GFF 2010: Creating Legacy

Legacy, GFF's closing gala film, is the ambitious new thriller by Thomas Ikimi, filmed in Glasgow and set in New York.

Feature by Becky Bartlett | 28 Feb 2010

It's Thursday 11 February and Thomas Ikimi's film, Legacy, is still in post-production. Its first official viewing will be taking place in just two weeks and will be the closing film of this year's Glasgow Film Festival. “I'm not really a fan of being under pressure”, Ikimi laughs.

Maybe he really doesn't enjoy, or need, the pressure of a deadline closing in, but Ikimi's approach to filmmaking has been, so far at least, full speed ahead. His début film, Limbo, the tale of a lawyer who's forced to repeatedly relive an hour of his life as the result of a rooftop chase, was an ambitious project completed in the midst of his English Literature degree at Columbia. It was funded using student credit cards, costing a paltry $9000 to make, but it was enough for the film to be chosen to open Taormina Festival in Italy in 2004. “That was crazy – it was really a once in a lifetime situation. There's no reason why a student film made for nine grand should open a festival like that. Batman Begins was in that festival and it cost $153 million, but the programmer happened to just really like my movie. He watched Limbo and that afternoon sent my invitation to the festival.”

Now, in what is either an amazing coincidence or just evidence that the film world really is a small place, Ikimi has been able to hire several actors who have graced the screen in Christopher Nolan's comic book series. Monique Gabriela Curnen (The Dark Knight) and Richard Brake (Batman Begins) join Idris Elba (The Wire) in Legacy, a psychological drama about Malcolm Gray, a black ops soldier who locks himself in a hotel room following escape from a botched mission in Eastern Europe.  Elba has already been the topic of much online debate, with many curious to see how he fares in the role. For Ikimi, his involvement as actor and producer was invaluable. “I'd heard he was a sort of down to earth guy, but I was surprised at how much he brought to the table. He was really committed”, he says. “[Legacy is] such a departure from anything he's done before. It was surprising to me how well he did – it's a big, big jump. You're forced to think of him in a different way and when his fans actually see the film I think they'll be surprised at the range he has. He's literally in about 99% of the movie – you're just following this one guy the whole time and there are very few actors who can do that without losing intensity or boring [the audience].”

As well as this partnership with Elba, Ikimi joined forces with Black Camel Productions, a Glasgow based production company. Using what one imagines are slightly unconventional methods, Ikimi placed an advert in Total Film magazine, and soon Black Camel responded. It was their suggestion to film Legacy in Glasgow, despite its Brooklyn, New York, setting. “They said, it's set in one room and the flashback stuff is set in some nondescript part of Eastern Europe, there's no reason why we can't shoot in Glasgow” Ikimi recalls. “At first I was sceptical but then I came over and saw the facilities and the film city in Govan. To be honest it's more about creating the aura and atmosphere than anything else. If we could achieve that we'll be able to sell the movie as if it was really Brooklyn”.

Ikimi's declares his aim is to make Legacy “in the style of Hitchcock”. Just looking at the promotional material shows the director's influence - one poster bears a strong resemblance to Saul Bass's iconic Vertigo imagery. “Hitchcock is probably the director I've learnt the most from on a technical level”, he agrees. “I knew I was going against the grain trying to make an old-school thriller when we've got Bourne and James Bond and all that stuff. There's an expectation about what a thriller's going to be like now”. Yet rather than expansive sets and high-octane action, Ikimi's style is centred around his interest in human psychology and philosophy, similar to Hitchcock. “What he used to do primarily was entertain an audience, so he'd make movies that were entertaining on a basic level but he'd look at the current climate of society and put a backdrop to his film. With Legacy it's essentially just a thriller; it's supposed to entertain people but it's got the backdrop of terrorism and politics just to give it a place in modern society and modern psyches. I'm interested [in politics] but I don't think I'm trying to make political films. I'm much more interested in making something entertaining than getting on a soap box and preaching.”

With his début having opened one film festival, it seems fitting that his second feature should close another. Needless to say, Ikimi is very happy to have the opportunity to align himself with Glasgow Film Festival. “They position themselves as an audience friendly festival, taking films directly to the people. I think that's the best way for Legacy to start out. I really believe the life of this film will be tied to word of mouth and the fans who actually really like the movie, as opposed to the studio or distributors. [Being chosen as] the closing gala film has really shone a light on the project and that's what's going to be the springboard to connect it to the audiences who will take it forward.”

With that, Thomas Ikimi is gone again, off to put the final touches on his film. He might be cutting it close, but with the ambition and commitment he's shown already there's no doubt that it will be ready for it's first audience on Sunday. 


Legacy is showing as part of Glasgow Film Festival. GFT, 28 Feb 2010, 20.30