Bibi Shadbolt, breaking ground for African cinema

Bibi Shadbolt is the writer and producer of the internationally acclaimed movie Afua’s Diary. The movie, loosely based on a true story explores the human side of immigration following the life of Afua Forson Brown, a Ghanaian graduate whose British student visa is about to run out and happens to meet the man of her dreams which adds to her complicated life.

Bibi tells us about her experience making her movie from a business and creative perspective.

1 You have had an exciting debut to your career with the positive reception to Afua's Diary. Tell us how you feel about that?  
The support Afua’s Diary has received is amazing and I am so grateful to everyone who has helped to make the dream a reality.

2 Did you expect that?
Not at all. Even though I wrote the story with global audiences in mind, our primary strategy was to release it in the UK.  To have it screened in Cannes, New York and Los Angeles to critical reception has been humbling.

You seem relatively new to the UK film industry and yet you have adapted quite quickly negotiating being in male dominated field as a business woman as well as a creative. Tell us more about your background and how you decided that film production was the career for you?
I was a teacher back home in Ghana but started working in sales, marketing and finance when I came to the UK. Creative writing has always been my passion but it was more of a hobby than anything. In 2009 however, I wrote a script for my local TV channel which received great reviews. As a result, I took a course in film production with the Raindance Film school and wrote and produced my Afua’s Diary.

I knew the challenges and constraints I would face being an African woman in the competitive UK film industry but I was driven by passion and had to keep my eye on the ball. I must also say that being in sales and marketing for companies like Barclaycard and MBNA helped me a lot in developing my negotiation skills.

4 I know that you are proudly African and you ensure that you express this in your work, why is it so important for you to do so?
This may sound cliché but I find it disappointing to see the general media portrayal of Africa as a doomed world plagued with widespread poverty. While I do not deny the high levels of poverty on the continent, I do believe there are so many positives about Africa that have not been shown to the world and cinema is one of the best ways to do this.

5 How easy was it for you to get investors to back your dream?
It was daunting, to say the least. Investors are reluctant to put money in a first project so I had to rely on personal savings and support from friends and family. I was also blessed with a good production company (Pixelex Aspect) who collaborated with me to produce the film.

6 Who were the main supporters of your project?
I’ve had different levels of support throughout the process. As I said, Pixelex Aspect were a good production company to work with. I also had immense support from my business consultant, Alan Reading, proprietor of Custom Marketing Resources and also, from Talking Drums Distribution.

The support we’ve had from the UK and Africa media has been overwhelming. The Voice newspaper did not only give as a feature but also distributed our leaflets in their goodie bags during the ‘Africa in the square’ festival. We’ve also had features in Pride Magazine, Evening Standard and other print media.

7 Tell us about the story line for Afua's Diary?
Afua’s Diary follows the life of a Ghanaian marketing graduate whose visa is about to run out. Her situation is made worse by the persistent demands from her alcoholic father in Ghana and constant nagging from her lazy and arrogant boyfriend. Afua eventually falls in love with recently divorced businessman, Alan Freeman but falling in love becomes even more complicated.

8 Putting together the film project from writing, casting through to production is quite a feat. Did you approach it from a business perspective?
Definitely. Much as I enjoy the creative side of film making, it is a business and in putting together the story and cast, I had to look at the commercial appeal and overall marketing potential. I did a lot of research into market trends and popular genres among the targeted market. I’m glad it paid off.

9 Which of your sides is more dominant business or creative side?
Hmm. That’s a difficult one but I would say my creative side. As I said, writing is my first love and creating a story from script to screen is very exciting for me. I am blessed with good business advisers who help me with that side of things.

10 One of the challenges entrepreneurs face is the glamorous side of the business receiving awards, travelling and being in the press turning them into celebrities, how do you put that aside to deal with the everyday mundane things like administration?
I believe networking and publicity is good for brand enhancement but it’s essential to maintain a balance between that and the actual production work. I always focus on my goal as a business woman because that is what I am. I do work around the clock in order to be on top of things.

11 What would you say has been the high point of your career?
It has to be screening Afua’s Diary in Cannes and winning the juror’s choice award at the Women of African Descent Film Festival. Also, being able to compete in the LA indie film festival was a dream come true.

12 And the low point?
I’ve had so many low moments in this process (I need to write a whole book about that. Lol) So many doors where banged on my face but I was not prepared to give up and I’m so glad I didn’t.

13 We are really eager to find out what your next projects are and when will be the release dates?
The next project is starting in March and it is another romantic comedy. It is due to release at the end of the year.

14 What are your New Years resolutions for 2016?
Work even harder but have more time for my family especially my little girl.


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