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“Lean Back,” Relax and let Nwaka Okparaeke take you to a new world in her stunning short film

Known for being affiliating with Girls with Film, shooting for gal-dem and Wonderland. South East London-based director and photographer Nwaka Okparaeke is crafting her vision through her latest offering “Lean Back.” Okaparaeke’s work has always been grounded in the mystical and this film is no different.

The short film’s crux pivots itself around a conversation between two black women (played by Vomkg and Marie-Chantal Acka.) The conversation guides you through a rabbit’s hole throughout the rest of the film. It seems to triumph the beauty of black hair, which has been branded as “unprofessional” in workplaces or appropriated by non-black influencers.

The energy in the film is uncontained, switching from to different settings in the blink of an eye which is a rarity when it comes to short films. Shot by Caleb Samuel, the animated cinematography accompanies Okparaeke’s amorphous editing – images overlap each other, saturated tones and manipulated frame rates help evoke a sense of the otherly.

One of the intriguing facets of the film is the dialogue, written by Okaparaeke herself. The “kids” (played by Hammad Kamara and Odinaka Okaparaeke) revel in ambiguous riddles as if plucked from the lines of a clairvoyant. Lines like “You should rise in the morning like the light you perform” stay stuck itself in the recesses of your mind, to the degree where you considering taking heed to that advice.

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The short film is a cotton-candied fever trip and it’s a feat to make a short film that jettisons conventional narrative but lands squarely on its feet. Nevertheless, it warrants multiple re-watchings maybe to conjure another message out of the film or maybe because it’s so tempting to let the film wind itself over and over again.

Words by Ethan H-L