Close-Up: An Interview With Dogfriend Writer & Actor Lamin Leroy Gibba

The incredibly talented Lamin Leroy Gibba joins us on Close-Up Culture to discuss Dogfriend (Hundefreund).

The film follows a date which takes an unexpected turn in this meditation on race, politics, and history in Germany. You can see Dogfriend at the Tribeca Film Festival – DogFriend | 2022 Tribeca Festival | Tribeca (tribecafilm.com)

Hello Lamin, welcome to Close-Up Culture. Can you tell us about yourself and your creative background?

Hello! I’m an actor, screenwriter and filmmaker. In some projects I only do one of those things, in others all three — as I did in Dogfriend. I grew up in Germany, but went to drama school in the United States. I’ve been living in Berlin for almost three years now. 

What led you to write Dogfriend?

Sailesh Naidu, the poet, filmmaker and creator of Dogfriend, called me with an idea for a short film, loosely based on an experience they had: a date between two people, where a conflict surfaces, that neither of them is able to escape. We then met up with the director Maissa Lihedheb and discussed what kind of film each of us saw in that premise. Many ideas came up surrounding the themes of love, intimacy and race.

Each of us also felt a real hunger to tell a story from a perspective so rarely seen in German films. We were also excited by the idea that Dogfriend would merge various genres. After the meeting I wrote the first draft of the script. 

Can you tell us about Phillip and Malik?

They’ve been seeing each other for a couple of weeks when the film starts. They have very different ways of communicating, especially about how they’re feeling and what they need. And they’re both pretty flawed. 

What did you want to explore through these two characters?

The film centers Malik’s subjectivity: who in relation to Phillip, slowly comes to grips with his desires, choices and self-image. Malik begins to notice that there’s been an overwriting of his experiences by the dominant culture that has told him: this is how you should feel about yourself, this is what’s good, this is who you should desire. That realization is an equally painful and liberating experience, which I hoped we could capture in the film. 

You also play the role of Malik in the short. How did you find that experience?

It was so satisfying and scary and fun. Playing Malik required me to be extremely vulnerable from the jump. Malik is tricky, because there is a lot going on with him that he isn’t able to communicate. And there’s a real sense of contradiction and moral ambiguity. But that’s of course a great challenge: to take a flawed character and to make the audience recognize something really human in that flaw, maybe even themselves.

What was your collaboration like with director Maissa Lihedheb?

In addition to our roles as director and actor we were also co-producers. Both of our processes are really collaborative. We talked a lot about the script, discussed backstories, how we see the characters, what the visual language of the film will be, and how the point of view of the story remains clear throughout.

Before shooting we also had two days of rehearsals with the actor Til Schindler, which were really helpful in getting all of us on the same page. We also worked with the intimacy coordinator Carman Ho, which made the sex scene very technical and less awkward. Maissa, Sailesh and I were intentional about finding a crew of mostly QTBIPoC filmmakers. Through that we met so many passionate and talented collaborators, who we’ll continue to work with. 

What impact do you hope the film has at Tribeca Film Festival and beyond?

Since our March premiere at the BFI Flare Film Festival in London, we’ve had several other screenings and it’s been so great to hear and feel audiences connect with the film in different ways. Some shared their own experiences with us, which mirrored aspects of the film. I’m especially excited for the Tribeca Film Festival, since I lived in New York City for five years, while studying at The New School. I haven’t been back in almost three years, so it feels a little bit like a homecoming. 

What are your hopes and ambitions for the future?

I want to continue to do all the things. Whether it’s acting, writing, producing for the screen and for television. I want to create opportunities in this industry for myself and others, and tell all kinds of stories – especially those, which center the lives of people that have been left out of dominant cultural narratives. Really looking forward to all of that. Thank you for these questions!

See Dogfriend at the Tribeca Film Festival – DogFriend | 2022 Tribeca Festival | Tribeca (tribecafilm.com)

Follow Lamin on Instagram – lamin leroy gibba (@laminleroy) • Instagram photos and videos

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