2016 marks the 25th anniversary of the 1991 release of Daughters of the Dust by Julie Dash, the first feature length film directed by an African-American woman to receive wide theatrical distribution. To celebrate and explore the film’s legacy, the Nickelodeon will present Daughters: Celebrating Emerging Female Filmmakers of Color, a three-day film festival featuring works by a selected group of contemporary female filmmakers of color. The festival will take place from Friday, November 11 through Sunday, November 13, 2016 at the Nickelodeon Theatre .
Director Tchaiko Omawale is one of the nine female filmmakers of color selected to take part in this momentous celebration, and is an up and coming director that you will want to keep an eye on. Omawale interned for Spike Lee, Mira Nair and assisted directors George C. Wolfe and Tom Vaughan. Her first narrative feature film Solace is currently in post production and she has been selected as a 2016 Tribeca All Access Grantee and a 2016 IFP Narrative Lab fellow. You can check out her vast body of work HERE.
On Friday, November 11th, Omawale will screen her two short films Sita and Solace at Daughers. Inspired by her personal struggles with having an eating disorder and dealing with self-harm issues, Solace revolves around a withdrawn teenage girl named Sole, who finds solace in a relationship with her troubled neighbor, Jasmine. Sita is an experimental fantasy film that explores what happens when a fairy falls in love with a human.
HBR had the opportunity to interview Omawale where she discussed her passion for storytelling, her experiences in the independent film world, and the things that inspire her to create.
When did you each realize that you wanted to pursue your passion as a filmmaker?
When I went to Columbia University at first I wanted to be a performer, but when I was taking acting classes I realized I wasn’t ready to deal with my emotional stuff. At the same time in my mind I realized there weren’t many dark skinned actresses with wide noses, and I didn’t want how I looked to determine my ability to express myself so I made a specific decision to be behind the camera. That seemed to me to put me more in control of expressing myself – thankfully I was too ignorant to realize being a female director also had it’s systemic challenges. I took Film studies classes and my world lit up at the thought of creating the kinds of films we studied.
What was the inspiration behind your two films Sita and Solace?
I have always loved fairies and the idea for Sita came about because I needed an escape from the despair I was feeling while making my short documentary America’s Shadows HIV Risk in Black and Latino Youth. I was ingesting a lot of frustrating and depressing information about the AIDS epidemic in Sub-Saharan Africa and marginalized communities in the US and Sita was my story of “What if?” What if fairies existed, what if they came back to humans after the aftermath of our world experiencing a deadly epidemic?
Solace was first inspired by Krystoff Kieslowsi’s film A Short Film About Love. I was fascinated with the difference between how we present to the outside and what is really going on inside and of course my own journey with an eating disorder and self-harm. For a long time I thought I was the only black person with this disease and I wanted to make something that expressed a little of how it felt.
What are some of the biggest challenges that you had to face in bringing these projects to light, and how did you overcome these challenges?
Finding money was the major challenge which is a pretty common challenge for most filmmakers. I wouldn’t say I overcame that challenge as I’m still learning how to raise funds for my current projects. Patience was a challenge too– they both took way longer than I thought they would. The editing process was challenging in that respect – I ran out of money for post on both films and had to finish them in stages. I am still learning to cultivate patience and understand that timing is everything and I can’t control the process.
How did you go about receiving funding/financing for these films?
With Sita I got a lot of in-kind services and put the rest on a credit card – something I’ll never do again – I’m still paying off that debt. I was able to get our lighting package and camera for free because I worked in commercials as a PA and asked producers if they would vouch for me so that vendors would loan me the equipment. I paid for insurance which is all they required for me to have and I made that film. All of us worked for free, Bradford Young, the costumer the production designer. Most of the debt went to paying for production design. Brad had suggested for the fairy world we wait for spring and shoot outdoors in nature but I was impatient and tied to the idea of building sets – I was really inspired by Derek Jarmon’s films that to me were sort of theater and film mixed together.
For the short film Solace I kickstarted most of the budget and in post a friend I had just met donated a chunk of money for us to edit. I had to invest my own money after I moved from the first editor. Luckily a fellow director friend Camille Brown donated her time and did an edit and then Dennis Dortch of Black & Sexy TV did the final edit on the film.
What would you like audiences to take away from each of these films?
With Sita – I want audiences to leave with a sense of wonder. I want them to leave wanting to know more about Sita and her Fairy World.
For Solace – that you never know what someone is going through on the inside despite how they appear on the outside.
What has been your greatest reward as filmmakers/content creators?
For me I feel the most high when I’m directing performances – my entire body gets buzzed when I’m working with actors on set or during rehearsal. I wish I could be in that space in all aspects of my life. There is a confidence that I have when I’m directing that I don’t elsewhere.
Are there any filmmakers/directors/authors/cinematographers/artists etc. that inspire your work?
Oh gosh I could go on forever there’s so much– most recently I’ve been specifically fascinated with the editing in John Ridley’s American Crime and the score/sound design in Under the Skin. I lose my sh*t when I watch them. But there are other artists that inspire me to keep pushing forward to grow into the artist I dream of being.
Lena Dunham – for being brave to show nudity in the way she does, for addressing things that we don’t like to talk about in her show – like HPV, awkward sex with guys who have been raised on porn.
Octavia Butler- the first page of all her novels grip you with an intensity and she creates these worlds that I want to live in for months and years after I’ve read the book. The political is expertly woven into the narrative I want to do that with my fantasy stories.
Tilda Swinton – As a director I dream of finding a muse, that one actor that can shape shift and roll with me on all my cinematic journeys. What I love about her beyond her craft it is the choices she makes in films, she’s worked on all these experimental films with Derek Jarmon, Jane Campion and also I absolutely adore her performance in I am Love. I mean how crazy that it took me a while to realize it was her in Trainwreck. I want to work with bold and adventurous actors like that.
Directors – Krystoff Kieslowsi – he was my favorite director for a long time. I grew up in Cold War era in Mozambique and then Thailand and I was always fascinated with Eastern European communism (Russia particularly) – partially because my parents and their pan-african friends and partially because they had the best gymnasts. So Kiewlowski was able to make very personal moving stories that weren’t explicitly political but the environ
Do you have any advice for a young up and coming filmmaker who would like to follow in your footsteps?
Oh gosh, I feel like I would like to get advice from younger filmmakers. They are so much better at just making things and putting it out there. But I guess the one thing that I try to remind myself of constantly is to surround myself with a community of people that can reflect back to you all the ways in which you and your stories are worthy – it’s been a really emotional and challenging journey and it always feel better than worth it when I’m around my friends. They inspire me –my filmmaking buddies, my activist friends, my friends who are new mothers – people that I love inspire me.
What impact would you like your work to have on the industry and on our society?
Oh wow such a big question. Really, I would like to have the opportunity to create the magical worlds that I live with in my mind – I love fantasy films! I’d also really love the opportunity to share the stories that I’ve witnessed growing up the way I did. By the time I was 16 I’d lived in seven different countries around the world – there were the two coups in Sierra Leone, the civil war in Yemen but there was also being thirteen and dancing all night long on the beach with friends in Sierra Leone, chewing Khat in Addis Abba during Spring break in high school and you know there’s so much more. I’ve lived a really big beautiful life and I’d like to share that.
Do you have any upcoming projects that you would like to share?
My feature Solace I’m super excited about – we have a great team in front of and behind the camera. Hope who was in the short is starring in the feature and she’s joined by Lynn Whitfield, Glynn Turman and some fantastic young actors – Chelsea Tavares, Luke Rampersad and Sydney Bennett Syd tha Kid who was generous enough to trust in my story and join our film. Bruce Francis Cole is my partner in crime, my DP and we are both really excited to share what we did with the rest of our team to show the types of characters and filmmaking that we wanted to see ourselves.
I’ve also started writing again – developing the world of my short film Sita into a feature script.
For tickets and more information on Daughters: Celebrating Emerging Female Filmmakers of Color please click HERE.