Ava DuVernay’s “Middle of Nowhere” played to a full house and two standing ovations at its Gala screening at the LA Film Fest on June 20. It was the film’s first public screening after it won DuVernay the Directing Award at Sundance (she attended the festival as a publicist nine times prior). It’s easy to see why the award went to outspoken DuVernay (stiff competition included “Beasts of the Southern Wild”‘s Benh Zeitlin); the drama is honest and immersive, moving and sexy, funny and unexpected. It will hit theaters October 12 through DuVernay’s AFFRM distribution collaborative. Check out the synopsis, new teaser trailer and Sundance’s interview with DuVernay below.
The film’s stars, Emayatzy Corinealdi, Omari Hardwick, Lorraine Toussaint, Edwina Findley and Sharon Lawrence (David Oyelowo was absent) joined DuVernay on stage for a Q & A with Elvis Mitchell following the screening. The entire cast delivers exceptional performances, anchored by Corinealdi with an impressive feature film debut.
DuVernay’s script and instincts as a director were gifts to her actors; the sense of trust and affection between them is apparent. Toussaint, who plays the mother of Corinealdi and Findley’s characters, Ruby and Rosie, says, “Something about Ava is magical; the first time we all came together it was chemical. [Right away] we fell together as a family and started working and loving each other.” Toussaint adds that the film was “about what was on the page as much as what wasn’t. She wasn’t afraid of the silences, as a director.” Toussaint considers her character an “homage to mommas,” and not just black ones.
Findlay calls DuVernay “A one-take wonder. She knows when she has it. She has a great eye which makes you feel calm.” For her, the film is a lot about parent-child relationships — touching on the desperate need for validation, as well as the instinct to rebel while each each of us searches for love and acceptance, grasping for a sense of self and identity.
Hardwick, who worked with DuVernay in her feature debut, “I Will Follow,” and stars in “Nowhere” as Ruby’s incarcerated husband, believes she is “very special and very different” as a director. “She’s got just enough loneliness and just enough family,” and he believes that her balance of the two allows her to relate to her actors in a different way. His biggest challenge was to make his character “a very vulnerable little boy,” and says you need a good director “to get you to those dark miserable spots.” He considers most directors he’s worked with to be insecure, whereas DuVernay is “equally as confident as the characters she’s writing and the actors she’s hiring.” He believe’s the “non-apology of that motive and locomotive” will allow people to discover this film as something worth seeing, regardless “of the color of the people playing the parts.”
Corinealdi is confident the art of the film speaks for itself and that it will find its audience. DuVernay is more wary. She believes the audience for this film needs to be cultivated and trained to see black people in this environment (an indie one, free of stereotypes where black people are the center of legitimate and artful human dramas). “These movies are being made,” she says, “They just aren’t being presented to people [of any race] in a meaningful way.” She does believe this can change, that this content can be subliminated throughout the country. That’s what AFFRM is trying to do.
DuVernay isn’t afraid to admit that she asked co-distributor Participant outright, “what kind of movie will white people go see with all black people in it.” She wants “Middle of Nowhere” to be widely seen (there is absolutely no reason why it shouldn’t be). DuVernay asks the audience what recent widely released films featured mostly black characters? “Precious” – yes, she agrees (and worked on publicizing it) but cringes. When someone offers “Men in Black: III,” she is shocked, “You qualify that as a black film?!” There’s more pride when she mentions the limited release of Dee Rees’ “Pariah” (winner of Indie Spirits’ Cassavetes Award).
Toussaint believes studios’ fear that black actors don’t sell films overseas is a myth. But she says, “We’ve got to do it ourselves. Tell our own stories, sell our own films, get our voices heard.” She adds, “Ava is walking the talk. Change is afoot.”
Synopsis: What happens when love takes you places you never thought you would go? When her husband, Derek, is sentenced to eight years in a California prison, Ruby drops out of medical school to maintain her marriage and focus on ensuring Derek’s survival in his violent new environment. Driven by love, loyalty, and hope, Ruby learns to sustain the shame, separation, guilt, and grief that a prison wife must bear. Her new life challenges her to the very core of her identity, and her turbulent path propels her in new, often frightening directions of self-discovery.
Shadow and Act has their new poster. The new teaser trailer is below: