Directing Your Own Movie
Directing her own movie is no fluke: Lemmons went to filmmaking school. When you think of a big-time Hollywood movie director, what do you envision? Personally, I see two distinct images. One is of an older man, Caucasian, of course, with white hair, creative genius, and a tyrannical attitude. The other is of a younger man, a prodigy almost, (also Caucasian) who is wearing a French beret and is such a creative genius that he is on the verge of insanity.
What I do not envision, however, is a very young, pretty, fair-skinned African-American woman, with bright blonde dreadlocks. Surprisingly, that is who I encountered when I met Kasi Lemmons, first-time director and writer of "Eve's Bayou," the dynamic new film which stars Samuel L. Jackson and Lynn Whitfield.
Settling in a cozy corner of Warmdaddy's, I had a chance to ask the rising cinematic star about her life, her career, and her new film. As an African-American female writer with my own directorial aspirations, I was especially interested in what she had to say. I felt an immediate bond of sisterhood with the young director, who was losing her voice, and obviously not feeling well. Even so, she was extremely gracious, and very excited about what is happening in her life right now. "Besides having my child, this is the thing in life that I have done that I am the most thrilled with," she said.
Lemmons, a native of St. Louis, was well prepared for opportunity when it came knocking. She attended New York University's School of the Arts, as well as UCLA, with a history major and sociology minor. She completed a two-year program in filmmaking at the New School of Social Research. Her first assignment was to make a five-minute film. "My first film was seven minutes, so I went a little over," she says sheepishly. "They tell you how to use a camera, and they basically send you out and say 'Bring back a film, and we'll develop it, and you cut it,' and so it's very hands-on. It's not the kind of school where they don't let you touch negative film or the cameras for the first two years."
Lemmons is an accomplished actress who has appeared in "Silence of the Lambs," "Hard Target," "Fear of a Black Hat," "Candyman," "Drop Squad," and "Vampire's Kiss." She also has numerous screenwriting credits. As is often true of creative people, Lemmons began practicing her craft as a child, writing short stores which she says are still in her mother's possession. "Eve's Bayou," grew from a series of short stories that she wrote several years ago, and was originally intended to be a novel. She began to write it at a time when, although her acting career was going well, she "needed to release some creative energy." She took three months off to write the story which gradually transformed itself from a novel into a screenplay.
"I started to write it as a cathartic process, and at first I thought, 'Oh, maybe I'll direct it someday.' I really didn't intend to show it to anybody." She changed her mind, however, and showed it to actor/director Vondie Curtis Hall, who was her boyfriend at the time, and is currently starring in the acclaimed television series "Chicago Hope." She and Hall have since married.