by Okema “Seven” Gunn
Kim Townes chooses her subjects carefully. So, far… she has been right on point. The films that she creates and directs paint vivid pictures, while telling complex stories. Here’s what she has to say about it.
Why did you want to become a director?
KT: Something I’ve always wanted to do is tell stories. Because I wanted to communicate, wanted to be in entertainment, sharing my craft in an adventurous form of story-telling. Where you go to school does not determine the outcome of your life. I settled on Hampton University for my college education, which became inspiring and comfortable place to be creative… “My home by the sea”. I liked Hampton University and cherished the experience of being there. During my stay, I made short films, developed/ honed my screenwriting, and experimented with camera equipment that was available from the Communications/Marketing Department. My passion already existed; it just began budding. It didn’t matter that Hampton didn’t have the latest technology or film equipment. I still learned a great deal. I like the fact that I didn’t have to compete with others. We set our own pace of learning/experimentation. There were no boundaries that existed, which allowed individual creative control and gave artists a sense of ownership of their work.
When did your love for film begin?
KT: I figured I would try at something that I loved to do. Taking mini-classes on topics of interest. I wanted to make films that were unique. I kept telling myself “ I could do this!” In this industry, one definitely has to have a pocketful of tricks. Do more than one thing. Be a Jill of All Trades. Play Multiple Hats. Act upon Multiple Talents. When I was in primary school, I wanted to tell stories. Watching television helped to encourage/feed my creative juices. Story-telling just seemed natural. It always has been a natural desire for me to express my imagination through various art forms of media.
Who inspired you?
KT: In the beginning Julie Dash and Spike Lee. Daughters of the Dust is a beautiful and poignant part of African American experience. Spike Lee is a trailblazer and a master as far as intricate storytelling is concerned. By producing his films, he has chronicles the history of Americans, cultivates a unique perspective, and generates an on-going awareness in our culture.
How do you go about the process of creating your films and bringing together cast/crew?
KT: The cast/crew makeup is different for every project. I try to pull people in that will work well with the current agenda of the project. It’s about sitting with the casting director, looking at chemistry, and seeing how each character supports one another, based on the elements of the newly-created world. You gotta get the best out of what you are working with, by selecting what can and will be the most productive, effective, and believable. Every production has its own ebb and flow.
How does Los Angeles give a background and support for what you want to accomplish?
KT: Hollywood is where it’s at. You can come out here and create your own. Many people network and grow from their move. Some people have been raised around the business. It is beneficial when your professors are in the industry. Equipment is easily accessible. L.A. is a strong marketplace and a Hub for entertainment, like sound design, special effects, etc. You have to immerse yourself into the industry and atmosphere. The weather is a positive, too. Nice and sunny most of the time.
What kind of films do you like to make or would you like to make?
KT: I like narrative driven films that are meaty. Topiary, Science-based, Science-fiction. I want every new film project to be a different level of artistry and mastery. I want to look back at each film project and see how I grew in the process.
What projects are you most proud of?
KT: The last 3 have been most impactful. “Zero” (short narrative), “Hands to the Sky” (short narrative), and “Planting Hope” (short documentary). I got “Planting Hope” on Student Grant. I could go back home, grab some wisdom, and give voice to the main sites in South Carolina. Pearl Fryar was a topiary artist. His yard was like a magical fairyland, where he sculpts bears, birds, chess pieces and messages. He also creates art from discarded objects. Love pieces-wisdom that he carries. He’s 70 and is amazing. He gave me $100 to take pictures of trees with 35mm film. He has also used his donations for Scholarships for college students. Kids don’t have resources to do these things they need to. He felt like in school that he was the kid. He put some people through school with his donations. This was most special to me.
What do you want young girls of color to know?
KT:Don’t worry about how hard or easy the work is. Life in general is hard. Do what you have to do to make things work for you. Master your craft. Keep doing what you are doing, keep working, and don’t give up or give in. Figure out how YOU are going to navigate through this life.
Tell me about your latest film “Hands to the Sky”.
KT: I wanted to direct this film because it had never been done before. A role where an African American person with Autism tells their story in a unique way. My classmate in UCLA produced and acted in this film. It was personal for him because it was about a family member. He invited me back with this family. So many stories that are needed to be told. People are always looking for heroes. You always gotta reach back. Talking to relatives and friends. Understanding that 1st diagnosis with children and adults. Going deeper into understanding. Everybody is different in how they take in information. Challenge myself from those eyes. It was a challenge and helped to grow. Desire to understand the truth. New Jersey has the highest rate of Autism.
It is such a blessing to work with such amazing actors on the project. The actors were fully invested in their roles and took the wheel on trying the make it their best. Telling such an intimate and moving story and taking charge. Campaigning, driving, and pushing to be seen. Understanding different response and opening yourself up to a different language. Opening up your heart is being vulnerable, being true to yourself can be a fulfilling experience.
List of projects and Awards:
AWARDS & RECOGNITIONS
• 2015 Black Women In Film Network
Audience Buzz Award Winner
• 2015 Pan African Film Festival
Best Narrative Short Film Nomination
• 2014 Reel Sisters of the Diaspora
Best Screenplay and Best Director Award
• 2012 HBO/ABFF Short Film Competition
Top 5 Finalist
• 2011 TIME WARNER CABLE, IFC and YOUTUBE
Short Film Contest Winner
• 2010 UCLA/BILL & MELINDA GATES
UCLA Inspiring Action Filmmaker Grant
• 2009 THE ALFRED P. SLOAN FOUNDATION
UCLA Student Film Production Fellowship
• 2009 FELICIA HENDERSON
UCLA Screenwriting Award
• 2009 EDDIE & LEW WASSERMAN
UCLA Student Film Production Fellowship – Thesis Grant
• 2008 UCLA FOUR SISTERS
UCLA Fellowship in Screenwriting, Directing and Animation
• 2006 MPAA/ UCLA