Djon África: A journey of self-discovery

Scenes from Djon África, starring Miguel Moreira as the titular character, a man who goes in search of his father on African Island of Cape Verde.

The Vancouver International Film Festival (VIFF) is well on its way, showcasing some amazing films from across the world. Djon África, a story inspired by personal events, will be playing at the International Village 10 Cinemas on Oct. 9 and 11.

Djon África is the first feature film from directing team Filipa Reis and João Miller Guerra, starring Miguel Moreira. Miguel –aka Djon África – after coming into some money, decides to leave his birthplace of Lisbon and travel to the African island of Cape Verde to find out what he can about a man whom he is told he shares certain physical and personality traits, but has never met. No sooner has he landed on the island before his journey is hit with an obstacle that threatens to derail his plan. The aunt whom he hoped could help him has died and he must now cross the island on his own.

Personal inspiration

Though the trio of Reis, Guerra and Moreira has worked together in the past, this was their first attempt at a feature film; the reason for telling this story is personal.

“My father had died recently and me and Filipa were looking for a story to tell for our first feature film, and one day we had the thought of Miguel being a guy that didn’t know his father. As my father had recently died, it seemed like a story we should look into. We spoke to Miguel and created this script that was intended to be an odyssey where Miguel went searching for his father without knowing exactly where his father was, and in the end finds his own identity,” says Guerra.

Since this was their first feature, Guerra says there were, of course, struggles to overcome during production.

“The struggles were quite a few actually – it was all new to us, these really long days of shooting. We shot for three months, preparing one week and then shooting for a week and then again preparing for a week and shooting again. The crew had to agree to go on a three month voyage to the islands and stay there while we prepped and shot and prepped and shot, so it was pretty intense.”

Overcoming challenges

Moreira says he is not a professional actor and this was the first time he was asked to act in a feature film, which also proved challenging.

“It was his first fiction film and we wanted him to sometimes convey certain feelings or facial reactions, but up until this time, he has always just acted like himself,” Guerra explains.

First-time actors and production prep is not easy in any environment, but Guerra says having to deal with all the usual production problems in a new country was tough.

“You can do everything you need to do to get a red car and on the day you can discover you have no car or if you have one, it is not red,” he says.

Though the struggles were plentiful, so were the pleasant surprises. The film did not turn out as they expected, but the filmmakers feel it became a beautiful story, one they hope will stay with audiences.

“There are so many lost boys and girls in the world that, though they seem to have happy lives, don’t feel they belong. So when they rebel against it, I hope people understand why. I think you take home the memories of a really nice character of a guy struggling to get to know himself,” says Guerra.

Guerra says identity crises are very universal, and hopes many people can relate, even though the film is set on a small island off the coast of Africa.


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