Just Celebrity talks with ‘Going Bongo’ star Ernest Napoleon about his first feature film.
Just Celebrity: Hi Ernest, could you please tell us a bit about your new film, Going Bongo?
Ernest: Plot wise, the film is about an American doctor who mistakenly volunteers to work in a hospital in Africa. Spiritually, the film is a “fish out water” story of someone who tries to find his calling in life.
JC: Was it important to you to film it in Africa?
E: Yes it was. Not only did the script call for it, but I wanted to capture a bigger world where people don’t always get a glimpse in. In independent films, most times you get two people talking in an apartment because of budget constraints. With this film, I wanted to push the limits of the independent film world. It is also a very beautiful place to shoot. You can see that from the wonderful cinematography. Additionally, I grew up in Africa where my dad is from, which made it extra special.
JC: As an independent film, was it a challenge to get made?
E: Yes, very much. There were a lot of unknowns and I underestimated a lot of things during all stages of production. Even getting trivial stuff such as film permits, cameras and lighting ended up being a huge task in itself. However, I feel that it made the film come to life more as it portrayed the chaotic adventure of shooting an independent film away from typical safe locations that a small indie would.
JC: Why did you choose to call the film ‘Going Bongo’? As it is also apparently a phrase for ‘going crazy’!
E: Bongo is a nickname for the city where most of the film was shot (Dar-es-salaam, Tanzania). It also means brain (after “Ubongo” which is a Swahili word for brain). The locals call the city of Dar es salaam, “Bongo”, meaning you need brains to survive in it. So the film has two meanings, “Going Bongo” as in going to the city of Dar-es-salaam and two, going crazy as in what our character is going through during his transformation
JC: What about the story inspired you?
E: The story speaks to me because it shows what you really want out of life may not be what you really need and may not make you happy once you’ve got it, either. I was also inspired by true events of Westerners who have come to Africa and settled there permanently. This has been a phenomenon from the time I lived there as a kid, and is still happening today.
JC: Is the film inspired by a real life story?
E: Yes it is. My dentist came briefly for a safari visit to Tanzania and ended up staying there 25 years later. He never went back to France.
JC: What would you like audiences to take away from the film?
E: I hope audiences will be able to reflect deeper on their own lives and things that matter to them. We are all caught up in what our immediate surroundings pressure us into. In first world countries it may mean a career that we don’t really like. I hope this film can help people step back and see a bigger picture of life and what makes them happy and not what society dictates for them.
JC: Are you working on any other projects?
E: At the moment, apart from writing a couple of scripts, I am adapting a very good book about a revolutionary struggle of an African country. I am doing that in collaboration with some very solid producers. We hope to shoot it next year. I am also playing a lead in a new film that I will be shooting in London/Paris in July directed by Antony Szeto (Jackie Chan presents Wushu), about young people from Africa who have to travel to Europe to achieve their dreams. The film is called “From Freetown” and will be released in the beginning of next year.
JC: Having lived in the US for a long time, what do you miss about Africa?
E: What I miss most about Africa is how people relate to each other and form long lasting friendships. I think most relationships in the US become business driven which makes it difficult to develop a lot of spontaneous friendships. You are friends with people you work with and that immediately ends when one leaves that business.
JC: Why did you choose a creative career?
E: I probably chose a creative career because I was cursed as a kid. I’m kidding. I don’t really know if I ever chose it… I do not remember a time in my life that I didn’t do something creative. I first acted in a kids’ Christmas play at the age of 3 that was it. It was followed by all kind of creative endeavors from creative writing, acting, DJ for night clubs/weddings etc., TV host, and even became a Hip Hop artist at some point.
JC: Can you share any enjoyable memories from the filming of Going Bongo?
E: I think the most enjoyable moments were every morning seeing cast and crew from all walks of life, from Europe, USA, Africa, all in one place exchanging ideas and working together on a small independent film. That is something that will stay with me forever. Seeing different people with different color shades and economical situations coming together as one.
JC: Are there any changes you would like to see in the film industry?
E: I think we need to see more diverse stories. There are a lot of great stories from all around the world that need to be told. There are a lot of films coming out everyday but very few actually have something significant to say. We need to be better and I am optimistic we will. We also need more women in the industry. So more diverse stories and more women in front of and behind the camera.
JC: Thank you so much for your time, Ernest!