By Shelly Prevost
In the last few years there has been a dramatic rise in the number of films written, directed, and filmed in the East Bay. Not only indie films, but blockbuster films such as Black Panther, which was written and directed by Oakland-born Ryan Coogler, featured scenes shot in Oakland. At $1.3 billion worldwide, it’s one of the highest-grossing films of all time. Before “Black Panther”, Coogler wrote and directed another East Bay story, “Fruitvale Station”, which was about the Oscar Grant shooting. Another local favorite, Daveed Diggs wrote and starred in “Blindspotting”, a story about gentrification, race relations, gun violence and class, and features Oakland as another character in the story. Richmond native Justin Tipping wrote and directed, “Kicks”, a movie shot mostly in Oakland. Add to this writer-director Boots Riley’s, “Sorry to Bother You”, also featuring Oakland, and you can see a trend developing in more authentic stories from the East Bay being told by local people of color. The motion picture industry, long criticized for its lack of diversity, highlighted by the #OscarsSoWhite hash tag and the controversy surrounding its lack of people of color in film, behind and in front of the camera, seems to be moving in the right direction. This might make one feel more optimistic.
Unfortunately, the film industry has another, less noticed but even more severe lack of diversity. Last year for the 86th time in the Academy’s 91-year history of awarding Oscars, the membership nominated an exclusively male slate for Best Director. Only once has a woman, Kathryn Bigelow, won Best Director. None of the previously mentioned films above were written or directed by women. One realizes there is a larger battle still being fought to open access to more female voices in film.
On the front lines of this battle is our own Richmond Film Collective. Founders B.K. Williams and Erica Milsom formed the collective to provide a space for local filmmakers to support each other and make their voices heard.
What is the film collective? Erica explains, “a group of women filmmakers from the East Bay who are coming together to give each other support and notes on work in progress and kind of help each other’s careers move forward in the world of film. We are a collection of all kinds of different people. Can be director, cinematographers, any stage, early in their careers or late in their careers.”
B.K. elaborates, “Those of us that don’t work at a large company who may not otherwise be able to benefit from having that kind of feedback from other professionals, we actually get a chance to do that. To help people working in a silo.”
But isn’t the film collective a women’s only group? B.K. laughing, “We didn’t start out that way. We had men on the list.” Erica chimes in “we invited all these men and they never showed up. I felt like we didn’t have a male balance. We tried to get men to join but they didn’t come.” B.K. underscores the point, “When we first started we were open to all but that was just who showed up.” The Collective has remained women only.
Collective members are inspired by the vast number of uniquely Richmond locations. We have point Richmond, bay trail, old architecture, San Francisco as background, Wildcat Canyon, rural Carriage Hills. Currently, B.K is working on a script that will be filmed in Richmond. “Even though part of the incident happened in Oakland, I’m looking to shoot the entire piece in Richmond. Using locations in Richmond that are actually characters. For instance I see Point Molate as a character because Point Molate is this huge conversation right now. The same thing with Chevron, I see that as a character. Shooting and making people aware of those locations in the city is really important to me.”
Three years ago Erica Milsom wrote and directed a film called “So Much Yellow”. The opening shot in her movie was Atchison Village. Erica relates “Atchison Village is like a period piece dream.” The Village is a community in Richmond, which was originally built as housing for defense workers from the Kaiser Shipyards. “When I start writing something I think about the location.”
Members agree that the collective provides a valuable space for feedback and support of their filmmaking endeavors.
Veronica Moscoso who has presented her work in progress documentary says “I belong to many different [film] groups. Many groups of women in film, but I really like this one, first because it’s in Richmond and I live in Richmond, maybe that’s the second reason, the first that they give good feedback.”
Searit Huluf who presented her film concept centered on food tells me “my favorite part was people talking about their favorite food experiences, and how people eat food and use it as a food language. I felt like it was nice conversation about food and filmmaking.”
Margrit Eichler, a recording engineer and composer, comments “The best thing about the film collective is a sense of community of women and films. For the meat and potatoes it has been a practical thing because I’ve gotten jobs out of it. Which is amazing. I’ve been very busy. “
If you would like to meet this diverse collective of filmmakers, their next film mingle is tentatively set for Sept 9th at the Bridge ArtSpace in Richmond. Please check the Bridge ArtSpace to verify time and date.