The countdown for the 31st annual New Orleans Film Festival has begun! We received thousands of film submissions from filmmakers all around the world and we are looking forward to announcing the festival lineup on October 1st.
In the meantime, we wanted to reach out to filmmakers who joined the festival in recent years to see “Where Are They Now?,” and talk to them about their experience at NOFF and in New Orleans, how they are navigating these unprecedented times, and learn about their new projects. Stay tuned as we publish these interviews throughout September.
Our first guest is filmmaker Shatara Michelle Ford whose debut feature film “TEST PATTERN” was featured in the 2019 New Orleans Film Festival and won the Jury Award for Best Narrative Feature.
Shatara Michelle Ford (She/Her/They) is a Black American filmmaker born in rural Arkansas and raised in St. Louis, Missouri. Their work explores class, power, womanhood, identity, memory, perception, and race. Intellectually propelled by the L.A. Rebellion film movement and stylistically influenced by Neoclassical directors; their films feature marginalized characters with rich internal lives that defy dominant stereotypes. She is based in West Philadelphia.
When did you know you wanted to be a filmmaker? What or who inspired you to pursue your artistic ambitions?
I was first introduced to the concept of Narrative Film as a form of artistic expression, intellectual exploration, and political practice through the work of, and scholarship on a group of Black Filmmakers who emerged from UCLA’s School of Film and Television between 1979-1984, also known as the “Los Angeles School of Black Filmmakers” or the “L.A. Rebellion”. These filmmakers were not invested in Hollywood conventions of the time and drew their influences from Latin America, European art films, and African cinema. As I grew as an artist and became more committed to this path, new work from members of the L.A. Rebellion had all but vanished and the American Independent film movement was in decline. I, therefore, decided to pursue an MFA in Screenwriting from a program based in the United Kingdom, where contemporary work that resonated with me was abundant. In the UK, I was nurtured in a country and in an era that valued cinematic expression, backed by public arts funding for filmmakers, and an environment that fostered dynamic early and mid-career work from influences of mine, like Andrea Arnold, Steve McQueen, and Lynne Ramsay. The work coming out of the UK at that time emboldened me and gave me important tools as I developed my own artistic voice.
What are your favorite spots to visit in New Orleans?
There’s a lot of great Black food and great Black art and great Black music in New Orleans. However, something that I’ve always struggled with, as an African American, born and raised below the Mason-Dixon line, is how New Orleans, a major site for the selling of Black bodies and the profiting of Black labor/exploitation through the cotton trade, does not explicitly engage with its history of enslavement. The heavy feeling I get, due to this underplayed history is at times, overwhelming. The slave trade App has been a helpful and eye-opening tool when in New Orleans. I also have a great appreciation for The Whitney Plantation, just an hour away. New Orleans needs public atonement. New Orleans needs to actively participate in Truth and Reconciliation.
With “TEST PATTERN,” you won the Jury Award for Best Narrative Feature at NOFF 2019. How did this win impact your life, creative process, or the journey of the film?
My life did not change nor did my creative process change due to TEST PATTERN’s win at NOFF in 2019. What it did do was give me the confidence to keep going. It reminded me that the work does resonate. I believe that my role as an artist is to hold a mirror up to society. I think good art should confront an audience, and that there is great value in work that attempts to do so. However, the way that contemporary films are manufactured, emphasizing entertainment and profitability over all else, has crowded out a good many films that challenge and provoke, often these films are lead by and center the experiences of non-white, non-straight people. This has been to the detriment of the medium and to society. This cannot continue.
If you had to describe your experience at the New Orleans Film Festival in one word what would it be?
In times like these, where do you draw your inspiration for new work? Are you working on any projects now?
Right now, I’m just reading a lot of Audre Lorde and focusing my energy on taking care of my community and myself. People do good work when needs are met and minds are clear. Practicing equity and looking out for the most vulnerable around us will create the necessary space for radical change.
Thanks for joining us Shatara, it’s great to catch up with you and we are excited to follow your journey as a filmmaker. You can find Shatara on Instagram @shataramichelleford and follow TEST PATTERN @testpatternmovie.