Ava DuVernay

Ava DuVernay and David Oyelowo for Selma

We’re huge fans of Selma here at Film School Rejects, in case you didn’t catch that we named it Movie of the Year. We also named its director, Ava DuVernay, Filmmaker of the Year. And while we didn’t choose its Martin Luther King Jr.-portraying star, David Oyelowo, as Performer of the Year, I don’t think he was too far behind Scarlett Johansson. He’s definitely my pick for best actor of 2014, an honor he sadly isn’t even nominated for at the Academy Awards, and someone whose further career I’m excited to follow. Especially now that one of his future projects reunites him with DuVernay again. The pair previously also collaborated on her award-winning 2013 Sundance sensation Middle of Nowhere. The Wrap reports that she will be directing a romantic drama of her own devise set amidst the events of Hurricane Katrina, and he’s set to produce and star.

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Middle of Nowhere

Ava DuVernay does not possess a romantic view of filmmaking or the film industry. The former publicist admits to never having considered filmmaking as a career growing up and did not make her first short film “until” her early 30s. In the ten years since, she’s helmed a bevy of projects including impressive and underrated dramatic indie features like Middle of Nowhere and I Will Follow, documentaries on subjects ranging from hip-hop to Venus Williams, numerous shorts, and even an episode of Scandal. And as the director of the magnificent Selma, she’s reached a level of recognition that’s rarely permitted to women filmmakers of color, even despite the Academy’s embarrassing Best Director snub. Selma has created a platform of renewed attention toward DuVernay’s earlier narrative features, recently made available on disc and streaming. These films together paint the picture of a confident, incisive, and elegant filmmaking style never satisfied to reside in any prescribed box that so often relegates the work of African American filmmakers. Listening to and reading DuVernay speak in interviews, it’s clear that filmmaking was never an inevitable path. Thus, none of her films are a missed opportunity. She works from deep understanding and insight as to what films have done with her subjects of interest before, and thereby pursues complex, underrepresented perspectives and stories as a result, from the wife of a convict to the on-the-ground strategies of a Civil Rights leader. So here is a bit of free film school (for fans and filmmakers alike) from FSR’s […]

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Paramount Pictures

Although Hollywood has been no stranger to cinematic portrayals of the Civil Rights movement, it has long avoided the prospect of tackling Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. head-on. And it’s clear why – his legacy is vast, mythic, and daunting. The cultural memory of King is generally as omnipresent as it is unspecific, forming his ghost through monuments, perfunctory history lessons, and yesterday’s federal holiday into a historical character defined (and limited) by select phrases from speeches as well as decontextualized ideas like “nonviolence.” As a cinematic presence, King has largely been relegated to the margins of other people’s biopics like The Butler and Ali, and is often presented in a fashion consonant with his mythic status – as a relic of history and a fountain of wisdom rather than an actual, historical person. Ava DuVernay’s Selma pulls King’s legacy away from the conventional narratives of achieving certain equal rights – which often promotes historical simplicity and passive self-satisfaction – and instead focuses on the means by which rights have been fought for, with all of the rifts, risks, politicking, and mortal dangers in tow.

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SELMA-e1415826982114

This year’s Oscar nominations have left a bunch of movie fans disappointed. Why isn’t The Lego Movie up for Best Animated Feature? Why isn’t Jake Gyllenhaal up for Best Actor for Nightcrawler? Where’s Jennifer Aniston‘s nomination for Cake? Why isn’t A Most Violent Year represented anywhere? How were Life Itself, The Overnighters and Jodorowsky’s Dune all excluded from the Best Documentary race? Why was Selma‘s Ava DuVernay robbed of becoming the first African-American woman nominated in the Best Director category? I’ve heard all the complaints about what’s missing from this year’s crop of contenders, and I too am pretty surprised by the lot of them. Not just because some of them deserved the recognition, but because they’ve already received honors elsewhere. One of these elsewheres is the Critics Choice Awards, the ceremony of which just so happens to be tonight. And you can watch them live on TV — A&E at 9pm ET — to appreciate that, hey, film critics do matter. We’re actually better than the Hollywood elite, as it turns out. You see, the nominees for the Critics Choice Awards include The Lego Movie for Best Animated Feature and Jake Gyllenhaal for Best Actor (and Nightcrawler is up for Best Picture) and Jennifer Aniston for Best Actress. Also, A Most Violent Year is represented at least once with Jessica Chastain up for Best Supporting Actress, Life Itself, The Overnighters and Jodorowsky’s Dune are all in contention for Best Documentary and, most importantly, Ava DuVernay is nominated for Best Director. Additional nominees I’m happy about, particularly as a new member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association who participated in […]

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Selma

A renewed forehead slapping routine has hit the echo chamber of awards season watchdogs because Selma has, once again, come up short on the nomination front. This time it’s the short list for the Directors Guild, which looks 80% like photographs of the same man taken at different ages. It’s unfortunate, but regular people don’t care about these awards. They’re important as a barometer within the professional community, but  there’s no need for anyone outside of that to care. What regular people care about, is the Oscars, and it’s going to be a surreal scene on Thursday if Selma and, more specifically, Ava DuVernay are left off the nomination list. With ten slots, there’s almost no chance that Selma doesn’t get a Best Picture nomination, but the situation is far more difficult to predict when it comes to DuVernay’s inclusion. This isn’t like when The Dark Knight wasn’t nominated for best picture, where the Academy simply wasn’t in lock-step with a massively popular phenomenon. They aren’t, and shouldn’t be, beholden to raw popularity when it comes to making their decisions. It’s also not like when L.A. Confidential lost or when Fargo lost or any other time a deserving film didn’t get gold. Or when an art house favorite didn’t even get a nomination. This is a situation where a movie has deftly used history to speak to our present without picking up the sledge hammer. It’s culturally important and immediate for both extrinsic social and intrinsic artistic reasons, and because of that it doesn’t need validation from the […]

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Selma

“That’s why Rosa sat on the bus; That’s why we walk through Ferguson with our hands up.” Those lyrics can be heard in John Legend and Common‘s “Glory,” a new song that plays during the end credits of Selma and makes the connection between the 50-year-old events depicted in the movie and the current events continuing to affect the nation. No, the movie isn’t about or related to Rosa Parks, but that line represents the beginnings of the African-American Civil Rights Movement that 10 years later was still unfinished, even after the signing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and obviously remains unfinished to this day. Had there been more time for the completion of the movie and soundtrack, perhaps there’d also be another lyric in “Glory” referencing Eric Garner’s last words of “I Can’t Breathe,” which has been adopted as a statement of protest against race-related police brutality and lack of repercussions. When the Ferguson Grand Jury decision was announced late last month, there was backlash against “insensitive” tweets and other public acknowledgment of the link between the aftermath of the Michael Brown shooting and Selma, which was a month away from hitting theaters (we’ve still got a week until it opens in limited release on Christmas, while most of America won’t have the chance to see it until its January 9th expansion). The issue was mostly taken up with anyone remarking about the movie’s Oscar chances in the wake of the Grand Jury results. They immediately noted the accidental relevance of a movie about the 1965 Selma […]

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Ava DuVernay

The film Selma – or, more correctly, the film that would become Selma – has been in various states of creation and production for years. In 2008, screenwriter Paul Webb made Variety’s 10 Screenwriters to Watch list, where his own story (screenwriting wasn’t just a second act career for the then-sixty-year-old, it was actually a third) helped market his Martin Luther King, Jr.-centric script, which was believed to be set for a snappy and soon production. In 2009, Lee Daniels signed on to direct the film, ultimately leaving the project to direct The Butler. It wasn’t until nearly three years after Daniels exited the project that a new director was announced for the feature. Her name is Ava DuVernay, and she is our filmmaker of the year.

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Emerging Filmmakers 2014

This post is in partnership with Cadillac This summer, Cadillac and the Producers Guild of America launched Make Your Mark, a short film competition that challenged producers to create compelling content with limited resources. Contestants made a short film over a single weekend in late June, and you can watch the semi-finalists’ films at the Make Your Mark website. The 30-second Cadillac spot featuring the grand prize winner’s film will air during the 2015 Academy Awards. Luckily, we’ll be speaking with one of the semi-finalists, Alvaro Ron, whose short film To Kill or Not to Kill earned him one of the top spots and a chance to compete for the grand prize. He’ll share his experience as a filmmaker, the challenges of the competition, and how he overcame those obstacles. Plus, Geoff and I will offer up four directors, four screenwriters and four actors who broke through this year, delivering the kinds of movies and performances that get us excited about the future. As a bonus, William Fichtner drops by to add a gorgeous dose of zen to the show. You should follow the show (@brokenprojector), Geoff (@drgmlatulippe) and Scott (@scottmbeggs) on Twitter for more on a daily basis. Please review us on iTunes Download Episode #79 Directly Or subscribe through iTunes

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Breathe

The address of women in film isn’t new to film festivals, many of which have at least the occasional panel on issues regarding gender imbalance behind and in front of the camera. But lately there seems to be an increased spotlight on what various fests have to offer their audience in terms of female filmmakers and movies about women and how much of their program consists of titles that pass the Bechdel test or some other barometer like it. Last month, I wrote on the Bath Film Festival’s new system for stamping an ‘F’ rating to any of its selections meeting a pro-female criteria. More recently, the prestigious International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam had a themed program devoted to “the female gaze,” including screenings of old and new films plus panel discussions of such ideas as a Bechdel test specifically tailored to nonfiction cinema (see my response at Nonfics). Now an American event is joining the conversation, as the Atlanta Film Festival announced this week an initial wave of selections for its 2015 program, and all 10 titles named are works directed by women. As ATLFF Director of Programming Kristy Breneman points out, almost half of the fest’s 2014 program, both features and shorts, was made up of women-directed films (such as Obvious Child). On top of that, the event’s jury awards for best narrative feature and best documentary feature and the audience-award winner for best feature went to films by women. Because of that, Breneman made it a point to start things off for next year’s fest by unveiling an entirely female-helmed […]

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Paramount Pictures

Movies about the African-American Civil Rights Movement are and always have been in a strange place. The events of the period are a rich vein of fantastic story potential, but it’s one that’s gone mostly untapped by the film industry. Institutional cowardice about “black” movies, which supposedly don’t do well (except that they totally do) keeps Hollywood out of the period, and it’s difficult for independent filmmakers to fill the void, since a Civil Rights film is by necessity also a period piece, and making those requires a big production budget. It’s ridiculous that it’s taken this long for a major motion picture with Martin Luther King, Jr. as a main character to come out, but it’s finally happened thanks to the marriage of some select big Hollywood money (producers Oprah Winfrey and Brad Pitt) and indie artists (writer/director Ava DuVernay). The fact that it’s taken so long means that there are outsized, even unfair, expectations weighing on Selma. Does the movie live up to those expectations? In some ways, yes — but in others, sadly not. The film follows Dr. King (David Oyelowo) from when he won his Nobel Peace Prize in 1964 through the protest march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama in early 1965. Despite the passage of the Civil Rights Act, many southern states enforce ridiculous restrictions on voter registration in order to prevent black people from voting (gee, sound familiar?). King and other leaders of the SCLC join with local activists in Selma to make the city the focal point of […]

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Selma Movie

With percussive echoes of Public Enemy’s “Say It Like It Really Is” filling the background, the trailer for Ava DuVernay’s Selma offers a potent history lesson and a booming figure in David Oyelowo’s Martin Luther King, Jr. His presence is powerfully immediate, embodying the preacher’s bombast as well as the quiet tones of tense moments. This is impressive work, and it should resonate a million fold after the year we’ve just had. It’s hitting theaters January 9th, but (no surprise) it’s getting an Oscar-qualifying run around Christmas time. This trailer is a hammer to the forehead, and while it’s easy to call this a breakout year for Oyelowo (from A Most Violent Year to Interstellar to now playing one of the most famous figures of American contemporary history), I also hope this film launches DuVernay into the bigger spotlight she deserves. Gird your loins, and check this out.

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oprah the butler

It’s not even July yet. Do we really have to start with Oscar stuff now? The only other people mentioning this fall’s crop of potential award-winners do so with hilarious disclaimers like “It’s never too early to semi-blindly predict the rest of the year’s critical darlings” or “It’s only June, but let’s take an ignorant stab at the Oscar nominations anyway, shall we?” Oh, how I wish such a disclaimer could have run at the top of this paragraph. But now there is news. News that does not mention any explicit Oscar-mongering, yet carries the faint swooshing noise of Oprah Winfrey, polishing her mantle in anticipation of Oscar number two (and the first one was an honorary humanitarian award, so it barely counts as it is). Selma, the Winfrey-produced, Ava DuVernay-directed, David Oyelowo-starring biopic about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., has a release date: December 25, 2014, for a limited release, and then January 9, 2015, for the wide expansion. And that kind of a release schedule, or course, is what you do when you want to see your film dented and eventually destroyed under a shower of heavy awards statuettes. Last year, Dallas Buyers Club, Her and 12 Years a Slave went for the late-year, limited-then-wide release pattern. Today, all those movies can proudly proclaim “Academy Award Winner” on their various Blu-ray and DVD covers.

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AvaDuVernay

Middle of Nowhere director and Sundance favorite Ava DuVernay got one thing wrong in her keynote speech at the Film Independent Forum yesterday: that her address wouldn’t be headline-worthy. While it’s true that Netflix exec Ted Sarandos stirred the pot the day before with statements that helped his company’s bottom line, DuVernay’s views might well be more revolutionary to aspiring filmmakers. In her near-half-hour talk, DuVernay talked at length about a mental shift she underwent that seems simple, yet could have a profound impact on those attempting to break into the industry. Or people merely trying to do the damned thing. It involves casting off the coat of desperation, and you can hear about it here:

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venus vs

In 1968, Billie Jean King won the women’s singles championship at Wimbledon, but she only received £750 in prize money while the men’s singles champion won £2,000. From this moment on, King began advocating for all players to earn equal prize money at all the Grand Slam events, regardless of gender. Three out of these four major tournaments (the US Open, the French Open, and the Australian Open) agreed to this change, but Wimbledon continued to hold out, only slightly increasing the prize total for female players over the years but never making it equal to what the men were awarded. Then in 1994, a young player from South Central Los Angeles went pro and changed the sport forever. Gone were the days of women’s tennis being mainly a serve and volley game. At 6’3″, Venus Williams ushered in a new generation of female power players who competed with an intensity and drive equal to the males. This shift began to electrify the women’s game, making it just as popular as the men’s (if not more so in some years), and negated the theory that female players drew in less viewers and had fewer fans than their male counterparts, an idea some had used to justify the difference in pay.

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THR Directors Roundtable 2012

One of the highlights of the Oscar season is the series of round table discussions produced by The Hollywood Reporter, and for good reason. We spend much of the fall and winter comparing drastically different films only on the most basic of levels, who is deserving of awards and who isn’t. Any real conversation between the creators of the best movies of the year is therefore worth watching. Unfortunately, the list of the participants is not often as diverse as the films themselves. This year’s directors’ round table was made up entirely of men, as was the one last year. The same is true of this year’s writers’ panel. Meanwhile, the one real opportunity for us to hear a genuine dialog between women in cinema, the actresses’ panel, was bungled by the typical soft and silly questions that plague American actresses. As Monika Bartyzel so astutely points out in her piece over at Movies.com, it might not be intentional on the part of THR but that doesn’t make it any less problematic.

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LAFF Middle of Nowhere

Editor’s note: With Sundance winner Middle of Nowhere hitting limited release, here is a re-run of our LAFF review, originally published on June 21, 2012. The concept of loneliness permeates director Ava DuVernay’s sophomore effort, Middle of Nowhere, as we watch Ruby (Emayatzy Corinealdi) struggle to move forward after her husband, Derek (Omari Hardwick), is given a eight year prison sentence. We open on Ruby and Derek during one of their weekly visitations, and the desperation to get through their situation plays all over Ruby’s face while Derek seems more hesitant to look too far into the future. Ruby is hanging on to the hope that with good behavior, Derek’s sentence will be reduced from eight years to five and she makes him repeat this mantra before she leaves. We learn that Ruby had been on track to go to medical school, but now with Derek locked up, she has decided to put it off in favor of being able to make her weekly visits (and the two hour, each way, bus ride to get there) and be home for his phone calls. It is clear that Derek does not want Ruby to put her life on hold for him, but stubborn and passionate Ruby will hear none of it. She has a plan and believes if they each keep their heads down, they will soon be together again and get their lives back on track. But can things ever go back to the way they were after eight potential […]

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Middle of Nowhere Movie 2012

In Middle of Nowhere, the forthcoming movie from writer/director Ava DuVernay, a young woman (Emayatzy Corinealdi) stalls her medical school career in order to focus on ensuring her jailed husband’s well-being. Unsurprisingly, life gets in the way and leads her toward self-exploration. DuVernay won Best Director at Sundance 2012 with the picture – a film that looks solidly like the kind of indie drama you’d find at a festival. There’s definitely an elegance to it, judging by the sweet solemnity of the trailer. Check it out yourself:

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LAFF 2012

With the Tribeca Film Festival in full swing, it’s time that Los Angeles’ own Los Angeles Film Festival pipe in with still more of its lineup, all the better to get left-coasters pumped for their own festival. Earlier this month, LAFF announced that Woody Allen’s To Rome With Love will open the festival, and that announcement is now followed by the release of the first of three of the festival’s Gala titles. Those Galas will include Benh Zeitlin‘s Beasts of the Southern Wild, the World Premiere of Lorene Scafaria‘s Seeking a Friend for the End of the World, and Ava DuVernay‘s Middle of Nowhere. Beasts was considered the break-out hit of this year’s Sundance Film Festival, so its appearance at another large festival is not a surprise, but it sure is a pleasant announcement for Los Angeles (the film was recently picked to play in the Un Certain Regard section at Cannes). The film also made it on to our Most Anticipated Movies of the Summer list, as it will open on June 29. You can check out Kevin’s review of the film from Sundance, if you’re into that sort of thing.

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Occupy Wall Street

As most of you probably know, there are a bunch of people hanging around Wall Street these days. Making signs, waving them, voting to see what they do next. It’s a growing movement that’s recently been joined by Anonymous threatening to remove the New York Stock Exchange from the internet on October 10th. Normally in a situation like this, the whole world would watch as it plays out before hearing that some studio has optioned the rights to tell the story fictionally, but in this case, independent documentary filmmakers are banding together to make sure that the event is showed in its purest form. A Kickstarter campaign was started for 99% – The Occupy Wall Street Collaborative Film by Audrey Ewell and Aaron Aites (the filmmaking team beyond the Black Metal doc Until the Light Takes Us). Other filmmakers involved include Tyler Brodie (executive producer for Another Earth and Pi), Michael Galinsky (Battle for Brooklyn), Ava DuVernay (publicist and writer/director of I Will Follow), and to illustrate how quickly this thing is moving forward, Bob Ray (the Austin-based writer/director behind Total Badass) joined while I was writing this post.

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published: 01.29.2015
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