Nowadays, when someone mentions film and television in Atlanta, Georgia, instant mental images may flash to the ever so popular Real Housewives of Atlanta, the various BET shows shot in the city, or to a delicious southern story like Tina Mabry’s Mississippi Dammed.
However, if you look a little closer, you’ll find an often forgotten story of the city, the immigrant’s story. It is estimated that the number of foreign-born residents in Georgia is nearly 1 million. One of the top ten immigrant segments in the United States.
Director Dehanza (Daye) Rogers brings to us an enlightening story in her film, Sweet, Sweet, Country. The film has been an official selection at the 2013 PAFF, the Atlanta Film Festival, and was featured at the 2013 LACMA Young Directors Night. It was executive produced by Rogers, Gbenga Akinnagbe, and Doug Turner.
The film’s synopsis:
With her parents and younger siblings living in a refugee camp in Kenya, 20 year-old Ndizeye struggles to support not only herself, but provide for a family she’s not seen in five years. Living in a small southern town, her struggle becomes so much more when her family literally shows up at her doorstep.
Shadow and Act: Why did you decide to tell a story from Clarkston?
DR: I’m from the South. The American Tale includes the Refugee Tale and the Immigrant Tale. I knew about Clarkston when I lived in Georgia but the bulk of my research occurred after I left. The New York Times’ called Clarkston the most diverse 1.1 square mile in the country.
Shadow and Act: Can you tell us about your casting process?
DR: We cast completely in Atlanta except for the love interest, Ernest played Gbenga Akinnagbe. We found Danielle Deadwyler, our lead, in a general casting call. She knew our casting director via Facebook and connected that way. I had been talking with another actor while in LA, but Danielle came in and blew our minds. When she left the room, she just sucked all the air right out with her. We were just dumbfounded by her talent.
I knew I wanted Gbenga for the male lead. His character grew out of my fascination with his role of Chris Partlow, in The Wire. Gbenga read the script, liked it and he and I conversed via Twitter for a minute and met for lunch when he came to LA some months before we shot.
Shadow & Act: Can you tell us more about your team in Atlanta?
DR: I met our casting director, Vivia Armstrong via Twitter and she put me in touch with Autumn Ford, who would become our co-producer. After meeting Autumn she connected us with so many people and resources. I wasn’t doing film when I lived in Georgia so coming home was also about building networks and relationships within the community. We also found support from my alma mater, Georgia State University (GSU). I connected with a UCLA alum, Sheldon Schiffer, who now teachers at GSU! We found some of our crew there.
Shadow and Act: Can you talk a bit about the music composition of your film?
DR: I choose the music for the film. We were fortunate to find support from some really great artists. I’ve been partial to West and North African music for some time now. We used the following artists: Blitz the Ambassador (http://blitz.mvmt.com/), Ian Kamau (http://www.iankamau.com/) , Salam, Senegalese (http://www.last.fm/music/Salam/_/Drogue) and Habib Koité (http://www.habibkoite.com/).
Shadow and Act: This was a student film. You are currently obtaining your MFA in filmmaking at UCLA. Can you tell us about assembling your LA producing team?
DR: My goal was to find people who were willing to buy into my story and what I wished to create. That’s a big step and the most important. With my AD, who came on as a Producer, it was about finding someone I absolutely trusted. Other directors usually make great producers, since they truly understand what a director needs and how to make the process of filmmaking painless for the director.
Shadow and Act: Can you tell us about your upcoming projects?
DR: I’ll be returning to Atlanta to direct a short written by Atlanta-based screenwriter Gabrielle Fulton named ‘Ir/Reconcilable’ & am in prepping for my thesis film, The Youth.
You can learn more about “Sweet, Sweet Country”, at www.sweetsweetcountry.com.
Here’s a trailer: