Surrealism and reality are woven seamlessly in this debut offering from Blitz the Ambassador.
The Burial of Kojo is a dreamy recollection of tumultuous childhood times affected by an ethereal struggle between brothers that spans time, space and sanity, as recalled by Esi, the Ghanaian protagonist portrayed by Cynthia Dankwa, in a dreamy yet realistic style that is steeped in moody hues and surreal imagery.
The intimate brush with which he paints the last days of Kojo was haunting, with his demise imminent from the opening scene of the film.
From the very beginning, it was clear that Kojo was a tragic figure. Played by Joseph Otsiman, Kojo’s recurring ghosts revisit him nightly in the form of a blue Volkswagen beetle engulfed in flames on a distant beach where the ocean thirstily licked the sands.
The prophesied otherworldly premonitions of young Esi drive the narrative forward while informing the viewer of Kojo’s undoing, and his family’s struggle to save him from himself.
Recently, The Shadow League had the chance to chat with The Burial of Kojo writer and director Sam Blitz Bazawule aka Blitz the Ambassador and went deep about the symbolism and technique behind the film.
The Shadow League: Tell us about the process of making such a daring and beautiful film.
Blitz: It’s been a few years of trying to tell this story that deals with the reality of what’s happening on the continent. But, also, from a specific lens that I feel is African at the core. Elements of magical realism, elements of surrealism, were very critical in coming up with this film.
TSL: Though there were definitely elements of surrealism and symbolism throughout, it was anchored in an ultra-realistic world.
Blitz: A lot of it was formed by what is happening right now as far as the socio-political climate that’s happening on the continent with Chinese incursion for resources and, due to our weak institutions, our people struggling to survive. But I was also very clear in that I didn’t want to tell a story from a macro-perspective instead of a personal reality.
So, the family structure, for me, was the most interesting. I also noticed that very few African films center the people instead of the problem.
TSL: The pressing matter for Kojo is guilt. A heavy guilt guides him toward some incredibly unwise decisions. Ama, the love of his life, and young Esi are caught up in the wake of his madness.
Blitz: So, I made sure a lot of the story had to do with how this is family going through turmoil, this family is going through love, betrayal, all the things that make for a functional or dysfunctional family while making sure that the story was still a reflection of current reality on the continent.
TSL: How did you come up with an idea for a story arc that dipped in and out of surrealism and realism with such ease?
Blitz: It all goes back to how I remember stories being told to me. My grandmother used to tell stories, and those stories were passed down to my mother. Those stories were exactly how I wanted Burial of Kojo to feel.
There were elements that we knew were real because they deal with the current political environments. But my grandmother’s stories were always imaginative, and I think I understood from my 9-year-old perspective, designed to stir the mind. I remember being affected by them in a way I probably wouldn’t have by simply reading a newspaper or by watching the news. That is how I’ve always understood storytelling to be about, but it’s also centered on African storytelling.
I think African people everywhere take liberty with how we chose to tell stories when you think about how we’ve told stories over time. The only thing is we haven’t been extending as much of that ethos in our cinematic experiences.
A lot of it, of course, is because the medium is so expensive. You’re always going to hit a very challenging place when you’re trying to convince people of the way that you want to tell the story. For me, it’s different because of I have autonomy because I self-funded this film, then crowdfunded the end.
I was never at a point to be told that this wasn’t the way to tell my story. I was fortunate in that regard and was glad I was able to tell the story with that autonomy.
TSL: Where did the inspiration for the tragic Kojo come from?
Blitz: First of all, I asked myself what the story is about. For me, it was always about guilt. What happens when your guilt eats away at you and you have no outlet to wrestle with it in a way that’s constructive? Growing up in Ghana, I saw that a lot people didn’t have an infrastructure or help from psychologists who can help you unpack these traumatic experiences.
Around my way, you’d see these people who it seemed were just embroiled in constant torture. You didn’t know what they had done in their past, nor how they arrived in your town. You just know that somethings was eating at this person, and there really isn’t any professional help.
That’s how I imagined Kojo’s character, someone who is from a rural space that just doesn’t have the (mental) help.
In a legitimate way, as you point out, his daughter really is his shrink and is trying to explain to him what’s really happening. It’s also the kind of thing were black girls, oftentimes, there intuition is discounted.
You can see it when the father tries to downplay certain things that she sees. It’s not even a continental thing. Children are often viewed as not knowing. But from her first words in the film, I wanted to make clear that Esi had a knowledge that was beyond her age and beyond her father’s understanding.
Kojo is based on a lot of people I knew growing up who really suffered from horrific trauma but never had the help or the outlet. Sometimes, that becomes fatal.
The Burial of Kojo is currently streaming on Netflix.