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HomeAfricaHow 'Ifine: Beauty' Takes on An Epidemic With Poetic Poignancy

How ‘Ifine: Beauty’ Takes on An Epidemic With Poetic Poignancy

Written by Alex Ivany

Ifine: Beauty is what co-directors (Adisa Septuri, Ebony Gilbert) and I like to call a “docu-choreopoem”. I’ve always been drawn to films and documentaries that combine poignant messages with brilliant storytelling. My career evolved when I had the amazing opportunity to work on Ava DuVernay’s esteemed documentary 13th, which propelled my interest into telling relevant stories of historically marginalized communities.

My work as a producer-editor on Ifine: Beauty blossomed from a collaboration and friendship with the brilliant co-directors Adisa Septuri and Ebony Gilbert. I met Adisa when I worked on his directorial feature film debut Skin in the Game. It was also my first feature film as an editor at the time, so he definitely took a bold gamble on me!

When Adisa and Ebony told me about their concept for Ifine: Beauty they described a skin bleaching epidemic throughout Africa (and much of the world) that I knew very little about. They told me how they were filming a documentary about this intense subject, but that they didn’t want it to be told from the point of view of scientists, researchers, and other “talking heads”. Instead, they were choosing to focus on the vantage point of young people throughout Sierra Leone who were bleaching their skin. They wanted to further understand what formed their definitions of beauty.

‘Ifine: Beauty’Dirt-Stained Roses/KONO Productions

While the film is predominantly focused on the true stories of five teenagers, we also wanted to weave in a narrative element. Adisa and Ebony had the idea to include a “choreo-poem”—a combination of poetry, performance, and a choreographed dance. With the incredible eye of our talented cinematographer Antonio Cisneros, they captured stunning footage about a young woman discovering her beauty through her ancestors.

The challenge in the edit room became how to incorporate this stylized story alongside the more fly-on-the-wall verité footage of the characters we follow. The stylized choreo-poem footage was filmed in three different locations (desert, forest, and a cave) and initially we felt that it would narratively fit best in three parts—beginning, middle, and end. But when we cut these three sequences into separate parts, something didn’t feel right.

We found that our five real-life characters were just too powerful and thought-provoking to turn away from. Their stories were all so vulnerable and honest. It felt unauthentic to place a stylized scene within them. After re-cutting and tinkering with the sequences, we found that the pacing worked much better to have the choreo-poem scenes as sort of preludes and epilogues to the film.

‘Ifine: Beauty’

The audience reception for Ifine: Beauty so far is pretty incredible. The film was nominated for best short documentary at the African Movie Academy Awards, and was honored to be in consideration for the 2024 Oscar race. It was awarded Best Short Documentary at the Pan African Film Festival, and continues to spark conversations worldwide. We’ve screened and discussed the film in high schools and colleges, and it’s since been incorporated into many school curriculums.

The most gratifying part is seeing how Ifine: Beauty continues to uplift the community that it all began—Sierra Leone. We recently organized a workshop in Sierra Leone where we invited several industry professionals to speak about their craft, and I had an opportunity to give a seminar and Q&A there about editing to a group of aspiring Sierra Leone filmmakers. The individuals who took the class were incredibly receptive to the material, and I believe the workshop was a monumental success! We will continue to offer workshops like this to share our knowledge and experience with filmmaking, and hope to bridge a connection between the industry here (in LA) with the talented African filmmaking community. They supported us throughout the production of this film, and we aim to give back.

Ifine – Trailer | A 2023 Charlotte Black Film Festival Official

Most of the production crew on Ifine: Beauty were locals of Sierra Leone, who aided our journey and devoted so much passion into the project. We have so much gratitude for them, and for the amazing kids who were willing to share their stories for our film. We were driven to tell this story because of the magnitude of the skin bleaching epidemic, not only in Sierra Leone and Africa, but worldwide. The kids offered their experiences with utmost sincerity, which propelled the project forward.

The entire post team that we assembled later are all such talented professionals and worked brilliantly to enhance the film. Composer Raashi Kulkarni brought the film light with her beautiful score. Scott Jennings captured the landscape of Sierra Leone through his sound design and the mix, while colorist Adrian Delude painted the film with the colors of Sierra Leone that were majestically captured by Antonio. And it was all helmed by Adisa and Ebony’s very detailed vision. This was a small team, but each team member put so much talent and loving energy into crafting Ifine: Beauty.

‘Ifine: Beauty’

My role on the project would not have been possible without my previous career influences. I was able to pull from both my narrative and my documentary tool house to craft the edit together. Working as a producer alongside Adisa and Ebony was a wonderful stepping stone in my career. It was an opportunity to bring my experience with post production into a role of more responsibility. I strongly encourage other people in the editing field to do the same.

As editors, we have a keen awareness of the storytelling process. Editors are often the crew members who spend the most time with directors and producers, working together to craft the story to perfection. I’ve had the amazing opportunity to work with some of the best directors and producers throughout my young career, which has greatly enhanced my perspective on the process. With Ifine: Beauty I had an opportunity to take my career one step further as a producer-editor, while working alongside the immense talents of this team.

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