Happy 4 Months

And we’re back — with another movie! Okay, I really wanted this one to be done, as in fully edited with mixed sound, full-on color correction, and hell, can we get some closing credits?? It’s more than a couple years old, which in some spheres is excuse enough to lay it to rest (never mind Coffee and Cigarettes).

Still, I asked myself, “How do I get around the fact that…”

  1. I can no longer access the original footage since it’s on a dead hard drive?
  2. It would take me considerable time and resources to get this movie anywhere near where it should be?
  3. I have no desire to either retrieve the wayward footage, since I’ve moved on to other projects, or to pretend this isn’t a super-low-budget, mega-DIY film?

What to do? How about we call it a rough cut! Or, here are some other options.

Call It a Dogme95 Film

I could indeed say it’s “Dogme95 influenced.” This would actually be true, insofar as we set out to do a film with available lighting, no external soundtrack, no director credit, etc. We totally broke the Vow of Chastity, though. So, let’s try something else.

Call It a Director’s Cut

My work of genius! My darling! My progeny! Okay that won’t work. Plus we’re yelling.

Analyze It

This might work. Here’s what I would tell someone who just happens to be using a
DVX-100B (mind you, a camera that’s no longer manufactured), miniDV tapes, and one’s own resources to shoot a zero-dollar short, specifically this film.

  • Find talented friends who love acting and are good improvisers. Empower them to come up with most of the story after you provide an outline and general direction.
  • Make liberal use of craigslist when you can. In this case, we scored free firewood. Unfortunately, it wasn’t enough to create a huge, blazing source of light. We had to:
  • Use another source, in this case, flashlights. This created a wonderfully odd mixture of a flickering, orange glow and a static blue light source that lit only half the actors’ faces. Flashlights worked pretty well for the “running on the beach” scenes, though.
  • If you film on the beach, get a lot of wild ocean sound. When you’re prepping the final cut you’ll want to make use of this to avoid weird sound jumps.
  • Back up your footage often — even if you’re just experimenting with a lo-fi film.

Here it is, then: a quirky little film that explores the genre “thriller” and answers the question: how well can you really know someone after four months?

Happy 4 Months – Rough Cut from Maria Breaux on Vimeo.


An Interview with Heidi Durrow

As we continue exporting and rendering and prepping past MBreauxsia films for your Vimeo-viewing pleasure, we took a moment to check in with author Heidi W. Durrow.

Heidi is the New York Times best-selling author of The Girl Who Fell From the Sky (Algonquin Books), which received writer Barbara Kingsolver’s PEN/Bellwether Prize for Socially Engaged Fiction, and was hailed as one of the Best Novels of 2010 by the Washington Post, a Top 10 Book of 2010 by The Oregonian, and a Top 10 Debut of 2010 by Booklist. Ebony Magazine named Heidi as one of its Power 100 Leaders of 2010 along with writers Edwidge Danticat and Malcolm Gladwell. She was nominated for a 2011 NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Literary Debut.

Heidi is a graduate of Stanford, Columbia’s Graduate School of Journalism, and Yale Law School. Originally from the Pacific Northwest, Heidi has worked as a corporate attorney at Cravath, Swaine & Moore, and as a Life Skills Trainer to professional athletes of the National Football League and National Basketball Association.

We asked Heidi a few questions….

What are you working on these days?

I’m working on my second novel and hoping that it starts to look like a novel soon. I thought I had learned how to write a novel after finishing The Girl Who Fell From the Sky, but I realize each book will have to teach me how it needs to be written.

What does your daily process look like (i.e., what’s a day in the life of Heidi Durrow)?

I don’t have a steady routine because I travel so much. The one thing that I do, though, wherever I am, is to write three pages long-hand first thing in the morning while drinking coffee. Sometimes it’s just journal writing but sometimes I find myself writing stuff that will end up in the book or become part of an essay or blog post. I try to read every day. It’s so important to have the well filled that way for me — and really for my writing.

How has the way you identify played into your writing, and how has this changed over time?

The fact that I finally, in my 30s, decided I could identify myself as I wished, and not as people saw me or expected me to, changed everything for my writing. I had an incredible freedom in my imagination that I hadn’t felt in the many years I struggled with being acceptable or understandable to others.

What keeps you up at night?

My never-ending list of things to do. And fear that the muse won’t come back again.

What are you totally over (i.e., what makes you sleep soundly at night)?

I’m going to answer the second question: good wine!

What advice would you give someone trying to self-publish a book? How would you suggest they handle marketing and publicity?

I have no clue about self-publishing. I looked into it many years ago, but the business is changing rapidly and I haven’t kept up. I did a lot of promotion on my own for my book but again I think it’s different if it’s a self-published book. I had a publishing house behind me and what I did in terms of promotion was to supplement the work that they did.

Heidi will be teaching a week-long writing workshop, “Writing the Debut Novel: Developing Your Manuscript and Your Career,” in January 2016 as part of the Djerassi Resident Artists Program. To keep up with her other goings-on, visit her website at http://heidiwdurrow.com/.


in memoria

River Christine and J Aguilar in "in memoria"

Time for the next installment of the “all my movies on Vimeo” Cinemulatto posts. There was a hiatus due to a European vacation, but not to be diverted, we’re back.

Okay, this one’s a strange f*cking film. If you can tell me what’s going on, thank you. Perhaps you’ll win a prize. Or maybe even that’s an uncertainty.

The goal was to create a “sci-fi” film under 10 minutes. Heavily influenced by Electronic Labyrinth THX 1138 4EB and the experimental films of Les LeVeque, we clocked in at just around six minutes, had a great child actor, and took advantage of the trails, groves, and shaded paths at Junipero Serra County Park. We then drove down to the coast and finished before sundown. We had a blast.

“Imagination is the real and eternal world of which this vegetable universe is but a faint shadow.” — William Blake


Winter’s Eve

Sarah Korda and Elinor Bell in "Winter's Eve"

I hope that as I grow older, I figure certain things out — what’s most important, the unhealthy patterns I’ve repeated, the things that are trivial that can fall by the wayside (with any luck, those unhealthy patterns).

I hope it’s a time of great clarity and peace.

This is essentially what I wanted to explore in Winter’s Eve, the next short film I’ve made publicly available on Vimeo. The story centers on two women — one who’s “grown older” and her pool cleaner, the young mother of a toddler. It deals with several questions:

  • What constitutes a human connection?
  • Can we ever truly put ourselves in someone else’s shoes?
  • How does our perspective of death change as we get closer to it?
  • What does inner strength look and feel like?
  • What existential, unspoken moments of insight do we face when we realize so many things at once — the immediacy, vibrancy, and beauty of life; the inevitability of death; and the need and desire to persevere while we can?

Check it out, and if you like it, please share.



J Aguilar and Caro Morales in "Athanasia"

The next MBreauxsia film is available on Vimeo—Athanasia. This movie screened at this year’s Queer Women of Color Film Festival in the Emerging Radiance program.

I’d originally wanted all the films I created in 2014 to explore the theme of death. After doing two heavy films, I was ready for some comedy. However, Athanasia is one of the ones I did before shifting gears. So, it’s serious, but also infused with moments of playfulness and hope.

I’m afraid of death. I’ve been very acutely aware of the fact of my own mortality since a random moment of clarity in the spring of 1994. I was sitting at the front windows of the Cole Valley flat I shared with three friends, watching passersby on the street below, and I was hit with an intense moment of insight—someday, I’m going to die. To not exist. To no longer experience the reality and presence of loved ones. Ever since then, I occasionally have this same blast of hyper-awareness. It’s frightening and troublesome.

So, one character in Athanasia hates death. Conversely, her partner thinks fear of death is silly and takes a back seat to love of life. “It has to happen, right? So why worry about it?” Somewhere in between, there’s room for great and necessary tenderness.

We filmed in San Francisco, Oakland, and San Mateo. The film stars J Aguilar and Caro Morales, and Beth Welch Snellings performs the beautiful Bach musical score.

Hope you like it.



In the Name of Independence – Funcle

J Aguilar and Ami Puri in "Funcle"

We’re about to celebrate 239 years of American independence from Great Britain. Fireworks are about to go off, parades will be marched, George Foreman grills are at the ready. Some current events make it seem like there’s not a whole lot to feel particularly free about. Still, you have to admit, other happenings give us a reason to make this the most boisterous July 4th ever.

In the spirit of the latter — gay marriage being recognized nationwide, Obamacare being here to stay, the Three Strikes foolishness finally striking out — I’m celebrating this year.

And, in the spirit of true freedom, I’m going to share an independent film for free. A truly independent film, devoid of late-night multi-million-dollar deals, or Lincoln Town Cars, or tanning salons.

In fact, I’m going to do this with all of my movies, working backward from 2015 to 2000, the year of my first film. I’ll return to the Cinemulatto bi-weekly rotation and present one movie every other week. Sure, the quality of the films may be a bit questionable the further we go back, but hell, there’s no such thing as a bad movie, right? Somewhere, somehow, there’s someone who loves a movie that someone else considers awful. Plus, there’s something to be said about shameless (and sometimes shameful) self-financing, stale Twizzlers, and crippling debt (which, thankfully, I’ve paid off and isn’t so crippling anymore).

So, let’s not judge, dammit. Be thankful it’s free.

First up: Funcle, produced last summer and screened at the San Francisco Transgender Film Festival and Translations – the Seattle Transgender Film Festival.

  • The skinny: two genderqueer buddies make their living performing hands-off fetish acts. When a client breaks the rules, the duo must decide how to handle their business.
  • Running time: about 8 minutes
  • My non-MPAA rating: PG-13, for sexual situations and strong language
  • For best results: watch it in HD

Have at it.



They Aren’t Riots, They’re Rebellions

The Harlem Riots of 1964

Before a single black person ever set foot on American soil, there was police brutality. Seized from their loved ones, rounded up and herded, and forced to endure the unspeakable cruelties of the Middle Passage, before and from day one, black lives were brutalized, dehumanized, and “kept in their place.”

Despite the Emancipation Proclamation, Reconstruction, Civil Rights Movement, and a black president, some of the same structures are still in place, ones that served to oppress an entire people. In all of the online and media discussions of racism, riots, and police brutality, it’s important to remember, recognize, and raise those voices that continually remind us that our nation continues to exist on a continuum.

The first police forces in black communities were slave drivers and overseers. White “slave patrols” were employed solely for the purpose of policing slaves and capturing runaways. The first “riots” were slave rebellions; leaders like Nat Turner, or slaves armed with hand tools in the 1811 German Coast Uprising, were killed and suppressed by white militias and/or the U.S. armed forces. Drapetomania, long since debunked, was defined as a mental illness that caused black slaves to flee captivity.

This long history of blaming the black victim, dishing out sentences not commensurate to the crime, and holding black lives to a different standard than white ones (where you can lose your life for selling cigarettes illegally, or walking in the middle of the street, or sitting in a car), must come to bear in any discussion of what’s happening in Baltimore, and what happened in Harlem in 1935 (or 1943, or 1964), or 1967 in Newark, or Baltimore in 1968, or any other place in America where African Americans dared to rebel against police brutality, poverty, and being fed up.

In his autobiographical novel, Manchild in the Promised Land, Claude Brown writes of blacks moving from the post-slavery South to the “promised land” of the North, only to find “one of the most important aspects of the promised land: it was a slum ghetto.” Yes, African Americans have made great strides. Yes, there are more African American men in college than in jail. Yes, we have more African Americans in positions of power, on boards and in boardrooms, and signing multi-million-dollar contracts than ever before. Still, the seemingly intractable problem of American racism is one that, until we solve it, will mean that we’re far, far away from a post-racial society.

So, the next time anyone tells you that slavery is over, that those participating in protest—whether it’s violent or peaceful—are “thugs,” remind them of the continuum. This is our history, the ugly blemish on our culture that we seem unable to make go away. Until those in power—both politically and culturally—recognize it for what it is and take steps to help solve the many related issues from the ground up (poverty, lack of opportunity, institutionalized racism…the list goes on), there’s gonna be a whole lotta burnin’ goin’ on.


An Interview with Canaan Kennedy

During the 1989-1990 school year at Stanford University, I took Adrienne Kennedy’s playwriting class. We’ve been in touch ever since. Now, her grandson Canaan has written a book on his family, and I’m not only helping with the Kickstarter campaign, but I asked him a few questions about the project.

What’s the name of your book, and what is it about?

The title of my book is Struggles to Victory – Over Racism in America. This book is about my family’s experiences with being black in America and dealing with the racism that came with it. Ever since I was little, my family would tell me stories of the difficulties they faced in life because of the color of their skin. This book contains interviews from my father, my grandmother, and my grandfather. My father’s story explains his incident with the Arlington Police Department, when he was unlawfully beaten outside of his home in Arlington, Virginia. The interview explains this traumatic event and how he overcame this to write the play Sleep Deprivation Chamber, which went on to win the 1996 Obie Award for Best New American Play.

My grandmother’s interview tells her stories of attending Ohio State and traveling the world as she began her journey of becoming a playwright.

My grandfather’s interview explains his life and his co-founding of Africare, a non-profit organization committed to aiding people of Africa.

At 17 years old I wanted to record their lives into the form of a book so that people could gain insight into being black in America. What makes these stories so great is the fact that they were able to overcome racism and achieve their dreams. I’ve always been interested in how people overcome difficult obstacles and situations in life because ultimately overcoming obstacles, turning struggles into victories is what life is about. Understanding how people overcome adversity to achieve greatness is what I want to be able to mimic.

What was your process for creating it?

Well, I had this epiphany one day that made me want to sit down and write a book about my family. It was during the summer, it was a hot day, and this idea to write a book just came to me. I can remember writing about the process actually and on one occasion I wrote, “Well I’m writing a book and I have about seven pages.” It was a long process. I spent hours reading, researching, and conducting interviews and then transcribing them. Many hours were spent editing the transcriptions because they didn’t come out that well. I really immersed myself in the book because I really enjoyed doing it, and creating something of my own about something I care about was really wonderful. I can’t wait until it’s finished because then I can start to work on my next project.

Who’s the audience?

The audience is young adults who are trying to navigate life. The stories can teach me lessons about how to overcome difficult times.

What do you hope people take away from it?

With everything going on from Michael Brown to Eric Garner, I hope that people can get a better understanding of being black in America. I just want people to know about my family and what they had to go through. I was always proud of my family stories and found them very interesting, and I hope that people will be intrigued and fascinated too.

Who are some of your influences?

In my room I have posters of Malcolm X, Patrice Lumumba, Nelson Mandela, John F. Kennedy, Mahatma Gandhi, Julius Caesar, Ramses, and Alexander the Great. My father taught me about these people who strived for greatness, who wanted to change the world. These are my icons because I too want to be great. These were all great men and their ability to command and lead people is why I respect them. All of these people understood that greatness is not built in a day, it is about the amount of everlasting effort you put into it.

Check out the Kickstarter project at https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/mbreauxsia/struggles-to-victory-a-book-by-canaan-kennedy, and share your own stories of victory on social media using the hashtag #StrugglesToVictory.


In Search of…Mars

Rest in peace, Leonard Nimoy. As Spock, you brought us all over the galaxy, dealing with tribbles, recovering from the hazards of the planet Neural, jamming on your Vulcan harp. Those of us who grew up in the 70s and 80s also knew you from In Search Of…, where you introduced us to the legends of Bigfoot and the incorrigibly coy Loch Ness Monster.

Perhaps this was all sociocultural groundwork for the Mars 100.

In honor of your stature in the intergalactic In Crowd and your never-ending ability to terrify, provoke, and mystify, Cinemulatto is doing a bit of its own celestial discovery. Assuming that someone, somewhere, will eventually make it to Mars—several someones, most likely—we’re examining the question: why the hell do you wanna go there? What if, like Obi-Wan, you’re our only hope? Is this the next major evolutionary step for humans? What weighty objectives will our intrepid trailblazers of Martian Manifest Destiny tackle in the name of humanity, morality, and scientific advancement? This is your chance, humans—don’t screw it up. Also, I have a few more questions.

Questions for People Going to Mars

  • Will you propagate the species?
  • Will there finally be equality?
  • Will you not screw up the environment? Is that even possible on Mars?
  • Does this mean an end to poverty?
  • Will you establish more than a two-party system? Or have none?
  • You’ll have to share resources; will your society be socialist, communist, or other?
  • With lower gravity on Mars, will you evolve into an average height of 10 feet?
  • Will there be an LGBTQIA community?
  • Will the incarceration rate for black men disappear?
  • Does this mean an end to warfare?
  • Will you have the arts? Science? The search for truth?
  • Will you have schools, museums, and libraries?
  • Will there be guns?
  • What are you looking for, exactly?

Despite the questions raised by the possibility of the next phase of human evolution, our Martian counterparts are definitely escaping some of the more egregious things we have here on Earth. Just to provide a different, more positive perspective, here are a few things they’ll no longer have to think about.

Things Humanoid-Martians Won’t Have to Think About

  • Home refinancing
  • Locally raised food
  • Pesticides
  • Bad credit
  • Terrorist threats
  • Westboro Baptist Church
  • Online dating
  • Gym memberships
  • Free shipping
  • Finding a parking space
  • Flash flood warnings
  • Dense fog advisories
  • Crowd control
  • Broken escalators
  • Being mauled by a mountain lion

Whatever one thinks of the Mars One mission, space exploration is here to stay. I know I’m with Neil deGrasse Tyson. Fare thee well, sweet species, fare thee well.


7 Thoughts for the Beginning of 2015

Cinemulatto’s mind has been all over the place—still tracing my family history (yes, someday I may even participate in an Acadian reenactment), reading a lot, breathing a bit after some big work deadlines. I’ve faced a few film festival rejections, leading me to wonder why I bother submitting to film festivals (and spending way too much money on submission fees, travel and housing costs in the event of an actual acceptance, and moving-target distribution opportunities).

I’ve had many moments where there’s been “just a little question in my mind,” to quote Arthur Lee. Here are the resulting thoughts.

Obama. A friend and I once had a debate about Jungle Fever and the gist was this: he felt Spike Lee could do no wrong since he’s the most radical African American filmmaker who’s ever hit the mainstream. Although I wouldn’t consider Obama radical, in many ways his presidency is a deviation, one mixed with inspired moments of governance—becoming “the LGBT president,” giving us Obamacare, pushing for immigration reform, reaching out to Cuba. I recognize there’s still work to be done and that he’s not perfect. Still, Obama has had an active and relatively progressive tenure, and this is why I find myself forgiving some of his political transgressions. After all, just about all of the “bad” things about his time in office predated him; things like wiretapping, drones, and detainees at military prisons were started by others. Obama hasn’t stopped them, for sure, but he also inherited them and likely stepped into an already well-established culture that predated him by several decades. So, I’ve been thinking about this. I’ll keep defending him.

Progress. The universe is almost 14 billion years old. Astronomer estimates say there are over 100 billion galaxies. What’s the nature of progress?

Democracy. In writing about Jane Austen’s female leads, Azar Nafisi states in Reading Lolita in Tehran, “They risk ostracism and poverty to gain love and companionship, and to embrace that elusive goal at the heart of democracy: the right to choose.” Does this mean that the second episode of Black Mirror has a happy ending?

Vaccinations. Why are we debating this?

Compassion. My brother David is in San Antonio, Texas, continuing his year-long compassion tour. Meanwhile, I’m making arrangements to visit the child I sponsor in Jackson, Mississippi, and the number of impoverished public school children has risen. Compassion is doing whatever one can to help at least one other person.

Films of the imagination. Have things like reality TV and the John Cassavetes Award inured us to creativity? Does make-believe only exist in the realm of science fiction? Can’t I pull a story and fictitious world out of my ass and have it be believable on its own terms?

Athanasia. My short film got accepted into this year’s Queer Women of Color Film Festival! The story is completely fabricated. It looks at how death affects an aunt who loses her nephew and her relationship with her partner. Everyone has their own way of dealing with death. More details to come once I have them. (By the way, there are no submission fees for this festival, it’s local, and all films are free.)

What are your current thoughts?