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Film Wed Aug 22 2012
For Eric Kolelas, persistence indeed pays off. His film short, Fifty Pence, made it into the Black Harvest Film Festival and has had other successful festival screenings. Here, the filmmaker and director, in town for the festival, talks about his love for directing and what it means to have his film screened in the Windy City.
Tell us about when you first became interested in filmmaking.
In school, when I was about 16 or 17, I did media studies and I really liked it. My media courses were very film-based and after I finished high school, I studied film reading and it went from there. That's where filmmaking started for me.
You've said that your interest in filmmaking came a result of being dissatisfied with roles and opportunities--what have you seen--or NOT seen--that made you decide to take matters into your own hands?
What I've not seen a lot of is roles that are not just one-dimensional. You hear the typical, "Oh black people on TV are this or that"; I mean, I wouldn't say it's that bad, and I'm being very general here, but most of the time, they're very one-dimensional. What I wanted was characters that are well-rounded, rather than being bad just for the sake of being bad--I want to know why and how--and I want to be able to play with all these things that make the character what it is.
You produced, wrote and directed Fifty Pence--your short that is part of this year's Black Harvest Film Festival. Of the three, which "hat" do you like wearing most?
Directing is definitely it because you really see something come to life when you direct. When you write, it does come to life but it's still on paper--you don't see it move. But if I'm a director and I'm trying to get something out of an actor--if I'm doing my job well--when the actor does his thing--I can see what I've been working so hard to bring to life. Just knowing that you were able to influence that and provide the environment for the actor to bring that out is much more gratifying for me.
It seems that with films today, there are lots of remakes, revamps and reboots, along with a lot of commentary that nothing's really new or original anymore. What are your thoughts on that?
I actually think there are a lot of people who write new stuff and new ideas are always there, but the only problem is that studios want to go with what is safe, which is understandable. And with the whole reboot and remake thing, chances are if it was popular before, it will be popular again, but it doesn't mean there aren't any writers or any independent filmmakers out there that are making some new and original stuff. It's just hard to get it out there like the mainstream films and blockbusters.
When I watched Fifty Pence, its mysteriousness stood out to me--was that intentional on your part?
When I wrote the script, I made it very ambiguous on purpose--a lot of things are not explained. But I wanted it to be like that so that rather than paying attention to the why he's [Darren] in this situation, you pay attention to what he's actually going through and what he's actually feeling--moreso the emotions than the circumstances. That's what I wanted to focus on--what is being felt is what I find the most compelling when I watch a film.
Is there anything you want people to take away from the film?
Well, I wanted to present a character--rather than having a black character--I wanted a character that happens to be black. There are [black] films where black people are dealing with "black" issues, but those issues aren't the only ones black people have to deal with. I'm not saying that films that deal with [specific] black issues shouldn't be there--there are some that need to be there--but it just shouldn't be all that we have.
How does it feel to be part of the Black Harvest Film Festival?
It feels really great. I've been struggling to get festivals to accept my film; I mean, literally, to date, I've gotten about 35 rejections from festivals and when I got this one, it was great. This is my fourth festival and my first one in the United States and that's kind of a big deal for me. It is great exposure and hopefully it will allow me to present my work to the right people. I don't want this to just be the only one; I want it to open the door to other things.
Fifty Pence is part of the festival's "Shorts Program: Urban Visions" screenings; the final showing is tonight at 8:30pm, with Eric Kolelas present for post-discussion with the audience. The Black Harvest Film Festival runs through August 30 at the Gene Siskel Film Center, 164 N. State St.; for a complete schedule, ticket information and the film line-up, visit the website or call 312-846-2600.