I had the honor of interviewing award winning actress and filmmaker Sharon Lewis this morning, please support her new film “Brown girl in the ring”-
Me: So first question- “Brown girl in the ring” seems like a passion project for you, tell us about that
SL: The author Nalo Hopkinson and I were artist/activists together on the Toronto scene in the early 90s. I had just done my first big acting job playing the title character in the first all black above the line film, RUDE and she was writing. I moved to LA to pursue my career and there was her first novel BGIR in the bookstore, I read half of it standing up and was blown away. I had no money or directing skills so I went about getting both so that I could make this book into a film. Went to UCLA for directing and then set about getting as much directing experience as I could, made some shorts won some awards and then directed docs, lifestyle tv.
Me: So this has been in your heart since the mid 90s?, were you able to raise all your money through indiegogo?, I’d love to see this come alive.
SL: We got arts council grants and we need to match their funding for them to release it, so the 30,000 on indiegogo has to happen or we lose the funding.
Me: How much do you have to go?, and why indiegogo instead of similar sites?
SL: We only have 9,000 more to raise in the next 5 days. indiegogo provided support and feedback on our campaign before we launched(and)love the name INDIE GO GO.
Me: Well I’m glad indiegogo has been so helpful, you have a cast put together?, I saw Rachael Crawford who you co-starred with in “Rude” and newcomer Dian Marie Bridge.
SL: Those are all supporters, no casting yet, starts at the end of this month when we reach our goal.
Me: I see, well it’d be cool to see them, so tell us more about BGIR, I saw it’s involves Caribean Canadians, the ghetto, and spirits.
SL: Economic collapse and the wealthy flee to the Burbs, only poor left and are walled in to keep the “undesirables” away, Mami, a Caribbean Canadian priestess leads a vibrant culture of healing, bartering and she is teaching her granddaughter, Ti Jeanne, to take over, Rudy, drug dealer and sorcerer wants to rule the Burn (post apocalyptic Toronto) Ti Jeanne rejects her spirit powers, but in the end realizes she must use them in the fight agains evil, a superhero story set inside a futuristic ghetto and the spirits (good) are carnival characters.
Me: As I hear about the setting, post-Katrina New Orleans comes to mind, are you going to be filming completely in the Toronto area?, or have you considered areas outside of that region?
SL: The novel was set in TO, inspired by Detroit, and now to me, we are talking numerous burnt out inner cities and post disaster as you mention, I believe it’s TO, but when the wealthy flee and there is no social services, little opportunities the culture that rise up are both strong and broken, in this story there is superhero/spiritual strength to help lead the people, which is true for lots of communities, Gandhi, Martin Luther…
Me: Malcolm X
SL: Drew on their connection to a higher power to help lead them and their people, we can’t do it alone, yes, but in this case, Ti-Jeanne, the heroine is drawing on spiritual power, so I guess Malcolm x nation of islam…
Me: I was going to save this for the last question, but you bring up spiritual, as you can tell from my blog, I’m a Christian, what are your spiritual views?, and do they affect your filmmaking?
SL: I believe there is a universal good energy that is accessible to us all to use to make the world a better place and that’s this story, a story of empowerment, using our powers for good, for change for community, not always easy but worth it, I hope that through my work I am doing that for myself and others, my films aren’t always happy, but they are about believing in life, even though my earlier films explore suicide-it’s to show that life is a choice and a privilege.
Me: You seem to be alot about empowerment and community and choices, are those frequent topics in all your films?
SL: I would say empowerment in terms of making the choice to have our own unique voice heard, but not in an overtly political or didactic way, this feature is probably the most political in terms of it’s organic commentary on the division of wealth.
Me: So these issues that we’ve talked about, are any of them personal to you?, or just issues that you like expressing?
SL: I believe every artist is telling a personal story in their work, so yes, I grew up Caribbean Canadian and know what it’s like to have that duality of culture blessing and a challenge as I try to fit in and be regular as an artist, the struggle to tell your story, have it rise up from the restraints, whatever those restraints are, economic, internal, we are all on the journey to express our superpowers, whatever they may be.
Me: I understand that, so this is the first feature film that you’ve written?, how did that differ from writing a short film?, and how long was the process?
SL: I’ve written feature film scripts since the late 90s while living in Los Angeles and won some awards for them, but this is the first feature film script that has gone to this level of development, the writing process is the same, just a longer time period.
Me: So are you hoping to get the others optioned if this goes well?
SL: My partner has written the sequel, which is a larger scale adaptation of the book, my script is a prequel, much more character focused, his is a more classic sci-fi battle film, which we will produce after this one.
Me: So you’ve worked on alot of projects in your career, “Rude” launched your career?, but what other films would you say have had an important impact on your career?
SL: I would say the other black female filmmakers that broke ground and pioneered the way for me- DAUGHTERS OF THE DUST Julie Dash, EVE’S BAYOU, short film WAKE by Bree Newsome, BLACK ORPHEUS, a 1950s oscar winning Brazilian film, in terms of the spirits and carnival and the love story.
Me: And Euzhan Palcy hopefully, and I’ll have to check out that movie.
SL: Yes and Euzhan Palcy!!
Me: You’ve worked with alot of talented people in your career, who have your favorites been and why?, and can you picture any of them in BGIR?
SL: I played Drake’s mom on Degrassi, could see him for the character of Tony, worked with Timothy Hutton and admire his determination on set.
Me: I’m sure alot of people would love to see Drake act again!, thank you so much for your time!:)
SL: Thank you for your time and support.