Chanel James, also known as Dinosaur Hawk, is a director, writer, editor, and pop archivist who aims to create stories that highlight gradients of the human experience, encourage understanding, and above all, illuminate the relationship between music and mental health. James has worked on the festival circuit at Brooklyn Film Festival and Tribeca Film Festival, and with the digital archiving teams at Condé Nast and MTV. Her debut original narrative feature, “The Things We Do When We’re Alone,” starring Taylor Garron, won Best American Feature Film at the Cape Verdean American Film Festival and premiered at Black Cinema House in Chicago in 2018.
Taylor Garron is a multi-hyphenate creator and performer originally from New Bedford, MA and currently based in Brooklyn, NY. She has a background in comedy and television writing, previously working as an editor at both Reductress and The Onion, and as a writer for Adult Swim. “As of Yet” is her first feature and first foray into auteurism, having worked as the film’s writer, co-director, and lead talent.
“As of Yet” is screening at the 2021 Tribeca Film Festival, which is taking place June 9-20.
W&H: Describe the film for us in your own words.
TG: “As of Yet” is, at its core, about the relationships that we take as they are, and how it feels when those relationships are shaken up. It’s also about the different ways people deal with conflict, how we’re all dealing with life through the lens of our own faults and personal situations, and the importance of growing as people at our own pace.
W&H: What drew you to this story?
CJ: The talented and delightful Taylor Garron was writing it and the script was so normal and true and funny. It was going to be great to be able to pool our collective energy to tell Naomi’s story, and hopefully have the film offer viewers a helpful respite.
TG: I was excited to tell a story about average, regular people who have flaws and make bad decisions, and to have those people still be sympathetic characters who deserve thought and admiration. I was also drawn to the idea of telling a nuanced, complex story that takes place during the pandemic, but is not necessarily about the pandemic.
W&H: What do you want people to think about after they watch the film?
TG: I want people to think about the way they see the relationships in their lives: not just romantic ones, but relationships with friends, parents, cousins, neighbors, acquaintances, even the barista at the café they frequent. I want them to be able to recognize how important each of those relationships are, even the ones they may see as a minor one.
I also want them to think about the stories that they have to tell, no matter how insignificant or mundane they may seem.
W&H: What was the biggest challenge in making the film?
CJ: We had a lot of fun figuring out the tech — it was a humble, collaborative process to accomplish what we wanted for the different cinematic looks and how we were going to do this new thing. It felt like we were on the brink, like we were back in the early 2000s when everyone was like, “Wait, digital.” For us, it was like “Wait, virtual.”
TG: The biggest challenge was getting a crew and cast — spread out all over the country and even the world — on the same page via Zoom conversations. The technical parts were also tricky, but it was a real treat to figure out how to solve problems the best we could so far apart from each other, and to be able to make our own conventions in a nascent realm of filmmaking that we’ve only scraped the surface of. I can’t wait to see other films made like this in the future and see what other traditional filmmaking rules people can break.
W&H: What inspired you to become a filmmaker?
CJ: Well, growing up with the Black TV of the ‘90s was a major inspiration. I started writing things and performing in talent shows when I was six, and I’d watch my favorite movies over and over again, reciting the lines and blocking. I also loved watching music videos. Then I joined theater in high school.
TG: I’ve always loved telling stories, and I’ve always known that I wanted to incorporate storytelling into my long-term career goals. I think filmmaking has always called out to me, specifically, because of the freedom it provides in storytelling. Also, I’m just a huge television and film nerd in general.
W&H: What’s the best and worst advice you’ve received?
CJ: Best advice: “Go on, do it.” I can’t remember the worst advice.
TG: The best advice I’ve ever received is make art for yourself and share it for the sake of sharing it. There’s not a single person on earth who can tell your story or share your perspective the way you can, and even if no one, not a single soul, appreciates it, you got that vision out into the world.
The worst advice is that I had to go to a fancy film school to get ahead in the industry. I went to state school and it was fun as hell and I’m still here. Some of my favorite filmmakers didn’t even go to school. College is largely irrelevant with very few exceptions!
W&H: What advice do you have for other women directors?
CJ: Be with yourself for some quiet moments, visualize what is interesting or feels real or inspiring to you. Trust and hope that what you find interesting could be interesting to others — then grab your friends and make something.
TG: I don’t consider myself a woman director as much as I consider myself a director, full stop. So my advice for other women directors would be: do not feel forced to put yourself in a bubble. Your art is not an exception. You can make whatever you want, and you don’t have to be concerned with making sure it represents any facet of your identity in ways you aren’t excited nor motivated to represent.
W&H: Name your favorite woman-directed film and why.
CJ: “Clueless,” directed by Amy Heckerling, is my favorite movie of all time. Other favorites include Lynn Shelton’s “Your Sister’s Sister”; Catherine Hardwicke’s “Lords of Dogtown”; Sofia Coppola’s “The Virgin Suicides”; Céline Sciamma’s “Girlhood”; Kasi Lemmons’ “Eye’s Bayou”; Miranda July’s “The Future”; Sarah Polley’s “Take This Waltz”; and Channing Godfrey Peoples’ “Miss Juneteenth.” And why? Because they rip.
W&H: How are you adjusting to life during the COVID-19 pandemic? Are you keeping creative, and if so, how?
CJ: I enjoy working from home and having the time to write, but I’m very much looking forward to going to shows again.
TG: I am keeping creative, writing down all my ideas and fleshing them out as much as possible, so I’m ready to hit the ground running once we can get out to create and collaborate again. I am a stand-up comedian and an extrovert, so being inside all this time has been difficult. But keeping busy creatively has been an outlet that has kept my head above water.
W&H: The film industry has a long history of underrepresenting people of color onscreen and behind the scenes and reinforcing — and creating — negative stereotypes. What actions do you think need to be taken to make Hollywood and/or the doc world more inclusive?
CJ: A few major impactful actions would be to increase accessibility for funding and distribution for underrepresented communities, and to greenlight more series and films by underrepresented communities.
TG: The industry is diversifying at its lowest levels: not that that’s horrible, after all, anyone from an underrepresented community getting any meaningful opportunities to create and distribute their work is a net good, in my opinion.
However, real, systemic change won’t happen until the industry starts diversifying at the executive, decision-making, greenlighting level. It needs to spotlight “diverse” talent in all capacities, not purely creative talent, to make sure that underrepresented people are not simply quotas being met, but are present and involved in every corner of the industry. Perspective is really important, especially in rooms that are influencing or have direct control of the content that the masses are seeing.