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In Conversation With... Joan Iyiola

Joan Iyiola is a British-Nigerian actress, producer and writer. Her latest film, Dolapo is Fine was recently long listed for the BAFTA British Short Film award won the HBO Short Film Award. Joan is the Co-Founder of both Apatan Productions (a film and television production company) and The Mono Box, which is a training hub and support network for theatre talent. In this interview, Joan and Clare talk about how a career in theatre can set the foundations for film, as well as how Dolapo Is Fine went from a concept to a teen character we can all empathise with.

Clare - Miss En Scene: First of all, can you tell us about your company, Apatan Productions? As Co-Founder, what are your hopes and dreams for it?

Joan: Apatan Productions was set up in 2018 with myself and co-founder Joseph Bell. Hope and humour is a key part of our mission at Apatan Productions, and we hope to showcase counter narratives on screen.

C: You've had an incredible career in theatre and working with the RSC (Royal Shakespeare Company). What made you move into film, and how did your background in theatre prepare you for the film world?

J: I suppose as an artist, the mediums don’t feel wholly different to me. The presentation of the work may exist in a particular format but it is all storytelling. I think my roots in theatre have greatly supported and spoken to the acting that I have done on screen, and now the work that I am doing as a filmmaker. My theatre background has given me a depth of character development, taught me the benefit of collaboration, and given me the tools for creation. I am so grateful for it.


C: For anyone - particularly women and girls - wanting to get into acting or film, what advice would you give them?

J: We need your stories! I encourage you to find the best way of expressing yourself, and remember that you never have to do it alone, a community of like-minded artists is available. Devour what is out there as it is part of our training, read, listen and watch everything, because in that you will find where your preferences as an artist lie. Start before you are ready, there is never a ‘right’ time to begin. Check out The Mono Box! It is a company that I co-founded to support and nurture emerging and professional artists in theatre and film.

C: The next few questions are about your film, Dọlápọ̀ Is Fine. You are one of the writers of the film, which is currently available to stream on Netflix. Can you tell me a bit about the background of this short film and the other people who worked on it with you?

J: A few years back, I had read a short story called “Sunita” on BBC Radio 3 written by co-writer Chibundu Onuzo. We met and became collaborators, and adapted the story for screen as we felt that this was a narrative that we had yet to see on screen, and we related to so many aspects of Dolapo’s story. We wanted to show a middle-class Black girl within a boarding school environment, and tell a celebratory story, sprinkled with some Black girl magic. We were awarded a fund from Bumble’s Female Film Force, which was set up by Amy Dowd and Elisabeth Hopper. When we found out that we were on the shortlist, we had to prepare for a pitch day to a group of leading female filmmakers including Jane Featherstone and Phoebe Fox. The fund was in its second year and we, along with four other European female filmmaker teams, were awarded £20,000 each. We knew that we wanted a black female director and we began a nationwide search and met so many brilliant directors of colour. When we met Ethosheia Hylton and heard her vision for the piece we were so excited, and she joined our team.

C: As well as writing the short, you are also one of the producers and one of the cast members. What are some of the benefits of having multiple roles in a film and how do you balance them?

J: This project allowed me to write, produce and act, and with that I saw filmmaking from all angles, which was a wonderful insight to gain. I knew that I wanted to tell this story and realised that as an artist I should take on the role(s) required by the project. I hadn’t initially intended on playing Daisy in the film, but writing the screenplay aided my understanding of who she was, and offered a depth to my acting that I hadn’t experienced before. This feels like a new chapter and I welcome the learning that is to come.