The Elements

Poetry forms “the quality of the light within which we predicate our hopes and dreams toward survival and change, first made into language, then into idea, then into more tangible action. Poetry is the way we help give name to the nameless so it can be thought.” Audre Lorde


Still from the film Suzanne Suzanne directed by Camille Billops


The light in this scene from Suzanne Suzanne!!! The light in this scene is poetic. It speaks! It demonstrates the separation, the distance and later the possibility by the way the light falls on the faces of Suzanne and her mother. In this scene that is like a mother-daughter “come to Jesus” moment the light is a narrator for the emotion, for the energy. It is a moment of transformation that is made possible by the ceremony of sharing this story of Suzanne’s family. The filmmaker Camille Billops’s family.

When I think of the elements of filmmaking, the elements of script writing and the roles in a film crew, I cannot separate them from the elemental forces of nature. Yes, Earth, Wind, Fire, Water, Air – the elements. Fire – the great transformer – is manipulated as light energy in filmmaking. And in When We Free, our film, the river is a character. And I am craving a conversation about the elements of filmmaking and the elements of nature.DSCN5372

Reading Audre Lorde’s Poetry Is Not a Luxury and  watching Camille Billops’s Suzanne Suzanne feel like the evidence of this reality. The more I think about it I am moved back to the days in Film School sitting in my film theory classes mummified by the ignorance of the African roots I saw on the screen  in Paris is Burning (directed by Jennie Livingston). The comments my professor and classmates were certainly interesting and educational, of course, but the rigor with which other works had been engaged compared to the block on seeing any possible connection between the ball scene and African American/African practices was shocking. I could see the spiritual roots obviously full and flowing because they were my roots.

However, they are also OUR roots. African influences on music, dance, religious practice and networks of support are what American forms of music, dance and religion are based on. This along with many other moments motivated the birth of Black Feminist Film School.

This is the place of discourse, the sight for inquiry where Black Feminist Film School calls out to diaspora – African, indigenous, of the people and not of the colonizer. Calls out for the loving liberating possibility of everything. Calls out to those who have heard something about egbe – the guilds that transcend time and space and align around energy and practice, roles and responsibilities; those who know about egun – the ancestral court of those gone before with lasting and present influence; those who know about foribale – a poetic ordering of honor and respect; those who know about ceremony – a way of inhabiting practices for the sake of the highest good of what we know and don’t know. I long for the (African) diasporic exploration of this light work we call filmmaking.

The black feminist filmmaking approach and the workshops we create make space for this sort of engagement. We want to make excellent films! Like poetry that says what has never been able to spoken without the form prior. More importantly we want to make excellent transformation accessible and possible.


“The quality of light by which we scrutinize our lives has direct bearing upon the product which we live, and upon the changes which we hope to bring about through those lives.”  by Audre Lorde




Posted on July 6, 2016, in film theory & discourse. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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