Behind the Lens with Filmmaker Julie Dash

Tuesday, 18 June 2013 20:31 Written by  Iya Bakare

L.A. Rebellion member Julie Dash recently visited Chicago as a part of the L.A. Rebellion series, which featured her National Film Registry award-winning film, Daughters of the Dust (1992). Over 20 years later, supporters gathered to view the movie and show support for the ground-breaking filmmaker at the L.A. Rebellion: Creating a New Black Cinema event.

“I’m glad that are many others [African-American female filmmakers] in the industry and this honor came much too late in the game,” she says. “I hope there are many more coming, and I hope they’re coming from both Hollywood and the independent world because we need a balance of both.”

Cognizant that other women filmmakers produced feature films, Julie says she was not aware that her project would generate the attention that led to a national release. With acknowledgement and gratitude for her accolades for Daughters in the Dust, praise is not why the veteran filmmaker says she or other directors create their art.

“You’re not sitting down with a score card saying ‘I’m going to be the first’,” she adds.

The writer confesses making a film is not an easy task, especially since it takes an average of nine years to create a feature film, from conception to the final product. Although the movie was shot in 23 days, it took Julie 15 years to complete Daughters of the Dust. The artist used her talents in other creative arenas simultaneously. Julie continued to write, direct and produce various projects for other mediums while she worked on her feature film. After the debut of Daughters of the Dust, the nationally acclaimed writer and director ventured to other sides of the industry as a music video director, a television commercial writer and a public service announcement (PSA) writer.

A filmmaker was the career Julie says she aspired to pursue, which involved cinematography and editing films. As she fell in love with the idea of telling stories with her work, the filmmaker utilized her skill and added both writing and directing to capture those moments on the screen to create a new craft. The New York native relocated to Los Angeles where she was an American Film Institute (AFI) writing fellow and attended UCLA’s film production graduate program. As a fellow of AFI, Julie says she was introduced to, and later associated with, a multicultural group of filmmakers, who later became known as the L.A. Rebellion.

Through the course of her career, Julie continues to make history. The MTV feature film Love Song (2000), starring Monica, was the first feature film produced, written and directed by African-American women, the director says. She became the first African-American woman nominated for Outstanding Directorial Achievement and for Primetime Movies Made for Television at the Directors Guild of America (DGA) for her work on “The Rosa Parks Story” (2002), starring Angela Bassett. The DGA member was the first and is only black woman in the National Film Registry.

With more than two decades of experience in the business, the director admits the complexities of a career as a filmmaker.

“It’s difficult for all filmmakers, especially independent ones who aren’t connected to a specific network or a studio,” she says. “It’s difficult to make a film and to get it out there for distribution. Being a woman makes it extra difficult and being an African-American woman makes it difficult as well, especially if you’re using a different voice.”

Julie says in the television industry and when working with networks, they have their own crew of people they work with. A positive aspect of that is the ability to be innovatively free. As an artist, the writer and director encourages other filmmakers to stretch their creative boundaries, including those who aren’t represented by a film union.

Rest assured, Julie’s artistic wheels continue to turn as she works on future projects in her creative pipeline, which includes a mini-series she is writing about African-American women in World War II. The filmmaker is a guest lecturer at various institutions and continues to produce timeless, universal pieces that speak to all generations and all cultures, which represents her passion for directing and for teaching others. With excitement about what the future holds for up-and-coming filmmakers, Julie and her work represent how far the industry has come and the fascinating journey that awaits us.

Photo Courtesy of University of Chicago for L.A. Rebellion

Iya Bakare

Iya Bakare

Iya Bakare, GMO's managing editor, earned both her Bachelor and Master of Arts degrees in print journalism. She earned her B.A. from Delta State University with a minor in English and graduated with a M.A. degree from Columbia College Chicago. In her spare time, the Chicago native continues to freelance and ponder ways to both inform and improve her community one story at a time.

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