S&A recently reached out to filmmaker Kiandra Parks to learn more about her critically-acclaimed short film Black Girl in Paris, her chance encounter with director Spike Lee early in her career, and the current project she's using Kickstarter to help fund, C'est La Vie, a feature film homage to Lee's She's Gotta Have It.
Black Girl in Paris, a narrative film about a down-on-her-luck writer living in The City of Lights who experiences personal and sexual awakening thanks to a savvy prostitute, is currently available on HBO GO, until March 31. The short film stars Tracey Heggins and Zaraah Abrahams. Written and directed by Parks, Black Girl in Paris is adapted from the Shay Youngblood novel of the same name. At just under 20 minutes-long, Parks' adaptation is a tantalizing teaser of a film that begs for a full length version.
But before that ever happens, Parks' next project, C'est La Vie, will likely already have been funded, completed, and in theaters around the globe, thanks to a Kickstarter campaign for her "romantic comedy about falling in, and out of, love."
C'est La Vie is the story of Kiki Pierre, who, on the verge of her 30th birthday, moves to Paris to save her failing relationship.
Parks, a Bennett College alumna and current NYU Graduate film student residing in Paris, will balance writing, directing, and acting responsibilities (as lead character Kiki Pierre) in the film. C'est La Vie "is inspired by the early films of Spike Lee and Jim Jarmusch, but with a touch of femininity". The young filmmaker recently won the coveted Spike Lee Production award for the film's screenplay. Parks, whose first ever encounter with Lee happened by chance in 2000, was especially inspired to make C'est La Vie by Lee's own debut feature film, She's Gotta Have It.
Since she can tell her story better than anyone else, S&A leaves you with Parks' Kickstarter pitch for C'est La Vie, and her answers to S&A's questions about her films, Lee, and her perspective on her role as a woman filmmaker.
S&A: The style of your current project, C'est La Vie, is an homage to Spike Lee's She's Gotta Have It. What other filmmakers have had the most influence on your filmmaking style?Kiandra Parks: For this film I'm inspired by several filmmakers, namely the early films of Spike Lee, Jim Jarmusch, Jean Luc Godard, and Agnes Varda. My film career started in Paris. I made my first film here in a filmmaking workshop. I took the course because I wanted to be sure going to film school was something I wanted to do. While here, I was introduced to the Nouvelle Vague and feel in love with French cinema.
You're starring in the lead role for C'est La Vie. Was the transition from behind to the front of the camera always a part of your career plan? Was it a difficult transition?
I studied theatre on the undergraduate level at Bennett College for Women so acting is very natural for me. I wanted to take directing seriously at NYU and chose not to act in any of my films while studying, but it's a pleasant surprise to return to acting and still love it. I have to wear different hats completely so when I'm directing I can't act and vice versa. I ask my crew if they have anymore questions for me as a director after setting things up and then, I retreat to the bathroom or a tiny space and I begin rehearsing for the scene. It's very methodical.
C'est La Vie will be shot in B&W; Black Girl in Paris made use of colors in very creative ways, I thought. You seem comfortable with both; which do you prefer?
As far as B&W vs. color I'd say it depends on the story I'm telling. BGP was going to be completely black and white but the colors captured on 35 mm film are hard to mimic and so they story was told in color because you can't find that color anywhere else in the world.
Tracey Heggins' name is one that should be familiar to regular S&A readers; Zaraah Abrahams' name might not be. They're both talented actresses who should be getting more work than they currently are, in my opinion. How did it come to be that Heggins and Abrahams were cast in Black Girl in Paris?Tracey's agent and my casting director are acquaintances. My casting director sent Tracey the script and she loved it. We skyped several times and I felt she was perfect for the role. Her resemblance to Josephine Baker was scary. I used it as an hommage to Bakers era in Paris.Zaraah was introduced to me by a British classmate of mine who had worked with Zaraah at BBC. I was workshoping the script in class and he said, I have the perfect person for you. He put us in contact and we too Skyped. I didn't meet either actress until they arrived in Paris. Things worked out magically.
As a woman, do you feel obligated to, or are you more comfortable telling stories from a woman's perspective?
As a woman I do feel obligated to tell stories about women. I don't know anything else more personal.
At this point in your career, which do you consider yourself foremost-- a black filmmaker, or a woman filmmaker?
I'm a Black woman, so asking me to choose between the two is like asking which I like being the most, it's impossible to separate the two.
If you hadn't had your chance encounter with Spike Lee years ago, and he hadn't advised you to attend the Tisch School of the Arts, do you think you would have ended up on the same path that you're currently on?If I hadn't met Spike Lee, who told me to go to NYU, I probably would have taken the workshop anyway, as I had plans to make BGP after reading the novel in undergrad, move to France and become some obscure Francophone filmmaker. I love France and plan to live here and have a career here.
Follow Kiandra Parks on Twitter @kiandraparks.