WOC in film

Disrupting Hollywood

by Sheree L. Ross

Over a hundred thousand scripts will be written in 2017, as well as tens of thousands of independent films made. Hundreds of contests will be entered and most filmmakers will not move very far towards their goal of a distribution deal or theatrical release.
What once seemed like the “impossible dream” has now almost become a thing of the past.  Yet, so many filmmakers go forward as they make their films like the magical payday myths of the industry still, if ever existed.
Most distribution deals and all of Hollywood have created an accounting system where only they get paid and the creative winds up with accolades (hopefully) but empty pockets. Crowdfunding has been a big move forward to help mitigate the ever shrinking traditional access to funds but after a film is made the blue print to a sustainable business model is rarely understood. It is especially hard for women and women filmmakers of color, where financing a film can be a Herculean event – as well as finding access to, and building an audience large enough to not only pay cast, crew, and themselves but make enough to distribute it and then do it all over again.
The industry has changed even for Hollywood. This change began decades ago but was solidified when the markets crashed in 2008, and demystified with access unprecedented with digital cameras, the internet, and streaming platforms. This is a new and ever more inclusive frontier yet so many indie filmmakers still structure their business model like it’s the 1970’s – still believing in the big payoff yet never realizing that filmmakers getting paid on the net receipts has been an inside myth perpetuated by industry media to entertain the public and string along hopeful filmmakers since time began.
The power of the industry is shifting but the new paradigm must be created by the independent filmmakers themselves. Big business has always had too much of a say and taken all of the profits. We, as creatives, are the reason they have built fortunes, mostly because we have wanted others to take care of the business while we concentrate on the creative. The other truth of many creatives is we haven’t developed the emotional and mental stamina for the business side of our filmmaking and have often blindly handed the responsibility over to others. This is a wake up call to build that muscle and take full control of our careers and creations. Owning our IP and figuring out how to distribute in a way that puts the rewards back into our own business is key to growing and maintaining a healthy and striving independent film ecosystem for all of us.

Celebrating Women Filmmakers

Urusaro International Women Film Festival

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Actress Antoinette Uwamahoro, best known as Intare y’Ingore, receiving the award. / Eddie Nsabimana

Poupoun Sesonga Kamikazi is the brains behind the Urusaro International Women Film Festival (UWIFF) that was held at the Umubano Hotel in Kigali recently.

In its second edition now, the festival celebrates the gains made by female filmmakers from Rwanda and Africa, although this year’s edition also saw movies from a few Asian nations screened.

This year organizers received a total of forty movie submissions, of which twenty three films were selected. Of these, eleven were from Rwanda, making the event a predominantly Rwandan affair.

Other movie submissions came from East and West Africa. One filmmaker from Gabon and another from Ivory Coast also flew down to Kigali for the festival.

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Poupoune Kamikazi Sesonga (left, in red dress), the festival director and John Kwezi (1st left) posing for a photo with the winners. / Eddie Nsabimana

The now annual festival was founded in 2015, but funding glitches left organizers with no option but to cancel last year’s event at the last moment.

New partnerships with Tele 10, 4GLTE and other sponsors ensured the festival bounces back bigger and better this year.

More support and goodwill also came from government through the Ministry of Sports and Culture, and the Rwanda Academy of Language and Culture (RALC).

“Urusaro International Women Film Festival is about movies made by women, be it local or foreign. I myself am a movie maker and an artist. I have made five movies, so why not inspire other women to make movies too?”, remarked Kamikazi, at a pre-event press conference at the 4G Square in Downtown Kigali.

“We have many workshops where upcoming filmmakers will be helped to know how to pitch for funding because making movies requires a lot of money. Filmmakers will also have a chance to network because we have invited people from government and embassies and filmmakers from abroad,” she added.

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Awards reserved for winners. / Eddie Nsabimana

“This is the first film festival to approach us for partnership and for us as Tele 10 we have a lot of movie content so we decided to come out and familiarize our brand in the society. We need more local filmmakers. People have been watching movies from Hollywood and Europe but it’s now time for Rwandan movies to taken center stage,” explained Emmanuel Niyonshuti, the head of Sales and Marketing at Tele 10.

The festival closed on March 11th, with a special award ceremony for best movie makers.

Some of the local filmmakers who walked away with awards include; Antoinnette Uwamahoro for Best Actress, Ahadi Beni for Best Actor, while the Best Short Film Accolade went to Apolline Uwimana for her film, Bugingo. The Most Popular Film was Isaha, by Zaninka Joselyn.

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Joselyne Zaninka posing with the ‘most popular film’ award. / Eddie Nsabimana
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Apolline Uwimana won three awards in the International Women Film festival. / Eddie Nsabimana

Started as a joke

In July 2012, Kamikazi won her maiden movie award, courtesy of the short film, Kivuto at the then Rwanda International Film Festival, now Rwanda Film Festival. And she has never looked back since.

She was born in Bujumbura, the capital of Burundi but is Rwandan. She attended Kicukiro Primary school in Rwanda, then left for Burundi for her secondary studies. It’s in Burundi that the inspiration for her first film manifested, although at the time she didn’t consider a career in film.

Kivuto is a film borne out of her childhood memories about children with disabilities arising from complicated birth.

“There’s a province called Kirundo on the Burundian side, and Bugesera district on the Rwandan side. Kivuto is the name that was given to a child who had a complicated delivery. Usually the infant would be pushed out of the mother and in most cases that infant would die and if they survived they would come with some disabilities. Growing up, I saw many such children and even adults. Some would not control their biological functions,” she explains.

Following her award, a TV crew from Tele 10 interviewed her family on her success. She was shocked to learn from their interviews that the movie maker in her had started to manifest while she was a little girl of five.

At that age, she started narrating films to her family, films that were merely figments of her fertile imagination.

“I would tell them I had watched the film and start to narrate it yet I had not watched it. My siblings would sit around me and listen. The next day I would do the same and narrate a film I had never seen or heard about. When it was bed time my siblings would come to me to narrate them a film before they would go to sleep. Sometimes they would cry and other times they would be overtaken by fear.

“My mum was so strict and tough, but I was so stubborn and would always break her rules. Every time I would return home I knew that she would beat me up. Because I always knew I was going to be beaten up, I would always come up with a story to calm down her temper as a way of covering my stubbornness. Instead of beating me, she would say welcome, sit next to me and tell me the story,” she explains.

“My mum was a staunch Catholic and she adored the Virgin Mary. To be sure that I had convinced her and her temper had cooled down, I would always add a story about the Virgin Mary. I would tell her that some people had had a vision from the Virgin Mary. That was always the final touch in convincing her.”

It took them about five years to realize she had been creating fictional films she had never watched.

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Beauty for Ashes on stage. / Eddie Nsabimana

In 2008 she returned to Rwanda to continue with school at Mudende Adventist University where she studied Computer Science and Networking.

Towards the end of 2009 she met an American film crew making a movie in Rwanda.

“I was assisting the casting director to cast the characters. I noticed he was so tired and stressed and offered to help him during the pre production of the film. When I did it, the director of film started taking pictures of me and asking me many questions.”

They thought her to be an experienced local movie director, which she was not.

“The casting director asked me to return the next day yet he had his own assistant. I returned for the next couple of days and he kept asking me many questions about movies but I did not know the answers. I had not even read the script of the movie we were casting.

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The audience. / Eddie Nsabimana

He asked how many times I had done casting in movies but I could not tell him I had never done it before because I knew they would not believe me. So I kept quiet, smiled and went away, hoping he would never ask me again.”

After the shoot she picked her allowances and headed back to school, the money having been her only motivation.

But even the Rwandan team from Almond Tree Films that had worked as extras in the film mistook her for an experienced American movie maker. Realizing she was Rwandan, the decided to engage her.

“They requested me to join Almond Tree Films and work with them but I told them I’m not a filmmaker but had just gone to make money.

One day they asked me to write them a script. I told them I had many stories but I didn’t have a computer and didn’t know anything to do with writing scripts. I just used to write my stories in a notebook.

When I gave them the story they said it’s a perfect script and they asked to shoot a movie out of it.”

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5 Black Women To Watch In Hollywood In 2017

Be on the lookout for these glow-ups.

Black Voices’ associate editor Taryn Finley and senior culture writer Zeba Blay sat down with Murray, who was also joined by Buzzfeed entertainment reporter Sylvia Obell, to share her perspective as an entertainment insider.

Here are five women Murray said should be on your list of Hollywood up-and-comers to watch in 2017:

1. Gina Prince-Bythewood

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Prince-Bythewood will be co-directing “Shots Fired” with husband Reggie Bythewood.

Best known for her 2000 romance film “Love and Basketball,” starring Sanaa Lathan, Gina Prince-Bythewood is no Hollywood newbie. Prince-Bythewood will be directing the upcoming fictional Fox series “Shots Fired,” which is centered on police brutality in South Carolina. Lathan will also star in the series.

2. Dee Rees

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Rees also directed the film “Pariah,” about a young, black lesbian struggling with her identity in Brooklyn.

In a $12.5 million deal, Netflix recently bought director Dee Rees’ critically acclaimed film “Mudbound.” The film, which follows soldiers returning home from WWII, stars Carey Mulligan, Jason Mitchell and Mary J. Blige.

3. Stella Meghie

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Meghie’s directorial debut “Jean of the Joneses“ premiered last year.

Stella Meghie’s name may not ring a bell just yet, but the Toronto native may soon be at the center of Hollywood’s attention when romance film “Everything, Everything,” starring Amandla Stenberg, is released this May.

4. Jessica Williams

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Williams spoke at the Women’s March on Sundance earlier this year.

Former “Daily Show” correspondent Jessica Williams should have been on your radar yesterday. One half of the “2 Dope Queens” podcast, Williams will be starring in Netflix’s “The Incredible Jessica James,” about a young playwright living in New York City.

5. Yvonne Orji

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Issa Rae and Orji gained everyone’s affection IRL when a photo of them sharing excitement over the Golden Globes nomination for “Insecure” while in their headscarves made its rounds on the internet.

Yvonne Orji is everybody’s bestie as Molly in “Insecure.” But Orji really won our hearts with her realness when she opened up to “The Breakfast Club” in November about being a virgin at 32 years old and having experienced bullying when she was younger.

Look out, Hollywood. All this black excellence ain’t here to play.

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