Ava DuVernay became the first African-American woman to win US Directing Award: Dramatic at last night’s Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah. Premiering last week, Duvernay’s feature film, Middle of Nowhere, received glowing reviews from both critics and audiences and is a testament to a seismic shift in African-American film-making.
Nowhere is a compelling drama that chronicles a woman’s (Emayatzy Corinealdi, Young & The Restless) separation from her incarcerated husband (Omari Hardwick, I Will Follow) and her intense journey to reconcile her marriage with her identity.
This is Duvernay’s second feature film. Her first, I Will Follow, debuted on March 11, 2011, to stellar reviews. The groundbreaking film-maker believes that her work is resounding with Black audiences who are thirsty for a more comprehensive view of Black life than is currently embraced in film:
Black people loving and losing is something we don’t see enough of. We’re always in these heightened situations like something big is happening, something funny or something violent. And you know what? Sometimes we die of breast cancer or a broken heart. Things happen that are just not being explored cinematically. It’s time we reinvigorated that type of film.
DuVernay, creator of film marketing and publicity firm, the Duvernay Agency, has been in the film business for over ten years. She created her first short film in 2006; eventually, she progressed to working on feature films, including This is The Life, which had it’s theatrical release in 2009 and later aired on Showtime. She created and produced two music documentaries, My Mic Sounds Nice on Black Entertainment Television (BET) and Faith The Storm in 2010.
Raised in South Los Angeles, Duvernay is aware that her career trajectory is rare, but does not want it to be an anomaly:
I always loved film, but I never considered making my own. I think that’s just a kind of thing: a little black girl from Compton not having any examples of black women making their own movies.
DuVernay’s production company Forward Movement, produced Middle of Nowhere and her distribution company, African-American Film Festival Releasing Movement, (AFFRM), released it to the masses. Her determination to spearhead the emergence of relevant Black films was the motivation for AFFRM and financial backers include: Urbanworld Film Festival in New York, the Pan African Film Festival in Los Angeles, the ReelBlack Film Series in Philadelphia, the BronzeLens Film Festival in Atlanta and the Langston Hughes African American Film Festival in Seattle, reports the New York Times.
Participant Media has partnered with AFFRM to release Middle of Nowhere in theaters across the United States. Participant executive, John King, says that the partnership with Duvernay is an organic experience:
Nowhere is only Ava DuVernay’s second feature, but it reflects the finesse and sensitivity of a far more experienced storyteller and the kind of quality filmmaking that’s been a hallmark of Participant. We’re very excited to be joining forces with her and her team at AFFRM, and look forward to developing a marketing and Social Action campaign that illuminates the film’s themes and engages communities around the country.
While clearly Duvernay is on the verge of taking over the film world — and providing a creative counterpoint to the Tyler Perrys and Spike Lees of the world, she’s still reveling in her historic Sundance win and what the abundance of Black films at this year’s festival means for the future of film:
I’m calling it Blackdance.