Insight News

Feb 10th

Night Catches Us: Tanya Hamilton interview

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tanyaWe’ve heard of love in the time of war, but sometimes war supercedes the time that is necessary for creating love. But not through the eyes of Tanya Hamilton.

Hamilton’s debut feature film Night Catches Us, is an urban tale centered on the love of Marcus Washington (Anthony Mackie), a former Black Panther turned drifter, and Patricia Wilson (Kerry Washington), the whisper of a love that he’d left behind when he fled Philadelphia. Washington finds himself returning home to the grounds where his political journey began. Yet time has given him new eyes and no longer does he agree with the direction his comrades have taken their mission. As his love for the movement fades, his heart begins to collect those lost shadows, bringing to him an unrequited desire to meld the haze of yesterday with a love that’s here and now.

Night Catches Us, premiered on the third night of The First Annual Twin Cities Film Festival. Hamilton was also presented with a “Distinction in Filmmaking” award by Minnesota Women In Film & Television, an organization which also assisted Hamilton in finding some of the resources necessary to explore her vision within the canvas of filmmaking.

Hamilton has become not only a pivotal voice for women in film, but also a sought after truth in the urban film industry. Insight News was able to catch up with this dynamic woman, and learn more of the latest cinematic treasure that is Night Catches Us.

Insight News: How did you go from painting to becoming a filmmaking?
Tanya Hamilton: I went to an accelerated high school arts program; the kind where you do relatively questionable academics during the first part of the day and very sophisticated arts during the second half of the day. Very early on I was painting and drawing. Then I went into an undergrad program that was equally as intense. They had a film division on the fifth floor. I used to paint these 13- and 14-foot paintings, and they were all completely narrative, every last one of them. There was always a story to them. It was an inferred story. I loved doing portraits, but the stuff I did in college was where I started bringing in other characters instead of just painting a portrait of one person. While I was there I started making narrative movies with my friends. I got accepted to Columbia University for graduate school and that’s where I learned how to write.

Insight News: Since this is your first film, how did you broker all these amazing actors like Kerry Washington and Anthony Mackie?
Hamilton: I’d have to say that was the easier part. Finding the money and the financing was the hardest part and the uphill climb. Once we got that, it was really about synergy. We managed to get actors who, I think, in their own private lives have some sort of relationship with activism and Black history. We had an entirely different plan for this film and that kind of fell apart. We had to scramble around and put the machine back together. It seemed tragic at the time, but actually turned out well. People were interested in rallying around the story and rallying around the world that the story portrays. I had a great casting agent. I know that’s a bit cliché, but you need to have someone who is really willing to work super hard, and ours did.

Insight News: What would you tell other artists who want to follow in your footsteps as Black female screenwriters and film directors?
Hamilton: Making movies has no map. That is both a great thing and at the same time it’s a bit of a scary thing. It’s hard to make movies with people of color that are from an of color perspective- meaning there aren’t other people involved in retelling the stories, like looking at South Africa through the eyes of a white journalist from Massachusetts.

Our stories are really hard to make for many reasons. I think one of the reasons relates more to us rather than other people and that is this idea of what we consume; by ‘we’ I mean people of color. I think it’s about what we allow ourselves to consume. I think it’s cool to consume the left and the right. It’s great to do the gangster movies and Tyler Perry because I think it’s awesome, it’s about company. But I think in the center there’s no company, there’s no great content in the center. That’s where I come in. This is my first film, and I hope to make more. There’s no sort or African American independent cinema, or Asian American independent cinema, or even Latin American independent cinema, except in those countries, but not as strong here in the U.S. This is our country, and there’s no content. For me as a filmmaker, what I always try to say is that our job is to populate that middle with films that are mindful of commerce. At the beginning of this I was a little naïve about content and commerce and how they fit together, but unfortunately we don’t live in a country that finances movies. We don’t live in Europe or Canada. We have to make movies that occupy that middle in a way, that can service commerce and I think as consumers we have to readjust what we consume, and not just over here, and over there, but also the stuff in the middle.

If you have money you can do anything --find a casting agent, get a cast. The true fact is that good content for African American actors and actresses is very, very small. The problem starts with money. If you have no money, you’re locked out of the system.

Insight News: With the buzz and success surrounding this film, do you think it will be easier for you next time to get what you need to make a movie?
Hamilton: Certainly. When you have product to show it’s a lot easier to get where I need to go. It just depends on your product. With a film like mine, some people, like you and me, are going to respond to it in the way they respond meaning they will feel connected whether it’s because they’re Black or a woman- whatever it is. But then there’s this other issue of film being a class driven industry. If I’d made a film that was much more clearly defined and had more of a mainstream and commercial sensibility I might not have gotten a meeting with those agents at Sundance that bought my film. It might have gone a completely different way. I think the product I’m willing to put out in the world because I’m dedicated to that middle, is not necessarily going to open a bunch of doors as if I were to make something over here or something over there. It’s just a proven formula, and I don’t blame the system for being the way it is. It’s like, if you show me some money, I’m going to open the door, but if I have to guess just by looking at your thing and not knowing who’s going to like it, well then the system wonders how they can trust you.

Insight News: So what’s next for you?
Hamilton: I feel sort of dedicated to this content. I feel that we as African Americans need to realize that it’s there in front of us, and it is such a wide-open field. For my next movie, I’m interested in American Indian tribes, and I’m working on a screenplay that I’m trying to finish about two brothers.

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