“Racism is alive and kicking!” – Director Lanre Malaolu on The Circle
Fresh from the run of his latest solo dance-theatre show, Lanre Malaolu is bringing his short film ‘The Circle’ to this year’s Doc/Fest. For the unitiated, Lanre is an award-winning director, choreographer and performance artist who has trademarked a style of the integration of words and movement, exploring emotion and sensitivity through powerful expression of the body. His latest work revolves around the unity of two brothers growing up in modern day London, and their struggles with mental health, racism and an over-bearing idea that they are not allowed to just be.
“I was not coming in to make a shitty documentary about knife crime.” Lanre told Exposed, explicitly. “I had an idea what this film could be and what it could be about, I wanted to explore the stigma attached with young black people, working class men in council estates and that it’s not all negativity; there’s plenty doing positive things, trying to better their lives.”
There is a beauty and tenderness to the piece; the exploration of family and identity is redolent of powerful introspection. Malaolu is focused on ‘being’ and trying to grasp what it means, whether that’s overtly (the way you appear to others, particularly evocative in The Circle is the reference to race) or inwardly (how you feel in yourself), as well at the relationships you develop by just ‘being’. “Sometimes I feel like my mind and thoughts are attacking me,” states David, one of the two lads Lanre interviews and puts on screen for the piece. Lanre wanted to address this struggle. “They had just turned 19 and going through anxiety and depression. I’m thinking, ‘Jesus! They have had to overcome and process so much at their age.’ That’s one of the biggest things I wanted to explore and show how they process all of their emotions.”
Asking him where his inspiration comes from, and how he merges the two artistic forms, Lanre explains. “I might be at home, randomly getting ideas and then jump up and start creating. I might start writing something and think ‘actually this sentence doesn’t need words’ and it can be infused with movement. You speak and move from the same place, movement unlocks a different level of emotion. Our bodies physically hold emotion. That’s why we can show and express a deeper level and it can resonate with audience.”
Pressing Lanre on how hard it is to compress this emotion into the fifteen minutes The Circle has become, he tells us: “The film could have easily been an hour! It is better to be able to tell a short compact powerful story in a shorter amount of time. If you have the ability and access through the material you have to tell a story in fifteen minutes that leaves the audience with something, then you should push for that. It could have been two, three films! The interviews with the boys [in The Circle] we did back in November, were about three and a half hours long! We would start talking and you wouldn’t want to stop them. They’re incredible young men.”
There are moments the brothers seem extremely vulnerable in front of the camera, but this vulnerability is tender and endearing – it comes from society muzzling their voices. “They have an amazing connection of brothers, vulnerability, yet they have gone through these incredible experiences and emotions and live in an area that doesn’t promote vulnerability.”
The piece includes references to the stigma around mental health, as well as covert racism still witnessed globally. “Racism is alive and kicking. It is not overt racism, it is subconscious and insidious. There’s a lot of white people, speaking frankly, that may not know what they’re doing. It is not as simple as ‘I don’t like you because you’re black’, it’s so much more. It is alive and kicking in institutions, in our society. You can see it. That is a question, I suppose, that I don’t need to answer.”
Lanre has created a beautiful and powerful piece of art that strikes a chord with many in society. It deals with issues that are rarely dealt with head-on, and issues that are regularly disregarded or not ‘obvious enough’: “Do we see it? Do we know this is a real problem? Especially young men on the streets. It needs some more attention. Suicide is the biggest killer of men in the UK under the age of 45. I am so passionate about telling the story well for these boys. For many young boys, men, women, that may have experienced the same things.”
Showtimes fort The Circle:
Sat 8 June, 09.30.
Oatly Showroom Cinema 2
Tickets available at sheffdocfest.com