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10 Questions With Ava DuVernay ("I Will Follow," Middle Of Nowhere," AFFRM)

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by Tambay A. Obenson
November 11, 2011 2:20 PM
13 Comments
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And the beat goes on... Installment number 5 of the S&A "10 Questions With A Black Filmmaker" series... catch up with the first 4 if you need to: Barry Jenkins HERESeith Mann HEREVictoria Mahoney HERE, and Rodney Evans HERE.

I doubt today's filmmaker needs much of an intro around here, and elsewhere really. Yes, Ms Ava DuVernay certainly made quite a splash in 2011.

Her feature film directorial debut (the critically-acclaimed I Will Follow) enjoyed a limited though very successfull theatrical run earlier this year, and is now on home video for those who haven't seen it; and she also spearheaded the formation of the African American Film Festival Release Movement (also known as AFFRM), a groundbreaking film distribution entity incorporating black film festivals as release units.

Her feature debut was essentially the movement's guinea pig, and thanks to that initial success, a second AFFRM effort is underway to distribute Alrick Brown's multiple award-winning Rwanda-set drama, Kinyarwanda, beginning on December 2 (more on that to come in future posts; though you'll find our coverage of that upcoming release in previous posts as well).

Ava is currently in post-production on her second feature, Middle Of Nowhere, which stars Emayatzy Corinealdi and David Oyelowo. Expect to hear more about that in 2012.

For now, maybe this will hold you over... my 10 randomly-selected questions for Ava, and her 10 revealing, at times witty replies (by the way, the photo above was her choice, not mine :)):

1. If you had 30 minutes in a room with a Hollywood studio executive with omnipotent power, how would you use that time?

I had a little debate with myself about telling this story, but why not. Oddly, this scenario happened about three months after I WILL FOLLOW opened. I don't know about "omnipotent" power, but this person has major power. A greenlighter. Studio head. The call came and I went gladly. AFFRM was definitely the reason why I was in the room. In the meeting though, when it became clear that I wasn't going to pitch anything or ask for anything, it got really interesting. We ended up talking about the state of black film for about an hour - past, present, future. This person asked smart questions and I tried to give my honest answers. I got in some untraditional questions myself and, surprisingly, got very candid answers in return. It was a weird dance, but pleasant. Did I use the time wisely? Most would probably say, no. I just didn't want to pitch. Not right now. Maybe another time. But at that moment, I was feeling empowered by AFFRM and I didn't and don't want anything I can't do for myself or that's not going to be a collaboration. I'm sure some will be critical of that, but that's fine. It was an hour well-spent that day. I learned some things and enjoyed myself.

2. I will always pay to see films by this filmmaker, no matter what.

Haile Gerima. No matter what.

3. Mac or PC?

I'm the only filmmaker I know who is a PC. The shame. But, the Crackberry and Dell are hard habits to break from my PR days. I don't understand the IPhone. I just don't get it. Don't ya'll have to write serious emails throughout the day? How can you possibly manage detailed missives on a phone with no keys?! Clearly, this subject stresses me out.

4. I knew I wanted to be a filmmaker when…

When I was on a set as a publicist watching a young twenty-something studio director painfully block a scene. Just painful. I was thinking to myself, "Ask them to do X, Y and Z." But my telepathy didn't work. He just continued to keep the whole crew in agony as he stumbled along. You could practically hear the dollars dropping to the ground by the minute. I thought, "If he can do this, dammit, I can do this." I started writing and taking UCLA Extension courses after I'd leave my office at night. And started taking my own painful steps.

5. I’d kill to work with this actor (or these actors)…

Oh wow. That's really tough. Many. Jeffrey Wright and Viola Davis, without question. Isaach De Bankole's face is its own world. I'm excited about Andrew Dosunmu's film that he stars in. I think Samantha Morton is to-die-for. She's just everything. I also really love Cherry Jones and Janet McTeer. Long-time favs. I'm super interested in Yolanda Ross and Nelsan Ellis too. I could go on and on. Its a long list.

6. I really wish I had this particular skill...

I wish I could be the black woman Soderbergh, and put the camera on my shoulder and shoot beautifully while I directed. I watch "Solaris" and just marvel. I think that's so bad-ass. To be so close to the actor. To literally, be the eye through which we receive them. I envy DPs in that way. But its probably best that I not have that particular skill. I'd be shooting up a storm and putting out documentaries about my backyard and what not. It'd be obnoxious.

7. I want my tombstone to read…

Really, Tambay? I thought this was supposed to be a light Q&A! My tombstone? Goodness. How about, "She loved and was loved." That'd be nice.

8. How do you define “blackness”?

I can't believe I got this question! Wow. I just posted one of my favorite all-time poems on Facebook a couple of months ago: "A Primer for Blacks" by Gwendolyn Brooks. Ah, that poem! I love it so much. SO MUCH! She answers your question for me. "Blackness is a title, is a preoccupation, is a commitment Blacks are to comprehend— and in which you are to perceive your Glory."

9. The last book I read was…

"At The Dark End of the Street: Black Women, Rape and Resistance." A completely new take on the civil rights movement. Stories I'd never, ever heard. The fact I'd never heard them upset me. Frustrating and enlightening.

10. Celluloid or digital?

Digital is access. If it wasn't for digital, I couldn't be a filmmaker right now, creating independently. Digital, all day. I'm grateful for it.

And now you know :)

THANKS Ava!

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13 Comments

  • Professor Ron Carpenter | November 18, 2011 6:35 AMReply

    I really enjoyed reading your interview.It left me wanting to hear and learn more about your thoughts,dreams, ideas and reality.Keep up the good work and much continued success.I am very glad to hear I'm not the only indie filmmaker into distribution.(smile).Just jokin.It good to expand black indie film distribution.

    I think more filmmkers are going to have be more creative beyond producing film/music/books. We must re-open traditionl outlets. Finally, inner cities across our nation have very few music schools,art supply stores,film schools or media programs. In the 1960-1970's we had such. There are a few mom and pop video stores and music shops .

    When will we have blockbuster red box or something new and different? I think ,today's black artist have to rebuild such business outlets as we produce products films ,music and books . The arts have been removed from far too many of our public schools. This is sad. If we are going to have a future. In the arts. It's 90% business 10% show. Let's look beyond the frame and silver screen into the scope of our schools, famlies and communities. We are facing a new reality today as artist. Keep the faith and never give up on your dreams.

  • Fabrienne | November 14, 2011 8:22 PMReply

    It was a pleasure being on set with u :) Looking forward to the move Middle of Nowhere

  • Kia | November 14, 2011 5:19 PMReply

    How did I miss Ava's 10 Q's? Moving sucks boy. I have a PC too and I get made fun of sometimes. Another good one. Thanks Ava for sharing, especially the two stories (Q1/4).

  • Colored | November 13, 2011 2:13 PMReply

    This lady has energy! I can feel it from her words. She has positive energy which is probably how she is doing everything she's doing. I hope she can keep it going. We need more people like this. People like this make me feel lazy but inspire me too. Good luck to her.

  • al | November 12, 2011 8:15 PMReply

    With respect to the studio exec question..great response! No need to grovel when you've empowered yourself. Tambay FYI you should have taken credit for selecting the photo.

  • sonofbaldwin | November 11, 2011 6:06 PMReply

    Ava DuVernay is the truth. #ThatIsAll

  • LeonRaymond Mitchell | November 11, 2011 5:10 PMReply

    I LOVE AVA, I WILL SAY IT AGAIN, I LOVE AVA, she is a super person and inspiration to me and the industry -she dipped back to help other filmmakers when she did not have to, she is a beacon of light in a sad and disgusting side bar called Black Hollywood. she strives to make a difference and her films are strong and wonderful -She is Down by Law -I want a Ava DuVernay poster!!!!

  • Dankwa Brooks | November 11, 2011 4:11 PMReply

    RECENT TWEET from me. #RealTalk @AVADVA has achieved a lot w/ @IWillFollowFilm & @AFFRM, but she had me @MyMicSounds! Looking 4ward 2 @MiddleNowhere & more!

  • Cleopatra Jones | November 11, 2011 4:10 PMReply

    Thanks Ava, for sharing the book with us. I just went online to get it:)
    Glad to know another sister is getting the guts of the industry, and not just guessing.

  • Cynthia | November 11, 2011 3:13 PMReply

    Another 10 reason to love Ava! Super curious about that convo with the Hollywood studio executive.

  • Neziah | November 11, 2011 2:46 PMReply

    Great questions and answers. Also great to know that she's a big fan of Haile Gerima. :)

  • Vanessa | November 11, 2011 2:46 PMReply

    I read "At The Dark End of the Street: Black Women, Rape and Resistance" a few months ago. Yes, very enraging. Many stories about the rape of black women in the civil rights era that were buried.

    Great Q&A. Love Ava

  • Questions & Answers?!?!! | November 11, 2011 2:37 PMReply

    Great questions Tambay!

    I am a PC person too! I will never understand the Iphone. Oh, I am still waiting for your response. Don't want to come off as being impatient or annoying but, I hope you can give me an answer really soon.

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