Racial oppression, power struggles, love and modern slavery are just some of the complex issues tackled in SHAHMARAN, an ambitious music video-slash-art project from Ghanaian director Emmanuel Adjei and Dutch-Iranian artist Sevdaliza. 

Three years in the making, the film, which was commissioned by WeTransfer, features sublime cinematography and jaw-dropping production design.

From the opening scene, in which sweating men haul a gigantic silver spaceship across the desert, its keel carving through the cracked sand like some enormous galleon, to the futuristic temple where the journey ends, the film often feels closer to a gallery exhibit than a promo - unsurprising given Adjei's background in fine art. 


But what does it all mean? shots caught up with Adjei, who is represented by COMPULSORY in the UK and Halal in Amsterdam, to find out more about his painterly vision. 

SHAMARAN director, Emmanuel Adjei

How did you get into directing?  Can you tell us a bit about your route into the industry?

I studied fine art, doing many self-portraits and through performance and installations I would create stages/decors for me to perform in, making up all kind of personas. It was actually then when I started collaborating with fellow artists (the writer and DoP I still work a lot with now) with whom I felt the need to explore different narrative stories. I applied for film school, and after graduating I got the opportunity to make a short film with the same team. I then knew I really wanted to develop my artistic practice further within film.


Your work is characterised by a painterly aesthetic, how much is it informed by your background in fine art? How would you describe your directing style? 

I was always fascinated a lot about the history of fine art, so I guess always using this large library of references in my head when working on projects. Actually I'd like to think of a project much like a painting or sculpture when I’m working on a film too. When you start you might have an element of the material or canvas, but the process is one that I’ve always discovered throughout making, questioning and above all learning. You have to be clear about some things but it’s important for me to allow room for discovery, I think.


Beautiful cinematography is also a hallmark of your work - do you always work with the same DoP? 

I usually work with Paul Ozgur Nsc, just because we’ve built up such a strong relationship together and because I prefer to work wit DoPs who have an authentic artistic vision. He definitely has that, but we’re intuitive in how we move. He understands where my vision is and I’m grateful we compliment each other. 


You spent three years working on SHAHMARAN - what was it like to spend that length of time with a project? And how on earth did you edit all the footage down into seven minutes? 

It was amazing to have so much time to develop and have the project completely enfold itself whilst sharing ideas with the creatives involved. On the other hand, at points I really needed to keep my focus on this project, as I was doing other projects in the meanwhile that demanded attention and creativity as well.


How did the partnership with WeTransfer and Red Bull arise? How much creative freedom were you given? 

We started this journey with WeTransfer as one of our main partners; they were looking to curate creatives to make original work which lies at the core of what they’re about. We were supported with the autonomy to develop the project and let it become what it is today. A lot of people say this when they collaborate with brands, but there was a synergy in our purpose together.

"The broader story tells us of a continued cycle of oppression and what results in such a cycle of misrepresented success."

How they think at WeTransfer has really helped us make this film happen. Also weighing in on the project, Red Bull screened the film to an exclusive group of European creatives (under the banner Red Bull Frontiers) in Matera, Italy, ahead of the launch.  This project was a way of working with a brands to ultimately support the vision of the artist. 


You worked with Dutch-Iranian artist Sevdaliza on the project. Who approached whom? Tell us a bit about the creative and production process. What were the biggest challenges for you? 

Sevdaliza and I have worked together on previous projects so we knew we would undertake this with full trust in each other. The scale was very important for us because it demanded that both of our artistic potential was pushed further, i.e we would have to take the next step in our artistic practice. I guess it’s for this reason that we really took the time and chose quality over quantity.   


Ultimately, what do you hope viewers will take from the film?

I think it's not for me to say explicitly what people should take away from the film; the audience, I’m sure, will have different ways of understanding it. But the broader story tells us of a continued cycle of oppression and what results in such a cycle of misrepresented success.


What are you working on at the moment?

At the moment I'm working on a longer format project as well as an exciting project with a new digital magazine. 

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