Allendra Freeman, pictured here on a recent video shoot for PJ Morton. Photo by Roe Patterson.
Local filmmaker and cinematographer Allendra Freeman, who last year participated in the Film Society’s Emerging Voices mentorship program for Louisiana filmmakers of color, recently added a pretty big credit to her resume: that of cinematographer on Beyoncé’s visual album Lemonade (as well as the stand-alone video for Beyoncé’s “Formation”). The director of Emerging Voices, Chloe Walters-Wallace, recently took some time with Allendra to ask about that experience as well as her work in the local film and video scene.
How/when did you become involved with NOFS/NOFF, Emerging Voices?
My friend, Lily Keber [director of the James Booker documentary Bayou Maharajah], introduced me to Emerging Voices last fall.
Do you feel that your experience with the New Orleans Film Festival/ New Orleans Film Society & Emerging Voices was beneficial to you when it came to working on a major visual album?
My experience with NOFF/NOFS/Emerging Voices has opened up doors for me to connect with other filmmakers in New Orleans that I would have never had the opportunity to meet. Emerging Voices allowed me to meet filmmakers of color who have inspired me to use my culture in my work and to take my cinematography to the next level, especially since the stories that I will be telling are stories that are important to me. NOFF/NOFS has allowed me to broadcast my work to an audience who may have not seen my work before.
What was your specific role on Lemonade and how did you get involved?
Cinematographer. They saw a trailer of Buckjumping, a documentary that I have been working on for about a year now with Lily, about New Orleans dance, and they reached out to us.
What scene or section of the visual album was your favorite to work on? Why?
Everything was a pleasure to work on. I was excited to work with Beyoncé and Melina Matsoukas, who is one of my favorite directors. It was really a time-crunch project. We (Lily Keber, James Page, and I) had a list of things to shoot, and we had to do it all within 14 hours. Then, Beyoncé’s team contacted us again to produce and film a funeral scene. So we had to find a church, organize a second line, find second liners, including Scubble and Gerald, two of the jazziest New Orleans second liners I know, lady pallbearers, dancers, and a brass band.
I loved every aspect of it, all of it was my favorite. To film something that I identify with and grew up watching (which I’ve always loved and admired about my culture), and that Beyoncé wanted to include in her visual album, was an incredible feeling.
What is your favorite song on the album?
“Formation” and “Sorry”
What was the most exciting part about working on this project for you?
The exciting part about working on this project was that I was shooting something that had a purpose for an artist that has a major voice.
Do you come at filmmaking with a specific vision as a director or DP?
Yes, I love capturing style and personality detail. Things like gold teeth, long nails, the way people move, the things that people have forgotten about who they are, what they used to be, and what made them who they are.
What other inspirations do you bring to your projects?
Duality. Feminism. I love powerful female characters and I love creating black male characters with emotion.
What’s your background/relationship to New Orleans?
I was born and raised in New Orleans, the majority of my family is from New Orleans, and are still here, and won’t ever leave. They won’t even leave the neighborhood. lol
How does it feel to be be a New Orleans filmmaker/ local and to have been a part of a major project with such heavy New Orleans imagery? Did you feel a sense of pride or connection to the project because of it?
It’s like… how can I explain it… I knew New Orleans culture was always amazing. Being a visionary, I always knew that it was something special. Throughout my life I’ve always experienced people who didn’t appreciate New Orleans culture, so it’s like, finally, people are understanding what I’ve been feeling and what I’ve been feeling is finally being brought to life, globally. So I appreciate her for putting us on the map, not like we haven’t been already. So, of course, I feel a sense of pride.
What about the New Orleans landscape inspires you?
The potholes mostly. It’s fascinating that people dance their asses off and never get hurt. It shows the dedication and the fact that they’re so focused on the positives and what makes them feel good, that they don’t worry about breaking a leg.
What about New Orleans versus other places do you love in regards to filmmaking?
I feel like New Orleans is one of the only places left in America with a genuine and thriving original culture. It never gets old and I think no one has captured and went into depth to the beauty and beast of New Orleans. Usually I see mostly people who aren’t originally from New Orleans creating stories about voodoo, slavery, and jazz, there’s just so much more than that.