Behind the Work in association withThe Immortal Awards

Behind Mami Wata’s Sentient Story in ‘Luck is Alive’

Production Company
Cape Town, South Africa
Paul Ward, director at Giant Films on the campaign which took to the sea, capturing the Afrosurfing culture in Senegal, writes LBB’s Nisna Mahtani

The surf culture in Senegal is one that exudes animism – the sense that everything, even objects, concepts and plants are sentient. This translated into a strong Afrosurfing community which is what surfwear brand Mami Wata captured in their collaboration with Giant Films’ director Paul Ward and Stink Films. The spot captures a real sense of local culture, vibrant energy and of course, the impact of the water. 

Telling the story of animism, ‘Luck is Alive’ follows an African surfer as he finds a sense of freedom in the ocean. With imagery influenced by the Chinese Feng Shui principle, the number six – specifically in the form of dice – plays a strong part in conveying the animism aspect of the piece. With several different mediums including underwater filming, animation, drone shots and other filmmaking techniques, Paul explores “new ways of storytelling”. Shot in Dakar, Senegal over a 10-day period, the style of production was free-flowing as the crew stumbled on various locations and allowed themselves to go with the flow.

Paul Ward, Giant Films’ director speaks to LBB’s Nisna Mahtani about putting his heart fully into the project and how it paid off. 

LBB> Tell us about the initial idea behind this campaign. Where did it begin and what did Mami Wata want to achieve?

Paul> Mami Wata as a brand is always about promoting African surf. The idea came from research and interviews with African surfer's personal stories, through the brand’s book project Afrosurf. The brand created a clothing collection around ‘Luck Is Alive’, and the film was to bring this to life through a story of an African surfer and believer in animism discovered in the research for the book.  

LBB> For those who don’t know, can you tell us about animism and how the idea of this is brought into the piece?

Paul> Animism is based on the idea that everything is sentient: that inanimate objects, plants, animals or even entities such as the ocean have a spirit or a soul, often in the sense of having ‘personhood’. The film demonstrates an animistic sensibility through the concept of luck. The line, ‘luck is alive’, encapsulates this way of relating to the world: a sense of the aliveness of chance, and by believing in luck and that luck is alive.

LBB> The presence of the ocean and surfer influence is prevalent. What is the role of the sea within this film and how does it tie into the brand?

Paul> The brand Mami Wata is named after the African water spirit. Direct translation ‘Mother Water’, she is a protectress and is also known to bring good fortune, often with money. In our film, luck leads our surfer to the water, where we meet Mami Wata briefly through animation, before releasing him into his ultimate freedom and power through surfing.

LBB> There are a few words in the piece which carry the storyline along. How long did it take to come up with the narration and when did you know it was just right?

Paul>  There was a strong idea of the sentiment of the voice-over from the start, but on set we allowed our hero, Damb, to express his own version of it, I had first imagined it in French, but when it was spoken in Wolof it had new energy, and we ended up simplifying it quite a bit in the final picture. 

LBB> What is the significance of dice, particularly the number six, and how does it play a part in the ‘Luck Is Alive’ premise?

Paul> I think globally the number six is known as the ‘lucky number six’. I think six’s luck originates from a Chinese [Feng Shui] belief. For me, it’s about the rolling of the dice, and believing in luck to always land on the highest number, ‘six’, which always leads you to your highest purpose, in our case the ultimate freedom, in how he feels when he finds surfing. 

LBB> How long did it take to film the campaign and how many different locations did you use?

Paul> We were in Dakar, Senegal for 10 days, we didn’t follow a classic production style, and were more free-flowing. Discovering locations, and finalising cast in the opening days, while shooting textures, before building up to the larger narrative scenes and of course the surfing in the second half of the shoot. We shot in an abundance of locations, and the surfing itself was shot over multiple breaks. In the film, there are probably between 15-20 locations, and many didn’t make the cut, we were spoilt for choice in the amazing city of Dakar. 

LBB> There’s a mix of animation, underwater filming, drone shots and various other techniques within the spot. Did you take any inspiration from existing pieces of work to create this piece? Can you tell us about your inspiration?

Paul> We are of course always inspired by work, but from the start, we knew there was an opportunity to play here, and create a world that doesn’t reference but rather explores new ways of storytelling. I was clear it should feel like an eclectic tapestry that blurs the lines of documenting reality and creating surreality. From the start I was very interested in bad cellphone footage on YouTube that documented rituals in a very raw, but also surreal way, it doesn’t directly translate into the final picture, but it was the start of many ideas. 

LBB> How has the piece been received? What are some of the memorable reactions you’ve seen or heard of?

Paul> It’s always a bit scarier when you put your heart fully into a project, it means the feedback is going to hit you deeper. ‘Luckily’ this film has had an overwhelmingly positive response from all sorts, from my family members who don’t care about film at all being vocally moved, to industry leads. I think it’s special that it’s resonated so well locally as well as globally. It won the Ciclope Africa Grand Prix, and last week won Visual Style at AICP so that’s really exciting. But for me the personal highlight so far for me was having other filmmakers I really respect, directors, editors etc reach out personally and be excited by the work. To share the same stage as some of the biggest campaigns of the past 12 months was also really special. 

LBB> Is there anything else you’d like to share?

Paul> Just that the process of making the film was actually the most beautiful part of the project. Working with my favourite collaborators from all departments, having the freedom to explore and bring our vision to life in a creative bubble was pure joy. It wasn’t easy, and smooth all the time, but through the friction and restrictions, we learnt and grew. So although I’m proud of the result, the journey is what made it really special.

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