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DOC NYC 2015 Women Directors: Meet Sabrina Schmidt Gordon – ‘BaddDDD Sonia Sanchez’

DOC NYC 2015 Women Directors: Meet Sabrina Schmidt Gordon - 'BaddDDD Sonia Sanchez'

Sabrina Schmidt Gordon is a documentary producer, editor and director from NYC. Her editing debut won an Emmy for WGBH (public broadcasting from Boston), and she has continued to distinguish herself on award-winning programs for film, television and the web. She is the producer and editor of “Documented,” about Pulitzer Prize-winning undocumented journalist Jose Antonio Vargas and his fight for immigration reform. The film generated major Oscar buzz and was nominated for a 2015 NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Documentary.

Other credits include producer and editor of “Hip-Hop: Beyond Beats and Rhymes,” about masculinity and gender politics in mainstream hip-hop, and “Mrs. Goundo’s Daughter,” a gripping film about a Malian woman’s fight for asylum in Philadelphia to protect her daughter from ritual genital cutting. Gordon is co-chair of the Black Documentary Collective and teaches documentary filmmaking at the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism. (Press materials) 

BaddDDD Sonia Sanchez” will premiere at the 2015 DOC NYC Film Festival on November 19. The documentary is co-directed by Barbara Attie and Janet Goldwater.

W&H: Please give us your description of the film playing.

SSG: “BaddDDD Sonia Sanchez” is an intimate portrait of the renowned poet, educator and activist. It is at once a celebration of her life and work — an account of the incredible contribution she’s made to America’s literary and political landscape and a revelation of the lesser-known challenges and costs of choosing a life dedicated to art, activism and justice for all people. It’s a performance-packed film, featuring appearances from Questlove, Talib Kweli, Nikki Giovanni, Amiri Baraka, Ursula Rucker, Jessica Care Moore, Imani Uzuri, Bryonn Bain, Yasiin Bey (Mos Def) and others.

W&H: What drew you to this story?

SSG: Sonia Sanchez is one of this country’s most prolific and gifted artists and activists, and as much as she is known in certain circles, I believe she should be lauded and celebrated more. I’ve been a fan of hers since junior high school, so when the opportunity came to make a film about her, I didn’t hesitate. I hope this film will come to be seen as a definitive biography of this remarkable woman, artist, teacher and activist.

W&H: What was the biggest challenge in making the film?

SSG: Ms. Sanchez has been featured in many films and television programs, so the creative challenge was to find an original and imaginative approach to telling her story. One of the unique features of the film is that her work is performed throughout — by her, as well as her contemporaries and by younger poets who consider her a mentor and inspiration.

Not only are these performances entertaining, but they also serve as a narrative thread that propels her story forward — taking us from one period of her life to the next and freeing us from a strictly chronological, linear structure. I also wanted to get beneath the public persona as much as possible, and I think people learn a lot of new things about Ms. Sanchez.

W&H: What do you want people to think about when they are leaving the theater?

SSG: I want people to think about what dedication and a sense of purpose looks like and what a life lived in commitment to justice and dignity for all people looks like. I want people to feel gratitude for the treasure that we have in Sonia and to discover/rediscover her work. Most of all, I hope that people will be inspired by her talent, artistry, innovation, generosity, tirelessness, devotion and commitment to making the world better than she found it.

W&H: What advice do you have for other female directors?

SSG: To take risks. Easier said than done, I know, but I think there is great reward for those who do. It may be a cliché, but I think too many of us play it safe and underestimate ourselves. We can be too practical — too reasonable.

W&H: What’s the biggest misconception about you and your work?

SSG: I make a living as a producer and editor. As an editor, a friend of mine said, “You’re the one who makes people look thinner!” Not really. Certainly, there is a technical aspect, but my work as a documentary editor is more like that of a writer. I think about drama, story arcs and plot twists. I think about building a thesis that is persuasive and intellectually rigorous. All in the interest of — hopefully — weaving together a story that is thought-provoking, imaginative, moving and thoroughly engaging.

W&H: How did you get your film funded? Share some insights into how you got the film made.

SSG: The money was raised through grants — major ones from Sundance and the NEA, local grants in Philadelphia — a Kickstarter campaign, not charging the project for much of the work we did and lots of favors. I admit it’s not the best business model, and I don’t recommend working this way. Also, crowdfunding is a lot of work! Be prepared for that before embarking on one.

W&H: Name your favorite woman-directed film and why.

SSG: I’m a big fan of Agnes Varda, and I think “The Gleaners and I” is one of her most poignant and beautiful films. It has humor and a sense of wonder, and she manages to weave her own self-discovery into this exploration of the lives of her subjects. It’s an intimate, multi-layered meditation on aging, discovery, poverty and accepting one’s fate with grace. I just love it.

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