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LAFF: 'Middle of Nowhere' Gets Two Standing Ovations; DuVernay & Cast Talk Black Films Reaching Audiences In A Meaningful Way [New Teaser]

by Sophia Savage
June 22, 2012 3:39 PM
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Middle of Nowhere
Ava DuVernay's 'Middle of Nowhere'

Ava DuVernay's "Middle of Nowhere" played to a full house and two standing ovations at its Gala screening at the LA Film Fest on June 20. It was the film's first public screening after it won DuVernay the Directing Award at Sundance (she attended the festival as a publicist nine times prior). It's easy to see why the award went to outspoken DuVernay (stiff competition included "Beasts of the Southern Wild"'s Benh Zeitlin); the drama is honest and immersive, moving and sexy, funny and unexpected. It will hit theaters October 12 through DuVernay's AFFRM distribution collaborative. Check out the synopsis, new teaser trailer and Sundance's interview with DuVernay below.

The film's stars, Emayatzy Corinealdi, Omari Hardwick, Lorraine Toussaint, Edwina Findley and Sharon Lawrence (David Oyelowo was absent) joined DuVernay on stage for a Q & A with Elvis Mitchell following the screening. The entire cast delivers exceptional performances, anchored by Corinealdi with an impressive feature film debut.

DuVernay's script and instincts as a director were gifts to her actors; the sense of trust and affection between them is apparent. Toussaint, who plays the mother of Corinealdi and Findley's characters, Ruby and Rosie, says, "Something about Ava is magical; the first time we all came together it was chemical. [Right away] we fell together as a family and started working and loving each other." Toussaint adds that the film was "about what was on the page as much as what wasn't. She wasn't afraid of the silences, as a director." Toussaint considers her character an "homage to mommas," and not just black ones.

Findlay calls DuVernay "A one-take wonder. She knows when she has it. She has a great eye which makes you feel calm." For her, the film is a lot about parent-child relationships -- touching on the desperate need for validation, as well as the instinct to rebel while each each of us searches for love and acceptance, grasping for a sense of self and identity.

Middle of Nowhere 2
'Middle of Nowhere'

Hardwick, who worked with DuVernay in her feature debut, "I Will Follow," and stars in "Nowhere" as Ruby's incarcerated husband, believes she is "very special and very different" as a director. "She's got just enough loneliness and just enough family," and he believes that her balance of the two allows her to relate to her actors in a different way. His biggest challenge was to make his character "a very vulnerable little boy," and says you need a good director "to get you to those dark miserable spots." He considers most directors he's worked with to be insecure, whereas DuVernay is "equally as confident as the characters she's writing and the actors she's hiring." He believe's the "non-apology of that motive and locomotive" will allow people to discover this film as something worth seeing, regardless "of the color of the people playing the parts."

Corinealdi is confident the art of the film speaks for itself and that it will find its audience. DuVernay is more wary. She believes the audience for this film needs to be cultivated and trained to see black people in this environment (an indie one, free of stereotypes where black people are the center of legitimate and artful human dramas). "These movies are being made," she says, "They just aren't being presented to people [of any race] in a meaningful way." She does believe this can change, that this content can be subliminated throughout the country. That's what AFFRM is trying to do.

DuVernay isn't afraid to admit that she asked co-distributor Participant outright, "what kind of movie will white people go see with all black people in it." She wants "Middle of Nowhere" to be widely seen (there is absolutely no reason why it shouldn't be). DuVernay asks the audience what recent widely released films featured mostly black characters? "Precious" - yes, she agrees (and worked on publicizing it) but cringes. When someone offers "Men in Black: III," she is shocked, "You qualify that as a black film?!" There's more pride when she mentions the limited release of Dee Rees' "Pariah" (winner of Indie Spirits' Cassavetes Award).

Toussaint believes studios' fear that black actors don't sell films overseas is a myth. But she says, "We've got to do it ourselves. Tell our own stories, sell our own films, get our voices heard." She adds, "Ava is walking the talk. Change is afoot."

Synopsis: What happens when love takes you places you never thought you would go? When her husband, Derek, is sentenced to eight years in a California prison, Ruby drops out of medical school to maintain her marriage and focus on ensuring Derek's survival in his violent new environment. Driven by love, loyalty, and hope, Ruby learns to sustain the shame, separation, guilt, and grief that a prison wife must bear. Her new life challenges her to the very core of her identity, and her turbulent path propels her in new, often frightening directions of self-discovery.

Shadow and Act has their new poster. The new teaser trailer is  below:


  • BECCA S. | June 28, 2012 2:56 AMReply

    Wow. This is inspiring.

  • Marian | June 23, 2012 11:50 AMReply

    So excited to read this and I fervently hope that Middle of Nowhere reaches Australasian cinemas!

  • EKlein | June 22, 2012 5:38 PMReply

    You captured the night well. I didn't know much about the film or the filmmaker before a friend invited me. The crowd was vibrating from the minute I walked in that theater. I wondered what was going on. It was mixed crowd of all colors and ages but more minorities than whites, and we all were in rapt attention from the second it started. You could hear a pin drop in that movie. No one even got up to go to the bathroom it felt like! I felt outnumbered when it started - I'll be honest. By the end, I felt a part of it, The panel after the fact was incredibly enlightening to me. I began to ask myself Ava's question. What kind of black movies do I see? This one - only because a friend took me. Previous - yes. I didn't see Pariah. I saw Beats of the Southern Wild but that doesnt count within this conversation because we are talking of black directors. I didn't see any of the other films the director named that she considered under seen and important by black directors. She named about four others that i hadnt heard of except one, The Medicine for Melnacholy - i didnt see that either. She's right. There is something off. I am a part of it. I'm glad you were there and documented the conversation because it is jarring and enlightening.

  • clarissa | June 22, 2012 6:04 PM

    Outnumbered? You meant no harm, but next time maybe different choice of word. Good post overall though. The filmmaker sounds quite brazen. We need more brazen women.

  • LeonRaymond | June 22, 2012 5:59 PM

    @EKLEIN- You see all it takes is more folk like you to drop the fear of Black folks and Black films and we would all benefit, We as Black folk are closed out to Hollywood cause we are told White folk won't and will never watch our films and even if we say oh that is just a small few the evidence is there to support that. So what we have to do is create our own Hollywood. We have no choice. But more people like you offers the ever so small glitter of hope!!!

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