Tommy Oliver of Kinyarwanda on How Films on Parallel Paths Can Support Each Other
Kinyarwanda dramatizes the 1994 genocide in Rwanda that saw one million lives lost in one hundred days. As it interweaves six tales into one narrative, its characters confront the realities of forgiveness in the face of vengeance. Kinyarwanda is the feature-length debut of writer/director Alrick Brown; produced by Darren Dean, Tommy Oliver and Executive Producer Ishmael Ntihabose. The film was supported by a Cinereach grant in summer 2010 (towards post-production), and premiered at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival, where it received the World Dramatic Competition Audience Award. Kinyarwanda begins its theatrical run December 2nd in multiple cities across the US, being distributed by the African-American Film Festival Releasing Movement (AFFRM).
Kinyarwanda’s theatrical release happens to coincide with the announcement of the 2012 Sundance Film Festival lineup. This exciting time finds producer Tommy Oliver reminiscing about an unexpectedly rewarding bond forged at Sundance, that is even stronger one year later. Infused with admirable generosity, his post offers an uplifting example of the social capital that can sustain films through their festival and distribution journeys.
A Rising Tide Raises All Ships
a guest post by Producer Tommy Oliver
On a freezing cold day last January in Salt Lake City, something special happened.
Before I tell you what that special something was, let me offer a bit of context:
1) Salt Lake City is 45-60 min drive from the main Sundance hub of Park City.
2) By cold, I mean less than 20 degrees.
3) When you have a film (especially your first film) at Sundance, you barely have time to breathe between multiple screenings, events, press junkets and so forth.
4) Before every screening we had, I made a point to engage with each and every waitlist line (if they were willing to wait in line for the chance to get tickets, they absolutely deserved attention and gratitude).
While engagingd with the waitlist line for our Salt Lake City screening, I happened upon three faces I knew. They were those of Dee Rees, Nekisa Cooper and Adepero Oduye, the writer/director, producer and star, respectively, of the phenomenal film Pariah, which was also playing at the festival.
The fact that they would attend our screening isn’t a particularly big deal – Alrick and Dee were contemporaries at NYU and we all went through the IFP labs together. But when you take into account that they had their own screening that day, drove 45 minutes in the snow, waited outside in the cold with little chance of securing tickets and not once picked up the phone to call Alrick, Darren or myself for tickets before heading down, it paints a very different picture. They wanted to support us and not in a fleeting or ephemeral manner, and I loved them for that. It was so gracious, humble and incredibly beautiful.
It was the sort of thing that affirms your faith in people and collaboration in an industry typically known for its narcissism.
Fast-forward eleven months as both films are set to open theatrically (Kinyarwanda on December 2nd and Pariah on December 28th), and our bond is even tighter. We’ve supported and cross-promoted them at every turn and they’ve done the same for us. If you go to Nekisa’s Facebook page, you’d see that her profile picture is the Kinyarwanda poster. If you check my twitter feed, you’d see that I’ve mentioned Pariah almost as much as I’ve mentioned Kinyarwanda.
We’ve fallen into a sort of symbiosis (ironic for a film named Pariah) that illustrates how working together can result in something greater than the sum of the parts. It also shows that treating collaboration and not competition as the default, is a healthy and viable option. The best part of all of this is that it was completely organic. We’ve never once had a conversation about how we’d cross promote, what the parameters were or who was doing what. Ever.
In the end, Pariah is a good film done by good folks and spreading the word about it is something we did happily and will continue to do.
A rising tide raises all ships.
Kinyarawanda theater and ticket information can be found at affrm.com.
Tommy Oliver, a strong believer in the transformative power of film, is trying to make the world a better place, one film at a time. Growing up in inner city Philadelphia, he quickly learned that “preaching at” his peers was not the way to go and film was a much better medium to reach them. Over the next fifteen years, he has honed his craft through practice, training, education and experimentation. As a graduate of Carnegie Mellon University, where he double majored in Economics and Digital Media, and as a Microsoft alum, he developed a keen understanding for business as a whole. As a cinematographer and certified techie, he developed the technical skills to fill in any crew position and to be able to better communicate with team leaders and vendors. As a producer and writer, he’s faced innumerable challenges from crafting a coherent and marketable story to tackling the logistics of shooting in a foreign country and beyond. This combination of skills allows for outside the box thinking, creative problem solving and better communication. In addition to dozens of short films and commercials, Tommy has produced three feature films including Kinyarwanda and Plastic Jesus starring Mackenzie Foy and Hilarie Burton.