One of the joys of the entertainment business is the group of highly qualified industry professionals whose paths you run across at various film festivals or film junkets. West coast P.R. aficionado, Ava DuVernay is such a person whose world has now expanded to include documentary filmmaker!
Earlier this week, DuVernay released an ode to her past and labor of love in the form of the film, “This is the Life: How the West Was One.” The film tells the story of the popular hangout, The Good Life Cafe, where scores of professionals gathered to build a thriving artist community in the early 1990s.
More than 50 individuals came out to express themselves in a way that was different from the surging hip hop movement. Before well-known artists such as Ice Cube, Snoop Dogg, N.W.A, and Macy Gray became household names, there were others who had formed a new wave of poetry/ rap where profanity was banned.
At the Apollo, there was Sandman to brush one off the stage when booed, but at the Good Life, the audience would call out – “Please pass the mic!” Jurassic 5 was one of the successful groups to emerge from the Good Life, but many will always remember what Freestyle Fellowship, Pigeon John, Abstract Rude, Chillin Villain Empire, Rifleman Ellay Khule, Volume 10, and Medusa brought to the game.
Another member of this band of artists was Ava DuVernay; who was known at that time as emcee Eve from the group Figures of Speech. As time went by, DuVernay went on to college and has worked in the world of film as a marketer and publicist for more than 14 years, forming The DuVernay Agency in 1999. Her award-winning firm has provided strategy and execution for more than 80 film and television campaigns by acclaimed directors such as Steven Spielberg, Michael Mann, Robert Rodriguez, Bill Condon, Raoul Peck, Gurinder Chadha and Reggie & Gina Bythewood.
As a tribute to The Good Life and the men and women who participated, Ms. DuVernay has put together a documentary illustrating its history and what it meant to her and others who attended the known establishment.
As the DVD comes out on March 10 after winning numerous festival awards, Ms. DuVernay spoke with Wilson Morales about her journey of putting this film together and balancing it with her publicity work.
What led you to make a film on this subject?
Ava DuVernay: I frequented The Good Life as a student at UCLA, and never again found a place with such creative camaraderie. I felt the story had to be told, both for the amazing artists whose legacy should be recognized and for hip hop fans in general.
Who shot the footage at that time and how were you able to get most of it for your film?
Ava DuVernay: We obtained footage from the strangest places. It was in garages, under people’s beds, in state, out of state. But most of the important stuff had been archived by an avid group of collectors who had kept the material safe and sound for the last decade or so.
How did you go from being a member of Figures of Speech to what you do now?
Ava DuVernay: Figures of Speech was a wonderful experience. Being in that group allowed me be an artist for the first time, and all that goes with that – risk, dedication, stretching those muscles. Then, I graduated from UCLA and began to pursue a career in publicity. My agency grew fast and I love what I do. Theatrical PR allowed me to have close proximity to filmmakers and storytellers in a way I would have never had otherwise. That closeness to film as a marketer sparked my interest in film-making itself.
Documentaries take longer to film than features. What challenges did you face in putting this together?
Ava DuVernay: I financed the film myself so I’d say the biggest considerations were money. Talk about a shoestring. But the subjects of the documentary were so eager and forthcoming, that the interviews and footage acquisition process was quite smooth. Plus, I was blessed enough to work with a jaw-droppingly talented crew who jumped into the project wholeheartedly. So ultimately, I don’t see the challenges as much as the good stuff.
What was left out in the cutting room?
Ava DuVernay: Lots of great footage and several pivotal artists weren’t included in the film simply because of time. But we worked hard to include that material in the bonus footage of the DVD, which drops March 10. We have more than 70 minutes of special features, deleted scenes, two new shorts. Lost of goodies for fans of this music.
To read the rest of the interview, click here.