Pride On Film: The Black Harvest Film Fest Filmmakers Profile – Alexander Etseyatse

This article was originally published on Feb 20, 2013. We found it befitting to repeat it since “419”  will be shown on Tuesday August 13 at 8:30 PM and Monday August 17 at the 19th Annual Black Harvest Film Festival.

Photos Courtesy of Alexander Etseyatse

Alexander Etseyatse (it-say-at-see) is an actor, filmmaker and owner of the independent production company AE Films. To date the company has produced three short films including “ABIDJAN,” “MIKEL’S FAITH,” and“419,” which is about two British-Nigerian brothers– older brother Ade and younger brother Segun– are involved in an illegal family business. Ade is ending it while Segun wants to do just one more job.

During the month of February “419” will makes its way through the film festival circuit on both the East and West Coast. Etseyatse spoke with PrideIndex about the movie, his influences and how he uses music to write complicated scenes.

PRIDEINDEX: Why did you become a filmmaker?

ALEXANDER ETSEYATSE: I started at the age of 15. I was in a filmmaking program the NAACP sponsored.  I won a gold medal for a 5 minute documentary called “RACE DIFFERENCES IN THE 21st CENTURY.”   I thought to myself, “Wow maybe I should take this stuff a little bit more seriously.”  While in my senior year of high school I made a senior’s year ending video and sold it to my class, it was my first money making venture per se.

I attended to York College then transferred to Brooklyn College, where I majored in film production and came to learn about independent film.  I fell in love with the indie filmmaking when I watched “CITY of GODS” and started to do my own professional stuff.

PI: Tell us about the films you have produced so far.

AE: I did two shorts while in college and three of them professionally. Over the past three years my shorts have played in over 70 film festivals.  My first film was “ABIDJAN,” a kid’s soccer film based in the Ivory Coast.  We short some of 70 % of the movie in the Ivory Coast in Africa; it opened a lot of doors for me in the film festival circuit. “MIKEL’S FAITH,” a semi action and drama, is about a boxer who recently got out of prison.  In March of 2012 I shot “419,” a film about two Nigerian brothers who are in the 419 business. The older brother wants to get out while the younger one wants to do one last job.

PI: And what does the term 419 refer to?

AE: “419” is the Nigerian International code for fraud.  It could be credit card fraud, immigration scams or email fraud.

PI:  You went from producing a children’s film to covering more serious adult themes. Could you tell us more about that process, how did you go from one theme to the next?

AE: Great question! I really want to do many kinds of films. When I was in film school I did a short thesis film called “CAUGHT UP.”  The theme was for mature audiences but I wanted to change it up to see if I could do a children’s film next. The process of going from one theme to another was tough for me at first, especially when it came to the writing. After I went through the casting for my children’s film and shot it, everything was fine.

PI:  Are you originally from the United States?

AE: I was born in Brooklyn but my parents are from Nigeria.  I lived the second half of my childhood in Nigeria.

PI:  Let’s get back to your second film “MIKEL’S FAITH.”  You’ve won several awards in the festival circuit and you starred in the lead role for that film. What was it like to direct yourself in your own film?

AE: Honestly at first it was a daunting task but once I got into it, it was probably the best experience I’ve ever had.  As the filmmaker of “MIKEL’S FAITH” I learned what actors go through.  It was very important for me because I learned how to place the cameras in a particular scene, how to schedule certain sequences and most importantly how actors think. I could use that knowledge as the director to change the story a little bit from the screenplay and make a better film.

PI:  Can audiences and your fans expect to see you again as a lead character in one of your films?

AE:  Yes. My next project is going to be a full length film.  I can see myself playing a lead part in it or in one of my future projects somewhere down the road.

PI:  What else can you share about your next project?

AE: Right now I am in screenplay mode for my next project.  I am working on getting into the Screenwriters Lab at The Sundance Institute so that I can get the script right.  As far as the budget goes it’s almost halfway there.  As soon as we get the screenplay just right we should have the budget together and go into pre-production.

PI:  The theme music for “419” was quite catchy.  Describe the processes you have used to select the musical scores?

AE: That’s another great question! I do not use a lot of popular music; I use my collection of songs from indie artist.  And if I cannot use a certain song I work with a composer to come up with music to capture emotions that goes with a dramatic scene.

PI:  When and where will “419” screen?

AE:  It’s going to play at the San Diego Black Film Festival on Friday February 1 at 8:00PM. The Pan African Film & Arts Festival Monday Feb. 11, Tuesday Feb. 12 and Sunday Feb. 17.  The New Voices in Black Cinema at BAM in Brooklyn on Sunday Feb. 17.  Visit for future screenings.

PI:  Wow, that’s great! I hope that “419” will be screened here in Chicago at the Black Harvest Film Festival in August 2013.

AE: Oh yeah, I will have to work on that. Be sure to understand it’s a short.  I have to be clear about that and not have people confused it with a feature film.

PI:  How did you cast “419?”

AE:  I used a well known casting director, whose name is not coming to me right now.  I also used my own personal casting director, Chastity Thomas.   We sent out casting notices all over New York City. We narrowed our selections to actors with English accents so that they matched the role of a UK citizen who could have originally been from Nigeria. It took three weeks to cast the film.

PI: If you had the opportunity to work with any actor from the stage, screen or television. Who would you want to work with?

AE:  There are a couple of actors I would want to work with. I would say Eldiris Alba, because he’s well known and has a certain authority about him that would match the lead role in 419.

I would love the chance to work with him when I do the feature length movie of “419.”

Another person I’d like to work with is Leonardo DiCaprio. I saw Leonardo in “Django” and he was great. And of course I’d like to work with Denzel Washington (Laughs) I know that’s going to be tough to get him.

PI: And what about actresses?

AE:  I’d saw Jennifer Lawrence in “SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK” and she is a pretty good actress.  I would also have Viola Davis on the list of actresses because she takes each role to another level. But I do like the aura of working with unknown actors, it’s fun to watch where they go next.

PI:  Name 3 people that have had the most influence on your artistic style.

AE: I would say Spike Lee, because he inspired me to write my first film about race relations.  I would also say Quentin Tarantino, because he does things his way. And I like the action sequences in his films. The third person I would say is Martin Scorsese because he has an overall great body of work.

PI:  What was last good movie that you’ve seen?

AE:  The last good film I saw was “ARGO” by Ben Affleck.

PI: What is your long term goal for AE Films?

AE:  My long term goal is to get studio backing or if I cannot I will continue to do independent films.

PI: In the future you are going to win an Academy Award for Best Director.  What kind of film would you like to be recognized for this Oscar win? In one sentence, what would you say to the Academy?

AE: In the sentence I would thank everyone who got me there in the first place. And I would say to the all of the independent filmmakers, “If I can do it, you can do it too.” I’d like to get an Oscar for the full length movie, “ 419.”

PI:  What would you offer to aspiring independent filmmakers?

AE: My advice for aspiring independent filmmakers is, if you want to be a director, go out and do it.  Don’t even be afraid to fail.  You’re going fail at first and when you do, just pick yourself right back up. The people who are most admired are those that continue to grow and eventually you get better to put out your own films.

To learn more about Alexander Etseyatse click here