Words by Jyoti Mann
Alana McVerry studied on the MA Documentary Film course at London College of Communication graduating in 2011, and has since gone on to forge a successful career as a producer, writer, director, editor, and filmmaker.
Her recent film ‘Lagos to London: Britain’s New Super Rich’ – dubbed “the documentary everyone is talking about” by African lifestyle site Bella Naija – aired on Channel 4 this summer, documenting ‘the super rich Nigerians spending big on luxury, education and property’ in the UK.
We caught up with Alana to find out about the documentary, congratulate her on actualising a dream and to find out about her time at LCC…
Hi Alana! How did this documentary come about?
Minnow Films’ development team initiated the idea after seeing an article, which documents the lives of a new super-rich group. It became interesting grounds to make a film as many assume that the super-rich community in London is made up of citizens from Middle East or China.
We went to Lagos to film a quarter of the documentary, which was pretty fun. We felt that, although the film was grounded in this population living in London, the fact that this group of super rich came from a country where over 60% of the country are living on less than $1 a day was an important part of the story. The question ‘what is it like to be rich and from a country of vast inequality and vast poverty’ was one we felt important to address.
What are you hoping audiences take away from ‘Lagos to London’?
To be inspired by all the potential Africa as a continent has for the future. It is considered the next global powerhouse and for so long has been associated with negative media narratives. Many documentaries on Africa are stories of war, famine, poverty, terrorism and disease. By only focusing on these aspects we are limiting the potential for the African continent to thrive as it is then seen as a risky investment. I hope audiences start to see Africa as a diverse continent that in parts is growing and has a bright future if it can overcome some challenges.
What makes a good documentary filmmaker and is it as rewarding as you thought it would be?
You need a combination of skills to be able to be a successful documentary filmmaker and that requires more graft. I shoot most of the films I work on, so you have to have technical abilities, a photographic eye, be good with people and at sourcing stories. Being a documentary filmmaker is majorly less glamorous than you think before you start this career, but it is definitely just as rewarding as I expected when you see the output. I always say that it is like getting to live many different lives.
What else have you been working on since leaving LCC and what is in the pipeline?
I’m currently a producer/director at Vice and have a few really interesting projects underway, in areas of the surveillance state, gender and also a food/culture documentary series.
I recently produced a documentary that looked at transgender issues and currently am developing ideas on gender neutrality and transgender issues. Mental health also fascinates me and I would love to make films that help break down the stigmas in this area.
Working on films for Channel 4 was highly enjoyable so I do hope to continue working with them in the future.
Who is your greatest inspiration?
Kim Longinotto, a strong female observational documentary maker who makes beautifully subtle and important films, which predominantly explore women’s issues around the globe. She crafts films and stories that have wonderful warmth to them and so well that voice overs are not needed. It is clear through Longinotto’s films that she is able to makes her subjects comfortable enough to open up and reveal their innermost thoughts.
What is the most important thing you learned on your course, and what did you enjoy most about your time at LCC?
The most important thing was to gain the confidence to have my own voice and desire to direct. No matter how much you study you always have to start at the bottom in this industry, but having confidence and lots of ideas definitely propelled me to know that I would one day make my own films and this has been really important to my career progression.
The thing I enjoyed most was the opportunity to meet people from different places and have the time and space to not only gain practical skills but also learn and discuss the history and theory of documentary film.
Quick Question Round:
The best documentary ever made is…
‘Into eternity’ – a film about the storage of nuclear waste for 100,000 years, but essentially boils down to a reflection on what happens when we create something that outlasts everything we know about the world. The reason I hold it in such high regard is that the directors have created such a powerful and visually haunting film about something that is essentially very abstract.
My guilty pleasure film or TV series is…
My dream collaboration is…
Kim Longinotto, although I think it would be less of a collaboration and more of a ‘riding on the coat tails of’ situation.
And finally, ten years from now I am…
Directing films that are engaging, vaguely important and people want to watch or working at my own production company.
You can check out some of Alana’s other work on her website or watch ‘Lagos to London: Britain’s New Super Rich’ online.