CIFF Interview: Director Chinonye Chukwu

We bring you a quick Q&A with first time full-length feature film director Chinonye Chukwu, as she embarks on her journey at the Chicago International Film Festival this week.

What have you been up to since arriving in Chicago for the fest?
As I write this, I am gearing up to board my plane for Chicago, and I am so excited! When I get there, I plan on getting the word out about the film screenings to as many people as possible, reunite with old friends, laugh and dance with new ones, watch tons of great films, have a lot of wonderful conversations and, of course, have awesome screenings!

How did you come up with the concept for Alaskaland?
From my own “backyard,” so to speak: I was born in Rivers State, Nigeria and raised in Fairbanks, Alaska. But the film is not autobiographical; it is, however, personable and true to the emotional moments of my experiences being an Alaskan-raised Nigerian.

What do you want viewers to take away from the film? And anything you want them to know going into the theater?
I want viewers to be immersed in a part of the world and a cultural nuance they might not have even been exposed to before. I want viewers to be moved, to see themselves in one or more of the characters and their individual emotional moments. What I would want them to know is that this isn’t like the Alaska they might be expecting; it is as close to a part of the state as they can get without buying a plane ticket!

Your previous works have garnered much praise and accolades. With this being your first feature-length film, do you feel any added sense of pressure or pride in creating something bigger, more substantial in a way?
I work really hard to detach myself from those kinds of pressures and external expectations. Admittedly, I’m not always successful in doing so, for my own ego can get in my way – comparing myself to other filmmakers’ journeys; defining success and my sense of self-worth through external recognition and acceptance. All of those things can really get in the way of me truly enjoying this amazing experience of sharing such a story with the world.

How was Alaskaland received in Montreal, where you took part in their International Black Film Festival in late September of this year?
The audience loved it! I had a really great talk back afterwards, and engaged in some wonderfully complex thoughts on identity and Diaspora.

Tell us about the first movie you ever made.
The first movie I ever made was during my junior and senior year of Undergrad. It was a short documentary about being a black female on a predominantly white campus. I went to DePauw University, a predominantly white liberal arts college in Greencastle, Indiana. I had no idea what I was doing, but I knew I needed to start somewhere with film production. I screened it in front the campus, and people seemed to really enjoy it. I think it was great for a lot of the people of color in the audience to see an aspect of their own personal stories presented on screen.

Tell a story of when and how you knew you were going to make films for a living…
I’ve known I wanted to be a filmmaker since I was 12 years old. I don’t know if there was an exact moment that revealed this to me, but I remember having a hardback green journal I would always carry around with me, and write all kinds of scripts and scenes in there. I remember watching Julia Roberts movies, and then playing Celine Dion CDs (I always have a “soundtrack” for my scripts) as I rewrote the film.

Who are your favorite directors?
There are directors who have made films that have been incredibly transformative for me: Federico Fellini, Kasie Lemons, Jean Luc Godard, Kevin Jerome Everson…there are many directors who have impacted me, but this is just a very small few…

What are your goals for the immediate/long-term future?
In the immediate future, I want to secure distribution for ‘AlaskaLand’, and make more work that expands my cinematic possibilities.

In the long-term future, I want to have made a large body of work that has challenged cinematic possibilities, work that has impacted society in some way.

How can our readers keep up with what you’re up to?
So many ways!

My blog:
I’m incredibly personable in my entries, and it’s a great way for people to keep up with the latest happenings in my journey.

Website: |

Facebook: |

Twitter: @Alaska_Land @ChinonyeC

What does Chinonye Chukwu want to be known for?
I want to be known as someone who always extended her most authentic self in her work, and towards others.

Alaskaland is screening Saturday, October 13 at 6:15 PM with Chukwu and actor Alex Ubokudom scheduled to attend, Sunday, October 14th at 5:30 PM with the same opportunity, and again on Wednesday, October 17th at 4:00 PM.