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Joslyn Rose Lyons Talks About Filmmaking and Looking Glass

Joslyn Rose Lyons is an award winning filmmaker, who has a legacy of work in hip hop, directing music videos and music-related content and social justice documentaries, and has an inspiring portfolio of projects that includes work with HBO, MTV, BET, VH1, Creative Artists Agency, Universal Music Group, Warner Bros. Pictures, UNINTERRUPTED, Oprah Winfrey Network, PBS, and Sundance.

It was our pleasure to interview Joslyn Rose Lyons.

What draws you to filmmaking and the cinematic language?

Directing allows me to let my imagination run free like a wild horse, and in that process, I find a sense of freedom. I think we are drawn to things that allow us to feel freedom. For me that's what cinema does. It is a form of creative play, and when we are playing, that's often when the most inspiring ideas can come, when we get out of our own way. Become a vessel. Cinema allows me to play in my own shadows and inspires me to keep searching for the light.

What inspired your work in music/film and what are some of your recent projects that we should check out?

I have a passion for music, and I grew up in the Bay Area, so music was just part of my community. My mom is an artist, so I have always been naturally just drawn to exploring the creative process. I’m inspired by the creative journey and watching it unfold, so the verité aspect of documentary was a good medium/format for me to start out in because of this.

One of my favourites is “Truth to Power". I’m the impact producer on this documentary, it just premiered last week at DOC NYC. It’s about the courageous voice of Rep. Barbara Lee, and features powerful interviews with Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Van Jones, Danny Glover, Corey Booker, and Alice Walker. Another is "Same Energy", I created this show with Matt Barnes and UNINTERRUPTED (LeBron James' digital Platform), it features Marshawn Lynch and 2Chainz, in conversations about the mental, physical, and spiritual strength of pursuing your dreams.

Whose work (directors) have had an impact on your career?

Ava DuVernay, she's amazing. Spike Lee, his film ‘Do the Right Thing’ is one of the sparks that ignited this journey in cinema for me, and Jean-Pierre Jeunet film "Amelie" has been an inspiration in defining my signature style with the use of magic realism.

Do you believe in film schools or does making a film teach you more than a film school?

I did study film production and film theory in school at CCA and UC Berkeley, but I learn best when I am actually doing. Intellectualizing something that you want to do can only take your vision so far. It's similar to when you are at the beach and just looking at the water, you're sitting there wondering how it will feel. Fear and doubt are always present when you are at the brink of taking a big leap, but at some point, you just have to dive in.

What makes cinema stand out more than the arts for you?

In cinema we can bend the rules of the world, in Verite documentaries we can capture moments, like a sunset that will never again be exactly the same color as when we filmed it that day at golden hour. Cinema allows us to see worlds within worlds, explore concepts and emotions such as time or love, and see them in new ways. I love the infinite and timeless quality that cinema offers as a medium.

Did you choose a certain directing style for making this film based on the script?

"Looking Glass" was in some ways my love letter to time. I wanted to take the audience on a journey through time, and in doing so I tried to create a world that had very specific rules, such as portals to the past. This gave me the inspiration to direct a short film that would feel much like a series of portraits come to life. I tried to create characters that would also embody concepts and themes such as hopes and dreams, fear, and doubt.

How did you choose the cast and the crew of your film?

‘Looking Glass’ stars Los Angeles based rapper/actor Jallal, and features an ensemble cast of friends and artists from the Bay including DJ Umami, Ryan Nicole-Peters, and embraces the struggle to overcome complacency, while visually embodying the spirit of Oakland’s creative community, and we filmed at Bard, a 1930's style supper club.

At the time of conceptualizing this piece, I had just finished reading a book called ‘The Big Leap’ which explores the concept of taking that courageous leap from your ‘excellence zone’ to your ‘genius zone’ so this was a concept also present when I wrote the short. The concept of taking that leap from your ‘excellence zone’ to your ‘genius zone’, I created characters in "Looking Glass" that would embody a different part of this journey; fear and doubt, hopes and dreams.

Do you consider yourself an indie filmmaker and what would most be the most difficult thing about being an independent artist?

“The more resistance you experience, the more important your unmanifested art/project/enterprise is to you - and the more gratification you will feel when you finally do it.” that's from a book called the War of Art, it reminds us that when things are difficult that is often a sign we are closer to our goals. It's challenging, but pressure also makes the diamond, friction forms the pearl. So it's all needed in order to make great work. Having a great crew is also key, I’ve been super lucky to work with amazing talent. Before Rafael Casal (Blindspotting) was a superstar, we were producing partners on many of my projects, since as far back as I can remember he's been in and/or worked on most of my productions, he just gets everything about creativity and the process. I've also been lucky to have great DP's like Boson Wang, producing partners like Matt Smith, ADs like Hilton Day, and Armin Houshmandi, they always help to hold the creative vision.

What is the distribution plan for your film?

It was an honor when Trey Ellis (HBO's Tuskegee Airmen, True Justice) saw my film, and next thing I knew Sundance London invited me to premiere the short at their virtual festival a few months ago. "Looking Glass" has been positively received, premiering at Sundance London, and has picked up numerous awards at film festivals that include The American Film Award, IndieFest, TopShorts Best Female Director, The Berlin Flash Film Festival, Shorted Film Festival, One-Reeler Short Film Competition, The IndieFEST Film Awards and Focus International Film Festival amongst others.

What is your cinematic goal in life and what would you like to achieve as a filmmaker?

I am in the polishing stage with my team on a script for my first narrative feature. It’s a drama, don't want to give too much away, but it definitely has a strong presence of magical realism.

What kind of impact would your film have in the world and who is your audience?

Cinema can address real issues in a way that allows people to relate to a make-believe world, it's less personal so we can connect without as much justice to the story or characters, while still digesting messages. The film has a way of opening up our senses and allowing us to see things in new ways. Some of my close friends in the Bay Area have made some incredible films this past few years that have done just that, Boots Riley made “Sorry to Bother You” Rafael Casal and Daveed Diggs made “Blindspotting”, these types of films can spark change by opening up conversations we might not have had. Finding the extraordinary in the ordinary, and seeing things in a new light. I love this quote by 2PAC: “I'm not saying I'm gonna change the world, but I guarantee that I will spark the brain that will change the world.' That's what I would want my films to do, create that spark that ignites an inner fire, and that fire can be a guiding light on your journey.

What has lockdown been like for you professionally/creatively?

I’ve been working with my producers on the polishing phase of a script for my first feature film. It’s actually been quite a creative and focused time for this process. It’s also been a time of solitude. My favourite author Paulo Coehlo (The Alchemist) said this about Solitude it may be too long to share it, but it’s such a good quote: “Without solitude, Love will not stay long by your side. Because Love needs to rest, so that it can journey through the heavens and reveal itself in other forms. Without solitude, no plant or animal can survive, no soil can remain productive, no child can learn about life, no artist can create, no work can grow and be transformed. Solitude is not the absence of Love, but its complement. Solitude is not the absence of company, but the moment when our soul is free to speak to us and help us decide what to do with our life. Therefore, blessed are those who do not fear solitude, who are not afraid of their own company, who are not always desperately looking for something to do, something to amuse themselves with, something to judge. If you are never alone, you cannot know yourself. And if you do not know yourself, you will begin to fear the void.”


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