One of the biggest success stories out of Sundance is Ava Duvernay.
Here is a woman who started a new distribution movement — African American Film Festival Releasing Movement; put out two successful films in a year; brought her new film which she wrote and directed — Middle of Nowhere — to Sundance in competition and then to top it all became the first African American woman to win the coveted best feature directing award.
She has made distributing African American movies financially viable and we can all learn lesson from her success.
She made a deal with Participant to partner with her to distribute Middle of Nowhere. It will come out next fall. She answered some questions about her deal and the lessons learned. (The deal was made before she won best directing honors.)
Women and Hollywood: You distributed your first film through AFFRM and are now teaming up with Participant for your second film Middle of Nowhere. Why did you pick Participant to partner with on this film? Why is this the right fit?
Ava Duvernay: My ideal scenario going into Sundance was to find a like-minded partner to hold hands with on the release of MIDDLE OF NOWHERE by AFFRM, a distribution company I founded last year dedicated to black cinema. Why the heck wouldn’t I want AFFRM involved, especially if the companies approaching us at Sundance had never successfully launched a film of color.
Which most unfortunately had not.
It would’ve definitely been easier to hand it over, take a check and let someone else do the work. Or rather, HOPE that someone else would figure out how to do the work. But I just couldn’t do that. Fortunately, my producing partner Howard Barish agreed. We passed on other more traditional offers in favor of a partnership with Participant. They are a passionate group over there. They get the film. They are leaders in the social action space. Participant feels like a perfect compliment to AFFRM for this particular film. And I’m quite eager to roll up my sleeves and see what we might do together.
WaH: What as changed for AFFRM and you since I Will Follow’s success?
AD: We just proved the concept, that’s all. That one can dig deep into communities of color and into the majority culture with a black film that’s not an action piece, or a period piece or a comedy and have a good result. If you do the work. We proved its less about money spent, and more about connection. It takes time and good intention and tons and tons of work, but it can bear fruit. That’s what I WILL FOLLOW showed. We released the Sundance 2011 winner for World Cinema Drama, KINYARWANDA, in December. We announce our next release in a couple of weeks which’ll open in April. MIDDLE will be in fall. We are rolling along. Working hard to keep it going. Its been a beautiful thing, so far.
WaH: What are the lessons from your successes that other filmmakers can emulate?
AD: You know how to make your film. Now learn how to take care of your film until the end. You don’t have to have a distribution company or tons of PR experience, but you do need to know how to do more than wrap picture and hand your creation over blindly. Know what the heck is going on. Know the paperwork. Study campaigns and distribution patterns. Know the ancillary possibilities. Its just as important these days as knowing what lens to use and how to direct your actors.