Conversation with . . . Ava DuVernay!

13 03 2009

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.



2 responses

20 07 2010
Brenda Jordan

I am just loving your movies actors, songs, and singers in how it balance out within your movies.

Also, check me out on you tube Intro Brenda4

Your fan

24 02 2011
Joy Keys

This week on “Saturday Mornings with Joy Keys”-podcast

Filmmaker Ava DuVernay and Actress Michole White

DATE: Saturday February 26, 2011

TIME: 12:00 p.m. – 12:30 p.m. EST

GO TO: and listen to the show from your computer.

CALL: 646-929-0368 to listen and ask questions from your phone.
SPECIAL GUEST: I WILL FOLLOW marks writer/director Ava DuVernay’s narrative feature debut. Previously, she directed music documentaries, including the critically-acclaimed “My Mic Sounds Nice” and “This is the Life.”

DuVernay has worked in the world of film as a marketer for more than 14 years, forming her agency DVA Media + Marketing in 1999. Her award-winning firm has provided strategy and execution for more than 80 film and television campaigns for such directors as Steven Spielberg, Clint Eastwood, Michael Mann, Robert Rodriguez, Bill Condon, Raoul Peck and Gurinder Chadha.
DuVernay, a UCLA graduate, is based in Los Angeles.Ava Duvernay website:

SPECIAL GUEST: Michole White studied at the Chicago Academy of the Arts and California Institute of the Arts. Her theatre work includes the play “Jitney”, “Two Trains Running”, “Joe Turner’s Come and Gone”, and “Stick Fly”. Michole’s film work includes “I Will Follow”, “She Hate Me”, and “Courage Under Fire”. She has been featured on television shows “Law and Order”, “Lie To Me” and “Medium”.

I WILL FOLLOW chronicles a black woman struggling with the death of a loved one as she moves out of the home they once shared. As her moving day progresses she is sidetracked by a series of personal encounters that trigger grief, guilt and eventually emotional freedom. I WILL FOLLOW features Salli Richardson-Whitfield, Omari Hardwick, Michole White, Dijon Talton, Damone Roberts and Tracie Thoms, with Blair Underwood and Beverly Todd.

I WILL FOLLOW film trailer:
“Saturday Mornings with Joy Keys” is an interactive, live Internet talk-radio show that focuses on providing people with tools to enrich and advance their lives mentally, physically and emotionally. You can listen to archives of previous shows by going to

Check out the podcasts with Activist Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Singer Nneka, Actress Pam Grier, Oscar winner Director Bill Guttentag, Soap Star Victoria Rowell, Former CBS Anchor Mark McEwen and Stroke, Sweet Honey in the Rock, Filmmaker M. K. Asante Jr., Poet Nikki Giovanni, HIV/AIDS with AIDS activist Hydeia Broadbent, Diabetes with Singer Angie Stone, Prostate Cancer with Singer Charlie Wilson, and Living with Lupus with Mercedes Scelba-Shorte and many more.

For more information about “Saturday Mornings with Joy Keys” call: 267-288-7386 or email: saturdayswithjoykeys (at)

Follow on TWITTER: Become a fan on FACEBOOK. Download on iTunes.

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