Real is being screened at No.6 Cinema in conjunction with Making Waves Film Festival, and will also feature a pre-screening Q&A with its director, producer, screenwriter and star, Aki Omoshaybi.
Aki was raised in Leigh Park by foster parents, and although he now lives in London and has gone on to pursue a successful career on stage and screen – with roles in Dr Who, Midsomer Murders, The Pursuit of Love and Star Wars – when it came to shooting his own film, there was no question where it would be set.
Shot on a shoestring budget of just £50,000, Real is described as ‘an authentic and touching love story set in Portsmouth, ’ focussing on the relationship between ‘well-dressed Kyle (Aki Omoshaybi) and equally poised Jamie (Pippa Bennett-Warner).’
Plans for the film’s theatrical release in spring 2020 were shelved due to the pandemic – it eventually had a limited release, but never here.
Aki is looking forward to finally showing it here: ‘Obviously I shot it down there and we've had it in theatres in London and elsewhere - but not in the place where I'm from and not in the place where I shot it.
‘I'm really happy about that.’Seeing the film’s launch swept away by lockdown had been touch for Aki.
‘It was difficult, and it was also difficult for the distribution company – when you're distributing a film you have a budget leading up to the launch, and once you've spent most of that because you think it's going to happen, once it all comes to a halt, you don't have enough money to do it all again.
‘That was the most annoying thing.’
And of course, with so many films’ releases affected by the cinemas’ enforced closure, a small independent film goes to the back of the queue.
‘The cinemas want to show the bigger film so they can recoup and then they can show he smaller films in future, but they can't lead with the smaller films. It's been difficult for everyone and I guess that's why quite a few films have gone straight online or straight to Sky.
‘We managed to get a small release in about 20 cinemas, which was better then nothing, and then Sky bought it, and now we're on there.’When asked why it was important to shoot the film here, Aki says: ‘Portsmouth's very good as a city, as a location – you've got the city, the sea, and not too far you've got the countryside. It's quite diverse and it's all within half an hour.
‘Portsmouth offers a huge amount and I'm surprised more doesn't film down here, because you also have that urban element.
‘I know it like the back of my hand, and to also get local people involved and working on it was great.
‘Most films in the UK are quite London-centric, or northern, or if they're a period piece…
‘I haven't seen a modern-day film shot in Portsmouth. They might be out there, but I've not seen it.
‘Loads of people who’ve seen it say they thought it was London.’
Aki is still back here regularly, so he’s no stranger to Leigh Park and Portsmouth.
‘My nan (foster mum) still lives there, a couple of guys I went to college with who are in the film, they still live in Portsmouth. I still know loads of people around there.
‘When I was shooting in Leigh Park, there were people I hadn't seen in 20 years, who I went to school with, were rattling around.’
He also found the locals open to his project: ‘All of the shops we shot in, the cafes, we didn't pay to use them, and the guy who owned the flats we shot in, he let us use them for free – people were very welcoming and that made a huge difference. I was quite surprised how generous people were.’Aki says his inspiration for Real came from a desire to see a realistic depiction of working class people on the big screen.
‘In terms of romantic drama, it's an honest take on that – I never saw a working class love story and what that would look like.
‘Quite often it's from a middle-class perspective, whether it's on TV or in a film, you know, they live in big houses, running around everywhere.
‘You never see it with two people living on the estate – without major violence or something.
‘I wanted to show the hardships they're going through, and how they're trying to work things out and get together.’
And he says it’s not a film about the ‘black experience’.
‘This is a discussion I was having the other day, the media was talking about the divide between the working class and black people – they're the same,’ he gives a laugh.
‘Whether they're white working class or black, they're the same.
‘In essence, if you live on in estate or an area that's not renowned for affluence, it's the same people - it's only the media – not all media I should add – that divides it up.
‘The working class community just want to provide for their family and do the best for them, regardless of race.
‘I guess sometimes in black movies, they sometimes have a "black” element to them – like gangs, or slavery or police brutality – I wanted to make a film that didn't feature all that kind of stuff.
‘It wasn't about race, it was just about working class people trying to get on with life.’All being well, it looks like there’ll be plenty more opportunities to see Aki’s work on the big and small screen soon.‘I've already written a second movie, and that's been optioned by a company called Me+You, which is run by Krishnendu Majumdar, the chair of Bafta, and Richard Yee,’ he adds.
‘And I've got a TV show called Little Faith which I'm creating with Channel 4 and another TV show which I'm co-creating with a musician called Arlo, and that's with Lionsgate and Eleven Film who made Sex Education.’
Real is screened at No.6 Cinema on Friday, September 24, 7pm. Tickets at no6cinema.co.uk/films/real.
We have 10 pairs of tickets to the screening and Q&A for our lucky readers to win. To be in with a chance, answer this question: Which Star Wars film did Aki Omoshaybi feature in?
Email your answers with your name, address and a contact number to Real Competition at [email protected]
The deadline for entries is midnight, Wednesday, September 22.
Terms and conditions: jpimedia.co.uk/competition-prize-draw-terms-and-conditions.