There’s this festival that happens in France every year, you may have heard of it. Its called the Cannes Film Festival (Festival de Cannes). The first time I learned of this festival, my producing partner had made the trip. She returned raving about the parties, the networking and…the parties. Famous line from one of those conversations…”it’s gold darling, its gold!” Apparently there was a chocolate fountain and sprinkled with well – gold. Edible gold. Since that time, I’ve had the pleasure of attending the festival as well. The thing that always sticks out to me is the lack of diversity.
Beyond Borders: Diversity in Cannes, is challenging that reality.
Beyond Borders: Diversity in Cannes is an independent global filmmaker movement occurring annually in France. The ultimate goals are to expand the international network of globally diverse filmmakers and to encourage out of the box and beyond borders thinking when strategizing to produce, finance and distribute our films. It’s making a positive impact at the Festival de Cannes, where diversity is not the first priority.
We recently had the pleasure of speaking with the Diversity in Cannes Founder, Yolonda Brinkley. Here are excerpts of our conversation.
Tell us more about your organization.
Beyond Borders: Diversity in Cannes was conceived in 2009 after my first visit to the festival and launched in 2010. It was created as a self-funded passion project, with the goal of providing an environment conducive to networking for people like me during the Cannes Film Festival. I used my own funds to grow the movement, which has grown from a half day panel discussion to a fully operable global diversity movement including the Diversity in Cannes Short Film Showcase, the Pre-Cannes Film Festival Information Session, the Black Lives Black Stories Matter Short Film Tour and the Cannes Representation. We’re showing up and taking a seat at the proverbial table.
What was your first experience like at the Cannes Film Festival?
My first trip to the Cannes Film Festival in 2009 marked my first return to the city in 17 years, as I studied abroad at the College International de Cannes twice during my tenure at Clark Atlanta University. Though I probably hadn’t used my French in years, I was confident that I wouldn’t have any language issues and was excited for the opportunity. Upon arrival, it was more beautiful than remembered or could have been my new found love of the ocean and the beach, a perk I didn’t appreciate as a young college student. Nevertheless, with respect to my experience, while I met some great people during my trip, I felt like an outsider. Not sure of the cause, but thank God for my video camera as I used it as a conversation starter; walking up on the folks like what’s up BLACK PEOPLE?, which is when I learned that all of us were merely festival goers, not all sure how to navigate the world’s most prestigious film industry event. I nor many of those interviewed had any idea how to access the red carpet premieres or secure invites for the parties. In fact, many of the interviewees had films in the short film corner or were participating in internship programs, highlighting their emerging filmmaker status. I can go on and on about the experience, but I’ll stop with this. The Cannes Film Festival is an elitist, hierarchical event reserved solely for film industry professionals. From an ambiance perspective, you can’t really go wrong with sunny skies, beautiful people, perfect weather and the Mediterranean Sea as the backdrop, but don’t get caught up with beauty as there’s work to do. Your attendance at the festival is most certainly what you make it. As for me, at the conclusion of my first trip, I wasn’t sure if I’d ever return. I felt like an outsider and wasn’t sure I belonged. However, as a part of the Philadelphia Public School System’s Desegregation Program, I was no stranger to feeling like an outsider. Therefore, I decided that I determine where I belong and I wouldn’t allow perceived or actual expectations/experiences dictate my movement.
Tell us about the films you screen. What types of films work best for the audience?
The short film showcase was introduced in 2013 with 8-10 films and the program continues to grow, but the showcase is only part of what we do. Year to date we’ve screened at least 50 films and have expanded our efforts to include two parallel sections including a general showcase and one focusing on a specific diverse group. We introduced the parallel section in 2015 with the Black Lives Black Stories Matter Showcase and followed up with Women in Formation in 2016. Films with great stories that transcends boundaries work best for our audience.
What type of success has resulted from the collaboration fostered by your efforts?
Our success includes providing an intimate platform for filmmakers to expand their international network and to learn about filmmaking trends in the international film industry. Moreover, as a result of their participation with Diversity in Cannes, many filmmakers have had their worked screened at the Writers Guild of America West, during TD Jakes International Faith and Family Film Festival at MegaFest and at the California African American Museum. While this example is specific to me, it’s reiterates my rationale for the movement. Russian Filmmaker Elena Brodach, winner of the 2016 Diversity in Cannes Short Film Showcase, and her short film Next, were official selections of the 2016 Toronto International Film Festival. Because of her experience with me and Diversity in Cannes, she retained my PR services. As a result, I traveled to Canada as her publicist and represented her on a global stage at one of the most popular film festivals in the world. Examples like these keep us going.<
Capital always sits at the forefront of everyone’s mind when thinking of projects. Can Diversity in Cannes help lead to funding for projects?
We understand the need for capital in the industry and pride ourselves in keeping up to date with current global film initiatives and share our findings with our supporters.
For a filmmaker without a film in the Cannes competition, is Cannes itself worth the journey? Why or why not?
Let’s be clear, the majority of the filmmaking community WILL NEVER have a film in competition at the Cannes Film Festival. However, thousands of globally diverse filmmakers convene on the Croisette annually, which lends itself to limitless networking. It’s been said, that network determines net worth and I believe you’re only as good as the company you keep. With that I’d say it’s absolutely worth it. Of course, there are the Will Packer’s and Roger Bobb’s of the world, who haven’t been to Cannes and are experiencing tremendous success. There’s no right way. Each filmmaker’s journey is different. My advice is to think outside the box and beyond borders to produce finance and distribute their films. Some may use the funds to make a film, while others may consider taking the journey. For the latter, a trip to Cannes could be as simple as forgoing the lattes, dining out, electronics purchases and other excess spending.
I encourage filmmakers to take advantage of the diverse populations represented at the Cannes Film Festival. Please don’t go to France and network with those to whom you have access at home. Also, a few tips I share at the Beyond Borders: Diversity in Cannes Pre-Cannes info session hosted at the WGA West annually include planning the trip in advance, being clear about the purpose of the trip, making it (the purpose) the top priority and understanding the rules of engagement. Everything in Cannes is hierarchical. Acknowledging that makes it easier to navigate and manages expectations. Not knowing, could ruin the entire trip.
We have heard from many people of color who have attended the Cannes Film Festival in years past, and there have been complaints of racism on the part of the French. Have you ever experienced any thing like this?
Honestly, I don’t know about racism, but I do know that by the end of the festival, I am ready to slap a FRENCH (inside joke) as they are often rude and inflexible! I’ll also add that throughout my past travels in France, I witnessed more racism against North Africans than blacks.
How can Black TV & Film Collective members submit work?
Submissions are open for the 2017 Diversity in Cannes Short Film Showcase at filmfreeway.com/festival/
I hope you’ll join us.
The Black TV & Film Collective a 501c3 organization that operates as a NYC film collective. In our work, we support all artists of color including but not limited to black filmmakers. We are a collaborative platform that represents diversity in film and supports inclusion in Hollywood and TV. Our professional network of New York City filmmakers gives knowledge to those who want to learn how to produce film, how to make a web series, how to budget film projects and more. We host NYC film workshops that welcome a variety of experience levels from first time filmmakers who are either students in film school or to notables within the television and film industry. See how you can make a difference in the world of cinema by becoming a member of our NYC film collective.
Huriyyah Muhammad is the Founder of the Black TV & Film Collective and Managing Partner of Infinite Wings Media. As an independent feature film producer, she has led the production of multiple independent feature films from development to market and most recently completed filming projects in Nairobi, Kenya and Madhya Pradesh, India. Huriyyah will soon make her narrative directorial debut with the supernatural series, Keloid. In addition to these projects, her filmography includes over 14 other works. It has not been easy, but it has certainly been fun.
Huriyyah is an avid writer, director and producer who is passionate about creating long-lasting opportunities for people of color within film and TV. She holds an MBA from the NYU Stern School of Business and a Bachelor’s of Science degree in Computer Science from Spelman College.