What does it mean to be a migrant – with emotions split between a longing for your homeland and a desire to make a new life for yourself?
This Is Not A Poem is a film-poem based on the works of Cameroonian poet Eric Ngalle Charles and described as a “hymn to tolerance and diversity” by film-maker Greg Lewis.
Eric writes from exile as “strangers build thrones on [his] father’s grave”, having fled Cameroon via Russia and settled in Wales.
The film describes the life of a migrant, whose new home has allowed him to become a well-known and respected poet but whose heart still sometimes pleads with “passing birds” to carry him home.
Eric’s words appeal for compassion to be seen as strength not weakness, while images of his new homeland play over songs from an all-female choir from the small village where he was born in Cameroon.
BACKGROUND by Greg Lewis
Our film is complete.
My friend, Eric Ngalle Charles, and I have long-cherished a dream to turn his words and poetry into a film-hymn to tolerance and understanding.
Eric is a Cameroon-born writer who came to Britain as a refugee almost twenty years ago and has since become one of Wales’ foremost poets.
His writing is fearless and often funny, drawing on a rich history of sub-Saharan African folk tales and on his own incredible experience of being driven from his homeland and people-trafficked.
Eric has performed at the Hay Festival and held a series of writing workshops at the Dylan Thomas Centre in Swansea. The writer Owen Sheers, who is a keen supporter of Eric, has described his work as using “a unique theatrical language”.
For some time we’ve wanted to turn his work into a short film. Now – with funding from the Arts Council of Wales, and the support of the Dylan Thomas Centre, ITV Wales and Silin Cyf – we have.
We’ve worked together to edit and reshape many of Eric’s poems into a single narrative which describes why he left his homeland and how he came to settle in Wales.
The central theme of the work is identity and how we can all see ourselves as having several different identities at the same time: south Cameroonian, African, Welsh, for instance. Or English/Welsh-speaking Welsh, British, European.
The themes of the film are especially relevant because of the continuing national debate over immigration and Brexit.
The film forms part of a special event at which Eric will discuss poetry and his own thoughts on race and identity, and encourage discussion with the audience.
“We are all many people in one,” Eric says. “And the more we can understand ourselves, the easier it is to reach out to others and to understand them. Greg and I are committed to a message of bringing people closer together and making connections.”
Following its launch in September 2019, the film will be shown at a number of venues around Wales and the UK.
That’s our camera operator, Paul Roberts, (centre above) carrying all the kit but still managing to keep ahead of us.
Our photographs are from the fantastic Susy Fernandes.
The film has been edited by Collin Games and Andrew Canham has designed the poster artwork.
Saturday, September 14: Dylan Thomas Centre, Swansea. 11am
Saturday, September 21: Galeri, Caernarfon. 7.30pm
Thursday, October 10: Wales-African Film Festival, Pierhead Building, Cardiff. 7pm
Friday, October 11: Aberystwyth Arts Centre. Time 6pm
Wednesday, October 16: ‘Writing to Heal’, Ty Newydd, Criccieth
Friday, October 18: Tenby Museum and Art Gallery. 7pm
December 4: Cameroon High Commission, Holland Park, London TBC
December 5: Taliesin Arts Centre, Swansea. 7.30pm
February 2020: African Festival of Emerging Writers, Cameroon. TBC
Today I drown in my sleep/here in exile/while strangers build thrones on my father’s grave