We There

If you’ve been paying attention to this blog, you know that I’ve been making most of my films available online, for free, going backward in time until I hit the first one I ever did. That was in 2000 with the ultra-low-budget production of I’d Rather Be…Gone. (When we get to that point, I’ll explain the ellipsis.)

There was a big gap in posting anything because I tried to go in the exact order — even if some weren’t edited yet. Getting these done has been a challenge. I’m a busy mama (and employee, and sleeper, and eater, and ceiling watcher). Ergo, there are still a bunch that haven’t been completed. Excuses, excuses.

Well, I’m starting the new year uploading those that are completed, the first one being a short film I created with Rena Marie Guidry, Janna Browning Weir, and Amal Kouttab in 2007, titled We There.

That year, Rena and Janna conducted drama therapy sessions in San Francisco’s Bayview Hunters Point neighborhood with a group of local youth. On March 16, 2007, one of the group’s participants, Antwanisha Morgan, was shot and killed by a stray bullet from the gun of a Potrero Hill gang member.

We There grew out of the collaborative efforts of the young people in these drama therapy sessions — Antwanisha’s friends — using creativity as a means of expressing rage, grief, and the trauma associated with living in a violent environment. The movie centers on a main event — a neighborhood shooting — but also incorporates everyday occurrences in the lives of the youth. These were all dramatized in such a way as to anonymize the storyteller’s experience.

When I heard about the group at a night of performances at CIIS and their goal to create a short film, I knew I had to be involved. After approaching Rena and offering anything they needed, they asked me to direct, and I said yes. The project, however, was very much a co-directorial effort.

Our slim budget went toward food and rental of a second camera, and we otherwise used my equipment and filmed using natural and available light. We shot guerrilla style with no storyboards or shot list. All the sound was done by whoever happened to be free to hold a boom mic.

A memorable moment for me was directing one of our actors during a scene where, while on the ground, her mother attempts to choke her. My mother tried to choke me when I was around eight or nine years old. I was honored to be able to contribute to the narrative, from a position of adult survival and success, in another form of creative giving back. Perhaps the drama therapy went all ways.

Cheers to our young actors for making themselves so vulnerable in this film. We There premiered at San Francisco’s Roxie Theater to a sold-out audience, with the actors arriving in a limo to a red carpet reception. It also won Best Docudrama at the 2007 Southern Appalachian International Film Festival. I hope you enjoy it, warts and all.

 

It’s That Time Again: Goals for the New Year

 

If the news is any indication, this was a horrible year. We know better than that, right? Why? Because we know the news only covers the worst, most heinous, most shocking stories that are most likely to cause either rage, fear, or disgust.

Some truly ‘game-changing’, positive things did happen in 2015. And, we heard about it on social media. The moral of the story: there’s mainstream media and there’s social media. Guess which one is (currently) a forum for regular, non-corporate people like us?

So, my main resolution for 2016: set the narrative.

In 2014 (which seems like such a long time ago) I made a few film resolutions. Some were stretch goals, some I actually met.

I didn’t post any resolutions for 2015, although I had a few: spend lots of time with my family, finish my unedited short films, finish a screenplay. The latter two didn’t pan out.

So, in addition to the general resolution, here are a few specific goals I’m setting for 2016, in order to focus on the positive and rally my social network base, as it were.

Personal goals

  • Spend lots of time with my family.
  • Devote more time to friends.
  • Continue donating funds to social justice organizations and causes.
  • Exercise regularly and get sick less (to fend off depression and maintain optimal energy and health).

Creative goals

  • Finish editing my short films, and don’t shoot any new ones until I do.
  • Continue focusing on characters we don’t often hear or see.
  • Upload the rest of my films to this blog, regardless of the exact backward-chronological order.
  • Complete a draft of a solo performance.
  • Raise funds and start principal photography for a documentary on resilience.

It’s been about 20 years since I’ve performed on a stage in a dramatic context (I count film festival Q&A’s as “performing on a stage,” minus the dramatic context). The culminating moment of those experiences was a 20-minute show at the former Josie’s Cabaret and Juice Joint that was curated by Justin Chin; something else I did shortly after that involved acting as my older brother and I freaked out. Thus the last time on a stage.

The creative force is strong with this one. Try as I might, I can’t take much time off from creative pursuits before being called yet again—despite my best judgment and waning energy—to spend lots of time and anguish on the written, filmed, and/or performed word.

Creativity, madness—same difference.

Here’s looking at a 2016 filled with positivity, redefining the narrative, and electing a president who won’t take us back to feudal Europe. Fingers crossed!

 

8 Suggestions to Hardcore-Search Your Family History

Poitou region of France, 1633

Ever since the publication of Alex Haley’s Roots in 1976, and especially because of the rise of services like Ancestry.com, FamilySearch.org, The Freedmen’s Bureau Project, and 23andMe, people are wild about genealogies. Some devote decades to teasing out their family history. Others often travel to various global destinations, retracing migratory paths.

I’m using all of the above to do the same. Maybe I’ll end up devoting years to it. Fine by me. These are all the fun things you can do to find your place in the world history cosmos:

  1. Travel to places you otherwise might never see. So far, I’ve been to Louisiana, Jamaica, and France, although the former two places I visited before officially starting my family quest. In France, I drove with my daughter Dakota from Paris to Martaizé, which I mistakenly believed to be the village that the first Breaux left to pursue adventure in the New World. After getting back home, I learned he actually hailed from La Chaussée. Bummer — I’ll have to take another international trip!
  2. As you learn more, travel more. Other places that are now must-sees include Nova Scotia, Senegal, and return trips to Jamaica and Louisiana.
  3. Continually dig deep into ancestry sites. After extensive digging in FamilySearch.org, I found out that one of my forebears, Joseph Troisville Breaux, was a white man who had an interracial “relationship”. Another one, Joseph Breaux, owned slaves, as did Firmin Breaux, whose namesake is Breaux Bridge, Louisiana.
  4. The web is your oyster. A lot of library microfilm is now web-searchable, text-based content. This is how I discovered the list of slaves owned by Joseph Breaux, as well as the names of the ships that brought slaves from Senegal to New Orleans. Keep clicking, and don’t rely on just the first page of search results.
  5. Books still exist. Young’uns — believe it or not, people still read books, huge ones! And there are so, so many of them. I’m currently about to make my way through The French Peasantry in the Seventeenth Century and A Great and Noble Scheme: The Tragic Story of the Expulsion of the French Acadians from Their American Homeland. If you end up reading Roots, let me know and we can chat!
  6. Visualize and imagine. The more you learn, the more you know about past daily customs, dress, weather, and physical characteristics (Acadian men were “of good height,” for instance). Close your eyes and imagine. Or, re-imagine the space right in front of you. For example, as you pick up a fork to eat a meal, picture the hand of an ancestor doing the same.
  7. Watch movies. Movies are, by default, usually not 100% historically accurate, but period piece dramas are a great way to get even a remote sense of what a certain time period must’ve been like. And, like 12 Years a Slave, many movies bring stories and narratives to life that were previously lost in obscurity. Binge watch that shit.
  8. Talk to people. If you’re lucky, you have a family that passed down stories of long-deceased crazy uncles, or angry Cajun men, or renegade frontier guerrillas. Or, get in contact with a professor specializing in whatever time period or subject you’re studying. Many brilliant scholars are out there and sometimes available to answer questions. Look up their faculty page to find their email address.

And a bonus suggestion: Create a Google Drive folder and organize all of the information you find into folders and files. Share it with family, so that they can contribute, too. Never before have we had such access to easy archiving tools, so be sure to use them. The Great Fire of London ain’t got nothin’ on Google Drive!

Happy sifting. Let me know what you find.

 

Confessions of a Mixed-Race Ham Genealogist Parent

Awhile ago I promised to make all my films available online, one by one, working backward in time until we got to the first movie I made back in 2000. This is still ongoing, among so many other things:

  • Parenting
  • Researching my family history
  • Occasional bouts of depression
  • Frequent moments of awe and wonder
  • Sleep
  • Work

So, the movie thing is still in progress. My new goal is to upload one film a month, starting in December. Wish me luck. Until then, I confess to thinking about a few things….

Family History Probably Repeats Itself, but I’ll Never Know 100% For Sure

On the family history front, things are scientific and metaphysical — the scientific including 23andMe, and the metaphysical centered on meditative, imaginative states where I try to visualize the daily lives of my ancestors. Notable things I’ve contemplated so far:

  • The Acadian Expulsion packed huddled bodies onto flimsy boats and sent them to various locations all over the Eastern Seaboard, in addition to Louisiana. Unlike my Western African progenitors, they were not sold into slavery.
  • According to a Publishers Weekly review of John Mack Faragher’s book A Great and Noble Scheme, the Expulsion “was the first episode of state-sponsored ethnic cleansing in American history.” Except for millions of Native Americans.
  • Modern French kicked in around 1600.
  • I suspect one of my forebears, Firmin Breaux, had a falling out with his family when he moved to Louisiana from Boston at age 17 and they returned to
    Quebec, Canada.
  • Beausoleil was one of Beyoncé’s ancestors, so we’re all clearly related.

Social Media is Still Media — It Presents Only Select Glimpses of a Full Person

In my case, I post things that are either political, an attempt at comedy, or happy. What I don’t usually post: the moments of recognition where I understand how challenging parenting, being an artist, and living with depression can be. How do I cope?

My mother relied heavily on medication to detrimental effects, so I opt for exercise, relaxation, and gratitude practice, all of which work most of the time. Depression isn’t something one readily talks about when asked, “How’s it going?” Although, I do have friends who answer this question honestly. I also have friends with whom I can be honest.

Such are the current thoughts of someone attempting to not only piece together the distant past, but to prepare for an unknown future with a very predictable end of an earthly departure. Oh, and check out my 23andMe ancestry composition.

What are your current obsessions?

 

3 Reasons Why People Should Talk Politics on Social Media

Over 14% of the entire world is on Facebook. Let that sink in for a minute….

And on and on. That’s not including Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, or Snapchat. So, it’s safe to say that a huge chunk of the world is on social media.

What does this mean for political discourse? Many folks get quite riled up during online discussions — and social media has brought out the worst of the trolls. The result of such conversations includes but is not limited to anger, hatred, obsession, and night sweats.

Be that as it may, Cinemulatto believes the statistics provide three reasons why we should all be talking about politics on social media.

This is the “national discourse” we’ve been waiting for.

Hell, it’s the international discourse. Although the posts we see tend to align with our political views, if we happen to comment, share, or like anything that “the other side” posts, there’s a strong likelihood we’ll start seeing that side’s news and views.

Didn’t our college Feminism 101, Ethnic Studies, and Political Science courses all stress the importance of “national dialogue”? With 14% of the world on Facebook, for instance, isn’t this the best (and only) possible place to engage in such dialogue with potentially hundreds of friends and non-friends, instead of a 10-student discussion section?

The algorithm knows.

Social media knows what evils lurks in the hearts of men (and women, and tweens, and marketers). Again, from the info above, we know that our social media activity informs the posts that show up in our feed. The more we discuss, the more likely we are to get more information on the politics shaping the status quo, for better or worse.

I was recently castigated on Facebook for having only three Republican friends in the non-social media ‘real world’. In a rare moment of unbridled comment anger, I cursed him out then blocked him (insert self-satisfied emoticon here). The unpleasant and woebegone asshole claimed that communicating with Republicans on social media didn’t count.

Do Republicans stop being people once they start typing? Is Facebook not representative of the general population? (Stating here for the third time: 14%.)

When all is said and done, it’s okay to weed people out.

Like so many others on social media, I’ve gotten back in touch with people from the past I might never have otherwise encountered again. These include people from high school. Relatives I haven’t seen since childhood. People I never knew existed but I now know are family members, or friends, or kindred social media spirits.

The odds, then, of interacting with people who have more differences than commonalities are dramatically increased. Another thing that skyrockets: the chances of finding out that someone who you trusted, respected, or even loved holds beliefs that you find rotten to the core. When this happens, it’s disappointing at best and distressing at worst. Still, perhaps without such open discussion, we’d never know what “lurks within”.

I’ll keep talking politics on social media. At the very, very least, it keeps my brain active and makes me think about that other side. Trolls be damned.

 

 

 

An Interview with Domenic Priore

Domenic Priore is an American author, historian, and television producer whose focus is on popular music and its attendant youth culture. We met during the process of me doing research for a 1960s-themed feature script titled My Mirage. He’s since been an invaluable resource and friend for anything having to do with Sunset Strip in the 60s and the associated 1980s revival that it influenced.

I asked him a few questions about his book, Riot on Sunset Strip, and the impact of earlier African American and Latino bands on 1960s Los Angeles youth, culture, and music.

Your book “Riot on Sunset Strip: Rock’n'Roll’s Last Stand in Hollywood” first came out in 2007. Tell me about the initial release and some of the key things that went into making this book.

When “Riot” first came out in 2007, it had been 10 years in the making, and was an attempt at doing a coffee table book with a deeper text than most, something like the book “Populuxe” (Thomas Hine, 1986 Alfred A. Knopf, New York). The “Riot” text was the definitive story of a music scene, covering elements that had not been pulled together before. There were so many incredible images available from that time, that there never was going to be a way to get the definitive photography book together on the subject.

So, in that edition, I focused on the work of two or three photographers who did so many great things, it became a showcase for their work. The catch is, both Julian Wasser and Chuck Boyd, the two primaries I purchased photos from, their work from that time was in black ‘n white, and so the only economical way to do the book was to have the core of the book black ‘n white. This compromised some great color images by other photographers which appeared also in black ‘n white.

This time out, the book is focused on the text, with swatches of photos in three sections of the book instead. Some great images now appear in color, but now, there are less photos overall. The idea is to have a book that is less expensive, so more people will read it, and then follow with a book that is more photo and ephemera-based… timelines, lists of gigs, sidebars, and all kinds of fun stuff for a follow-up.

Now you have a new edition. How is it different from the first?

My favorite thing in the new edition that did not appear previously is an interview I did with Stephen Stills of Buffalo Springfield, where I only talked to him about one song… “For What It’s Worth”… and how that came together. It was written when he witnessed how a peaceful demonstration turned into a police riot in front of Pandora’s Box in November of 1966. That song became associated with a lot of movies and TV documentaries later, just about every time they cover the controversy and protest scenes of the ’60s, and situations within the Vietnam War, more often than not, you’ll hear “For What It’s Worth” played.

I thought it would be a good idea to really focus on just this one song with Stephen, and get to the bottom of how he wrote it, and what the thinking was behind it. There are other things throughout the book that have been updated when new information came in about things no one knew previously. When I went through the first edition of the book to “correct” it, there weren’t really too many mistakes in the actual text (the company had done the captions, and there were mistakes there, however). Some things in the original have become illuminated by new information, and those bits have been weaved into the overall story.

One of the awesome things about your book is how it captures a really multi-cultural time in rock history. What was going on musically in places like South Central LA, or East LA, before and during that time?

South Central L.A. is a really overlooked music scene, historically speaking. There was a box set called “Central Avenue Sounds” that Rhino did in the ’90s that covered the 1920s until the early ’50s. The last part of that touched on the beginning of an R&B scene in L.A., but just the very beginning. It was strong here, people were moving from other parts of the country to Central Avenue to get away from the Southern and Midwestern brand of racism. There was racism in L.A., too, but not like those places. Roy Brown, Wynonie Harris, Amos Milburn, Louis Jordan, Big Joe Turner, Little Richard… all moved to L.A. at some point, and then Ike & Tina Turner came here a little later on, settling in Baldwin Hills.

So much great R&B came from L.A. then, The Robins/Coasters, The Hollywood Flames (Bobby Day came from that group), The Penguins, Don Julian & the Meadowlarks, The Olympics. As the ’50s went on, after what was covered in “Central Avenue Sounds,” the club scene moved “West” so to speak, to the Crenshaw district, to streets like Santa Barbara Avenue (now MLK), Adams Avenue, Western Avenue, clubs like the Oasis, the Californian Club, Earl Bostic’s Flying Fox and in 1966, Maverick’s Flat, which Norman Whitfield immortalized in his song “Psychedelic Shack” (recorded by The Temptations, who played there opening night).

So L.A. had all these places where Sam Cooke, Bobby Womack (then, in The Valentinos), The Treniers, and others could wail, and then by the ’60s you had the emergence of Billy Preston, The Chambers Brothers, Charles Wright & the Watts 103rd Street Rhythm Band, Brenda Holloway, Gloria Jones, Brenton Wood, Dobie Gray, The Vibrations, Round Robin, The Rivingtons, and the guys who would later become War, who were playing all through the ’60s in groups like The Creators, Afro Blues Quintet, and Señor Soul.

Their later popularity in East L.A. (as with Brenton Wood) is a sign that in those days, East L.A. had complete reverence for what was going on musically in the black community, and from East L.A., you get great bands like Thee Midniters, Cannibal & the Headhunters, The Premiers, and others coming out with their own hits, from their own scene. Of course they all blended together on bills throughout L.A. during this period, and then you had Taj Mahal (Rising Sons) and Arthur Lee, Johnny Echols and Tjay Cantrelli (Love) breaking ground with inter-racial groups in the middle of all that. Tjay, in fact, had also played with The Creators.

What’s next for you?

Well, I tend to come out with books pretty steady. Funny enough, I’m still out doing events to promote last years’ “Pacific Ocean Park: The Rise and Fall of Los Angeles’ Space Age Nautical Pleasure Pier” (with Christopher Merritt, for Process Media) and then in April, another new one comes out. I’m currently working with Girl Group singer Donna Loren on a book filled with pictures taken by her father on the set of Shindig!, Batman, The Monkees, the beach movies and on a 1964 Dick Clark tour she was on featuring the Supremes, The Shirelles, The Dixie Cups, and others at the height of the Girl Group era.

Shindig! had so many amazing guests, and we’ve corralled photos of all the best of the stuff that was shot over here at the ABC studios in Los Feliz (the British groups on Shindig! were shot in the UK, so we don’t have those). But, yeah, Donna’s been real fun to work with and the title of that one will be “Donna Loren: Mover and Shaker in the Middle of a Mid-Sixties Pop Maelstrom.”

 

Film, Music, Life – a Conversation with Be Steadwell

This past summer, I had the opportunity not only to see Be Steadwell’s short film, Vow of Silence, at the Queer Women of Color Film Festival, but I was also able to connect with her for an interview. Vow of Silence won the Audience Award at the festival. What follows is a rumination on film, sexuality, race, inspiration, and this particular, formative moment in time for queer artists and filmmakers.

How was your time in San Francisco, the Bay area?

Aw man, it was so good. Just a lot of support.

Had you been out here before?

Yeah, I spent some time there, but it’s been like six years. It had been six years since I’d been there, and I used to wanna live there. I mean, I’ve always wanted to live there, but, yeah, it was kinda like a second home to me for awhile, and still is.

Tell me about your life. I saw your film at QWOCFF, I thought it was amazing, and I noticed you kinda making the festival rounds. In a nutshell, in brief, what’s your life story?

Aw man. How do I sum up my life story? Well, I grew up just loving pretty much all art forms. And, I was kinda shy, so singing and stuff didn’t really come up until later. I wasn’t like an outgoing, show-offy type. Then in high school I tried out for a jazz band as the singer, and got in and just started singing that way, and still doing different art forms. And then in college, I got a degree in black studies and visual arts. I joined an a cappella group, which was really nerdy but really good for me. But the school I went to, Oberlin, it’s got this fancy music conservatory.

You were at Oberlin for undergrad?

Yeah, yeah, but I wasn’t in the conservatory, and I felt like – there was a lot of snobbiness around music there, because there were all these geniuses running around, and so I did the a cappella thing but I didn’t really write while I was in college, because I think I was a little scared of being judged. Or, I just didn’t feel like I knew enough to share with people. And then after I graduated college, my friend from high school and I started a group called The Lost Bois, and we basically wrote goofy rap songs about being gay and being weird. For awhile, that was everything that we did and we started shooting and editing our own music videos, which was great. And then, I really enjoyed that. I’d never really done a video before – I’d done photography and other things, but I really loved video and I still didn’t feel music was reliable as a career, so I decided to get my MFA in film. Meanwhile, my friend was getting a real job and had less time, so I started, just for fun, writing songs on my own, and sharing them. That’s basically where it’s been. I got my MFA – the film Vow of Silence was my thesis film and after I graduated, I was trying to get jobs teaching, in colleges, teaching film, and I couldn’t find any. I couldn’t get any, and I sort of decided to do music full time, or to do art full time, because I really didn’t have other options. And it’s kind of working. I don’t know, I mean it’s really hard, but so far it’s okay.

Cool. Thank you. Did you grow up on the East Coast, then?

Yeah, I grew up in D.C.

Oh, okay. Now, I grew up as a pretty shy person, too, so I wanna ask you – what do you think contributes to shyness and what do think is the best way to keep going, to get beyond it?

Hmmm. Yeah. I think, I mean – I guess it’s different for everyone, but for me, I’m the youngest, and I’m like five, six, and eight years younger than my siblings, so I was like a little kid to everyone. Which meant, I was always just the baby. I never felt like, I felt like it was harder to be taken seriously. So there was that. And also just being different at school. I went to school with a lot of white kids, and I didn’t feel like I fit in, I didn’t feel like I was pretty or whatever, and I just felt in my own head and I didn’t think that people got it. And I still feel that way a lot. I don’t know. I guess just encouraging people to love who they are. I taught a little bit, young kids, film, and I just would really reach out to those kinda quiet kids. The outgoing kids are the ones who immediately get noticed, and get attention, and get praise, and I just feel it’s like a really weird pattern to fit into.

At your Q&A for the film, you said you wanted to explore music and spirituality. Talk a little about your process of creativity, and I know that may vary depending on what you’re working on, but what obsessions cause you to create things?

Well, the first thing that happens, is – do you use Netflix?

I do.

Yeah. Do you ever go on Netflix, and you’re looking for a movie, a particular movie, but it doesn’t exist?

Yeah, yeah.

I mean, it happens every time. And sometimes you lower your expectations but even then, you know, it’s not there. I think probably the first impulse that makes me wanna create film, and even music, is that there’s something I really want that doesn’t exist. And that sucks. And also, seeing something that does exist, that is like something that you want, feeling really human, and feeling understood, and feeling inspired, like when I saw Pariah. I don’t know if you’ve seen it, but when I saw Pariah – that’s when I thought about being a filmmaker. There are so many things here. There are characters that are complex, that I understand, and relate to all of them. There’s brown people with different colors of brown and you can see their faces, and there’s richness in their skin, and there’s queerness and complexity with gender, you know? When I saw it, I was like, “Oh my god, this is so cool!” And sometimes you don’t really feel something’s missing until you see it.

Cool, yeah, I have seen Pariah and I agree with everything you just said.

Yeah.

Something also about Vow of Silence, is also the richness and complexity of that movie. And the fact that a young woman goes to a party and there’s someone playing a cello, and there’s a scene with her playing the cello under a bridge, and so many scenes where things just are. There are brown people in it, queer people in it, and never is it beating you over the head with any big message except for lost love, new love, personal choices, passion, art, and spirituality. So, tell me whether or not that’s a conscious decision to not have a coming out film or something that’s been done before. Is that something you’re conscious of, and how does that play a role in what you create?

Yes, yes. That’s another thing. The films, queer and lesbian films that exist. Well, typically lesbian films are almost all coming out stories, you know, these really sad, you know, this one has a boyfriend, this struggle with identity, and that’s such a small piece, you know, of our – I mean, it’s important, but that’s such a small, tiny fraction of our experiences. A lot of us are really just living lives now, and falling in love and having relationships, so that’s what I wanted to see. The other thing that happens a lot with, I think, with black films that center on black characters is like a lot of struggle and a lot of pain and drama. And that’s fair too, but I guess I just wanted to talk about love. I really didn’t want anything else in there. And I didn’t want it to be about the outside community, I didn’t want it to be about racism or homophobia because, those are real, but in my personal experience I live amongst my community and most of the time I’m really just comfortable in that space. And I’m comfortable as myself. And conflict comes up between people, you know, because of conflict, not because of sexuality or race. So, that was definitely conscious to do it that way.

I hear you and I really appreciate that. Awesome, thank you, I’m right there with you.

Are you a filmmaker?

I am a filmmaker, yeah.

Cool.

Yeah, I had a film on Saturday night at the festival.

Aw man.

And now I’m starting to make all my stuff available online, just for free. So I’ll send you a link.

Yeah, please.

But I’m in the same place. And I’ll talk about myself for about 10 seconds. But um, yeah, I’m in the same place where I just wanna talk about stuff – life, love, birth, death, that are universal, that we’ve all experienced or will experience that are outside any notion of the larger racial or sexual struggle. I’m kind of over the word struggle. Not that it doesn’t exist….

Right, right….

Yeah, not that those stories aren’t important, but again, they’re just a piece of the overall humanity. I think only having one element of that story kind of deprives us of our humanity.

Yeah, and it’s like – I struggle with it because it’s like, okay, it is part of our experience. We have to, we have to confront it. You know, in theory, white people, they have the privilege to not, you know, to ignore it. Which is why they get to have movies that have nothing to do with anything but love, or you know, whatever.

Yeah.

But at the same time can we really ignore it? You know, it’s there. It’s always there.

Yeah, but at the same time you have to remind people that it exists, but also in doing what you’re doing, what I wanna do, it humanizes us, and it forces them – if they actually see our movies – to see us in a new and different light. And I think that that is also really important in changing the images of African Americans, queers, and people of color.

Yeah, yeah.

I don’t know if you saw that really amazing clip of four African men who were talking about stereotypes of Africans in film.

What was that?

It’s really amazing. They just kinda – they show all these images of machine guns, and it’s making fun of – they talk about the same thing. All you see is people in berets with rocket launchers.

Yep.

Another question is – I guess, what do you think is unique about this moment in time, when we have things like QWOCMAP, we have – gay marriage is now legal in all states….

Right.

And, you know, I’m a little bit older, I remember when I was growing up, you’d get beat up if you were even suspected of being queer. So given that, what do you think is unique about this moment in time, and where do you see yourself in it?

Long sigh.

Ummm, hm. That’s an awesome question. But I’m not sure. I mean, it feels really good in some ways. Like, I was working at this 4th of July party. I was just like cleaning up and washing dishes and stuff – and it was mostly black folks and a lot of lesbians were there. And everyone was so happy on that day. And it wasn’t like any particular thing. It was just like everybody I saw all day was – happy. Like this is the day where I’m proud, you know, the fireworks went off, and I was kind of like, emotional. So, the marriage equality stuff, really – though that was something that wasn’t my main concern….

Same here, yeah.

Laughter.

But it means a lot. It really means a lot. And at the same time, I still have plenty of friends who’re planning their wedding. I just asked a woman, this really great guitarist, a black woman in D.C., to play in my band, and she said that her Christian values wouldn’t allow her to play certain songs. You know?

Yeah.

There’s still a lot – there’s still so much, so it’s a weird point where we definitely can fall into the trap of assuming that everything’s cool and there’s no conflict anymore, that we’re just gonna turn around like Mary Poppins….

Laughs.

But there’s still folks being harassed, and murdered by the police – it’s just a lot. There’s a lot. But I think as a queer artist, we – I don’t even know. I think mainly I just want us to be conscious consumers of our own art and businesses. And that will allow us to control our own media. Because in theory, I guess, lots of people could invest in it, in gay music, in gay film, and start doing that. Which will probably happen. But, I don’t think they’re gonna get it. So, my goal is to really – it’s not to get signed, it’s not to – I mean, I would love to have investors for film, because it’s expensive. Oh my god. But really staying independent and letting the audience grow and come to you. And keeping control of that creativity. That’s what I’m excited about and I hope will happen to me. That’s kinda vague, but I’m just like – I want us to find each other. And become a force. We don’t have to like all of the same things, and we won’t, but we can at least say, “Look, there’s this movie, there’s this song, there’s this visual artist, installation artist, and just have our own world, our own space.”

Cool, thank you. And my last question: how do you identify racially, if at all, and how has that affected things for you?

Yeah. I identify as black and multi-racial. So, my mom’s white and my dad’s black, and I think that my experience growing up around white kids, mostly, meant that I was black. I mean, to them. So, my experience encompasses that, and multi-racialness. But it’s cool, it’s exciting, it’s definitely more visual, I guess, now – you know, with Obama….

Uh huh.

But I think growing up it was hard to fit in. Even in college, there were some black people who straight up told me I’m not black.

Hmmmm. Yeah, I’ve gotten that kinda thing.

And there are white people who say it, too.

Yeah, yeah.

And it’s like, oh okay, well, um, maybe you should tell me what I am, then. And the conversation of race is so funny because in the end it isn’t real. I mean, it’s a construct, right.

Right.

So no one’s gonna win arguments, because it’s really a made-up thing. But experiences are real. It was a weird thing growing up and – I really just embraced who I feel that I am, and I found that most people really don’t have an issue with it. It’s just – you’re in or you’re not, you know.

Yep.

So, it’s good now. But it was kind of a struggle growing up that way.

I hear you. And I did have one last question, which is what are your current artistic obsessions? Today. Or yesterday.

Hmmm. I, uh – okay. I’m trying to write a new script, and I’m actually not a good script writer, I’ve only written one script, ever, but what I do now is I sit with my script outline, and I watch movies. Just to get ideas. You know? It’s like – there’s the best friend, and there’s this interaction and that really works to show depth, and blah blah blah, so….I seem like a lazy person but I’ll watch three movies a day just with my script outline, and just try. And I love romantic comedies. I would like to write a romantic comedy, that vague structure. So I’ll watch a lot of romantic comedies, a lot of cute little indie, you know, the cute indie movies.

Laughs.

That’s probably my thing right now.

What’s a recent cute indie movie that you’ve seen?

Have you seen Your Sister’s Sister?

Is that the Duplass brothers?

Yeah.

I have not seen that one, no.

Laughs.

It’s so funny. It’s so funny.

Okay.

And also, um, anything with that guy in it. He’s so funny. It’s brilliant. It’s three actors, it’s pretty much them the whole time, pretty much one location, and you’re just laughing and into it, the whole way through.

Yeah.

The whole way through. And it’s just relationships. Interactions. Oh my god I love that movie. Ah. What about you? Can you recommend anything?

Let’s see…as far as cute romantic comedies?

Laughter.

I tend toward the depressing. I do like romantic comedies, but for some reason, I like hard-hitting, really depressing things, like Exploding Girl, have you seen that one?

Uh uh.

With Zoe, what’s her name – Zoe Kazan. And it’s all – it won a Cassavetes Award years ago, a few years ago, and it’s mostly, it seems like it’s mostly improvised, very low-budget, set in New York, and it’s about a girl…basically she goes home for a break after being in college for awhile, and then slowly develops a relationship with this guy. And that’s it.

Laughter.

And she also has epileptic seizures every now and again. She’s getting over a breakup and dealing with her physical state. And that’s all there is to it.

Yeah, that’s definitely, um – yep.

Laughter.

I’ve also been watching a lot of TV, like Netflix Original Series, Orange is the New Black….

Yep, yep.

Which is good for schmaltzy….

I love this season! I think some people really wanted more drama. I haven’t finished it.

Okay.

But I love this season, ‘cause it’s like, every scene, it’s like, they’re really talking about shit right now.

Yeah yeah, that’s true.

Taking about stuff nobody ever talks about.

That’s true. Like corporatization of prisons, and being transgender in prison….

Race, body image, ethnicity, gender, and it’s so subtle that you can miss it.

When I wanna get really deep and emotional I watch Sense8.

What is it called?

Sense8. It’s the Wachowskis?

Okay. And that’s a series?

Yeah, that’s on Netflix, too. And that’s just brilliantly – I won’t give too much away, but it’s basically just brilliantly executed, it’s set in eight different locations, main locations, around the world, and it talks about how these eight different characters’ lives and minds and hearts intersect. And they cover a lot of stuff, too – there’s a Nairobi bus driver, transgender woman living in San Francisco, and it’s just really wonderful. Yeah, Wachowskis. So, I’m actually gonna stop now, but thank you so much, this is great.

Thank you.

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