Kartemquin's Collective Voices Film Director sits down to speak with us about her experiences this past summer.
"The Gallery Talks were held this summer in Chicago to commemorate Kartemquin’s 50th Anniversary as a prominent documentary production institution in Chicago. Ife was a Diverse Voices in Documentary fellow with Kartemquin in 2014. During that time, she created a short documentary on access to education in Chicago. Her participation in the program and her commitment to creating opportunities for diverse storytellers and filmmakers, ultimately prompted the creation of Collected Voices." -Collected Voices PR
Ife hosted a preview of the 2016 Collective Voices Film Festival. I had the opportunity to interview Ife Oluntji about her experiences as an artist.
1. Who were your mentors in school and how did the Diverse Voices in Docs fellow program help you in the filmmaking process?
I didn’t have many mentors in school but I gravitated to my African American History advisor. He was a great professor and one of the only people that offered me professional and personal guidance. Outside of college, I’ve been lucky to have mentors such as filmmakers Portia Cobb and Zeinabu Irene Davis from childhood to now. I was very inspired by them to make documentaries about everyday people and their situations. Through Diverse Voices in Documentary, I learned more about the professional aspect of producing a documentary with a team, and distributing it to a wider audience. I was able to get a lot of feedback on my ideas that helped to structure my film. It is still a challenge to create documentaries, but I have grown in my production experience by continuing to work with filmmakers I have meet in DVID.
2. Why is important for a filmmaker to find a true voice through storytelling?
I think we have more freedom now than ever before as filmmakers. Changes in technology have made it possible for everyone to film everything, and with more people of color receiving a liberal arts/ cinema studies education we have more filmmakers and creatives than ever before. However, funding can be hard to come by, and that makes mainstream work very appealing to filmmakers just getting started. The problem with mainstream work is that it can be stereotypical, sexists, and down right racists. I think it's important for filmmakers to tell the story of their lives, culture and history in authentic ways. I think it's important to present new narratives that challenge assumptions about characters, relationships, and identities. As an artists finds out who they are and what's important to them, so does an audience. It's important to have these stories because I think they show us a bit more of ourselves and others.
3. Describe the process of documentary filmmaking. How do YOU come up with the idea/topic and plan to execute a successful project?
I think everyone has a slightly different process, but as a Visual Anthropologist my work starts with a question or subject I am very interested in and research. I usually know someone affected by the topic and I spend time with them to learn more. I start filming soon after to get a sense of their daily process, and recurrent practices. It takes a lot of time for me to build a story that's true to people's experience but gives us an objective look at their life. I try to film for a period of time and then edit that into a scene. I get feedback from the people being filmed and often include my subjects in the promotion of the work. For me it's all very collaborative process with the people I am filming.
4. Name 3 photographs, artworks, or films that have shaped your thought process.
Wow, my thoughts have been shaped by so many works of art it's hard to name just three. My favorite photographer is Gordon Parks, because he took beautiful candidate photos and showed that the camera could be a powerful tool to illuminate problems. My favorite photograph by him may be of the group of women from the Nation of Islam. I always thought that was a beautiful image of black women. My favorite contemporary artists are Carrie Mae Wimes and Kehinde Wiley for their use of surrealism and deeply complex visual stories. Lastly I’ll just say I love Chicago artists most of all. There are so many geniuses working here in every genre and medium it would be impossible to name my favorites. But everywhere you go in Chicago you can see amazing visual and performance art to inspire your next project.
5. What photographers or artists would you like to collaborate with?
Well I’m lucky enough to have gone to Syracuse University and have LaToya Ruby Frazier as my photography TA. I wish I could work with her now and learn more about photography and Ethnography. I am also a fan of Visual Anthropologist and Ethnographic filmmaker Judy Hoffman who teaches at the University of Chicago, and was an Executive Producer for 70 Acres in Chicago. I admire her practice and dedication to documentary and research, and would love to work with her.
6. Finish this sentence with two words or less.
A. Documentaries are....life changing.
B. Photography and artwork make me feel like.....there’s hope.
7. What advice would you give new or emerging filmmakers that see to explore documentaries? How does the Collected Voices Ethnographic Film Festival showcase stories and give a new perspective?
My advice for emerging filmmakers in any genre is, study your medium, practice your craft, and be open to constructive criticism. Don’t be afraid to work with others and share your work. It can be scary to create films, and sometimes intimidating, but by opening yourself up to be vulnerable you can create something truly impactful and universal. I think the meaning, the message, and the process of filmmaking are important to the understanding the art of cinema. Collected Voices provides more opportunities for people to reconnect with purpose of cinema and storytelling, which is to show us the lives of others, and the depths of ourselves. We create a space for filmmakers who have worked hard to create the stories, that may be outside of the box, or give us a perspective on how all of these issues intersect; a space to have their work reviewed and shared.
8. What 2 quotes can you provide or words to live by. Explain.
I love mantras and quote from my mother and father more than anyone else. My mother used to quote Muhammad Ali when discussing purpose and mission in community development and leadership. We all have a responsibility to each other, to the earth, and to our future generations. We have to honor that responsibility with every decision we make. “The Service you do for others is the rent you pay for your room here on Earth.”― Muhammad Ali Lastly, “There are no small parts, only small actors.” As a theater child you hear this alot. And as a kid who didn’t get the leading role, it sounds like a lie- but it’s the truth. In a film, much like real life, everyone has a role to play. I don’t think any of us were created by mistake and we all have something great within us to share. It often requires love and patience to develop and some people find that later than others, but it is within each of us. When you know that you are valuable, you know you have something to give no matter who you are or where you are in life. This reminds me, that even my small parts, and bad situations have a role to play.