It’s been nearly three years since I sat in the audience at Los Angeles’ Outfest film festival (full disclosure: I sit on the board of Outfest) to watch the film Mississippi Damned for the first time.
The film’s depiction of the African-American lesbian experience was riveting, and I could feel the audience’s emotional response to the film’s characters all around me in the theater. That year Mississippi Damned won Outfest’s Grand Jury Award – one of an impressive 13 thirteen awards from 15 film festivals around the country.
The filmmaker behind Mississippi Damned is the amazing Tina Mabry. Mabry wrote the hilarious Itty Bitty Titty Committee just months after graduating from film school at USC, and received a standing ovation in theater at Outfest just three years after that. Named among the 25 New Faces of Independent Film in Filmmaker magazine in July of 2009, recognized by Out magazine as one of the most inspirational and outstanding people of 2009 and featured in the Advocate as part of their Top 40 Under 40 issue that year, Mabry has clearly established herself as a force to be reckoned with in film.
I recently had the chance to catch up with Mabry and find out what she’s been up to since the release of Mississippi Damned. I certainly wasn’t surprised to find out that this prolific, creative filmmaker has been very, very busy.
Photo by: Mike Coppola/Getty Images
AfterEllen.com: Mississippi Damned was such a breakthrough film – what did you learn from the experience and how has its enormous success affected your work since its release?
Through it all I’ve learned that having a group of talented individuals who believe in the project is crucial to the success of any film. Morgan and Lee assembled a wonderful team on Mississippi Damned that was creatively and personally in sync. The chemistry on and off set made a difference and that is something I will always try to achieve on all of my future projects.
AE: I heard you were recently admitted to the Fox’s Writers Intensive program. Congratulations! Can you tell us a little bit about the program and what will you be doing as a participant?
It’s been a great experience so far and I feel that I’ve accumulated years of knowledge in just the past six weeks. FOX and Film Independent have been incredibly supportive of each and every participant and it’s been a truly wonderful opportunity.
AE: Your next short film, Crossover, is scheduled to premier tonight (May 1) as part of PBS’s Independent Television Service (ITVS) FUTURESTATES project. Can you tell us a little bit about the film and what inspired you to tell this particular story?
The ethical and political issues I address in this FUTURESTATES short film project, mirrored my firsthand experience of the increasing gap between California’s public and private school systems during my time a substitute teacher many years ago. I’ve remained in close contact with an expert, a Special Education teacher in Oakland, CA, who helped me understand the additional challenges faced by children with disabilities. Since I’m not a parent, I talked to as many people as I could with children in public schools. While it was clear there was nothing a parent wouldn’t do for their child, the issue became more complicated when parents were faced with the dilemma of advancing one child while holding another one back.
While the facts I gathered when writing this script both disturbed and saddened me, it all paled in comparison to my expert’s confession: “Sadly, this script honestly depicts the dangers our kids might face in the future, but the really sad thing is that the dangers in this script are not that far off from the reality we’re living in today.”
Editor’s Note: Crossover made its festival circuit debut at the Tribeca Film Festival on April 24, 2012.
A clip from Crossover:
AE: Since Mississippi Damned was released in 2009, we’ve seen the release of a number of films showcasing LGBT characters of color, including Pariah and Gun Hill Road among others. Do you think we’re in the midst of a trend towards LGBT storytelling from the point of view of people of color? If so, what impact do you think stories from that perspective can have?
AE: I see that Mississippi Damned is touring college campuses now, are you getting different reactions to it with college audiences than you did on the festival circuit?
Mississippi Damned explores an abundance of universal themes and I believe that’s why the positive responses to the film have been consistent and uplifting. What’s been exciting for us is sharing the film with such a diverse range of individuals domestically and internationally. That’s the beautiful thing about it all.
AE: I understand that creative team behind Mississippi Damned is developing a new film called County Line. Are you involved with this project as well? What can you tell our readers about it so far?
I’m the writer/director on the project with Morgan and Lee producing the film. Morgan and Lee have once again done a great job of bringing a lot of the creative team from Mississippi Damned to County Line. (Director of Photography: Bradford Young; Production Designer: Aiyana Trotter; Casting Directors: Meg Morman, CSA and Sunday Boling, CSA)
We are currently in the fundraising process and we have received a plethora of support from organizations such as Film Independent and Tribeca All Access. We’re hoping to make the film in the near future.
AE: What’s the best advice you’ve ever gotten as a film maker, and what advice would you like to give to aspiring film makers out there who might be reading this?
As a filmmaker I feel that an artist should always have something to say with their work. Whether your approach is from a comedic or dramatic viewpoint, it’s what you have to say as a filmmaker that sticks with an audience. I would advise aspiring filmmakers to search for strong themes in their work that will resonate with audiences and stay with them long after they leave the theater. As filmmakers we want to stimulate conversation, awareness, debate, and entertainment; if we’re fortunate enough to have an audience walk away with that, then we’ve done our job.
AE: What films have you seen recently that have inspired or impressed you?