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Writer/Director, Educator Avril Z. Tells Her Story; What's Yours?

Photo of Tambay A. Obenson By Tambay A. Obenson | Shadow and Act July 24, 2013 at 1:18PM

Recapping... I did this in February of last year (2012), and got a few response, so I figured, a year-and-a-half later, with the site's audience now larger than it was back then, that I'd try it again.
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Avril Z.

Recapping... I did this in February of last year (2012), and got a few response, so I figured, a year-and-a-half later, with the site's audience now larger than it was back then, that I'd try it again.

I know that a significant chunk of S&A's audience comprises of actors, actresses, directors, DPs, editors, etc, etc, etc. Some are able to earn a paycheck utilizing their artistic and/or technical skills; others - and I'd say the majority - are what we've labeled the proverbial *starving artists*, working diligently, relentlessly, struggling to climb this incredibly steep hill, trying to reach some pinnacle of success - whether personal or professional. And still others exist somewhere between the former and the latter.

Where do you fall? And, as the title of this post states, what's YOUR story, and would you like to share it with the rest of the world?

Think of it as an extension of the successful S&A Filmmaker Diary series we launched almost 2 years ago. I'm looking for your individual stories of struggle and/or success, regardless of what rung on the ladder you are currently on, after all, not only is S&A just a source for news, its goal is also to become a community of cinema lovers where we can all share/debate/discuss/learn/teach/commiserate/etc.

Here's your chance. You might learn something; you might teach someone something.

What's YOUR story? You can email me (obensont@gmail.com). You can submit your story in any format - written, or even documented on video. I'll post as many of them as I can. Substance and presentation are key for consideration. 

And be sure to attach a photo (large size) for me to include, and if you have samples of your work, include them as well.

It could be a story about a current situation you find yourself in; or it could cover several days, weeks, months, or years of your career. It could be that you just want to vent your frustrations; aspects of, or people in this business that piss you off; aspects of, or people in the industry that encourage you. It doesn't have to be all negative, nor all positive. We're complex people, and so I assume our stories are as well.

In today's post, Writer/Director, Educator Avril Z. shares her story:

My name is Avril Speaks and I guess you can say I’m a working artist. I first caught the film bug as a junior at the University of Maryland College Park. Not really knowing what to do with my life, I took an introductory film class at nearby Howard University and was hooked ever since. Howard introduced me to the power that film could have not just to entertain, but also to educate and inspire. The program there also broadened my film knowledge, introducing me to black filmmakers I had never heard of before like Charles Burnett, Julie Dash, and Neema Barnette to name a few. Shortly after undergrad, I went to film school at Columbia University, where I majored in film directing. As my artistic voice began to develop, I looked for better ways to incorporate culture and spirituality into my work, and that became my niche. It wasn’t easy, since I never wanted to make films that were considered “safe” or provided easy answers, and that sometimes made it difficult for people to see and understand my vision.

I battled this quite a bit as a student at Columbia, yet still I managed to hold down several jobs and internships, and I directed two feature films.  I was fortunate to have a job upon graduation as an assistant at the Association of Independent Video and Film (AIVF), and I also freelanced as a videographer, editor, writer and script consultant. A couple years later, I moved to Atlanta, GA where I became involved in the film community there. In Atlanta I also became a film professor, and realized that I had an equal passion for film education.

Teaching has become a great way for me to invest in the careers of young artists, while still honing my own craft as an artist. I feel I am happiest anytime I have an opportunity to give advice to film students, or to have them join me on set for some hands-on experience. In 2010, I moved to Washington, DC and became a professor at Howard University, the very place where my love for film was ignited. It was quite humbling to teach in the very same classroom where I once looked through the eye of a film camera for the very first time.

As an artist and educator, I am always looking for ways to grow and expand. I moved to California last year (something I NEVER thought I’d do because I’m a straight up east coast girl :-) to pursue a second Master’s degree in Theology and the Arts as a means to further explore this intersection between spirituality and film. The program has challenged me to think outside of my own box, and it has also helped me reclaim the ways in which those black filmmakers I learned about at Howard have helped shape my own work as an artist. I found a teaching job at a college here in the L.A. area, which has allowed me to continue my love for film education. I’m also freelancing as a screenwriter while attending classes full-time and working part-time.

Some of my favorite projects that I have worked on include: Sophisticated Romance, a feature film I directed about male and female relationships, which won Best Film at the Sweet Auburn Film Festival in Atlanta, GA and won numerous other awards across the country; Faithfully Divided, a documentary feature I edited about racial segregation in churches, which won Best Documentary at the Reel Sisters Film Festival in 2009 and played at the International Film Festival of South Africa; and Defining Moments, a short film about how the church deals with young women and sex. Defining Moments was made as part of The Women’s Angle Project, an initiative designed to highlight female filmmakers and their unique voice. The film won many awards and I have been able to screen the film and have talk-back sessions on sexuality at various venues with teens and adults alike.

I never saw myself taking a traditional route toward being a filmmaker. I think sometimes in this industry, we think that walking the red carpet is the sole marker of success. One thing I learned while working at AIVF many years ago was that there are filmmakers all over the world who are creating powerful work that is impacting the lives of people we may never get the privilege to meet. Whether I ever walk the red carpet or not, I like to think of myself as a filmmaker who uses this medium to make a mark on this world.

I have been a filmmaker for 18 years now, and believe me, I’ve had my own share of struggles and disappointments in this business. Too many to mention on this blog. While my path may look different from others, I have come to embrace the fact that I define my own portrait of success. No one else gets to decide that but me. I feel happy and fulfilled with what I have done in the past, and I look forward to all the amazing projects that have yet to come my way in the future.

If you would like to see or read any of my work, feel free to visit me at http://about.me/azuspeak

This article is related to: What's Your Story?


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