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Lena Waithe’s Rising Voices Winners Discuss The Program, Gives Advice To Young Filmmakers

This year marks the fourth season of Rising Voices, an initiative created to uncover, invest in, and amplify BIPOC filmmakers in partnership with the job site Indeed, Emmy Award-winner Lena Waithe's Hillman Grad Productions, and 271 Films.

This past December, the program announced this season’s class of budding filmmakers who all submitted culturally compelling scripts about the “future of work” including Wes Andre Goodrich, and Omar Kamara. Past seasons’ winners have gone on to direct episodes of The Chi and have been shortlisted for the Oscars short film category and more.

In honor of Black History Month, The Quintessential Gentleman is spotlighting the Black male filmmakers who were selected for season 4 of the program.

Omar Kamara

Lena Waithe's Rising Voices Winner - Omar Kamara

What prepared you to be successful in the program?

I've always been a big believer in community. I was very fortunate to have some wonderful friends and collaborators, Jalmer Caceres and Guo Guo, who have done the program in the past took the time to sit with me and advise me on how to maximize this wonderful opportunity. Also, the infrastructure that Indeed, Hillman Grad, and 271 Films have set up allows filmmakers to be eased into the process and feel that they have guidance every step of the way. 

Discuss your experience in the program.

The program has been thrilling. We had a kick-off event in LA and it was so amazing to meet my cohort of talented filmmakers and also meet with Rishi Rajani, Travis Ing, and 271 films to begin development on the script. Given they took the time to show that they care and meet with us face-to-face to kick off this process meant a lot. I am now officially in pre-production. It is kind of a mad dash to the finish line, but I truly feel that I have been set up for success and my team and I hope to deliver a dope short. 

After going through the program, what advice would you give young filmmakers?

The advice that I would give to young filmmakers is to KEEP MAKING STUFF. I feel like in this industry it's easy to wait for someone to pick you and give you an opportunity. I made my micro-budget feature last year completely independent and won the Audience Award at Slamdance, all while applying to the Rising Voices program. You never know when you will get an opportunity to tell your stories so keep finding ways to get yourself out there and get your vision shared. Don't wait! 

What can people expect next from you?

I’m finishing my short, BITTER LEAF. My team and I are very excited about the concept as we developed it and now are looking to expand it into a feature or a series. I’m also currently looking for financing on an MMA movie about African Identity entitled TIGER, and writing an Action/Thriller called ABIDJAN. As a resident in Dan Lin's Rideback RISE program. Lastly, my debut feature, AFRICAN GIANTS, just received worldwide distribution so hopefully will be in a theater or on a small screen near you soon! 

Wes Andre Goodrich

Lena Waithe's Rising Voices Winner - Wes Andre Goodrich

What prepared you to be successful in the program?

You know, so much of this program feels like a cross between getting to work with a studio and a final year of film school (in the best way). I think being in film school helped me with the structure of the program and also the rigor. 

Discuss your experience in the program.

We’re in the middle of pre-production right now, so my experience has mostly been, getting notes from Hilmman and 271, as well as workshopping the script with my co-writer and producer, Patrick Nichols. We’re trying to make the best version of this film on the page first. In addition, I’ve been perfecting the visuals of the film. We’re looking at an “elevated naturalism,” a middle point between the sort of kinetic reality of the Safdie Brothers and the intimate documentary work in something like “Hale County, This Morning, This Evening.” 

What was the best part of the program?

Making a film! Directing is my passion, but often it requires money and time to percolate a project to the point where you get to direct it. Having the opportunity to make something and knowing people will see it and interact with it, is incredible. 

After going through the program, what advice would you give young filmmakers?

I think the cliche (but very true) answer is to study your craft. My mother always told me, if I wanted to make movies, I had to study them. The history, the style, all of it. Despite sometimes feeling like homework, you’d be surprised at how knowledge of film synthesizes makes its way into your work. I'm always thinking about shots from Do the Right Thing, or a camera move from Eve's Bayou, or even from films my friends make

It’s also okay to work a job while you wait for your passion to take off. I was a janitor throughout film school, and despite being exhausted, it taught me discipline and structure in the limited time I had to write or direct. 

What can people expect next from you?

Our short film Meal Ticket is premiering at the Tribeca Film Festival this June. And hopefully, some other projects coming down the pipe soon! 


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