Branwen Okpako

Branwen Okpako is a professor at the cinema & digital media department from UC Davis, she is also a filmmaker. She studied polictical sciences at Bristol University, England, followed by studies in filmmaking at the German Film & Television Academy, Berlin. She received the 2012 African Movie Academy Award for Best Diaspora Documentary(2012), the Festival Founders Award for Best Documentary at the Pan African Film Festival in Los Angeles(2012) and also the Viewers Choice Award at the Africa International Film Festival(2011) for her film The Education of Auma Obama. One of her experimental film pieces called Fluch der Medea also known as Curse of Medea, is a docu-drama about the life of the late German writer Christa Wolf, was screened at the Berlin International Film Festival in 2014, she visited Christa Wolf on the 27th of January 2010 in Pankow, and after they meet with each other, they discussed a film that she want to make based on her Christa's novel MEDEA-STIMMEN.

YY: what’s your opinion about “Feminism” and “Social Justice”? what do these two words mean to you?

BO: Feminism and Social Justice are both good aspirations.

YY: Can you define the words “experimental” and “feminist”? Do you identify these two terms? Why or why not?

BO: To experiment is to test ideas. As an artist I am interesting in discovering what else film can do. What else people can understand. How else we can challenge our expectations vis-a-vis visual language. Feminism advocates for gender equality.

YY: Do you think of yourself more as a filmmaker or a professor?

BO: I am a filmmaker, a scholar of film and a teacher of film practice.

YY: What were you studying at when you are in the college and what were you doing when you were at my age like 21?

BO: I studied Political Science for my first Degree.

YY: I really want to be a filmmaker, so I wonder how do how you support yourself and make art, how did you start your career as a filmmaker?

BO: I made a lot of films (9 short films and 1 feature film while I was at film school. 2 of my productions as a student where television commissions. One for Channel 4 UK and one for ZDF Germany this started me off on a professional course. I supported my work as a filmmaker by teaching from the beginning.

image from film Curse of Medea

YY: Your piece “Curse of Medea” starts with the annoucement of election results , I wonder what’s the use of that?

image from film Curse of Medea

BO: The film begins with the dissolution of German Democratic Republic. The newscast you refer to shows the effort on the part of the State to maintain the illusion of a cohesive democracy by holding elections.

YY: In your piece, you have long dialogue sequences with no images only a black screen, I wonder what’s your impression of these?

BO: CW did not want to be filmed I decided to allow her absence to manifest a presence by leaving the screen black.

YY: From 16’00’’to 17’19’’, why you choose some tree scenes as a hook to tell the story?

image from film Curse of Medea

BO: The Golden Fleece that Medea helped Jason take from Colchis was hanging in a tree.

YY: During the last eight minutes of your film, you didn’t give the character’s full faces to the audience, you chose to use some part of their faces and then move on the other parts, what’s your intention?

image from film Curse of Medea

image from film Curse of Medea

BO: That is Christa Wolf’s face. We have not seen her throughout the film now when she speaking about her experiences with the Literaturstreit we reveal her face as it was at that time. The camera tries to excavate her face looking for answers.

YY: You said you visited Christa Wolf in 2010, I wonder what made you interested about her work? And why you chose the Greek story of Medea?

BO: I didn't choose Medea Christa Wolf did. I was interested in the idea of how an artist uses art to defend herself was interesting to me.


Yanbo Yang is a fourth-year cinema & digital media major student at UC Davis, a film editor and a beginner in filmmaking. She currently lives in San Francisco and studies in Davis.

This interview was conducted by Google Doc in Davis in December 2018.