Filmmaking

FILMMAKING

I’ve made over 30 films, which have included animation, dramas, documentaries, features, experimental films and interactive films. I think of my work as being in conversation with ideas that are on my mind and in my heart. Often these ideas are centered in the lived experiences of women, particularly women of color and my own curiosities. This is probably a carry over from the days that I spent listening to women’s stories in my mother’s beauty parlour. See store for a complete list of my films (as early as 1975 ) available for purchase.

Syvilla: They Dance to Her Drum

This documentary portrait follows the last years in the life of pioneering dancer and teacher, Syvilla Fort. Although virtually unknown to the general public she was well known in dance and theater circles. She was my dance teacher and I spent many days in her tiny studio in the Time Square area in N.Y. Forced by rising rents to leave her studio, I along with other students helped her to pack. There, in bent down cardboard boxes I discovered a world that she had kept to herself. A world where she had been a dancer and teacher for the Katherine Dunham Dance Company – where she had trained famous actors such as Marlon Brando and James Dean – where the famous composer John Cage composed Bacchanale, his first piece for his “prepared piano” at her request to make the piano sound “percussive” – where she was an unsung hero. How could the life of an African American woman be so boxed up and hidden away? It’s more common than you might think. I was compelled to tell Syvilla’s story.

Hair Piece: a film for nappyheaded people

My first animated film. I lived in Brooklyn New York during a time when many Black folks were exploring their African roots and how to express them through fashion and a lifestyle. There were others however, who were exploring their roots — literally — in a different way. They were wearing shower caps on their heads to activate their Jheri curl — a hair relaxer that changed your hair texture to look curly. Think Samuel L. Jackson in the movie Pulp Fiction. Folks would show up at the bank, post office, downtown shopping and in restaurants with their shower caps on. I couldn’t resist doing an animated satire.

Alma’s Rainbow

My first feature film. Produced at a time when “hood” movies and what I call urban Black pathology films were taking a hold in American cinema. Against this backdrop this film tells the story of a young girl struggling to grow up in a repressive household with a single mother unwilling to let go of the past and to learn to dream again. The girl is saved in part by her fantasies of becoming like her world-traveling show business aunt – but ultimately by her mother’s willingness to let go of the past and learn to dream and grow again. Some of the story is autobiographical – so in some ways I too was learning to let go and to dream again through the making of this film.

Zajota and the Boogie Spirit

This film was produced after my first visit to Africa in the 80s. There I met people who spoke different languages, cooked food differently, wore different clothing and in some ways had a different way of seeing the world. None of this mattered – we were still able to communicate with each other through the world of dance. There is no place in Africa that I have not been able to “throw down” with the locals and have a great time. This led me to thinking more about how dance traveled across the African Diaspora and how it has been retained in our bodies and in our hearts. During this time, I was also interested in computer animation. This film was made in part using the first consumer Apple desktop computer and won me the Apple Computer Distinguished Educator Award. These films, and others that I have made, reflect my experiences and serve as a look into my imagination, parts of my life as well as how I am thinking through ideas about the world. Learn more about my films that you can purchase for your collection by visiting the store.