By Nigel M Smith and Nijla Mumin | Indiewire August 23, 2011 at 2:15AM
Ava DuVernay's feature filmmaking debut, "I Will Follow," is a day in the life of a woman at a crossroads following the death of a loved one. It was also the flagship release of the African American Film Releasing Movement, a collaborative that unites black film festivals and grassroots marketing to create nationwide theatrical releases. Drawing on her background as a film marketer, DuVernay helped AFFRM release "I Will Follow" this spring in 22 cities.
DuVernay is now in post on her next film, "Middle of Nowhere," and is already planning the next AFFRM release, "KinyaRwanda." Says DuVernay, "I could’ve easily distributed 'I Will Follow' and walked away from it, but it's no good to set up all of that and then dismantle it and use it only for yourself. I think if we share resources and share ideas and we share contacts and information, and we share money, we’ll be able to get a lot further."
With "I Will Follow" now available on DVD, indieWIRE spoke to DuVernay about what's next for AFFRM and her own filmmaking career.
AFFRM - what is it and what inspired its creation?
AFFRM is an alliance of like-minded black film organizations that decided to come together and release films. Day and date, simultaneous national releases in five top markets -- LA, NY, Atlanta, Seattle, Philadelphia are the first five cities of every release. We’re ringing the bell to black filmgoers about films that aren’t usually marketed to them. Our case study was "I Will Follow" in March and it basically proved the model that African-American consumers are interested in seeing more variety than what’s presented to them by the studios.
What were some of the publicity efforts AFFRM did to get those numbers?
The efforts for "I Will Follow" went far beyond publicity. There was a deep, deep engagement in the local communities. Three months of on-the-ground work -- foot soldiers. Our main thrust was people on the ground walking up to you, emails from people that you know, organizations that are trusted in the community all rallying around this movie and movement. And that coupled with national publicity really gave I Will Follow a momentum that took us into our opening weekend.
You've posted a lot of the behind-the-scenes outtakes and features preceding the DVD release. What other exclusive online content that viewers can expect?
The DVD itself will be very stripped down. It’s basically the film. So we took it upon ourselves to release some of the different elements online. We’re debuting different outtakes on our Facebook page and they can migrate over to the film’s website upon the DVD release where they’ll live online.
We’re also doing an event the day before our release date, a live DVD commentary. It’s usually on a DVD of what major studios provide, with a director’s commentary and the cast will talk about the film as the film rolls. We’re going to do that live at Raleigh Studios at the Chaplin Theater on August 22. We’re going to tape that and it's going to live on the website. We’re looking to engage people in different ways, which is what we really have to do now as filmmakers and part of what AFFRM is really about.
DVD sales can really propel a film, especially with independent cinema. What can independent filmmakers learn from what AFFRM is doing with "I Will Follow" in this respect?
If AFFRM did anything, I hope it inspires people to say that there’s other ways to have success for your film. This film never went to Sundance. This film never went to Tribeca. This film was not at LAFF. This film was not at Toronto. The film had no studio pick-up, and no big budget to go to push it out there. But we still ended up with all the same things that any filmmaker wants for their film, which is for it to be seen and for it to be considered.
There’s an alternative to the brass ring, or what everyone thinks is the brass ring. For me, there’s no other way I’d rather be making these films -- low budget, specifically for folks that appreciate the black voice, and for so many years I tried to knock my head against the brick wall for studios and industry to recognize that voice and it wasn’t happening. So I’m just happy that it’s finally happening on our own terms.
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