What would a modern fairy tale look like? Pamela Jikiemi’s IRL (that’s short for In Real Life grandad) takes a prescient look at the online world and poses the question ‘how do you verify friendship?’
“The idea was to use a mockumentary to highlight how false it is that people make a lifestyle out of selling a constructed brand of themselves, and being everything to everybody, but no one to anyone,” says Pamela.
The story follows ‘influencer’ Remi. But that constantly being ‘on’ and ‘online’ becomes too much for her. Pamela describes her as someone with natural talent, who everybody wanted to have a piece of for their own following. But for Rem, it gradually unravels until she doesn’t know who she is anymore.
Pamela, who is Head of Film, TV and Radio at RADA, exudes a combo of sage-like wisdom and wide-eyed enthusiasm. IRL is an accomplished and intelligent film with impressive and immersive performances from the students.
On screen invention
That mocumentary style is the ideal frame to investigate the motivation of people who are used to being their own on-screen invention.
“When the brilliant writer Katie Bonna came up with it, I just thought it works,” says Pamela. “Katie, with her writing, seemed to encapsulate the fakery of it. And the lack of empathy.”
The IRL sphere is one of digital presenteeism, where all the characters are spinning their own yarns, and presenting them as their actual lifestyle. It’s toxic, predatory, dangerous and damaging. It’s a reflection of a battle for your screentime and has been exacerbated by the necessities of a pandemic environment.
“Maybe I’m the only one, but I don’t know how YouTube has got its own channels with kids shows,” says Pamela, calling it an equivalent to the digital natives BBC. “It used to be somewhere where you uploaded weird stuff and where the geeks went. People like me didn’t go to it. But now it’s this whole new world of kids programming,” says Pamela. “The genie’s well and truly out of the bottle now,” and not necessarily in a good way.
That shared experience of a nation watching things together has gone. Still on a children’s TV, Pamela mentions Pipkins, Mr Ben and Chorlton and the Wheelies, which is fine by us (they were kids TV shows in the dim and distant past). Now, there’s a scrolling and fast-moving mentality, which has an international reach but seems to imply a lack of deep engagement.
But as a filmmaker how do you compete, how do you grab attention?
“It’s super hard, but the saying is content is king,” says Pamela, who is a trained actor with a background in broadcast. “It’s originality.”
When she talks about originality Pamela mentions White Lotus. It has a basic premise that manages to explore imperialism, racism, colonialism and the displacement of people from their traditional homelands that is wrapped up so succinctly.
“I’ve never stopped thinking about the displaced characters, and their storyline,” she says.
Another she highlights is Dangal, the record-breaking, high-grossing Bollywood film about India’s first top-class female wrestlers, sisters, who went to win Commonwealth Gold, which defies Bollywood traditions, but has an authenticity that appeals to a truly internationally diverse audience. Diversity in film means “People want to look at the screen and see themselves,” says Pamela. “They want to see their experience and they want to see something original.”
It highlights the role of filmmakers, which is “to tell stories,” says Pamela. “To participate in telling stories.
“We’ve all got different stories to tell, from our imagination, from real-life experience, through things that we’ve seen, or from a kernel of a conversation. Tell stories from wherever and whoever and make sure the nature of the storytelling and the representation of the storytelling is as the storyteller would like it to be not what sells.”
She says: “Be brave and tell stories, more stories, different stories.”
That’s where the filmmaker is different to the influencer in the online world, where Pamela says: “It’s hard to see what’s real and what isn’t an ongoing commercial.”
Also part of the English Riviera Film Festival is Laid, “A young couple confront the imminent birth of their first baby. They suddenly realise that parenthood – particularly when it involves celebrity – demands a lot more than they anticipated in this darkly comic nightmare.”
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