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.