steady pace. What are your thoughts on the state of the industry in 2018?
I hope that with the success of the Marvel movie Black Panther, we are about to see more and more international productions pursue the African stories and hopefully using more African stars. Cape Town in South Africa is already one of the top shooting locations in the world with top TV series and movies shooting there every day. What we need now is for Africa to not just be a shooting location but to also export stories and stars as well. Hopefully, in 2018, we will make big strides towards that front.