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 London, England-based Dionne Walker. Read our conversation below.
Introduce yourself and your project/s to the world.
I’m an award-winning BAFTA (British Academy of Film and Television Arts) and BIFA (British Independent Film Awards)-nominated filmmaker for The Hard Stop, the documentary that follows childhood friends of Mark Duggan, the young man who was shot and killed by police, an incident that sparked a wave of protests across England. I’m interested in cinema, and I’ve decided to make films to share fresh stories and shape new narratives about how we are today. I think we are baffled with how we are in flux, and, for me, the best way to understand and respond is to make films. I want to make films that push the boundaries, whether it’s documentary or fiction. This is not to say it should be inaccessible to the masses.
As a filmmaker, I’m making two fundamental projects: Invisible Woman 2.0 and Regent’s & Vicky. The former is a multi-narrative project about migrants and their means of survival and how they can power their way through injustices and legal battles. The latter follows our cappuccino lifestyle in narrowboats, with a young woman and a middle age couple in sunglasses on the rear decks, navigating gentrification, climate change, Brexit and Trump.
How far are you into the process (writing, pre-production, shooting, post-?)
I’m in pre-production mode with Invisible Woman 2.0.
When did this specific journey begin?
My director’s journey started perhaps as a keen student in the arts foundation module at University Arts London. I’ve worked with many producers, actors and directors as location’s coordinator. I’ve been on the set of Robert DeNiro’s The Good Shepherd, and I met him; he was so gracious. I also met Stanley Kubrick on the set of Eyes Wide Shut. More recently, I’ve improved my skills by teaching, learning and working with some very bright emerging talent on the MA Documentary course at UCL (University College London) and BA (Honors) Film Practice course at UAL (University of the Arts London)
In terms of the films in development, I’ve been researching for well over five years now.
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?
Producer, writer, director.
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?
I’m seeking development funding to get any of the two projects off the ground.
What worries you most (if anything) as you embark on your first feature?
It’s a matter of feeling the fear and doing it collaboratively.
Toughest decision(s) you’ve had to make so far?
To let go of your babies and also compartmentalize your troubles.
Toughest challenge(s) you’ve faced so far?
When it comes to storytelling, many have said that there are only so many variations of stories, and everything’s been done before; we’ve seen it all. Do you agree or disagree? How does your film primarily differentiate or distinguish itself from other work?
I agree on one level; the underlying story might be familiar, but I think my sensibilities and eye are unique. I also think how I shape the story can be different; for example, I think and conceptualize through the lens of geography, architecture and activating sites.
Your hopes for what kind of life you want your film to have after it’s made?
To reach a broad fundamental audience and create impact; I mean, we are addressing a cultural shift.
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?
All the time, and recently it’s been rough indeed. But you tread water and figure out something.
Do you have a support system? Family, friends, fellow filmmakers… alcohol?
All of the above, barring the alcohol (I don’t really drink); but strength in character, friends and family and the love of humanity.
What does that support system look like?
Depends on what phase I’m in. Writing? Please find some kind of way to tell me to stop talking, and get back to rewriting. Production? Please believe me since I really believe that my life depends on finding an actor, sound person and/or location by tomorrow at 6 a.m. Post-production? Please tempt me to do something other than spending the rest of my life tweaking the editing and fantasizing about re-shoots. Screenings? Please come and bring a friend!
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 embrace social media as a way of life, how to stay connected with family and friends.
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.?
Absolutely! Both lanes are great; black sisters making films and black filmmakers making big world stories.
Thoughts on proposed changes made by the Academy and Hollywood studios to nurture diversity and inclusion. Are you encouraged by what might be a changing landscape that may be more welcoming of you and your voice?
I think Hollywood gets it; the industry gets it, NOW. Black Panther – highest grossing figures; diversity is clearly a no-brainer. I mean, isn’t it fantastic that the Obamas have gone down the route of running a production company? I read this on Shadow and Act.
Describe what the film and TV environment is like in England. How do the trials (and triumphs) of black women filmmakers where you are, differ from those in the USA, if at all? Any desire to move to the USA to pursue your filmmaker dreams?
Things are changing here in the UK, and in Europe, in the world really. We are responding to a sort of fresh wave of cinema that recognizes plurality. I don’t think it’s easy to discuss movement solely by geography anymore. Because in Africa, Australia, Asia, Europe, UK and the Americas, we watch and hear about films online as opposed to via the cinema. However, my point is, we have to talk about the third space of the digital environment and how it affects our appetite.
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 think the proliferation of platforms works in the favor of the filmmaker who wants to do something different. These platforms are seeking stories from “others.”
Key lessons learned so far? What do you know today that you wish you knew when you began your journey as a filmmaker?
A lot of lessons learned recently, and too much to go into, but one thing I can say, for sure, is that I’m well aware of my African-Caribbean and transatlantic roots, alongside my being in Europe, where I’ve lived longer than where I was raised.
What makes a film great for you? Are there certain qualities you look for?
Commitment and a fresh take in this time and space – even if it’s a period drama, you can still include a particular blackness, otherness and immediacy in the story.
What films and/or filmmakers have been the most inspiring or influential to you and why?
Too many, so again for this piece, I’ll stick with black female filmmakers. I like what Ava DuVernay is doing. I hear she is casting for her new project which seems to bring her back to drama, investigation and intrigue. But really your list, this list is striking, and it includes Victoria Thomas who I recently recommended for the Jihlava Emerging Producer program that I cut my teeth on.
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?
It’s automatic for a black person that your sensibility includes the need to represent. I’m a political and social being, so it’s automatic for me, as well. I mean there is this grand sense of responsibility. In fact, when we are creating work we have to be then very conscious to allow the work to breathe its own life, so even if it’s a political beast, the story needs to take on its character. But, in short, my trajectory is about the black/other experience, a progressive idea of resolving conflict and also about how our lives are interconnected.
Paint a portrait of the kind of career you’d like to have. What does success look like for you?
Producing and directing socially relevant, multicultural films that make your heart skip a beat, whether due to a cause or a simple tale of love. I’m drawn to some fundamental stories; there is a gap when it comes to telling important stories. We want more films that follow narratives that tell complex stories of people off the map. We want them told well. We want a range of cinema from cultures across the diaspora.
Where can we watch your past work, if available and how can you be reached?
Watch a trailer for The Hard Stop below: