Interview #80 — Mimo Mukii
By Leah Jing
Mimo Mukii is a Kenyan-Filipino emerging filmmaker and producer, working across short films, web series, television and writing.
This year Mimo launched I SEE YOU, a social media platform where they showcase and discuss black screen media. Mimo has volunteered in community television, recently completed a Screen Australia Attachment on an ABC comedy program, co-directed Girls On Film Festival 2017, and screened video art at the Emerging Writers Festival and Testing Grounds.
How did your interest in film begin?
When I was a kid, maybe eleven or twelve, my Aunty was getting married and I was in charge of taping the wedding ceremony. I was a technically savvy kid, so that’s probably why I was given the camera. The wedding was in a park, and while the ceremony was going on, I saw these two really beautiful swans by the lake. I wandered off to film the swans, who seemed like they were in love, and were probably married themselves. Months later I got into so much trouble for taking artistic license with the wedding video.
Growing up, I was a regular at the Video Ezy, and I watched as many films and TV shows as I could. One summer holidays, I watched “School Of Rock” every single day (and sometimes multiple times per day). I found a copy of the script online and made my mum print it off so I could learn all the lines. In my teens, I was obsessed with the Japanese teen drama “Hanazakari no Kimitachi e”, but my favourite film was the violent and surreal “El Topo”. When I was deciding what to study at university, I thought about what I spent most of my time doing, and the answer was watching films and TV. So now that’s what I do.
Filmmaking is a really collaborative process, so I ended up meeting a lot of really amazing people at university and by volunteering at channel 31 (Melbourne’s community television station). The first show I volunteered on was called The F-Word which was a feminist panel show, and the friends I made there got me involved with Girls On Film Festival, which is a feminist film festival. Nowadays, I’ve been working on film projects and of course, getting ready to launch I SEE YOU.
I’m so, so excited that you’re launching I SEE YOU (Decolonising Screens) as part of FCAC’s ECL Showcase! Can you tell our readers about the project? How did it begin?
I SEE YOU (decolonising screens) is a platform to showcase and discuss screen media from Africa and the diaspora. I SEE YOU was made to focus on black voices, stories and experiences in film and television. I started the project this year as an instagram page, and I am launching I SEE YOU’s website at FCAC’s ECL showcase.
I started I SEE YOU because I wanted to teach myself the African film history class that I never got. My favourite classes at university were the cinema studies units, because you watch films, talk about films and then write about films. Around the end of my degree, I was feeling really disappointed because I realised that over the four years that I was at university, there was never a single film from Africa in the syllabus. I was writing my honours thesis on the representation of African-Australians in television and web series, and I realised that the only academic tools that I had for understanding film and television were Eurocentric. There is a whole African film history that is tied in with decolonial struggles and processes, and I didn’t know anything about it. So once my thesis was done, I started watching old films from Senegal and taking notes. When I would tell my friends about the films I was watching, they showed interest in learning more about them too, so I decided to start I SEE YOU.
I SEE YOU is a platform to showcase and discuss screen media from Africa and the diaspora.
I love the name, ‘I SEE YOU’. Where did this concept stem from, and what can people do to encourage being ‘seen’?
The name I SEE YOU comes from Ubuntu, which is a Nguni Bantu word that roughly translates to “humanity” or “I am because we are”. It is a philosophy from Southern Africa about humanity and our universal bond with each other. “Sawa Bona” translates to “I see you” and it is used as a greeting, but its meaning is more than a simple hello. Saying “I see you” to someone shows recognition of the existence of that person, and recognition that both people are in the presence of each other.
Ubuntu teaches us that our humanity does not come from within ourselves, but it comes from our relationships with others and how we treat others. Colonisation does not recognise others and see the humanity in others, which is why Ubuntu was such an important part of the decolonial struggle in Southern Africa.
My black friends use the phrase “I see you” to say that they understand you, they are impressed by you, and they recognise the effort you have put in. I really feel like my community “sees” me, understands me and supports me, for which I am so grateful. I also feel “seen” when I watch cinema from Africa and the diaspora, because there are things that I relate to which aren’t represented elsewhere. So there are plenty ways of being “seen”, and it’s really important to feel that recognition, particularly as people of colour here in Australia.
Who is behind this project?
At the moment, it’s just me!
How do people become involved?
I’m really keen to hear from anyone who wants to be involved, in any kind of way! If you’re interested in writing film reviews or criticism, particularly of films that centre people of colour, please get in touch. There is not a lot of people of colour in film criticism here in Australia, which you can see when you go to panels at film festivals or read reviews in newspapers. I believe in decolonising screens, but also decolonising film criticism, which is unfortunately a really elitist institution. At the moment, discussions about representation and inclusivity are gaining momentum in the film industry, so it is crucial to consider whose perspectives on these issues we are consuming.
I am also interested in collaborating on screenings, events and other creative projects that centre people of colour, so please get in touch!
The name I SEE YOU comes from Ubuntu, which is a Nguni Bantu word that roughly translates to “humanity” or “I am because we are”.
You were the co-director of Girls On Film Festival in 2017. Can you tell us a little bit about the festival - slated as ‘more slumber party than competition’, ‘more mixtape than jury selection’, and ‘more laidback than prestigious’?
Girls On Film Festival was created to be a space for feminists who love films to come together and party. GOFF is a three day feminist film festival, particularly aimed at engaging young feminists in Melbourne. GOFF’s program is really varied, with new releases, old favourites and documentaries. Amongst the fun, we do make space for serious (and not so serious) discussions, in the form of panels and Q&As.
Last year, we did our first callout for short film submissions from local female and gender non-binary filmmakers. We got heaps of amazing submissions, and I personally had a lot of fun watching films from the talented pool of filmmakers we have here in Victoria! The GOFF programming team chose short films that would pair well with our feature films, and we screened one short before each feature at the festival.
GOFF is also a festival for feminists of all ages, and one of our most successful events is the riot grrl inspired Girl Germs, which is our teen-focused screening. In past years we have had bands, stalls, zine and badge making, roller derby, nail salons, face-painting, and of course, a screening of a teen-friendly film.
GOFF is completely run by volunteers, and our past three festivals have been generously supported by sponsors and the community through crowdfunding. GOFF and the team are currently taking a break this year, but will hopefully be back very soon.
Representation is something that’s really important to us at Liminal; and Decolonising Screens and Girls on Film Festival focus on this quite deeply. Why does this matter to you?
Growing up here in Australia as a person of colour, with both an African and Asian identity, I felt that no one understood my experience. Sometimes I felt that my unique perspective was an advantage and something to celebrate, but other times I felt really alienated. Now that I am older I know a lot of people who felt the same way I did, and I have met plenty of biracial and mixed race people who have had similar experiences to me. Everyone I speak to agrees that there was a lack of stories about people like us that we could access, and this contributes to feeling like you don’t belong. If Neighbours is a show about everyday lives of everyday Australians, why is there no family like mine on Ramsey Street?
This, of course, is also the case for people of diverse genders, sexualities, abilities, religions, ages, as well as race and ethnicity. As a person who loves film and television and wants to work in this industry, it is important for me to consider representation because I know firsthand the impact it has on a person who feels out of place. I envy the children now who have Black Panther, and I hope it only gets better from here.
Growing up here in Australia as a person of colour, with both an African and Asian identity, I felt that no one understood my experience.
Sometimes I felt that my unique perspective was an advantage and something to celebrate, but other times I felt really alienated.
You recently completed work on ‘Blackwood’, a comedy-drama which explores the African-Australian experience in small-town Australia. Can you tell us more about this project?
Blackwood is a short film, written and directed by my wonderful friend, Kalu Oji, and produced by me. Mary, played by the beautiful and talented, Faro Musodza, is an author who is preparing for her first ever national television interview. Her son David, played by the up-and-coming Dalitso Mtunga, is getting ready for a talent scout to visit his soccer team. Both Mary and David have high hopes for their day, but find it doesn’t quite meet their expectations.
Kalu and I have had similar experiences as biracial African-Australians studying film, and we connected over a desire to tell everyday stories about African-Australians. Blackwood is a story that focuses on Mary and David’s aspirations, strengths and relationship with each other, rather than their race and otherness. We’ve finished editing the film and we are currently submitting it to film festivals, so hopefully it will be coming to a festival near you!
Who is a director who means a lot to you?
Ousmane Sembène was the first African filmmaker that I started researching for I SEE YOU. I still haven’t seen all his films because it is hard to find them online with English subtitles, but the films I have seen have really affected me. He is considered by many as “the father of African cinema”, and he made history by releasing the first feature length film by a Sub-Saharan African. I also really love Ava DuVernay because she is a black woman who is shattering glass ceilings right now in Hollywood.
What are five films we should be watching?
La Noire De (1966)
The Baulkham Hills African Ladies Troupe (2016)
The girls who sold the sun (1999)
Blackwood is a story that focuses on Mary and David’s aspirations, strengths and relationship with each other, rather than their race and otherness.
Who inspires you?
My parents really inspire me, and have really influenced me too. Even though they sometimes think my beliefs and ideas are radical, I know that my strength and fighting spirit comes from them. When I was young, my dad leant me Malcolm X’s autobiography and helped me write a speech where I explained X’s concept of “the white devil” to my majority-white English class. He’s currently working on an afro-futurist novel (so cool, right?). My mum is amazing too. She decided to study mathematics and statistics, despite her family pushing her to study nursing. She lived through the Marcos era and martial law in the Philippines, and came to Australia for postgraduate studies. She fell in love with my dad, and moved with him to Kenya. They are both really brave and amazing people.
Also, I am also inspired by all the ridiculously talented people in Melbourne who are making art and fostering communities. Being a part of the Emerging Cultural Leaders program at FCAC this year has been so lovely because I got to spend time with artists and arts workers and find out about all of their projects. People are out here making change and showing out. I see you!
What are you currently listening to?
I am obsessed with Joji’s recent album, Ballads 1. I am also listening to Duval Timothy’s album, Sen Am. It’s a solo piano album, and scattered throughout the album are Whatsapp messages from family and friends in Sierra Leone. Huge diaspora feelings. When I take dance breaks I listen to Hold Tight by Change.
What are you currently reading?
I just finished Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie (loved it), and I just started The People In The Trees by Hanya Yanagihara.
Do you have any advice for emerging artists?
Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Ask other artists about their practice, about how they manage their finances, or about opportunities. I am always surprised by how generous people are with their time and their knowledge. More often than not, people want to help you and see you succeed.
What does being Asian-Australian mean to you?
Being Asian-Australian is one of my many identities. I don’t often get recognised as Asian-Australian, but I feel it wherever I go. When I hear someone speaking Tagalog on the train, or when I argue with people online about Asian dramas, or when I walk around the house in tsinelas so my feet don’t get dirty (my grandma’s voice in my head). It is my mum interrogating me over the phone about the recent meals I have eaten. It is knowing that my parents achieved so much and worked so hard for me to live this life. It means living in multiple worlds, but finding other people who live in all those worlds too.