The first film that told me I could be a filmmaker someday was Boyz in the Hood by John Singleton. The score and soundtrack were written to capture the culture and flavor of the time, 1990s rap and R&B, when it really came on my radar as the ghetto culture of south central L.A. Colors had come out by then, but Boyz stung me because it showed how the promise of getting out of the ghetto – football, but take any other college-achieving talent – could be snubbed out over the crushing pettiness, cruelty and tragedy of gang violence. Kids killing each other with guns from cars? These kids were especially violatile in my eyes because they came from such a different background than me. My thirteen year old self could not fathom such a life from my privileged existence in the Rocky Mountain Foothills. But something still heavily connected because when I walked out of the theater, historic and smelling of gaseous wood, into the Boulder, Colorado summer streets on the University Hill. I was still reeling from the force of life and death in southcentral L.A. that Singleton delivered in motion picture. So moved, so impacted by a film by a created by a first-time director still fresh out of film school and so obviously interwoven with his film’s story, I found unforgettable inspiration to make my own moving films.
I finished my first screenplay when I was fifteen, I think. To teach myself the correct writing format of screenplays, I bought a book copy of the Dances with Wolves screenplay (inspired by another successful first time director, Kevin Costner) and used it as a guide. My screenplay came to be named Shade and it was about a high-school aged girl in Manhattan, Dahlia Shade, living with her mother’s boyfriend, Harrison, after her mother is killed on a subway train when Dahlia is just a little girl. The film follows Dahlia years afterward, in the throes of emerging adolescence, as she meets Harrison’s new personal assistant / driver, Eric. She falls for him in both love and murderous discovery, transforming Dahila from privileged, protected engenue to a raw, awakened young woman. I was inspired from so many different sources to craft this story. I imagined an interplay of the film and text, flashing quotes on the screen to suggest an essential point in the corresponding scenes. I distinctly remember being inspired by my recent discovery of Edgar Allan Poe’s poem “The Raven” and the quote I wanted to lift and expose on screen to corresponded with a flashback scene where Dahlia recalls losing her virginity to a Roma gypsy with a raven tattoo, while on one of her many excursions to Europe to get over her mother’s death. At age fifteen, I had also just recently visited New York City for the first time. Losing myself to the sanctuary of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, having the chandelier “almost” crash on me at Phantom of the Opera, strutting in a fashionable Manhattan crowd, and boldly braving the subways all got re-lived and even more significant in Shade’s retelling. Of genre, the film was such that when Kids came out I felt like I had serendipitously hit the nail on the head. Previous engagement with Heathers inspired the themes of school cliques, outsiders, teen angst and forbidden, destructive love. A growing, lusty appreciation for literature and poems as well as songs and lyrics by bands like U2 and Pink Floyd led to the idea of integrating quotes in silent-movie homage, to give what I would now be compelled to call “intertextual reference” to the development of the story’s plot, themes and messages. I also had a lot of accompanying music ideas too, but cannot recall those in as great of detail as I lost the only paper copy of Shade when my family moved from the house I grew up in to a small ranch at the mouth of a canyon in Boulder, Colorado. Though an electronic copy is still entombed in a boxy Macintosh computer circa early 1990s somewhere in storage…
During my high school years I followed all the news from the film world, buying magazine after magazine like Premiere and Entertainment, and studying film after film from how it was advertised to how it was directed to how it was received by critics and audiences. When I got to college I beelined to the introductory course in Film Studies as an elective. We studied the cannon – from Nanook of the North to Shoah in all nine and a half hours – and I was not disappointed in what I learned. But when I approached my professor, characteristically, for me, toward the end of the semester after I’d thoroughly evaluated what impression I wanted to make, and shared with him my desire to major in film studies and become a director, all that stuck with me from his advice was: “don’t, most people don’t make it, so don’t take the gamble.” Turning to my parents for back-up was not an option. While they were pleased that I was capable of being so interested in something germane to their existence – they liked watching films – they were not significantly supportive of my becoming a filmmaker. This lack of enthusiasm also extended to my contemplating becoming an actress or artist, though if I could have reclaimed my body enough they would have been pleased to see me pursue dancing (just not run away with a hip hop troop as I had contemplated my sophomore year). Pursuing my dream to become a filmmaker thus got greatly diverted in college, and by the time I graduated I was more trained in the ethnographic arts of traveling, interviewing, writing and photographic documentation. No motion picture camera in sight when I made my first journey to Tibet, which is actually understandable, for from the moment I felt that first rub of wealthy, white privilege against antithetical subjects of potential photographs my relationship with cameras became fraught and non-fluent.
By the time I entered the PhD program in anthropology at the University of British Columbia, however, it was only an added perk that Vancouver was considered the “Hollywood of the North.” I entertained no illusions about breaking into the film business while pursuing my PhD to become a professor and museum curator. My niche, so I thought, was already well-carved and presented on my C.V.
But then I met a young Tibetan filmmaker on the verge of making his first documentary, Journey of a Dream, at a party for Losar, the Tibetan New Year, 2008. He invited me to join him as writer and producer for the film. I participated in the pre-production in Vancouver and then the filming in India and New York City, and it is scheduled for completion by 2010. Despite my skills in story and film editing, research, rights and permissions, I stepped out of the post-production for Journey of a Dream to leave it to the autonomy of its original creator and to become the creator of my own original work.
My first screenplay in fifteen years, Our Shadows Collide, is a familiar combination of the type of films I am inspired to make. Tapping into genres made noticeable by famous films – Out of Africa as an epic romance – my films then combine with details from my lived experience in places and cultures far from home, giving the story historical and political grip, suggesting deeper truths and humbling existential complexity through the dramatization of recent world events. I am also interested in the craft of storytelling, and gravitate to the cyclical transformations, classic themes, and potential for new awakenings in the symbolic resonance of cultural archetypes. As such, my films find their story arc through conscious and creative reinterpretations of stories told before – myths, legends, folk stories, novels and poems. My penchance for intertextuality to brightly illuminate a message, a feeling, a foreshadowing remains never far away.