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MAX OPHÜLS PRIZE 2021

York-Fabian Raabe • Director of Borga

“I try to think from many different perspectives as a director”

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- We spoke to the German director, who won the Award for Best Feature Film at the Max Ophüls Prize in Saarbrücken with his debut feature

York-Fabian Raabe  • Director of Borga

German director York-Fabian Raabe presented his debut feature, the German-Ghanaian co-production Borga [+see also:
interview: York-Fabian Raabe
film profile
]
, at the Max Ophüls Preis Festival (18-24 January), for which he received several prizes, including the Award for Best Feature Film, the Audience Award, Best Social Interest Film, and the Prize of the Ecumenical Jury (see the news). We talked to him to find out more about the movie.

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Cineuropa: How did you conduct your research for the film?
York-Fabian Raabe:
The research for Borga began ten years ago. Our promise to ourselves was to find and research an equivalent in reality for every moment in the film. Furthermore, Ghanaians were involved as creatives or consultants at every step to ensure a high level of cultural authenticity.

Were you able to get testimonials from those affected?
From the beginning, we, Eugene Boateng [the lead actor], Eric Golub [creative partner] and I, wanted to make a film about empowerment. In the course of researching and shooting Borga, we came into contact with a diverse range of people living in difficult situations, both in Ghana and in Germany. With Borga, we want to put the focus on their strength, on the way they handle their problems. It’s often admirable, and they deserve respect for it.

What were the biggest challenges of shooting in Ghana?
Shooting in Ghana was a great experience for us. From the culture, the joie de vivre and the collaborative team-like feeling to the incredible contrasts, exciting locations and new "worlds", Ghana captivated us completely. The biggest challenges came from the individual filming locations: the noise, pollution and traffic jams in Agbogbloshie, as well as the rough terrain and lack of infrastructure in Aburi. But in Ghana, the best way to solve your problems is to act with humour, respect and creativity.

Did you find the actors largely on location?
The casting in Germany was supervised by our casting director, Manolya Mutlu. The casting of all the actors in Ghana (apart from Eugene Boateng) was done by MK Casting in Ghana. Mawuko Kuadzi and his team did a perfect job and were able to get some great actors, from talented non-professionals to Ghanaian superstars, like Lydia Forson and Adjetey Anang, for our project. Furthermore, we were supported by the organisation Chance for Children, which cares for street children in Agbogbloshie. They taught us what specifics to consider when dealing with street children and helped us find kids for whom our shoot would not be a negative burden.

Why was Mannheim particularly suitable as a setting for the story?
I like to work with "cinematically unused" locations. Mannheim offers a very broad spectrum of culture and filming locations, from the large inland port and the huge industrial plants to the cultural “Jungbusch”, the squares in the city centre and the stately buildings at the water tower.

You portray a vicious circle that apparently cannot be broken. Is that how you see it?
Among other things, Borga plays with the themes of globalisation and cycles. The Agbogbloshie electronic waste dump is based on the unbridled disposal of Western electronic waste. So in a way, Borga begins in Ghana as well as in Germany. And the film ends for me, albeit in a very different way, also in Ghana and in Germany. But this is only the thematic frame of the story. At its core, Borga is about a young man who seeks recognition from his family, especially his brother and father. To achieve this, he takes his fate into his own hands, makes mistakes and learns. He engages in self-empowerment, so to speak.

Are there any plans to show the film in Ghana? How do you think it will be received there?
Definitely: both the Ghanaian and the German team are incredibly excited about the premiere in Ghana. If we can still find a sponsor, we would like to do a bigger film tour of the country. Our Ghanaian test viewers who have seen Borga already are enthusiastic. They especially liked the narration in the local languages (Twi, Fante, Ga, and Hausa), and the authentic stories and characters. A first teaser was released in Ghana in parallel with the Max Ophüls Prize. The feedback on social media was extremely positive.

How difficult was it to largely remove your own European perspective from the narrative?
In my work, I try to think from many different perspectives as a director. This also includes not making my own assessment too rashly, but researching why, and because of which conscious and subconscious drives, people act. What I personally bring to my stories is a basic attitude towards life, and this attitude is surprisingly compatible all over the world. The perspective arises from my characters, and my characters are brought to life by my actors. If the characters had not developed with them, and especially if it were not for Eugene, Borga would not have existed! That's why Eugene was awarded the Prize for Best Social Interest Film – not only for his amazing acting performance, but also for his great efforts as we collaborated to recreate this rarely shown perspective in an authentic fashion.

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