Shola Lynch

On the day of the premiere of her documentary at the Toronto Film Festival, director Shola Lynch answered some questions about the film.  Here is a look at the importance of the film - Black Power Takes Center Stage at the Toronto Film Festival.

WaH: Big day today. World premiere of your documentary and a gala screening at the Toronto Film Festival. Happens very rarely. Talk about the how you're feeling.

SL: Well, I’ve definitely decided that whatever mascara I use will be waterproof. When you set out to make this kind of documentary you’re always fighting so hard to have people recognize it. This is not a TV movie, I made it for the big screen. Of course you want TV. We have TV partners.  This is a dramatic and theatrical story, but yet when you’re thinking about making it,  over the seven years it took -- I thought wouldn’t it be great to premiere at a wonderful festival. So getting into Toronto – wow. And a Gala, huge.

WaH: How does it happen?  Do you send them a cut?

SL: Yes, you send it to them, and in this case to Thom Powers, the main curator. He knew it was almost done. He knew that Cannes was flirting with us a little bit but we weren’t really done. And he said I’d really like to see a cut and he saw a cut and also Cameron Bailey (the Artistic Director) saw a cut and they got together and just got behind it.  And then they said to me, “Well do you think Angela will come?” I said “I can ask. I think it would be great.” And then one of our investors was Jada Pinkett Smith and they said do you think she would come? And pretty much if I could get the two of them to come, we would have a gala.

WaH: But you probably – the film would have been shown anyway, but the gala part of it, you need celebs.

SL: The gala part of it is, it’s about celebs.

WaH:  It’s a 40-year-old story and really hasn’t been told in this way.  How did you make the connection with Angela Davis and how did she let you tell her story?

SL: Listen, it was not easy to connect with her. It took a lot of work to do it and actually – I had to work around her in a way. There was no going directly to her. There were several friends and once I got them on board then Angela Davis watched  my first movie about Shirley Chisholm.  What she said when she saw it was, “I thought I knew that story, and I didn’t. And the way that she said that to me I understood what she wanted out of this. That there’s so much about her story that she didn’t know because she was in prison.  She didn't know what the FBI was doing, she didn’t know what the government was doing, she didn’t even really know what her sister was doing outside. All of these pieces, and she gets to see all of it.  What’s great and brave is this is her life but she let me tell this story.  She wanted to see a cut at one point, which I did, but she wasn’t involved in the decision making.

WaH: You couldn’t have done it without her.

SL: No, that would have been pointless. To me the whole point is what is her story; what are the choices that she made. How did she go from being a philosophy professor to a political icon? How did that happen? She was a bookish philosophy grad student.  I don’t have an agenda. I don’t want you to necessarily agree with her.  I don’t even really care if you like her, but it is about seeing this woman face power. As an individual, and then part of a movement.

WaH: Talk about what compelled you to tell this story?

SL: I didn’t really know it. I thought I knew it and as I did a little bit of research I was like wow we don’t know this story. And then I thought, despite the fact that she was a black militant and a communist, it would be easier to raise money for than Chisholm because she’s on college campuses and has an audience, right? No.

WaH: I imagine it would be incredibly difficult.

SL: Yeah. But once I committed to the project, there was for me no turning back. There were moments where I came really close.

WaH: You have now two documentaries – a body of work – documentaries on African American women leaders. Nobody does that. And it’s really important. So talk about what that means.  I imagine this could be a calling for you of continuing to tell these stories.

SL: After Chisholm I said I’m not gonna do another woman and I’m definitely not gonna do another black woman. I didn’t want to be pigeonholed. But then I realized that these stories aren’t being told, and often when they are, it’s not the way that I would want to see them and experience them. Because for me, if you can’t hit the kind of emotional tone of the person and of the story it’s not about every fact, it’s not a book in that way. That it is still a film. And that’s what excites me. What I would love to be able to do is either produce or direct the narrative versions. I think that there’s room to do the documentaries, to basically do the research and provide the information for scripting and also for educational and entertainment purposes. But then wouldn’t it be great, because we’d reach an even wider audience, to do narrative versions.  I mean and they’re fantastic stories.

WaH: So it took 7 years from start to finish?

SL: Yes. But to put it in perspective I also did four work-for-hire projects got married had two children and got a graduate degree.

WaH: And how long did the Chisholm documentary take?

SL: Not as long actually. It was easier to raise money for.