Day 4 at DIFF

Dubai, United Arab Emirates

Day 4 of DIFF was pretty eye opening for me. Starting the day with a discussion on directing, with Ava DuVernay and Shekhar Kapur from The Academy, set the tone for how I would view the films I saw. But by the end of the day, a stronger subject emerged.

Let me elaborate…

If you haven’t heard of Ava DuVernay, she is the first African-American woman to win Best Director at Sundance. A former film publicist, Ava said she eventually felt an intense yearning to tell stories through film. She described this feeling as a pain inside. Finally she says she stopped waiting for the perfect circumstances to make a film, and after using what she had, she made her first film, This Is The Life, a documentary on the 90‘s underground hip hop movement in Los Angeles. Since then she has made two other feature films including Middle of Nowhere, for which she won her Sundance award in 2012, and has become a member of the Academy.

Shekhar Kapur’s perspective on filmmaking was similar to Ava’s even though he has significantly more years of experience. He believes strongly in using what you have to tell stories. Also, he humorously admitted to using panic as a huge driving force behind his creative process. His ability to harness this seemingly destructive emotion has no doubt helped him greatly throughout his career.

A little while after this inspiring discussion I saw 12 Years A Slave, and then Fruitvale Station. These two films have been two of the toughest films of the festival to watch. They both left me with feelings of frustration and injustice.

Although it was one of the most beautifully shot films I’ve ever seen, 12 Years A Slave was also extremely uncomfortable. Director Steve McQueen strips every scene to its rawest emotion, then basks in it. The result is a sort of hyper-pure form of filmmaking, transforming the film into a work acute artistry.

Fruitvale Station is equally impressive. First time writer/director Ryan Coogler has created a really standout film, based on the true story of Oscar Grant. There is a courage in Coogler’s work that is surprising. His vision, and directing of the film’s stars, Michael B. Jordan, Melonie Diaz and Octavia Spencer, makes for an authentic film that doesn’t hold back in its storytelling, but without being manipulative.

Seeing Ava speak, followed by these two films on unjust events, made me think more of the pain that Ava mentioned. While I’m sure this intense desire to tell stories has produced films of a more uplifting nature, the film’s with the most recognition so far this week, have been ones that come from pain. Now even though it seems the two are different, pain of the story’s subject and pain to tell the story, after this day, I feel the line is not so distinct. So, Day 4 has left me thinking hard about what is ultimately necessary to tell a story well through film…what kind of pain? What kind of sacrifice? What kind of yearning? I’m not sure, but I hope these kind of questions continue to arise throughout the rest of DIFF. By Sara Castillo. 

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