Filmmaker Lisa Russell was recently honored at the Boston/New England Emmy Awards for her short film BI-RACIAL HAIR, which will have an encore presentation tonight at 10:00 PM on Independent Lens with THE ORDER OF MYTHS (check local listings). Read about her experience making the film, attending the ceremony and what she thought about getting bumped by President Obama for its debut broadcast.
When Lois Vossen, the series producer for Independent Lens, first informed me that the national broadcast of my short film, BI-RACIAL HAIR would be rescheduled because it conflicted with the President’s first State of the Union address, I joked that it would be an honor to be bumped by Obama. Little did I know at the time, the biggest honor I would receive for my film would come on May 30, when I would walk across the stage of the 32nd Annual Boston/New England Emmy Awards to accept my first Emmy Award in the "Outstanding Advanced Media Interactivity" category. BI-RACIAL HAIR is a film of the WGBH Lab Open Call initiative. Produced for the “Eviction Notice” call with the National Black Programming Consortium (NBPC), it explores how slavery and racism still reverberate in the 20th century. The film profiles 13-year old Zora Howard, a spoken word artist from Harlem, as she reenacts scenes from her poem of the same name. Along with four other films, my project was made with a $2,000 production fund, had an online pitch and review process and then had a rough cut dialogue with various members of the PBS community. The film is online on both the WGBH Lab site and the NPBC Black Public Media site and will be having an encore presentation tonight.
Because BI-RACIAL HAIR was produced as an online, short format piece, I was surprised that it would get recognized in an arena as prestigious as the Emmy Awards. I produced it to spark dialogue, confront stereotypes, reach youth…never expecting to win awards or gold statues. Short “social issue” films that premiere online seem to constantly vie for credibility in the mainstream television world, an idea reinforced by the fact that the "Outstanding Advanced Media Interactivity" category is one of the last listed on the 32nd Annual Boston/New England Emmy Award nominee list. So, sitting in a room filled with anchors, weatherman and daytime celebrities on Emmy night was a very surreal experience for me.
I was honored to be nominated but a bit skeptical. Luckily, I shared the honor of winning the Emmy Award that night with the WGBH Lab Director Chris Hastings by my side. He recognizes and supports emerging voices in independent film by providing them with the resources and guidance to produce films for the Open Call. I believe that night we both recognized the significance an award like this could be in legitimizing the work of social issue filmmakers who are covering rather difficult issues while embracing new media outlets. That significance extends to groundbreaking PBS online initiatives like the WGBH Lab and the NBPC’s New Media Institute (which I partook in 2008) and to series like Independent Lens that bridges the gap between the PBS broadcast and online distribution worlds.
It is very exciting that a little over a week after I won the Emmy Award, 13-year old Zora and other young poets affiliated with the non-profit, Urban Word NYC, will have a television spotlight, delivering an incredibly sophisticated poem that segues from the challenges of stylizing bi-racial hair to contemporary lessons about slavery and racism in America. While it was an honor to be bumped by Obama, and an incredible honor to win an Emmy Award, it is equally an honor to share the incredible talent and passion of these young voices with a nationwide audience.
- Lisa Russell, filmmaker
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