“DEAR MAMA… is a beautiful story set in the mid-90s in South LA, about a family navigating the grief of losing a loved one at the same time that the death of hip-hop artist, actor and activist, Tupac is announced. His death forces them to confront the emotional aftermath of their own tragedy. The film is an intimate and honest telling of Tanisha and her father Nate, learning to confront, process and navigate their new normal as the world grieves the loss of a cultural icon.” Filmmaker Winter Dunn on DEAR MAMA… now screening at SxSW 2022.
You are back! Tell me about your previous experience here at the festival and what you showed.
I’m so happy to be back at SXSW! I had the pleasure of showing a feature film I produced alongside Numa Perrier titled JEZEBEL in 2019, which was picked up by Ava Duvernay’s Array and is now streaming on Netflix. We didn’t know it at the time, but it was the last in-person SXSW and last of many in-person experiences due to COVID, so to be back, for the first in-person festival since COVID, screening as a director, it means the world to me.
How did you first hear about SxSW and wishing to send your project into the festival?
SXSW is one of those names I’ve always heard while creating work and trying to get the project supported, seen and off the ground. It’s prestigious and down to earth at the same time – and that’s what I love about this event. The scope of innovative projects, campaigns and people are so broad that you can always find your people and your type of content at SXSW.
Tell me about the idea behind your project and getting it made!
DEAR MAMA…was produced in Film Independent’s 2021 Project Involve fellowship and my core collaborators were fellows with me. I must say I got really lucky with my team. This story touches me deeply because it deals with themes that we’re all familiar with while bringing focus to Black family and hip hop music. As a Black woman and a lover of hip hop, I have never seen a story that centers a young Black girl actively working through her pain using hip hop as a place of comfort and I wanted to tell this story. In the early 90’s, there were many misconceptions about the music and the effects it would have on our youth. We see that Tanisha has found a connection to her mother through the music and fights for that despite resistance from her absent father. I believe there are many people who have had to find their own ways of grieving, processing and eventually healing and growing. I hope each of those people see themselves in this film.
My producers and all of the creative leads poured their all into this film and you can feel that in the work. This won’t be the last film coming from this collective
Who are some of your creative inspirations? Any particular filmmaking talent or movie that inspired you for this project?
I’ve always been inspired by Black indie films. For DEAR MAMA…. I drew a lot of inspiration from PARIAH by Dee Rees, shot by Bradford Young. Our stories are similar in that they’re both about two young Black girls, learning to navigate life without the understanding and approval of their parents. My cinematographer, Mike Maliwanag, and I watched Pariah together when building out our own visual language.
How did you put this together from a technical viewpoint? What sort of cameras/lenses did you use and/or did you have any creative challenges in making it?
Lens choice was very important for the look of this short. I told Mike, I wanted the frames to feel imperfect. As if we were shooting, on an older camera that might’ve existed in the 90’s, when the film takes place. He took that direction and ran with it. We ended up shooting on the Arri Alexa Mini LF and the Canon K35 lenses and I’m really happy with the final result.
What would you suggest to film festivals as a way to show more short films or make them more accessible to audiences across the country?
I think the introduction of the virtual element is really exciting. Coming up, I couldn’t afford to fly to the big festivals or get film passes and I love that now you can sign up for a virtual pass and still get to enjoy the work from home. There’s nothing like seeing the film in the theater with the audience around you, but at least from home, you have an opportunity to view the work and be a part of the conversation. You have the opportunity to stay tapped into new work, fresh ideas and emerging new voices on the rise. I’m excited to see how this access supports the success of rising talent and young future filmmakers. I think it would also be great for film festivals to create more partnerships with distribution and network platforms so that more short films have an opportunity to earn distribution and air/stream on more platforms.
If you had one piece of advice to offer someone to get their start as a creator or filmmaker in the industry, what would you suggest?
Start where you are. If you keep waiting to reach a certain point before you start, you might never start. Find what you have access to, collaborate with talent in your circles and beyond and go for it. As time passes, you’ll learn more, you’ll expand your network and you’ll figure out how to navigate the business – but none of that comes if you don’t take the leap and just start.
And finally, what is your favourite short film of all time?
Wow, that’s a tough question. Can I say DEAR MAMA…? I’m kidding! I’ve seen so many incredible shorts, but when I saw LADYLIKE by Tiffany Johnson, something in me said, “I can do this!” It was a young and fresh short that felt accessible, but also a very technically strong piece. Plus, it was directed by a Black woman which is always inspiring. I want Black women in film to thrive and get our stores out, because we have so much outstanding talent among us and incredibly diverse stories to tell – we haven’t even scratched the surface!
This film and many others like it will be showing at South By Southwest taking place March 11-20. For more information point your browser to www.sxsw.com!