Andrew Dosunmu talks about shooting ‘Mother of George’ in Brooklyn
Growing up in Nigeria, the photographer and filmmaker Andrew Dosunmu would watch movies set in New York. When he came to live here, he was surprised by how much of the city never made it to films. “It’s like, ‘How come I don’t see this New York?’” he says. “It’s always Times Square and all that.”
That just left more for him to shoot himself. Following 2011’s “Restless City,” the new “Mother of George” is set and was filmed in Brooklyn’s Crown Heights neighborhood. (Though there are scenes also shot in Bed-Stuy and East New York.) “I love the diversity of it. It’s so different, each neighborhood.”
The line on Brooklyn is that it’s being swallowed by gentrification. Dosunmu doesn’t think it’s gotten that far. “It’s changing, but it’s still got that core. There’s still a sense of neighborhood, community, family. Most places when they change you lose that community aspect of it. Brooklyn still retains that. It’s not like the Lower East Side, where no one who lived there 20 years ago can afford to live there.
“Change actually makes for a nice blend,” he says. “You go down Franklin Avenue — there’s a new wine store, but there’s a Jamaican place next door.”
“Mother of George” is set entirely within the Nigerian section of Crown Heights, where rituals from home carry on amid flowering multiculturalism. Still, you don’t see many people from outside their tight-knit community.
“Every culture’s got its oasis in this metropolis. You go to Queens, you get East Indian. You walk down three blocks, you think you’re in Mumbai. You walk down three more blocks, you think you’re in Bogota. You go into a neighborhood and you think you’re somewhere else. You go to a friend’s neighborhood, they’re Balkan or Indian, and you think you’re in that place. You come out the door and you realize you’re in New York. I really wanted to capture that intimacy.”
The images in “Mother of George” are primary, but there is a plot: Danai Gurira (“The Walking Dead”) plays a woman who has trouble getting pregnant by her new husband (Isaach de Bankole). The screenplay was written by playwright Darci Picoult, who immersed herself in the world despite being, unlike her director, not from it. More importantly, she was asked to avoid the usual stamp of a writer: words. “I told her to write in images before she wrote with words,” Dosunmu recalls. “She was open to that. Most screenwriters aren’t like that. They say, ‘Those are my words, don’t take my dialogue away.’ She wasn’t like that.”
The images themselves were not shot by Dosunmu, but by Bradford Young, the star cinematographer (he also lensed “Pariah,” “Middle of Nowhere” and “Ain’t Them Bodies Saints.”) The two friends’ photographs shared similar traits. “Brad said he wanted to make it almost sci-fi in a way,” Dosunmu says. As with Young’s other work, the lighting is very dim. “I like the fact that half the image is lost into darkness. It’s intriguing. It makes the audience sit up. It’s not like a supermarket, fluorescent lights, fully lit.”
Dosunmu still values his thespians. “With actors, it’s about spending time with them prior to the film,” he says. “Spending time doesn’t mean rehearsals. It just means hanging out, exposing them to my world. That could be going to a concert or a flea market. I want their performances to be organic, something that is not forced.”