Cutting edge directors Jade Ang Jackman and Samona Olanipekun on challenging the status quo

Meet two exciting young directors who are pushing boundaries with their new short films, backed by Sir Steve McQueen's production company and Canon Europe.
Filmmaker Samona Olanipekun wears headphones and points while an actor sits in a chair next to him and two other men stand behind the chair.

Trying out different elements of filmmaking has helped i and i director Samona Olanipekun (pictured here in a black and white striped hat) better understand the cinematic process. "Take editing, for example," he says. "I've tried it myself, so I now feel confident that when I'm working with an accomplished editor, I know they're doing a great job." © Lammas Park Productions / Photographer: Rekha Garton

As any budding filmmaker will attest, getting ahead can be fraught with challenges, but it can also present opportunities. Two directors who are well-versed with what it takes to make an impact in the industry are Jade Ang Jackman and Samona Olanipekun. They are both on the talent roster of award-winning film production company Lammas Park, founded by Sir Steve McQueen, the British director behind 12 Years A Slave, winner of Best Film at the 2014 Academy Awards.

With the aim of helping to break down barriers relating to access, funding and mentorship that filmmakers can encounter at the start of their careers, the UK-based company is dedicated to working collaboratively to nurture new talent, and in turn elevate new work that may otherwise not get the visibility it deserves.

In one particular venture, Lammas Park partnered with Canon Europe to facilitate the production of two short films by Jade and Samona, due to hit the festival circuit in 2023. Exclusively using cameras and lenses from Canon's cinema range, the directors each made a film on a topic that holds meaning for them and challenges the status quo.

Jade's film, entitled Young Hot Bloods and written by Lydia Rynne, is a period action drama which centres on a suffragette self-defence jiu-jitsu group that formed as a resistance to police brutality and sexual harassment. "I don't think people imagine that kind of retaliation from women of that era," says Jade. "I was ignited by the idea that they were using their bodies as a form of protest."

Samona's film, i and i, written by Daniel Braham, is set on a single Sunday and follows a 30-year-old man on his birthday exploring the metaphysical relationship we have with ourselves. The Covid-19 pandemic had given Samona the time to reflect. "I thought about mental health, masculinity, societal expectations, and all of these subjects we rarely discuss," he says. "The voices in your head can be your best friend, but they can also be your enemy. I wanted to see that play out on screen."

Filmmaker Jade Ang Jackman looks at the viewscreen of a Canon cinema camera. Around her are several other female crew members.

Early in her career, Young Hot Bloods director Jade Ang Jackman, pictured second from left, made an informed decision to pivot her approach to filmmaking. "In the beginning, I was shooting a lot of heartbreaking documentaries about gender-based violence," she says. "I started to think about the ethics, especially when you're shooting something and then maybe experience similar sexism yourself. I found myself questioning the documentary format and wanted to take a new approach." © Lammas Park Productions / Photographer: Rekha Garton

Filmmaker Samona Olanipekun talks to a taller man in a red jacket. A blue sports car and several terraced houses can be seen blurred in the background.

Samona doesn't think about themes as such, and his decision-making is 'instinctive'. "I think about wider things, such as the human condition," he explains. "I want themes that dig deep, which are complex and not easily defined. I'm interested in moral ambiguity and stories that challenge our ideas." © Lammas Park Productions / Photographer: Rekha Garton

Starting from scratch

After reading law at the London School of Economics, Jade decided that becoming a barrister wasn't for her. She was, however, still interested in the history of law and human rights, and while studying she had volunteered at an organisation that supported migrant and refugee women. This led her into documentary making and investigative journalism, self-shooting videos for VICE and then The Guardian and telling stories focused on violence against women.

In 2018, when Jade was only 24, her documentary about immigration, Calling Home, won Best 19-25 UK Short at the British Film Institute's Future Film Festival. It was a pivotal moment for her. "It was the first time I had the opportunity to say something that felt like me," she says. "It was a chance to make something more stylistic too. I could create something that was authentic, and this allowed me to grow as a creative."

For Samona, his experience of the world of film was limited when he was growing up. Feeling totally mystified by what it meant to make a film, he decided to study photography instead. "At 17, I didn't know the difference between a director and a producer," he says. "In retrospect, I wouldn't have studied photography. A single frame is too limiting for me."

Samona dedicated himself to learning how to shoot and edit his own films with his Canon EOS 7D (now succeeded by the Canon EOS 90D), making shorts for fun with friends, shooting weddings, and producing content for small businesses. It was a learning process, leading him to reflect on his modes of working.

A technician wearing white gloves cleans the sensor of a Canon camera.

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"It struck me that when it came to operating the camera and all the other technical roles in filmmaking, I was mediocre at it," says Samona. "I was more suited to writing and directing. My attention span is too short to focus on one thing, so it made sense to focus on all the moving parts at the same time."

Three young women stand close together, smiling at the camera. There is a cobbled and brickwork street behind them, and the middle woman is holding a clapperboard labelled "SUFFRAJITSU".

"Filmmaking is a real collaboration, so every single crew member and every head of department is bringing something valuable to the team," says Jade. "When people are starting out, they don't necessarily realise that." © Lammas Park Productions / Photographer: Rekha Garton

Finding your voice

Lammas Park's mission is to offer a platform for underrepresented directors who are making socially and culturally transformative narratives. "We wanted the freedom to tell nuanced stories through this Canon partnership," says Mia Powell, the company's business director. "We sat down with Samona and Jade and looked at their future careers and how these films could galvanise them into taking their next steps."

Jade was keen to see more female fighters, specifically ones with more complexity. "I always wondered why it took me so long to find my voice," she ponders. "It's only since 2012 that UK female boxers could compete in the Olympics. Sometimes being able to see someone like yourself is really powerful."

Jade's interest in combat sports had always been there, but the Covid-19 pandemic provided her with the time she needed to explore her passion more deeply. Solo two-hour runs listening to The Matrix soundtrack and binge-watching cinema fight scenes and crime drama Gangs of London helped her get in touch with what truly grips her – action. "My grandma grew up in Malaysia when Japan invaded and my grandfather had been in a prisoner-of-war camp," she says. "I was able to name six different types of poison when I was five. My dad is really sporty and always had great aim."

Jade also practised martial arts, which introduced her to a network of female fighters, including Ayesha Hussain – a stuntwoman and weapons specialist who stars in her film. When Jade fully embraced the action genre, she was struck by how few women were at the forefront. "Who directed all the big war epics, such as Gladiator?" she says. "Why has no woman directed a Bond film? I'm inspired by seeing interesting and dominant women in this space. The Woman King with Gina Prince-Bythewood at the helm is a perfect example."

Samona also felt empowered to express his own audiovisual language when he was given freedom to produce Kindred, a piece commissioned by the Barbican Centre, London, in 2018.

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It went on to win Best Experimental at the Aesthetica Short Film Festival that same year. "It was the first endeavour I made purely for myself," he explains. "I had some feelings and thoughts and wanted to communicate them in the language of film." Film festivals also gave Samona his first taste of success. "There was an audience who cared and people could relate to it."

Another huge element to finding your voice is to be able to try lots of different things and to not be disheartened by failure. "You're going to make mistakes and face setbacks and obstacles," says Samona. "For me, all of my failures have led me to this point."

Filmmaker Samona Olanipekun confers with a man wearing headphones and carrying a piece of recording equipment around his neck.

"It's all about getting the best team together who will support your vision," says Samona about the making of i and i. "Lammas Park is massively influential in this space." © Lammas Park Productions / Photographer: Rekha Garton

Moving beyond 'diversity'

"Lammas Park is made up of an incredibly diverse team, it's a kind of a matriarchy," says Mia Powell. "And 50% of us happen to be brown, or black. It's not mandated that we have to have this mix of people, but having a mix of cultures brings new creative ways of thinking."

Samona is an advocate for connecting with an audience and communicating emotion. "The protagonist in my film is a black male who's just turned 30, but we never wanted the film to be limited by those things," he says. "I want everyone to be able to say, 'I'm not black, but I can relate. I'm not a guy, but I can relate. I'm not turning 30, but I've felt those feelings.'"

As Mia points out, inclusion is "not just in front of the camera, but behind the lens as well", and Samona, Jade and Mia unanimously express the importance of including all voices within filmmaking. "Stories are made much richer by including diverse voices," says Jade.

An old-fashioned sewing machine sits on a desk. Dark purple fabric is positioned under the machine.

Young Hot Bloods tells the story of a group of suffragettes in the early 1900s who throw off their shackles and fight back against the system (see pictured image from the set). A passionate believer in strong and diverse female characters, Jade is immensely proud of her short and feels the industry in general is finally heading in the right direction. "I'm excited about the female characters we're starting to see on screen. Like the incredible Viola Davis in The Woman King, and Michelle Yeoh also finally getting some recognition. She's strong, she's elegant and happens to also be in her 60s," she enthuses. © Lammas Park Productions / Photographer: Rekha Garton

The challenging filmmaking landscape

It's an exciting time to be a director of any kind, though Mia admits it can be tough for those at the start of their careers due to what she calls 'the opportunity gap'. "The more we invest in the next generation of storytellers, the more unique and diverse creations are put out into the world," she says. "A lot of brands understand this, but it will take time before we see a big change in the advertising landscape to adopt this way of working."

When it comes to advising others who are trying to get a foothold in the industry, the directors are candid. "My biggest piece of advice for young filmmakers is to realise that it's a process of discovery," says Jade. "Be honest to your true self and the stories you want to tell."

Samona adds: "Be open to advice and criticism but also remember to fight for your ideas."

Although filmmaking might feel competitive, everyone has something unique to bring, concludes Samona. "Only you can tell the stories that you want to tell." That's your secret weapon.

Hear more from Jade, Samona and Mia in this episode of Canon's Shutter Stories podcast:

Natalya Paul

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