Ava Duvernay on Success and BlackStar Film Festival

Ava Duvernay is an award-winning director, screenwriter, and film distributor who made history this year as the first Black woman to win Best Director at Sundance Film Festival. Her feature, Middle of Nowhere, tells the story of Ruby, a woman whose husband is unexpectedly incarcerated and the struggle she faces while standing by her man and living her life without him. On Saturday afternoon, Duvernay will be a featured guest at Philadelphia’s first annual BlackStar Film Festival, running August 2-5 – don’t miss your chance to win a pair of tickets here. During her workshop Ms. Duvernay will share her journey from film publicist and marketeer for some of the nation’s top studios to independent filmmaker and she’ll screen clips of her award-winning picture.

Parlour chatted with the LA native about the BlackStar festival, being a hands-on creative, and the music that keeps her going.

Parlour: Why should folks attend the BlackStar Film Festival?
Ava Duvernay: Why not? I wish we could walk into our theaters every weekend of every month of every year and see beautiful, multifaceted, diverse stories but that doesn’t happen. When those are collected and presented in one place in a really meaningful way, it would seem like we would all rush to experience it.

Middle of Nowhere is scheduled to hit theatres this fall, what’s next for you?
To me, a film is not finished until it reaches it’s audience. Middle of Nowhere is my sole focus, from getting it out as a distributor and marketer of the film, those elements are part of the filmmaking. I’m also currently directing a documentary that will be out next year and I’m putting the finishing touches on my next screenplay, which will shoot in February.

Why did you choose to do everything surrounding your film in-house?
No company has risen to the occasion of being very thoughtful, strategic and really interested in black independent films. If there was a company like that, you would see more [films like] Pariah, Medicine for Melancholy, Restless City, Oversimplification of Her Beauty and all of these great films being picked up. [Instead] every single one of us as filmmakers struggle to find distribution. By doing my own distribution I know that a) my film will see the light of day, and b) it’s going to be cared for by a group of people that actually give a damn. That’s what [my company] AFFRM, African-American Film Festival Releasing Movement, is, a collaborative of like-minded black arts advocates who care about these films beyond the box office numbers. Right now it’s just a matter of cultivating an audience that appreciates these films and will be nourished by them. Once the audience connects with the filmmakers that are making great stories, the possibilities are limitless.

What are your 5 favorite songs right now?
Songs are difficult but here my albums:
1. I’m playing the Robert Glasper thing to death
2. THEESatisfaction
3. The new Meshelle Ndegeocello
4. I’m playing Little Dragon, anything in their rotation
5. I always have to a U2 album, doesn’t matter which one, currently it’s U2 Live at Red Rocks: Under a Blood Red Sky, recorded in 1983.

– Niema Jordan is an Oakland/New York-based freelance journalist with experience at Essence, Ebony and 38thnotes.com. You can follow her musing on culture, women’s issues and her love of whiskey on @NiemaJordan and find her work on NiemaJordan.com

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