Back to IndieWire

Ava DuVernay Is Living a Filmmaker’s Dream – What Does That Look Like for You?

Ava DuVernay Is Living a Filmmaker's Dream - What Does That Look Like for You?

The dream. What is it for you?

I was skimming over all the media on the NYC premiere of “Selma” at the grand Zeitgeist theater in Manhattan, last night, as well as all the praise and awards recognition the film has received thus far, and it got me thinking – Ava DuVernay is living a dream that I think escapes many filmmakers (regardless of skin color), for whom this kind of enthusiasm and reward is the ultimate. 

Very few get this far (and dare I say, this quickly – although Ms DuVernay has been toiling away for years now, first as a publicist, before transitioning into filmmaking, starting out with documentaries, before moving into narrative fiction). I can only imagine what the ride must be like for the filmmaker, and those around her, who’ve been a part of her struggle since the start. I remember watching “I Will Follow” what seems like just yesterday, and reviewing the film on this blog (pre-Indiewire), but without a clue of where that film would/could take her. And just 4 relatively short years later, she’s worked her way into the history books (becoming the first black woman director to win the Best Director Award at Sundance, and the first black woman director to be nominated for a Golden Globe award for Best Director), and on the verge of a potential Oscar nomination for Best Director (which would also be a “first”). It all seemed to have happened rather quickly – albeit deceptively so. Time flies, as the saying goes.

I think of the many typically white and male filmmakers who seem to, so quickly, advance from first feature film (sometimes short films), to directing mega-budgeted Hollywood studio pictures. And, as we’ve wondered on this blog in the past, it’s so rare that seemingly hasty advances like those, are enjoyed by filmmakers of color – let alone women filmmakers of color, which only magnifies Ava’s accomplishments – although “Selma” wasn’t exactly a mega-budgeted Hollywood studio film. But at a $20 million budget, it’s noteworthy. Maybe in 2014, it shouldn’t be; alas, it is!

But, again, I think she’s living a dream that many of you have (or once had). 

I did, however, pause and consider the fact that “the dream” may be different for some of you; after all, I can’t assume that Ms DuVernay’s journey is one that the majority of you hope to one day take. 

For me, it’s changed over the last 15 years, since college. After living in LA for a brief stint in the late 1990s, where I hoped to chase dreams (or maybe suffer delusions) of 3-picture deals with the likes of Universal Pictures (or whomever), I would eventually realize that I was quite the lone ranger, and decided that an entirely independent filmmaking career was ideal. So I worked, saved my money, and with my savings, funded my own projects – shorts, as well as one feature, many years ago. I envisioned a life of struggle certainly, determined to make (and distribute) films with my own money, and thus, on my own terms, absent of any *outside* interference whatsoever, knowing fully well how challenging that would be. But I was content with that for the most part, despite the occasional moment of self-doubt, when I didn’t believe in myself, and what I wanted to accomplish. And, today, that “struggle” I guess we could call it, continues. I have a feature-length script I’m tweaking, with plans to eventually finance and produce myself, if only because, after many years in this business, I’ve had to wrestle with the lack of interest in backing story ideas by black filmmakers, about black people, that don’t necessarily fit inside an industry box. I knew that I’d have to combat that brand of myopic thinking that limits what black filmmakers are “allowed” to do in this business. And so I made peace with the fact that I’d have to progress independently. 

But, as I said, it is a struggle. I’m a blogger who writes about black cinema, who also has worked very hard for many years, since I left college, running small businesses I launched solo, or with partners, and saved and invested a lot of the money I earned; and it’s with those funds that I have, and plan to continue to finance my own work. What most of you likely don’t know is that I’m also an active trader, who puts his money to work in the stock market, with daily/weekly/monthly gains enjoyed, as well as losses mourned. C’est la vie…

In my travels as a film journalist, I’m often asked by others what my long-term goals are; where my interests really lie; what I hope to accomplish, etc. So, here it is… ultimately, for me, the dream is to be able to fund my own work, and distribute, entirely on my own terms – even if only because I don’t see any other way in which I’d be content (unless there’s some wealthy art enthusiast who wants to be supportive of what I have to offer, with no quid pro quo). I’ve never been motivated by celebrity or wealth. I just want to be able to do what I want to do, without having to factor in what others want – oh, and also earn a living (which, to me, means, being able to afford the basics – food, rent or mortgage, some travel, and be able to save some for latter years, etc). 

In short (I could certainly go one), I want freedom – essentially, the kind of freedom it seems only money can buy; which is obviously the challenge. Hence my non-S&A efforts. It means that I likely won’t be as prolific as a filmmaker like Tyler Perry, who, for the last 7 or so years, has seen at least 2 films released annually. But then I think of a master (and one of my all-time favorite filmmakers) like Stanley Kubrick, who was much less active as a director, directing 12 features over 46 long years – and how remarkable each films was (to compare, Tyler Perry has directed just about the same number of films in 8 years).

What is “the dream” for you? Those who are filmmakers, actors, producers, cinematographers, writers, etc.. Paint a picture for the rest of us – what does that dream look like.

This Article is related to: Features and tagged