Last Thursday, I had the great pleasure of being in the audience at Spelman College where filmmaker Ava DuVernay screened three clips from her film Middle of Nowhere, which won her the Best Director’s nod at Sundance in January. The film personalizes mass incarceration through the lens of one couple’s experience. If you have not seen DuVernay’s first film, I Will Follow, I recommend it. This film centers on how a niece copes with the death of her beloved aunt Amanda and in doing so examines a taken for granted hierarchy embedded in how sympathy gets accorded in the aftermath of loss. Maye, played by Salli Richardson-Whitfield, literally finds herself displaced, being forced to move from the home she once shared with the aunt she cared for by her cousin Fran, Amanda’s daughter. As Amanda’s daughter, Fran legally assumes primacy for her mother’s affairs, but Maye was not only physically closer, she was emotionally tied to her aunt through a great regard for the integrity of how she wanted to die and a rich resource for recording her memory.
I Will Follow was the first film distributed through the African-American Film Festivals Releasing Movement (AFFRM). DuVernay founded the association as a way to distribute films outside of the predominant corporate model. AFFRM brings together premier black film organizations, including Urbanworld Film Festival, Imagenation, BronzeLens Film Festival, ReelBlack Film Series, and Langston Hughes African-American Film Festival to market and distribute films whose value may be found beyond Hollywood’s recognition. This collective recognizes the potential of what it means to have “other models by which to live.”