Gambian filmmaker Muhammed Bittaye captivated the audience at the premiere screening of “HERITAGE”, a short-but-deeply-personal documentary. The film, showing life in The Gambia, was shown for the first time at the Screen and Film School in Manchester as part of celebrations for Black History Month.
Inspired by his own desire for identity and belonging, Bittaye shared the story of moving to Manchester at the age of 11 and having the privilege of experiencing two cultures.
Muhammed said: “It’s important for everyone (Black History Month). It’s one of the ways we can learn and evolve, just by watching. For me as a filmmaker it’s about telling stories that people haven’t heard and for the audience it’s about watching films that people haven’t made yet and discussing topics that people shy away from.
“As a child, growing up in Gambia… It’s going to sound weird, but you can go anywhere, there’s that sense of community,” he said when asked about cultural differences.
“I guess that’s the good thing about making this documentary, not just for people to see but for myself as well for my future kids.
“Through my unyielding passion for storytelling and medium of film, I embarked on a voyage that resonates with the universal human experience of longing for a sense of belonging and understanding my roots.”
It was a full circle moment for the director as the documentary shares his journey back to his roots and ancestry in the west African region of The Gambia, where he proudly features his family and reminisces on his childhood memories.
“I knew I wanted to make films about Africans, black people, specifically Africans. I feel like there’s not many out there, and if there is they don’t have that kind of platform that other people have,” Muhammed said.
”Making personal stories is what’s going to set you apart from the millions of film makers around the world,” he continued.
Bittaye’s six-minute short-film, which features music by Black Panther musician Baaba Maal, showcases the culture he so proudly wears on his sleeve.
“One of my big goals was to use one of his songs (in my projects)” he proudly states.
And with inspirations like broadcaster Reggie Yates and Black Panther director Ryan Coogler, Bittaye’s future will continue to portray realism in varies communities.
“What he (Reggie Yates) inspired me to do, was tell stories about real people and real things. I think as humans that’s how we evolve,” Muhammed said.
“HERITAGE” has been selected for international film festivals including The Silicon Valley African Film Festival (SVAFF) and the Lift-Off Global Network.
Almost at the stage of graduating from Screen and Film School Manchester. Bittaye’s talent has reached the likes of cinematographer Fabien Wagner, who has awarded him with a £30,000 scholarship.
Muhammed is clear about his goals: “I don’t want to enter a room full of film makers and be the same as everyone else. I want to stand out.”
“I’m going to make it my goal to become one of the first to talk about topics that people don’t hear about, as Africans.”