At the Venice Film Festival press conference for Ava DuVernay’s new film “Origin” on Wednesday, the director revealed that she has previously been told not to apply to the festival because “you won’t get in.”
DuVernay is making history this year as the first African American woman in the festival’s 80-year existence to have a film compete for the Golden Lion. “Origin,” starring Aunjanue Ellis-Taylor and Jon Bernthal, “chronicles the remarkable life and work of Pulitzer Prize-winning author Isabel Wilkerson as she investigates the genesis of injustice and uncovers a hidden truth that affects us all,” according to the film’s official synopsis.
“For Black filmmakers, we’re told that people who love films in other parts of the world don’t care about our stories and don’t care about our films. This is something that we are often told: you cannot play international film festivals, no one will come,” DuVernay said. “People will not come to the press conferences, people won’t come to the P&I screenings. They will not be interested in selling tickets. You might not even get into this festival, don’t apply. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been told, ‘Don’t apply to Venice, you won’t get in. It won’t happen.’ And this year, something happened that hadn’t happened in eight decades before: an African American woman in competition. So now that’s a door open that I trust and hope the festival will keep open.”
On Tuesday, the worldwide rights to “Origin” were acquired by Neon. During the press conference, DuVernay also spoke about the importance of keeping the film — which initially started in the studio system — an independent production.
“I don’t feel like we would have had the cast that we had if it had remained in the studio system,” DuVernay said. “The studio system is a place where I worked and made projects that I’m proud of, but there is really an aspect of control over who plays what. And there is an idea about who makes money, attracts attention and sometimes that sits at odds with who might be the best person for the part. Aunjanue Ellis-Taylor was the best person for this part.”
Besides Ellis-Taylor and Bernthal, the film also stars Niecy Nash-Betts, Vera Farmiga, Audra McDonald, Nick Offerman, Blair Underwood, Connie Nielsen, Emily Yancy, Jasmine Cephas-Jones, Finn Wittock, Victoria Pedretti, Isha Blaaker and Myles Frost.
“This cast is populated with actors who are not quote-unquote superstars in Hollywood,” DuVernay added. “It’s populated with meat-and-potatoes, blood, sweat and tears working actors who are very respected. The whole cast is filled with them, and together you see how they shine like stars. So I think it gets into this idea of the value that we place on certain artists based on corporations saying who is more valuable and who’s not. And thank goodness we made this film independently and we were able to hand pick everyone.”