Tribeca: Ava DuVernay’s 8 Tips to Filmmakers On How to Stay in Control

The director of “Selma” provided some unique, dare we say therapeutic, perspective on how a filmmaker can go about taking control of his or her destiny during a recent question-answer session, a part of the Tribeca Talks: Director Series.

Ava DuVernay

Gorgeous, grounded and smart as a whip, Ava DuVernay dances to the beat of her own drum — and she thinks you should too.

The director of the Martin Luther King Jr. biopic “Selma” stopped by the 2015 Tribeca Film Festival to discuss her work and the trajectory of her career with Q-Tip, member of the storied hip-hop group A Tribe Called Quest. The conversation began 25 minutes later than scheduled because DuVernay’s red-eye flight into New York had been delayed, which, in turn, made her late to arriving at the location of the talk. Always gracious, however, DuVernay thanked the audience for their patience and remained onstage for the full hour.

Below you will find the main highlights from the discussion.

Find your tribe.

“Find the folks that are going to feed you and nourish you in creative ways,” DuVernay told the room. She shared a laugh with the audience when she realized, while seated next to Q-Tip onstage, the pun in the statement, “find your tribe.” Anyone who knows her, she said, can tell you that these three words have long been a mantra of hers; one that she regularly shares with others. DuVernay began her career in film as a publicist and didn’t make the transition over to directing until she was in her late thirties. The way she made that transition, she says, is by working outside “the architecture of the industry as we know it.” Said DuVernay: “So I didn’t [encounter] a lot of resistance because I found my people and I started making films in my own space, in my own way.” Over time, she said, her collaborators and creative goals began to intersect with the traditional entertainment industry.

No matter what, never stop shooting.

“My motto is stay shooting,” DuVernay said when asked about what she does during the gaps in between films. “Hashtag stay shooting,” she continued, “if I could tattoo it I would, but my mom said no more tattoos.” Between films she said that she stays true to her motto by working on commercials, documentaries and television. When she worked as a publicist, DuVernay said that she “would see the struggle, especially for black filmmakers or people of color in general, and definitely women [and] women of color, this period of inactivity, this moment of trying to figure out once you did it, how you do it again within the construct of the industry.” She cited Spike Lee and his tireless work ethic as inspiration for the way in which she navigates her own creative career.

“What my mission is, in all of my work, is to magnify the magnificence of black people.” – Ava DuVernay

Medium doesn’t matter.

Instead of viewing television and film as separate mediums that exist in opposition to one another — and hence, one must be better than the other — DuVernay approaches them as equal opportunities for her to exercise her creative latitude. “I think the goal is to find liberation in whatever you are doing and that is hard but the interesting thing is [that] right now, the paradigms are changing.” Television, DuVernay noted, has become just as attractive of a home for screen auteurs as film once was (and still, to a large extent, remains). “Ultimately, it’s about expression, voice and story — what you’re trying to get across — the feeling, the vibe, whatever you’re trying to say,” continued DuVernay. “I embrace that those things can be said and communicated in different ways.”

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