The Pan African Film Festival (PAFF) heads back to Atlanta, Georgia, in a program that will run starting today, August 7 to August 10, 2014, at the Plaza Theater, with a lineup of over 40 new films from around the world, as well as workshops and panels. In its 17th year of presenting films to the Atlanta community, PAFF is kicking off this year’s festival, tonight, with actor and political activist Danny Glover in the Opening Night Atlanta Premiere of director Deon Taylor’s “Supremacy” at 7:25pm, at Plaza Theatre, 1049 Ponce De Leon Ave NE. Below is our interview with the director of the film, which tells a story about a recently-paroled white supremacist who, after killing a police officer, takes an African American family hostage.
Combining high-octane performances by Joe Anderson, Danny Glover and Lela Rochon, with a
script that privileges the perspective of a tormented Aryan Brotherhood member,
the film is sure to spark some dialogue. I caught up with Taylor to discuss the
film, how his background directing horror movies elevated the project, and his
experience working with the lovely Lela Rochon in
a stripped down role.
Shadow & Act: Can you talk about the true
story that the film is based on? How did you come across it? What attracted you
to this particular story, and how much of the true event made it into the film?
Deon Taylor: The entire film is true, and everything from beginning to
end actually happened. I came across the film because I was looking for a
screenplay that would take me out of the genre I was in. I was kind of floating
around in the horror genre, which I love, and I ended up getting handed the
"Supremacy" script and I just fell in love with it. I fell in love
with the fact that it was a real life horror and I set my sights on finding the
financing to get the movie made and after I actually spoke to the family, I was
really like I have to make this movie, not just for myself as a filmmaker to
get this entire story out there, but because it dealt with race in a unique
S&A: You were saying you directed some
horror films and this film actually has some elements of horror in it, as well
as having some drama/suspense. I wanted to know how working in horror
contributed to the tone and feel of this film?
DT: Well, outside of the tone, the big thing that I gained from
working on my last horror film was how to shoot really quickly with no money. I
learned how to be able to go into a production and know exactly what shot I
need to get and how the shot needs to look and what performance I need to get
out of the talent at a very quick pace, so when we got into
"Supremacy," that was one of the few things that I really leaned on.
We shot the film for under a million dollars on 16mm film which
is very expensive and I had to get things really quick. I also wanted the
performances to jump out of the screen. I wanted people to go, “Man, that was
intense.” That is the tone that I took from the horror genre and applied to
this film, as well as the color palette, the way the camera moves, the
execution, and how I deal with the talent.
S&A: What was behind the decision to shoot
on film? A lot of indie movies are shot digitally nowadays. Why did you want to
shoot on film?
DT: I’m a film guy. I love it. When I read the screenplay, I
knew that there would be no HD camera that could achieve the look that I wanted
for this film. I wanted it to be dirty, and 16mm provides all of that with the
look and the grain. That’s what I worked for, and that’s what I wanted, and
that’s how I’d seen the movie in my mind. So, I called all of the producers and
although we didn’t have enough money to do that, I had to actually know which
shots I wanted to get because we only had at most, one or two takes and then we
had to move on.
S&A: And thinking of casting, it was great
to see the actress Lela Rochon in this movie. This is a very different role for
her. How did she become involved with the project, and how was it working with
DT: Lela was incredible. You know, every young black man- we all
grew up with Lela Rochon from "Boomerang," and "Waiting to Exhale" -we loved her, and
what ended up happening was when we started casting I wanted to find someone
who has never played a part such as Odessa. I wanted to find someone who was a
fresh face in that world and the idea of Lela was passed to me, and I said
that’s it because here’s someone who’s absolutely beautiful and has made an
entire career off just being an incredible, black, beautiful woman.
This would be an interesting change for her because we wanted to
do the polar opposite of what she is, and that was intriguing to me. When she
read for me, I said “Man, Lela we gotta do this movie,” and she agreed and it
was a very good choice for her because she hadn’t played a part like this where
the makeup was off, the hair is bad, the tattoo on the neck, you know what I
mean? She was like, “Deon I’m trusting you,” and I said “I got it, I promise
you,” and that’s kind of how that came about. I think she is wonderful in this
film. She’s the best I’ve ever seen her in this movie.
S&A: Definitely a strong performance. When
I was researching the film, I also saw that Stacey Dash was at one time
attached to the film? What happened with that?
DT: Yeah, Stacey was originally going to be cast in the
film but was not. She was one of those people who I thought could be
interesting if we can take her down and really take her makeup away, and
recreate and make something new of her but then obviously it just didn’t work.
I thought differently about it and that kind of leaked out there. She was never
in the film.
S&A: You definitely deal with a lot of racism
in the main character of Tully who is a white supremacist, but he also has a
lot of complexity as a character. Can you talk about how you worked with your
actors, especially Joe Anderson, to create this racially-charged drama between
DT: This is a hard movie, no matter how you look at it. Being a
black filmmaker, one of the things I wanted to do with the movie is make sure I
told it from a different perspective. I wanted to take myself out of it as a
black male. I wanted to look at this movie through the eyes of Tully, to
understand what he was thinking, and feel what he was feeling as much as I
Myself and Joe sat down before we ever turned the camera on and
just discussed where his hatred came from and where that energy came from,
where racism came from and after doing that type of exercise, we got on set and
we made it a point that we were not going to hold back and as a filmmaker,
that’s always kind of scary because we all want to make a film that everyone
loves, everyone likes, and you want to find distribution, and you want to do
all of these wonderful things.
But in this movie, I felt like if I held back
I wouldn’t be doing myself justice and I wouldn’t be telling a real story
because the reality is that when this man came into these people’s homes at 2
o’clock in the morning and he laid everybody on the floor with the intention to
kill them, he was not nice in real life, so I said if we’re going to do it, we
might as well do the real story and tell what really happened. Let’s go there and
we turned the camera on and got Joe fired up. It’s was a contained chaos if
that makes sense, and oftentimes we had to take breaks so we could actually
calm ourselves down and understand where we are in terms of the film, so there
were moments where I really had to lean on Danny Glover for his expertise
opposite of Joe and he’s one of the legends of film. This is a guy who was in "The
Color Purple," to "Predator" to you name it, and I had to lean on him like, “Hey do you
think this is okay?” or "Is this moment too hard? And those are the kinds
of things I did on set to change those performances but at the same time, get
them to be what they are.
S&A: There’s a really important scene in
the film where Danny Glover’s character reverses some of the racism. What
were you hoping to communicate with this scene, and with film as a whole in
terms of race relations and racism in present-day American society?
DT: That scene is probably the most nearest and dearest to me in
the entire film. I actually wrote that scene on set the day that we shot it.
S&A: Oh wow.
DT: It was how I felt during the moment. The original ending
wasn’t like that, and at the moment that we were shooting, I said this is just
not right so I stopped production, sat down for about three hours and wrote
that scene, and then came back and shot it. I wanted to get across to everyone
that race is ignorance.
S&A: And I think the fact that you had
Danny Glover delivering those lines means a lot because he has this history of
humanitarian work and getting behind causes related to equality and justice.
How did Danny Glover become involved with the project?
DT: I had never had the chance to work with Danny and I was
always a huge fan of his and I come from the inner city. I’m from Chicago and
in my life, I’ve witnessed a lot of death, a lot of violence, a lot of poverty,
and one of the things that I do every year around Christmas time is I cook 500
dinners for 500 families where I partner with organizations and film guys to
give turkey dinners to single mothers that have kids and one year he actually
volunteered for me through this project and when this movie came about I picked
up the phone and gave him a call and told him what the project was, and he said
let me read the script and he read it, and he called me back four days later
and he said, "Man I’m going to do this movie."
He lives in Berkeley and he was like, I remember this story and
I was like- I don’t even know what words to describe it. I was like, “Oh my
God!” And for me, it was crazy because some people sit back and say, Danny’s
old now but that is one of the pioneers and without Danny, without people like
him and Sidney Poitier and we could go on and on but without these guys, there
would be no Denzel, there would be no Forest Whitaker. These are the guys who
set that up. Danny was the first star to ever be a black international box
office A-lister. So I was ecstatic, and that was always one of best days I’ve
ever had as a filmmaker.
For info on tonight’s ATL premiere of "Supremacy," click here.