Writer-director Shola Amoo is an important new voice and vision. The Last Tree is his new, semi-autobiographical film, told entirely from the point of view of Femi – a young black British boy of Nigerian heritage raised in foster care in rural Lincolnshire before returning to his birth mother in South London. It has already won comparisons with Moonlight for its depiction of black masculinity and sparse dialogue.
But it is the foregrounding of Femi’s struggle to bring together multiple identities that speaks to a country in the grips of its own struggle, according to the filmmaker.
“This country is in an identity crisis – and it is an interesting parallel as our character moves from spaces such as Lincolnshire to London to Lagos, and the struggle is that his home doesn’t feel like home. It’s not until he gets to a point where he can uphold all of those different identities that he understands his past and can move forward,” says Amoo.
“It is like in schools – we get a bit of World War I, World War II, some Tudors and Stuarts. But in terms of British colonial history, we don’t learn how this shaped the world and how that relates to our national identity. We don’t acknowledge our history, which is a contributing factor to where we are now, politically.
“The Last Tree doesn’t wave a banner in your face in terms of its politics.”
Yet it is all there for the taking for viewers who engage with the compelling, slow-build narrative.
“There are multiple entry points of interpretation because it is very relatable, universal themes. Some people may focus on Brexit. There is Femi’s mother’s journey – how she came to the UK, why she came to the UK, the history of that journey. The immigrant’s tale is so important. Then there is motherhood and the motherland.
“It’s also important not to shy away from the temptations and paths you can go down in London if you don’t have the right tutelage, the right knowledge, the right guiding hand as you are trying to find your place in the world and realising how the world sees you – especially if you are a young black kid of a person of colour.
“There are multiple themes – that is what I enjoy about making work. Giving it a truth and realism but letting people take what you want from it. I am not out here trying to hit you over the head with large political rhetoric. It is a story about people caught up in dramas that represent our time.”
The Last Tree is released nationwide on 27 September. thelasttree.film