Hip hip hooray, hip-hip-hurray—this is our collective cheer for former unit publicist, producer and award-winning film and TV director, Ava DuVernay.
“Hello, my sister,” is the first smooth greeting that I received during the press junket for “Selma.” Stuck in a moving elevator, her lips being rouged by a makeup artist possessing the balance of a Cirque du Soleil performer but much cooler, if you catch my drift, DuVernay made sure that she acknowledged the sister, standing to her left.
Kindness has the shelf life of eternity. I admired DuVernay before that exchange and the admiration has continued to grow. Being a unit publicist, a career path we share, gives you a backseat view of how films are made. It is a collaborative process and each department is packed full with superstars and those in training to become superstars.
For a long, long, long time a film set was as “white as a cotton field” and that’s a fact. DuVernay is making opportunities for people of color and women on her new series “Queen Sugar” and nothing about her effort surprises me.
In a Los Angeles Times article, reporter Tre’vell Anderson asks the questions that matter.
New Yorkers can get another look at DuVernay because her documentary, “The 13th,” will be the first-ever nonfiction work to open the festival. The film will later debut on Netflix and open in a limited theatrical run Oct. 7.
Chronicling the history of racial inequality in the United States, “The 13th” examines how our country has produced the highest rate of incarceration in the world, with the majority of those imprisoned being African-American.
The title of DuVernay’s extraordinary and galvanizing film refers to the 13th Amendment to the Constitution, which states, “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States …” The progression from that second qualifying clause to the horrors of mass incarceration and the prison industry in the U.S. is laid out by DuVernay with bracing lucidity.
New York Film Festival Director and Selection Committee Chair Kent Jones said, “While I was watching ‘The 13th,’ the distinction between documentary and fiction gave way, and I felt like I was experiencing something so rare: direct contact between the artist and right now, this very moment. In fact, Ava is actually trying to redefine the terms on which we discuss where we’re at, how we got here and where we’re going. ‘The 13th’ is a great film. It’s also an act of true patriotism.”
From D. W. Griffith’s “The Birth of a Nation” (1915) and the rebirth of the KKK to the Civil Rights Movement, the 1994 Crime Bill, the rise of ALEC and the Black Lives Matter movement, DuVernay traces a pattern of fear and division that has consistently driven mass criminalization. With a potent mixture of archival footage and testimonies from leading voices, including Michelle Alexander, Bryan Stevenson, Van Jones, Newt Gingrich, Angela Davis, Senator Cory Booker, Grover Norquist, Khalil Muhammad, Craig DeRoche, Shaka Senghor, Malkia Cyril, Henry Louis Gates Jr. and a dazzling array of activists, politicians, historians and formerly incarcerated women and men, DuVernay creates a work of grand historical synthesis.
“It is a true honor for me and my collaborators to premiere ‘The 13th’ as the opening night selection of the New York Film Festival,” said Ava DuVernay. “This film was made as an answer to my own questions about how and why we have become the most incarcerated nation in the world, how and why we regard some of our citizens as innately criminal and how and why good people allow this injustice to happen generation after generation. I thank Kent Jones and the selection committee for inviting me to share what I’ve learned.”
“Ava gives us a remarkable and ambitious framework for understanding why the U.S. represents 5 percent of the world’s population, yet is home to nearly 25 percent of the world’s prisoners,” said Lisa Nishimura, Netflix VP of Original Documentary Programming. “Her work has been tireless and passion-fueled and has resulted in a sweeping view at a tenuous time. We are honored to provide a global platform for this deeply urgent work.”
The 17-day New York Film Festival highlights the best in world cinema, featuring works from celebrated filmmakers as well as fresh new talent. The selection committee, chaired by Jones, also includes Dennis Lim, FSLC director of programming; Florence Almozini, FSLC associate director of programming; Amy Taubin, contributing editor, Film Comment and Sight & Sound; and Gavin Smith, who serves as a consultant.
Tickets for the 54th New York Film Festival are now on sale. Learn more at filmlinc.org/membership.