YOU WERE RAISED IN A RELATIVELY CONSERVATIVE HOUSEHOLD IN COLORADO AND TEXAS, HOW DID FILMMAKING COME TO YOU, AND HAVE YOU FACED ANY OBSTACLES IN YOUR PURSUIT OF IT?
Growing up, I couldn't decide if I wanted to be a visual artist, a writer or an academic. At some point I realized filmmaking could bring together elements of all three. So I just did it. I learned a lot about production as a local television reporter, then I moved to the East Coast and began producing documentaries for public television. Making connections in the independent film industry wasn't an automatic process. It has taken time, and there have been assumptions to overcome. But a different background can also be a strength - it means I bring a different perspective to my work.
DIRECTOR, EDITOR AND PRODUCER, HOW ARE THESE TITLES OBTAINED?
The lines between roles in independent filmmaking are blurry. When you're short on money and personnel you just do what you have to do to make the film. At some point you have to give a name to what you've done. Director or producer usually means you were in charge of the creative or business front. Editor means you sat in front of a computer and put the footage together to make a film.
WHAT INSPIRES YOU ON A DAILY BASIS?
I just began work on a new film about female military veterans, and I've been immersed in war literature. Given all that and everything else going on in the world it's hard not to see life as cruel and unfair. I find inspiration in acts of rebellion. For me that includes looking for beauty and joy in every place I can. It's always there, in the cracks and crevices. You just have to excavate it.
WHAT’S YOUR CREATIVE PROCESS AND HOW DO YOU TACKLE YOUR SUBJECT MATTERS?
I try to set aside a bit of time in the mornings to write about whatever's in my mind. Brain dumping is incredibly important to creativity. So is focus, at least in my field. I'm also all about structure. While working on a documentary project, whether in the field or in the edit room, I keep running story outlines. These are always changing but they keep me on track and help ensure no good ideas get away.
DO YOU EXPRESS YOURSELF CREATIVELY IN OTHER WAYS?
I like making small watercolour paintings, though I can't say I'm any good at it.
YOU’RE PART OF THE TEAM BEHIND THE NEW DOCUMENTARY, ”HOT GIRLS WANTED”, PRODUCED BY RASHIDA JONES, WHICH RECENTLY PREMIERED AT SUNDANCE FILM FESTIVAL. HOW DID THE PROJECT AND COLLABORATION ORIGINATE?
I had collaborated with the directors on an earlier documentary called “Sexy Baby”, which premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival in 2012 and aired in the U.S. on Showtime (and in Sweden on SVT). They had set out to make a follow up film and convinced me to join the effort. Rashida was already speaking out about the issues the film examines and came on board after she saw some sample footage we put together.
“SEXY BABY” ALSO BRUSHES ON THE ASPECT OF INCREASINGLY YOUNGER WOMEN BEING LURED INTO A CULTURE SEEMINGLY SKEWED IN THE FAVOUR OF MEN. DO THESE DOCUMENTARIES AID IN CREATING AN AWARENESS OF A SOCIETAL PROBLEM OR DO THEY AUGMENT THE APPEAL OF THE SET VALUES?
Both films tell character-driven stories that explore how the culture intersects with the lives of ordinary women and girls, hopefully allowing viewers to make their own judgments. I wouldn't say, though, that the societal problem is that our culture is increasingly skewed in favour of men. I suppose it's always been that way. The problem is one that comes along with female liberation. And this is my personal opinion, not the official position of the films. As women are increasingly empowered to wrest their sexuality from male control, things have gotten confusing. Nicki Minaj can wear hot shorts and wink at us while she's doing it, and we can agree she owns it. But what about every 12-year-old girl who wants to be her? Especially for young girls still getting a handle on their sexuality, it can be difficult to sort out who or what you are actually pleasing: yourself or the male gaze? It's a situation that can be ripe for exploitation, raising all kinds of questions about agency.
DO YOU FIND IT CHALLENGING TO BE A FEMALE FILMMAKER IN A MALE DOMINATED FIELD?
People do make assumptions based on gender. Young women don't make serious films. I feel like I've gotten that one a lot. When I'm out working in the field those attributes can be a big asset. I don't seem threatening. That's probably helped me a lot to connect with film subjects and convince them to open up about their lives.
IT’S BEEN SAID THAT WOMEN AREN’T REWARDED FOR THEIR INPUT IN THE MOVIE BUSINESS TO THE SAME EXTENT AS MEN. DOES AN INSTITUTIONAL BIAS EXIST OR DOES IT BOIL DOWN TO THE FACT THAT THERE ARE MORE MEN ACTIVE IN THE INDUSTRY, THUS BY SHEER NUMBERS THEY’RE MORE LIKELY TO BE RECOGNISED FOR THEIR WORK?
Certainly there are still biases, but women are pretty well represented as directors and producers in the field of independent documentary. At Sundance this year, almost half of the documentaries in competition were directed by women. Laura Poitras just won the Oscar for “Citizenfour”. Our voices are being heard. That's probably because we can and will work outside of institutions, with very little money. And that of course isn't the case in Hollywood.
AS AN AWARD RECIPIENT AND NO STRANGER TO AWARDS SEASON AND UPSCALE EVENTS YOURSELF, HOW DO YOU GET RED-CARPET READY?
Going back to the previous discussion, self-presentation can be a thorny issue for women, at these kinds of events and in everyday life. In my twenties I actually made a point to avoid wearing makeup or dressing in ways I thought would be appealing to men. As I got older I came to realize this was also letting a male agenda control me in a way. Now I wear whatever I like.
THE D(N)A ARTS COLLECTIVE IN NEW YORK, WHY AND WHEN DID IT GET STARTED?
My family has always made a commitment to giving back to the community. I believe it’s very important to spread knowledge, educate, and inspire people. Fortunately, my (senior) sister feels the same, so we decided to do something together that could make a difference.
WHEN DID YOU FIRST REALIZE THAT YOU WANTED TO PURSUE A CAREER IN DANCE?
I’ve always been rather reserved or "quiet" as some may say. Dance was my escape to release emotions non-verbally. It was a strong hobby for a long time and during college I realized that I could actually make a career in it. I built enough confidence in my training to see what I could do in the "real world." I also just couldn't see myself doing anything else. Still can't.
WHAT’S YOUR TRAINING IN DANCE, MUSICAL OR THEATRICAL WORKS?
I trained in classical piano since the age of five until 16. I’ve trained in all genres of dance (ballet, modern, tap, jazz, African, hip hop) since the age of five. I attended the Ballet Royale institute of Maryland, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater Summer Intensives, Duke University Summer Intensives, Broadway Dance Center, and Hofstra University with a BA in Dance.
YOU’VE TOURED WITH RIHANNA, PERFORMED WITH BEYONCÉ, DIDDY AND PITBULL, AND FEATURED IN TWO OF THE “STEP UP” MOVIES, PLEASE SPILL THE BEANS!
Funny! It's all been such a blessing. I love the stage. Showtime is what I live for. You train and prepare for years to be on stage for sometimes three minutes. Kinda crazy when you think about it. But wow, is it satisfying. Because I’m a recording artist and actress as well, I’ve learned so much from everyone I've ever worked with. Each artist functions differently. It's a lot less glamorous than what it seems.
LIST YOUR FIVE (MORE IF YOU LIKE) ALL TIME FAVOURITE DANCE MOVIES
“Center Stage”, “Step Up”, “Save the Last Dance”, Dirty Dancing”, “Fame” and “The Wiz”.
WHAT ELSE DO YOU GET UP TO BESIDES DANCING?
I’m a recording artist with MBK/Sony Red. I’m currently gearing up to release my first EP. I’m also an actress, and I’m currently in training to become a vinyasa flow yoga instructor.
HOW DO YOU STAY IN SHAPE?
Dance and yoga. I also box once a week and eat very well.
WHAT BEAUTY PRODUCTS CAN’T YOU LIVE WITHOUT?
Oh, I need all my curly hair products (Devacurl). I also need concealer, bronzer, eyebrow pencil, and mascara.
HOW DO YOU FIX UP, LOOK SHARP?
Depends on what the event is; usually big hair and heels work like a charm.
AND HOW DO YOU KEEP YOUR EARS TO THE STREET TO KEEP IT FRESH?
I keep abreast on social media. I also like to attend events where I know the tastemakers and creatives hang out.