Black Women Filmmakers Speak is a series curated by Shadow and Act that spotlights women visionaries in film and their inspiring body of work. For the full introduction to this series and an overview of the filmmakers featured, head here.
Hollywood's story has long been a white, heterosexual male-dominated narrative, and a key goal for #BlackWomenFilmmakersSpeak is to celebrate up-and-coming black women filmmakers who are taking the simple, seemingly radical step of telling their stories. Working across all genres, these filmmakers all share a love of cinema and an appreciation for the power it wields, engaging what the status quo might see as a kind of new cinema language to not only entertain but also enlighten.
For the series, 33 black women filmmakers from around the world completed a survey Shadow And Act issued in response to a call made earlier this year aiming to highlight black women filmmakers at some stage of development on their first feature films. We then packaged each reply into individual features highlighting these filmmakers and their feature film projects, their fears and hopes as first-time feature directors and their thoughts on a variety of topical matters. That includes what some are calling a new renaissance in black cinema today, the disruption of content production and distribution by streaming behemoths like Netflix and Amazon and more. Their survey profiles will be published daily (one per day) on Shadow and Act over the next month.
Ultimately, we hope these stories bring new awareness and admiration around these relatively unknown visionaries.
If you're just joining us, you can catch up on these previous profiles:
The series continues today with New York City-based actress and filmmaker Lydia Darly. Read our conversation below.
Introduce yourself to the world.
I am an award-winning filmmaker and actress, born and raised in Paris, originally from Guadeloupe. My acting career started in Italy. My love for American cinema and desire to develop and perfect my craft took me to New York City where I studied acting at the Lee Strasberg Theatre and Film Institute. After the successful festival run of my film The Way You Love, I am now working on my next screenplays.
In addition, I am co-director of The Womanity Project, which is a multimedia docu-series on gender, identity and equality. I am also the co-founder of The NOVA Frontier Film Festival, as well as a frequent guest speaker and programmer at film festivals in support of emerging indie filmmakers and a big advocate for women in film. I received the 2014 Queens World Film Festival Community Award for my work with the festival.
My feature project is titled The Curse, a coming of age story based on my youth in France.
How far are you into the process (writing, pre-production, shooting, post-?)
The script is written (of course, there are always rewrites), and I'm looking for producers. I also performed an excerpt of it on stage as part of Mend: Listen Now & Listen Good, which was a one-time theater event that occurred in celebration of Mother's Day. The response was very good, which confirmed the potential of the project.
When did this specific journey begin?
Five years ago. I was a non-working, frustrated actress before that. Then, thanks to a community of filmmakers, writers and actors called The Lab New York (founded by director Jordan Bayne), I started to write and felt very empowered to tell my own stories.
How many roles are you having to play beyond directing? Are you also the writer? Producer? Editor? DP? Production Designer? Maybe even the star? And if wearing multiple hats, how are you achieving balance?
I’m also the writer. It’s hard to balance writing, having two jobs to support myself and taking the necessary steps to make my film happen.
What would be of most help to you right now? What do you need at this moment to get over a hurdle, or to move you forward onto whatever your next step is? And how are you working to get what you need?
Advice, direction, access, a producer who believes in my project as much as I do. Real mentorship. Right now I’m looking at grants and also working on my lookbook. I’m also researching to discover the producers I would like to work with. It is even more difficult for me because I left France 23 years ago. It means I need to start from scratch. If I know a few people in the film industry in the U.S., I know no one in the film industry in France. I applied for a grant there, but I didn’t get it. So now what? I could continue to apply for grants, but I think I’ll need more resources than that. And to do so, it would mean that I have to be in France for a while, and I can’t afford it right now.
What worries you most (if anything) as you embark on your first feature?
I want to make the best film I can and tell my story. I’m ready to get slapped in the face; I want to get a chance. I think if I surround myself with the right team of people I can do it.
Toughest decision(s) you've had to make so far?
Putting my film on hold to make a living.
Toughest challenge(s) you've faced so far?
Loneliness in the process and not enough time to write or research because of my two jobs.
When it comes to storytelling, many have said everything's been done before, and we've seen it all. Agree/disagree? How does your film primarily differentiate or distinguish itself from other work?
I don’t think everything has been done. Everyone has a story to tell. Yes, we can find similarities in filmmaking and storytelling, but I think every story is unique and can be portrayed from different angles and points of view. My film is a film d’auteur. My first intention was to write a memoir; then my entourage convinced me to make a film. It is a very personal story about my youth, growing up in the projects of Paris in the '80s, raised by my single mother.
Your hopes for what kind of life you want your film to have after it's made?
I genuinely believe that my film has a future as a TV series.
Ever been discouraged (whether on this specific project, or at any other time)? How do you keep your head up when faced with seemingly insurmountable challenges?
I have been discouraged many times, but I used my Buddhist practice to stay positive, to keep moving forward and somehow never to give up on myself. Having a supportive entourage helps a lot, too.
The Way You Love
Do you have a support system?
Yes, I do. My sister who leaves in France is a big support, and my two creative partners, Aurelie Harp (The Womanity Project) and Billy Gerard Frank (Nova Frontier Film Festival) in New York, and friends abroad who believe in the film as much as I do, or even more than I do. They make sure I know they are here for me, and they push me to continue the work no matter what my circumstances are.
How active are you with your use of social media as a tool for any part of the process? Do you think it's necessary? Do you embrace or shun it?
I used social media to promote my short film The Way You Love, and it was very helpful. I do realize the impact that social media can have on marketing and building an audience in the making of a film. Usually, the writing process is very personal, with only a few people following my progress. I try to use social media very consciously as it can be overwhelming. I’m trying to focus more on doing than telling right now.
Are you inspired by what many are calling a "black film renaissance" (in the USA specifically)? Are you encouraged by the success of films like Black Panther or the success of specifically black women filmmakers like Ava DuVernay, Dee Rees, etc.?
It’s great what is happening right now, but, at the same time, I feel so far away from it. It seems the access to that community is still so remote from my life.
Thoughts on proposed changes made by the Academy and Hollywood studios to nurture diversity and inclusion. Do you think all of this (the few successes we've seen thus far, the various initiatives announced to diversify the industry behind and in front of the camera, etc.) will lead to something sustained that will assist up-and-comers like yourself? Are you encouraged by what might be a changing landscape that may be more welcoming of you and your voice?
Well, I really hope it will happen, that they’ll find ways to reach out to us and that they will not be helping only certain elite filmmakers. I’m curious about how they intend to discover those new voices of cinema or TV. I know there are already some competitions in place, but is that enough? There should be a more in-depth search, I think, and they should try to look for those who don’t have easy access. I think it will take quite a while before the "who you know" attitude changes.
Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, YouTube, Facebook, Apple and others like them, are all now competing with the big studios and TV networks. Thoughts on the emergence of these "new media" platforms, and how (if at all) this new reality factors into the business, creative, career choices you make, or plans you have for yourself? Are you targeting any specifically?
I’m enjoying these “new media” platforms. All of them have content that I enjoy watching and that I appreciate. They also give us an opportunity, as writers, to be even more creative. I think TV audiences are so ready; they are craving new and original content. I have started to write a TV series which is a kind of spin-off of my film, which I hope I can one day pitch to Netflix or another network.
Key lessons learned so far? Also, what do you know today that you wish you knew when you began your journey as a filmmaker?
-- Write, write, write - even if it’s a line a day.
-- Go out and network.
-- Everything takes time; patience is primary in this business.
-- Collaboration is everything; find your people, find your tribe, support each other.
-- Never underestimate your work. Your voice is important no matter what.
What makes a film great for you? Are there certain qualities you look for?
I like to be surprised. I like to relate to the story and the characters. Also, I love it when I’m able to come out of a movie, and I have learned something, or I change my mind my mind about something.
What films and/or filmmakers have been the most inspiring or influential to you and why?
As I said, I love films I can relate to or that shake me to the core. La Haine (represents aspects of my youth), Precious (raw, real, heartbreaking), Divines (honest portrait of the present state of the youth in France), The Bridges of Madison County (one of my favorites; the courage to let go of someone you love).
Do filmmakers have any responsibility to culture? Do you feel that, as a black woman filmmaker, being a filmmaker requires that you tell a particular kind of story or populate your film with specific kinds of characters, for example?
I think filmmakers definitely contribute to culture. I think our way to give back is to tell stories that are true or that reflect our lives or our society. Our stories will affect someone no matter what.
Paint a portrait of the kind of career you'd like to have. What does success look like for you?
The perfect career for me would be to make a living doing what I love, which is filmmaking, acting and also mentoring youth, especially from under-served communities in the U.S. and France. Success is doing what you love, inspiring and encouraging others to do the same.
Where can we watch your past work, if available?
My work is on my website, lydiadarly.com.
Anything else you'd like to add that readers should know about you?
I started a new adventure. I’m the co-founder of the Nova Frontier Film Festival and LAB, a timely narrative, documentary and experimental film festival and multi-disciplinary lab, passionately committed to enhancing and incubating the works of filmmakers and artists from the African diasporas, Latin America and the Middle East. The LAB, which is a core component of the festival, focuses on the development of youth and emerging artists and media-makers from under-served communities, specifically in New York, Marseille (France) and our festival regions. We are strategically situated in Brooklyn, New York, and Marseille, France, -- cities that serve as a nexus between these regions and also two major ports of entry for immigrants and cross-cultural fertilization. With a program of on-going film screenings, workshops, conferences, panels, exhibitions and performances, we aim to create a hybrid film festival and LAB that promote intercultural understanding and intellectual engagement through the arts, reflecting and celebrating the diversity that surrounds us.
Submissions are now open until August 5, check our website http://www.novafrontierfilmfestival.com/welcome.