Monday, May 23, 2016

Actors Talk the Acting Process [VIDEOS]

Found via website Shadow & Act, a series of videos courtesy of “The Off Camera Show” with host Sam Jones – featuring several actors like Don Cheadle, Michael B. Jordan, Tatiana Maslany (“Orphan Black”), Robert Downey Jr., Ethan Hawke, Jake Gyllenhaal, Krysten Ritter (“Jessica Jones”) and Kevin Bacon.

Topics discussed include the auditioning process, building backstory for characters they play, prepping for roles, playing multiple characters simultaneously (in Maslany’s case), working with acting coaches/mentors, and more.

As Shadow & Act said “If you’re an actor (especially if you’re still new to the craft), you may get something out of what they each share about various aspects of the work. And if you’re a filmmaker, you may learn something here as well."


See more videos embedded together at Shadow & Act by clicking the graphic below 


Thursday, April 28, 2016

My 2015 Maryland Film Festival Experience [VIDEOS]


Last year for the Maryland Film Festival was totally surreal. The festival started three days after the curfew was lifted following the Baltimore Riots (also called the Freddie Gray riots, the Baltimore Uprising, the Baltimore Unrest etc). It was a tumultuous time in Baltimore. Baseball games were being played without crowds, people were afraid to come into the city, the police were still dealing with after effects of the unrest. It was a heck of a time to have a film festival, but MFF did and I was a part of it.

In the midst of the turmoil, I wrote what is becoming an annual article for indiewire blog Shadow & Act 2015 Maryland Film Festival Kicks Off This Week (May 6-10) - Black Films to Put on Your To-See List  detailing the films playing at the festival featuring black personnel (cast, subject or crew).

At the festival, one of the first feature films I saw was also a surreal moment. As I said then "Do The Right Thing in Baltimore a week after the Baltimore Riots"


Seeing that classic film that captured racial strife so brilliantly a week after the riots was just wild. It was quite a somber moment in the city at that time and this screening was equally somber.

The next day I attended a great panel, "A Work in Progress: Writing Race". As the Baltimore Sun put it:
In the wake of unrest in Baltimore, a panel discussion [A Work in Progress: Writing Race] at this week's Maryland Film Festival will feature four notable writers whose works touch on Baltimore, race or some combination thereof:  "The Wire" creator David Simon; Pulitzer Prize winner and Baltimore writer Taylor Branch; National Book Award winner James McBride; and essayist and commentator Ta-Nehisi Coates, a National Magazine Award-winning editor at Atlantic magazine.
From Left to Right: Ta-Nehisi Coates & David Simon
All four men are working on the script for the upcoming HBO mini-series, "America in the King Years," which is being produced for HBO by Simon's Blown Deadline Productions. It is based on Branch's three-volume history of the Civil Rights movement.
(You can see video of the "A Work in Progress: Writing Race" panel at the end of this post.)

That next day it was my pleasure to introduce the film Girlhood at the festival.

I really loved that film and it was my pleasure to present it to the MFF audience. You can read my review of Girlhood here )
I was planning on seeing several other films after Girlhood, but I was asked to do this.
CLICK for a bigger view
BREAKING NEWS: MFF announces a discussion about filmmaker responsibility and engagement with the community from 3pm-4pm in the Tent Village!  All Tent Village panels are FREE and open to the public!  Our Tent Village is located in the east lot at the MICA Lazarus Center (131 W North Avenue).

This panel will feature Stanley Nelson, director of MFF 2015's THE BLACK PANTHERS: VANGUARD OF THE REVOLUTION; Steve Hoover, director of MFF 2015's CROCODILE GENNADIY; Ramona Diaz, director of DON'T STOP BELIEVIN': EVERYMAN'S JOURNING; and Chip Dizard, director of OH, BALTIMORE.  The panel will be moderated by Dankwa Brooks, Multi-award winning writer and director of MAKING HISTORY.
I guess it was my turn to be on a panel LOL, but a chance to moderate a panel with a filmmaker I admired–no brainer! 
I had a chance to hang out with Stanley Nelson before the panel at the festival and it was really a great moment. The panel went really great as well as our filmmakers had great answers about filmmaker responsibility and community engagement.
Top left to right: Stanley Nelson and Dankwa Brooks
Bottom left to right: Steve Hoover, Chip Dizard and Ramona Diaz
We covered issues like telling your story without exploitation and more. A really great discussion.
Later on that evening was the Maryland Film Festival premiere of
Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution
Of course I was right there, it was another great film by Mr. Nelson and I wasn't the only one to think so! Here’s video of the audience reaction from the 'Nother Brother Entertainment Facebook page.



(I wrote more about Mr. Nelson on the 'Nother Brother Entertainment blog here )

So as you can see I had an extremely busy time at the 2015 Maryland Film Festival and even though it was busy it was still a blast!


 You can see all of our posts about the Maryland Film Festival here






Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Master Documentarian Stanley Nelson

So I was looking for some films to see at the 2010 Maryland Film Festival decided to see Freedom Summer and WOW! I was really blown away by this film.


As I said back in 2010 "The official website’s description “powerful harrowing and ultimately inspirational story” is absolutely right." I also said "Excellent work by the filmmaker Stanley Nelson and makes me want to check out his other work." And that's what I did! I watched his film Jonestown: The Life and Death of Peoples Temple (2006) and another excellent work!

When his next film came to the Maryland Film Festival 2014’s Freedom Summer I KNEW I had to see it and meet the man.The below picture is right after I saw Freedom Summer.


Freedom Summer was another excellent film and of course last year when his latest film was coming to the festival The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution (2015) (Poster below)


I actually got a chance to hang out with Mr. Nelson last year, but that’s a story for later. I urge you to check out the works of this “Master Documentarian”.

Here are some of the titles from his filmography (hyperlinks lead to more of what I said about the films here on the blog)

Marcus Garvey: Look for Me in the Whirlwind (2000)
The Murder of Emmett Till (2003)
Jonestown: The Life and Death of Peoples Temple (2006)
Freedom Riders (2010)
Freedom Summer (2014)
The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution (2015)

What’s Mr. Nelson’s next films? Let him tell you via the tweets below

It goes without saying that I’m looking forward to BOTH films!

APRIL 2016 

Emmy-winning nonfiction filmmaker Stanley Nelson will be honored at the upcoming 75th Annual Peabody Awards.

The George Foster Peabody Awards (or simply Peabody Awards) program, recognizes distinguished and meritorious public service by American radio and television stations, networks, online media, producing organizations, and individuals.
A prolific documentary filmmaker, a seeker of truth and justice, Stanley Nelson Jr. has examined the history and experience of African-Americans in a powerful, revelatory body of work that includes three Peabody winners–The Murder of Emmet Till, Freedom Summer and Freedom Riders —and ranges from Jonestown: The Life and Death of Peoples Temple to Sweet Honey in the Rock: Raise Your Voice. A MacArthur Genius Fellow, Nelson is also co-founder of Firelight Media, a nonprofit organization dedicated to developing young documentary filmmakers who advance underrepresented stories.

 Read more about Mr. Nelson in a 2011 New York Times article below.

___________________________________________________

An Explorer of Black History’s Uncharted Terrain
Stanley Nelson
Mike Hale, New York Times
May 3, 2011

FOR some people, filmmaking is a lifelong dream. For Stanley Nelson, it began as more of a situational thing, a response to time and place. The time was the late 1960s and early ’70s, the place to be avoided was Vietnam, the refuge was film school at the City University of New York. “It was kind of my motive to stay in school no matter what, you know what I’m saying?”

In some ways Mr. Nelson, whose graying hair is the only thing that betrays his 59 years, has been in school ever since. An accomplished director and producer of documentaries, primarily for television — his latest film,“Freedom Riders,” makes its debut on Monday night as part of the PBS series “American Experience” — he has spent his career exploring the byways of black history and culture, and passing along the stories he finds.

“I feel like I’m trying to tell African-American audiences something they haven’t heard,” he said, “because I feel like if I tell African-American audiences something new about their history, then it’s definitely going to be new for white folks too.

“In some ways,” he continued, “I’m trying not to be that guy in ‘Tarzan’ who interprets the drums for Tarzan. I don’t want to be that person.”

“Freedom Riders” is Mr. Nelson’s first film to deal directly with the civil rights movement, and he has stayed away from the “great men” of black history: Frederick Douglass, Booker T. Washington, Martin Luther King Jr. His subjects, in television terms, have been more everyday or more offbeat, but no less important for that: African-American newspapers, professors and vacation resorts; the black nationalist Marcus Garvey and the murder victim Emmett Till; the suicides at Jonestown; and the music of Sweet Honey in the Rock.

The breadth and seriousness of his work documenting black life in America, assembled with little fanfare and sometimes less money, place him in a select group of filmmakers that would include his mentor, William Greaves, as well as more famous names like Gordon Parks and Spike Lee. But speaking at the temporary offices of his production company, Firelight Media, on 131st Street in Harlem recently, Mr. Nelson was more the weary traveler than the auteur. He had just returned from trips to China, Houston, St. Louis and Chicago, promoting his new film, about the 1961 Freedom Rides across the South and the violent reaction they inspired.

Taking a break from his producing chores on a Firelight film about Jesse Owens, Mr. Nelson recalled the reactions to “Freedom Riders” in China.

“It was crazy,” he said, settling into a chair and commencing an off-and-on struggle to stay awake. “Some of the questions were the same as here, and some were really very, very different. One that kind of stood out was, one guy asked, ‘Why was there segregation in the U.S.?’ Which was such a beautiful question. You know, it’s so beautiful.”

Mr. Nelson’s word choices sometimes hark back to the days of peace and love, when he was an aspiring director with no interest in nonfiction (“What I knew about documentary films were those terrible documentaries that I saw in school”) and a disdain for the blaxploitation movies that constituted the movie industry’s depiction of African-Americans on-screen.

For his thesis, he made a “kind of crazy” short film about a dead woman. “I was very influenced by foreign films,” he said. “So she wakes up in the middle of a field and she goes to a psychiatrist who gives her some mumbo jumbo, and then she goes to a priest and he gives her some mumbo jumbo, and then she goes to a drug dealer and he gives her some mumbo jumbo. And then she kind of wakes up, and she’s been hit by a car.”

Out in the world, he first apprenticed with Mr. Greaves, a prolific documentary and television director and producer best known for the experimental film “Symbiopsychotaxiplasm,” and then worked for five years for the communications branch of the United Methodist Church, where, he said, he learned how to make films with a message that were still entertaining.

While there he began work on his first feature film, “Two Dollars and a Dream,” about the pioneering black businesswoman Madame C. J. Walker. The church allowed him to use its facilities for his own work one day a week. The idea came from closer to home.

“Well, my grandfather was her business partner,” Mr. Nelson said. “So the story had been circulating around my family for a long time. What’s embarrassing is that it took me so long to think of it as a film.”

It also took him a long time to make it: seven years, much of it spent raising money. The film was finally released in 1989. While conducting research on Walker, he stumbled on the subject for his next movie, “The Black Press: Soldiers Without Swords.”

“Here were these papers that were owned and operated by black people,” he said. “And the writers were black, and the editors were black, and the photographers were black, and the cartoonists were black. I mean, somebody was making a living as a black cartoonist in 1920 — well, how about that? That’s incredible.”

Mr. Nelson’s second film took as long to make as his first, and he suspects that has had something to do with his determination to avoid familiar topics. “It took me seven years to make Madame C. J. Walker, it took me seven years to make ‘The Black Press,’ ” he said. “So going into a film, it has to be something that is really important to me. You know, because I might be seven, eight years down the line, still working on it.”

Research for “The Black Press” led Mr. Nelson to Garvey (who published the influential newspaper Negro World), and “Marcus Garvey: Look for Me in the Whirlwind” initiated his relationship with “American Experience,” for which he has done five projects so far, including “The Murder of Emmett Till” and “Jonestown: The Life and Death of Peoples Temple.” Despite the steady collaboration, each film has required a new pitch and a new negotiation. “PBS has been great, but it’s been one film after the other,” he said. “And there’s been no kind of relationship, in some terms. It’s like we meet in a bar by accident.”

“Freedom Riders” is the first film Mr. Nelson has written and directed that was not his own idea — PBS brought the project to him after optioning Raymond Arsenault’s 2006 book, “Freedom Riders: 1961 and the Struggle for Racial Justice.” Asked if he had any qualms about the work for hire, Mr. Nelson laughed and said, “Well, I think they had raised all the money.”

“And I always kind of wanted to do a film about the civil rights movement, about one piece of the civil rights movement,” he added. “About dissecting a piece of it, because I think ‘Eyes on the Prize’ was a great, great, beautiful series, but it kind of made this whole lump thing of the movement.”


Mr. Nelson’s “American Experience” films can be found on DVD from shoppbs.org and other online retailers, but his other films are harder to track down. (“Two Dollars and a Dream” can be bought at filmakers.com, which caters to institutional customers, for $350.) Those with a Netflix subscription, however, have access to a special treat: “A Place of Our Own,” his best and most atypical film, is currently available for streaming.


That 2004 work, conceived as a straightforward documentary about black resort towns around the country, became a poetic and highly personal film about Mr. Nelson’s family summer home at Oak Bluffs on Martha’s Vineyard, his parents and siblings, and a set of issues not often aired in public: the fault lines of class, generation and skin color that exist among African-Americans.

“It was more personal than I ever realized it would be, than I ever wanted it to be, than it will ever be again,” he said of “A Place of Our Own.” He had to be persuaded — “over and over and over again” — to allow the editors to put the focus on his fractured relationship with his father and to record the wistful first-person narration that sets the film’s tone.

Part of the story it tells is of Mr. Nelson’s upper-middle-class upbringing, with a dentist father and librarian mother who sent him to a progressive private school in Manhattan and whisked him off to Martha’s Vineyard every summer. Both “pieces” of his childhood, as he calls them, were cocoonlike (to put it one way) and intensely supportive (to put it another).

They did not remove “the kind of disconnect and disassociation that I think all black people have,” he said, but they did give him “some feeling of comfort in the world.” And they informed the kind of filmmaker he would become.

“I’m just trying to make the best film that I possibly can,” he said. “I’m not carrying a lot of baggage. I’m not thinking about this or that. I’m not bitter. And that’s kind of how I see myself.”

In addition to producing the Jesse Owens film, Mr. Nelson is negotiating with PBS and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting to do a connected series of films on topics including the slave trade, historically black colleges and the Black Panther party. He would like to direct a film about the Panthers, a favorite subject, himself. But there’s another topic — another subject of study — about which he seems to be even more excited.

“I’ve always wanted to do a film about James Brown,” he said. “Because I love James Brown, and I think it’s kind of this great story, and great music. I do think there’s something about that music. You know, especially for black people. You say James Brown, people start to smile. Why? Why is it that people start to smile? I’m not there yet.”

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Chi-Raq – Review

CHI-RAQ

Directed by Spike Lee
Produced by Spike Lee
Written by Kevin Willmott and Spike Lee

Based on Lysistrata by Aristophanes

Edited by Ryan Denmark and Hye Mee Na








Starring
Nick Cannon
Wesley Snipes
Teyonah Parris
Jennifer Hudson
Angela Bassett
John Cusack
Michelle Mitchenor
Harry Lennix
Dave Chappelle
Samuel L. Jackson

Cinematography by Matthew Libatique
Released: December 4, 2015 (USA)

Summary: Chi-Raq  is a satirical musical drama set in Chicago, the film is a satire that touches on the gang violence prevalent in some neighborhoods on the city's south side, particularly that of Englewood. The film is based on Aristophanes' Lysistrata, a Classical Greek comedy play in which various women withhold sex from their husbands as punishment for fighting in war. The name "Chi-Raq" is a portmanteau of "Chicago" and "Iraq" as well as an endonym commonly used by South Side residents to liken the area to a war zone due to its extremely high crime rates.

Review: I don’t think I’m speaking out of school when I say Chi-Raq is Spike Lee’s most significant work in years. Spike returns to his social issues roots as only he can. The film is a satire and has humor, but it’s still very serious. The first part of the film deals with the murder of a child from a stray bullet. A bullet fired by warring gangs. The film touches on all the gang violence and gang mentality without being another “hood film”. Yes there is explicit language, drinking and smoking, but most of it is told in a rhyming scheme. Yes, most of the dialogue is spoken in rhyme. When I read about it, it sounded really off base, but watching the film it didn’t bother me at all. Spike Lee really weaves it in and out and it never comes off tired. Like a theater director friend of mine said, think of it as old Rudy Ray Moore/Dolemite records. It’s an artistic affect, a technique and it works. The films weaves in the humor/satire, rhyming, the messages, real life statistics and still had some of the most powerful scenes in cinema 2015.

Samuel L. Jackson in Chi-Raq

Most of that power comes from the across the board terrific performances. Nick Cannon was really good and frankly, far better than I thought he might be. Angela Bassett really brings it as one of the older women in the community who has seen far too many shootings and murders she has some great scenes. Samuel L. Jackson is perfect as the narrator/Greek chorus of the film "Dolmedes". His narration really ties the multiple storylines together and no one can deliver lines like Sam Jackson.

Jennifer Hudson in Chi-Raq

The early scenes with Jennifer Hudson were good, but she really builds to some terrific, powerful scenes as the film goes on. A really great performance.

John Cusack in Chi-Raq

One of the most powerful scenes in the film was the child’s funeral lead by a spectacular performance by John Cusack. Spike and his editors deserve recognition for crafting a long funeral of a child–yet still making it compelling and moving. I think in the hands of a lesser filmmaker the scene could have really come off as maudlin and dare I say trite. John Cusack really delivers in this scene with a powerful sermon.

Teyonah Parris in Chi-Raq

The film though belongs to the terrific Leading performance of Teyonah Parris. Her character Lysistrata doesn’t start off as one of the “conscious sisters” you might suspect. Not a ghetto “hood rat”, but not exactly conscious either. Her character has the greatest character arc and leads the rebellion of “no peace, no piece” (even though the film addresses it more explicitly) to a worldwide phenomena. You believe Lysistrata every step of the way in her journey from bystander to leader. Definitely a star-making performance.

I thought Chi-Raq was terrific and a true return to form for Spike Lee. I admit, I didn’t know what to think going into see Chi-Raq, but as I said on social media “I loved it! Everything it did, everything it was trying to say."

COMMENTARY
I have to say that from the start people really got the idea of this movie WRONG, from the community to the prospective audiences. Chicago residents and City Council members had requested that Lee change the name of the film, going so far as to threaten the tax credits that the filmmaker will receive from the city. (Chicago Tribune) Then the lighthearted trailer (which more than likely the studio put together) was released and that caused people across social media to decry that Spike was making light of the extremely high murder rates in Chicago. Then audiences that saw it never got the rhyming scheme or the satire.

As Spike Lee said, he wasn’t making “Menace II Society 2” nor I thought should he. We have seen too many of those type of “hood films” and I applaud Spike for making something artful yet impactful. I think if more people see it, more will get it than not. I saw it in theaters on Opening Day, but as of this publishing Chi-Raq is available across multiple VOD (Video On Demand) platforms. If you’re interested, see it for yourself and make up your mind then.

ADDITIONAL INFO
July 2015
When Chi-Raq wrapped filming for the indiewire blog Shadow & Act I put together
All of Spike Lee's Instagram Posts on 'Chi-raq' Compiled, as Filming Wraps

On his Instagram page, Spike Lee posted pics of some of the set locations, stars in the film, and even some family members that worked on the set of Chi-Raq. You can see those post compiled at the link above.

  • Read more of my posts about Spike Lee here



Friday, December 4, 2015

Creed - Review

CREED

Directed by Ryan Coogler

Produced by Robert Chartoff, Irwin Winkler, Sylvester Stallone, Kevin King-Templeton, William Chartoff, Charles Winkler and David Winkler

Screenplay by Ryan Coogler and Aaron Covington
Story by Ryan Coogler. Based on Characters by Sylvester Stallone




Starring
Michael B. Jordan
Sylvester Stallone
Tessa Thompson
Phylicia Rashād
Tony Bellew

Cinematography by Maryse Alberti

Released: November 25, 2015 (USA)

Synopsis: Adonis Johnson (Michael B. Jordan) never knew his famous father, boxing champion Apollo Creed, who died before Adonis was born. However, boxing is in his blood, so he seeks out Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) and asks the retired champ to be his trainer.

Review: Even though this could be considered the seventh Rocky film, both a spin-off from the original series and a successor to 2006's Rocky Balboa, this film is definitely a spin-off of the Rocky franchise– without being a sequel.

The story is really good and deftly straddles the line of being an homage in places without being a copy. You think you know where everything is going, and while you’re probably right, it’s still so cleverly done that it never feels trite.

Michael B. Jordan is as great as ever as the title character Adonis “Doni” Johnson, the biological son of Apollo Creed born after Apollo died (in 1985’s Rocky IV). Jordan not only gives a great acting performance filled with equal parts vulnerability and strength, but you can tell that he took the boxing training seriously as well. Through Jordan and Ryan Coogler’s direction, Creed has a very realistic portrayal of boxing and boxing training.

Jordan was not the only good performance in the picture as every performance excels. Phylicia Rashād, as Apollo’s widow/Doni’s adopted mother “Mary Ann” and Tessa Thompson as Doni’s girlfriend “Bianca”, the women in Doni’s life were great in the film each bringing their own fortitude to help make Doni the strong man he needs to be. Rashād is pretty much the "mom role", but Thompson is giving a whole character of her own and not just "the girlfriend".

Because every boxing film needs an antagonist boxer, Creed has one in "'Pretty' Ricky Conlan" portrayed by real-life pugilist Tony "Bomber" Bellew. Bellew was also really good and menacing in his role. The real surprise in this picture though was Sylvester Stallone. I repeat this is NOT a Rocky sequel. It is totally Adonis [Creed] Johnson's picture, but even in a small supporting role Stallone gave the best performance I’ve ever seen from him. All of the “awards talk” is completely valid.

Ryan Coogler’s direction is really great as he skillfully crafted the aforementioned “very realistic portrayal of boxing and boxing training” with thrilling suspense. As it should be, the “big match” was the most thrilling part of the film. The punching feels real, the trauma feels real, the agony feels real! The boxing is not the only great thing about this picture. The dramatic notes are equally thrilling. The drama is good throughout, but as he did with the third act in 2013’s Fruitvale Station, the third act in Creed is powerful and strikes all the right notes.

I will echo the buzz online, Creed is a terrific picture, Michael B. Jordan the truth and Ryan Coogler the real deal!


ADDITIONAL INFO
This film conceptualized by Ryan Coogler, took a lot to get pull together. After 2013’s Fruitvale Station (which I reviewed here ) when Coogler signed with WME (William Morris Endeavor, talent agency) he identified Creed as a dream project. While Coogler already had the relationship with Michael B. Jordan (from Fruitvale Station), the agency put him together with Sylvester Stallone. Stallone loved the idea, a spin-off of his original Oscar-winning 1976 film Rocky and felt it was strong enough for him to bring back his signature screen character. Stallone and Coogler then approached MGM’s Gary Barber and Jon Glickman, and they flipped for it. (Some info from Deadline).




Wednesday, November 11, 2015

'Nother Brother Now Stands with ARRAY



Today we're proud to announce that we're partnering with ARRAY!

ARRAY is the rebirth of the African-American Film Festival Releasing Movement (AFFRM) Founded by filmmaker Ava DuVernay in 2010.

We are an independent film distribution and resource collective comprised of arts advocacy organizations, Maverick volunteers and Rebel member donors worldwide.

Our work is dedicated to the amplification of independent films by people of color and women filmmakers globally. Varied voices and images in cinema: Array now!

As you can tell by the many posts on this blog we have always believed in the mission of ARRAY (even when it was AFFRM) and now 'Nother Brother Entertainment is bringing the mission to Baltimore!

Our inaugural screening will be this Saturday of the film Ayanda.

As the graphic says, you can get INFO+TIX at the ARRAY webpage @ http://www.arraynow.com/ayanda/ 



See all of our posts about ARRAY/AFFRM by clicking their logo below

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

AFFRM Is Now ARRAY

Aiming to diversify storytelling, Ava DuVernay expands scope of film distribution collective
By Glenn Whipp, Los Angeles Times

September 8, 2015

Just a few years before Ava DuVernay's beautifully realized civil rights drama "Selma" took her to the Oscars and the Golden Globes, the director found herself wondering whether her debut feature, the intimate character study "I Will Follow," would ever see the light of day.


"I knew no studio or indie distributor was going to want it," DuVernay says. "It was too woman, too indie, too outside what could make a dollar for them."

Taking matters into her own hands, DuVernay started the African American Film Festival Releasing Movement, a distribution collective designed to put her movie — and others to follow — in front of audiences. The grass-roots company went on to release two movies a year.


Now, five years later and after what she calls a post-"Selma" "identity crisis," DuVernay has decided to double down on that effort, announcing Tuesday that she's rebranding the company and relaunching it as Array, broadening its scope to support and help women and more kinds of filmmakers.

"There's a generation of filmmakers of color and women whose primary concern is that no one will see their work," DuVernay says. "And that is a huge barrier. They're asking, 'Why make something if no one will see it?'

"Right now, there is a fundamental disrespect inherent in the distribution and amplification of films. There is a cinema segregation in how films are seen and not seen. What we're saying is, we're not going to depend on those things anymore."

DuVernay doubled her company's membership to around 1,200 donors during a drive in May that saw her taking to Twitter, organizing a daylong question-and-answer session between black filmmakers and fans. Supporters include longtime collaborators such as actor David Oyelowo as well as Jessica Chastain and Kerry Washington.

Array has two films set for release this fall: South African director Sara Blecher's coming-of-age drama "Ayanda and the Mechanic" and Takeshi Fukunaga's debut feature, "Out of My Hand." Last week, USC graduate Tina Mabry's first film, "Mississippi Damned," a dark family drama that won acclaim on the festival circuit after its debut at Slamdance in 2009, won new life on Netflix through a partnership with Array.

Mabry's movie had premiered in Park City the day after Lee Daniels' daring, distinguished drama "Precious." Sales reps told Mabry that the market couldn't support two black films, no matter that they were very different movies.

"That was a big blow," Mabry says. "Those meetings were tough. You had to navigate how to hold your tongue and still express the shortsightedness of how people were looking at your movie and the marketplace in general."

A week after its rebirth on Netflix, Mabry says she has been blown away by the response from people discovering her film six years after its premiere.

"It's a lifesaver. It really is," Mabry says. "Audiences can't watch something if they don't know it exists. Now with Netflix we're finding the people we wanted to reach in the first place."

That's emblematic of the sea change happening within the movie industry. When DuVernay made "I Will Follow" — a film chronicling a woman's grief over the death of a loved one during a single day — she was adamant that the movie play in theaters. She made a deal with AMC and "browbeat" art house programmers to book her movie.

Now, with the likes of Cary Fukunaga's highly anticipated drama "Beasts of No Nation" premiering next month on Netflix — on the same day it will be released in a handful of theaters — DuVernay says she has become "destination agnostic." Array will rely on theatrical distribution as well as new streaming platforms.

"The consumer is deciding what they want to see and when and how, and filmmakers are more aware and accepting of the fact that success is not predicated on your movie showing in a traditional theater for a certain amount of time," she says. "[Steven] Soderbergh's doing a TV series on Cinemax. Skinemax? Really? Jill Soloway, who won the Sundance directing award the year after I did, is making 'Transparent' on ... Amazon? The place I buy books? But now, as long as it's in a place where people can grab it — and different people want to grab it in different ways — it doesn't matter."
Though new platforms have created opportunity, the number of women and minority filmmakers remains startlingly low. A 2013 USC research study, for instance, found that of the 565 directors of top-grossing movies from 2007-12, just 33 were black. And of those, only two were black women. (There hasn't been a similar study tracking smaller, independent movies.)

Keeping momentum going and growing — Array aims to significantly boost the number of films it releases beyond the original company's two a year — has required a commitment of both time and money from its founder. Since "Selma," DuVernay has created, written and directed an upcoming TV series, "Queen Sugar," for the Oprah Winfrey Network, shot a series of commercials and begun work on a timely documentary.

She's holding off on publicly sharing details about the latter project, though over a recent breakfast, DuVernay was happy to talk about her next feature, a murder-mystery love story set during Hurricane Katrina that she's now writing and will shoot next spring with Oyelowo.

Discussing her decision to pass on directing the Marvel Comics movie "Black Panther," however, holds little appeal. It simply wasn't a story she was interested in telling, she says. And it wasn't hard to say no. Just as, ultimately, recommitting to help distribute movies that allow people of color and women to see themselves on screen was an enterprise she couldn't abandon.

"There are all kinds of problems in Hollywood that need to be fixed, but this is one I can do something about because I have the experience," DuVernay says. "And, I have to tell you, it satisfies me immensely."

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