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Meet the 2014 Sundance Filmmakers #36: Justin Simien Reflects Deeply on Interracial Conflict in ‘Dear White People’

Meet the 2014 Sundance Filmmakers #36: Justin Simien Reflects Deeply on Interracial Conflict in 'Dear White People'

Even in modern times the issue of race nevertheless remains a volatile one, and that fact is rarely explored as passionately or profoundly as in Justin Simien’s “Dear White People,” a dramatic feature film that fearlessly brings increasingly heated racial tensions to the forefront.

What It’s Really About: Events leading up to a race riot at a predominately white Ivy League University through the eyes of four of its black students.

So What It’s Really About: Culture’s influence on the inherent conflict between identity and self.
Black people are constantly being told by the culture in ways both
subtle and overt how to be and what’s expected of them. I wanted to,
through the microcosm of a school setting, get into issues about trying
to figure out who you are in a culture that doesn’t reflect you.

Tell us briefly about yourself. I’m a filmmaker and former publicist originally from Houston,
Texas. After years working my way up through the industry, I decided to
leave my job and pursue getting “Dear White People” made, when a concept
trailer I created for the film went viral on YouTube.

What was your biggest challenge in completing this film? Self doubt. It’s a killer. It’s THE killer. It isn’t the
“thanks but no thanks” from executives, the limitations of budget, or
even restraints of time that were the biggest challenges. After each
“failure” and before each perceived obstacle, I really had to face myself
and make the conscious decision to keep going and find a way to make it happen. It took
eight years since the first draft of the script, but it was worth it.

What cameras did you shoot on? We shot on the Red Epic.

Did you crowdfund? If so, via what platform. If not, why?
We crowdfunded on Indiegogo for seed money to get us through pre-production while we raised production and post funds.

What do you want your Sundance audience to take away from your film? I want debate and conversation. I love films that ask questions
and hold up the mirror to human behavior, leaving the audience to
decide what to do. I hope that there’s an opportunity in watching the
film for audiences to, in some way, recognize the conflict between their
own identity and selves. Race aside, we all spend so much of our lives
living as others see us. Even though I’m discussing it from a “black”
perspective, it’s a universal aspect of the human condition.

Have any films inspired you? So many! Some perhaps more obvious influences would be “Do The
Right Thing” and “Hollywood Shuffle,” but I also found major touchstones
in films like “Barry Lyndon,” “Persona,” and Fritz Lang’s “Metropolis.”

What’s next for you? Collaborating with producing partner Lena Waithe for her
television project “Twenties” for which I directed an online
presentation she wrote: http://bit.ly/1eJw54V. I also have a script I’ve written and a couple I’m developing that I
think would make exciting follow-ups to “Dear White People.”

Indiewire invited Sundance Film Festival directors to tell us
about their films, including what inspired them, the challenges they
faced and what they’re doing next. We’ll be publishing their responses
leading up to the 2014 festival.
For profiles, click HERE.

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