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The Influence

After directing five films and distributing six, DuVernay said she's equal parts director and distributor. She also launched her own company, DVA Media + Marketing, 13 years ago. However, this one-time Fox publicist is more than the sum of her parts. For her, it's all of a piece; she can't separate the idea of creating a film from connecting it to its audience.

"I can't make a film in a vacuum and not think about and not know what happens to it," she says. "Whether I'm distributing them or making them, it's all about the film. It's not juggling; it's all the same in my mind."

For AFFRM, which has released seven titles since its launch in 2011, that means a lot of grassroots marketing. "We are not using money (to release these movies), DuVernay said. "We're using hands and sweat and people in the cities. We can't turn it on and off."

Ultimately, DuVernay's goal is to prove that there's an arthouse market for black films -- including upcoming Slamdance pickup "Big Words," her own "I Will Follow" and the 2012 "Middle of Nowhere," which made her the first African-American woman to win the Best Director Prize at Sundance Film Festival. The prejudice against that concept, she said, "is deeply rooted. We're taking about representations that have been ingrained for centuries -- presumptions and assumptions on both sides. Black artists bring their sensibility -- the edit, the dialogue. All we can continue to do as artists is our work. Other than that it becomes convoluted and empty chatter."

Biggest Success

Participant provided P&A for "Middle of Nowhere," for which DuVernay said she will "always will be thankful. The film did exactly what we hoped what it would do."

Biggest Disappointment

"Restless City" didn't do as well as she had hoped. "We're not focused on dollars so much as the hopes of people who I thought would love the film," she said.

Biggest Challenge

"Being discerning. There are a lot of opportunities coming and I want to stay focused on what my mission is rather than what is shiny and sexy. There are a lot of things that sound great, but might take me away from why I am doing this."

What's Next

Prepping her third feature, "Part of the Sky," and completing her ESPN Films documentary "Venus VS."

The Survey
My Biggest Career Break...
Becoming consulting agency of record for Dreamworks in my publicist days
Best Filmmaker Working Today...
Impossible for me to answer. I enjoy the recent work of filmmakers as different as Haile Gerima to Steven Soderbergh.
A Guilty Pleasure Movie...
"Corina Corina" starring Whoopi Goldberg and Ray Liotta. So guilty.
My First Job...
Serving Frozen Yogurt
The age that Ava got her first job
Attended this year by Ava
The average amount that Ava travels for work each year
Ava has been to the Sundance Film Festival