Be Inspired: Cristyn Steward

  1. Tell us about yourself. How long have you been a filmmaker?

I am a Columbus native and I have been making films for about 7 years. My background is in creative writing, more specifically, poetry creative non-fiction and screenwriting. I studied film San Francisco for many years before I returned home to Ohio to help create more spaces for local filmmakers for thrive.

  1. Do you focus on a certain genre?

Drama, suspense and comedy are my favorites. I am still learning comedy, I am not that good at pacing yet, but I am getting there. I mostly just love delving into compelling story.

  1. What is the best part of your work?

Freedom. Being able to work at something that I wake up and I am passionate about. I also enjoy the networking, screening films that wouldn’t have been seen locally otherwise, the constant opportunity to be creative and being able to maintain a growing platform to advocate for other filmmakers like me.

  1. Why did you develop the Columbus Black International Film Festival (CBIFF)?

After getting my master’s in San Francisco I was exposed to niche film festivals of all types. I was also noticing from afar that Columbus was expanding support of the arts, so upon my return home after graduating, I was disappointed that black film was still being underrepresented at the local film festivals that I was attending. To every problem there is a solution, and I wanted to start helping solve this issue. So, I sought out my mentor and fellow filmmaker Mark A. Cummings and discussed film festivals and our experience and, with his encouragement, I decided this is something that can definitely be possible and successful in Columbus. And then I got to work and quickly noticed that there were many people in the community that were feeling the same way and luckily support for this idea soon poured in.

  1. How can the community get involved with CBIFF?

We need people who are willing and committed to volunteering and want to help uplift the voices of black artists through film. We are also looking for people to spread the word in any way that they can. This is the first year and we want to make sure everyone in Columbus knows this film festival is happening. We need everyone to share about the screenings on social media, help push the message by word of mouth or do us a favor and pass out a few of our flyers.

  1. Can you speak about some of the films you’ll be showing?

CBIFF will be screening nearly 30 films representing the black experience from all over the world. There are several timely films being featured about our current political climate, including, a short film called “Aftermath,” about the day after Trump was elected. We also will be featuring the popular documentary, “parTy boi: Black Diamonds in Ice Castles,” that has been making an impact on the festival circuit lately. It’s about the rise in crystal meth use among the black and Latinx LGBTQ community. The film’s director, Michael Rice, will also be sitting in our #BLACKMEDIAMATTERS panel. We also will be showcasing the documentary “Panomundo Part 1: The Evolution of the Steelpan,” a film that delves into the fascinating story of the creation and cultural importance of the steelpan in Trinidad. Local film prodigies The Turner Brothers will also be joining us and brining their latest award-winning film “Pseudo,” which takes a special look at police brutality and racial injustice. We were very lucky to get so many amazing films for our first year. Folks can see the full schedule at www.columbusbiff.com.

  1. What do you hope to achieve with CBIFF?

My hope is to give a unique platform to marginalized filmmakers in this community, and to help put some of the control of the black narrative back into the hands of those living the experiences. We also hope that this will start a movement in Columbus and will lead to a growing space where black media representations can thrive.

  1. What is the long-term vision for the festival? Do you partner with other companies and events in the city?

We hope that this will spark an annual renaissance and will eventually become a staple statewide and nationally for black film. We also hope to double our submissions in the coming years and expand the festival to a week-long series of showcases and workshops hosted in various neighborhoods throughout the city. The support this year has been overwhelming. Many institutions and organizations have lined up to support our efforts, including Wexner Center the Arts, Film Columbus, Greater Columbus Arts Council, Columbus College of Art and Design, The Ohio State University Film Studies Program, among many others. We hope that we can continue to build on some of those relationships and we continue to invite new relationships. One of my personal goals is to partner with other black film festivals throughout the country and create a network that supports us all.

  1. Do you have any films in the works at the moment? What are you focusing on? Who is your audience?

I have been working on a couple of screenplays for a while, one feature and one short. I am considering filming the short film later this year. I also have a second book of poetry I was working on early last year that took a backseat to my last short and now CBIFF. I am hoping to pick that back up sooner rather than later. My audience is pretty broad. Leaving Columbus and coming back years later, I am forced to recreate my audience. I don’t think Columbus really knows me as an artist yet. They know I am an advocate for black film and I am creating a platform for filmmakers locally and aboard. So, I hope to show Columbus how I fit in on both sides of that coin.

  1. How does one survive as a creative in a city like Columbus?  Are spaces and sources needed specifically for Black creatives to thrive?

In small towns filmmakers survive by any means necessary. By doing whatever it takes to create and share their work. I think it’s first important to note that as a black creative in Columbus, black artist supporting other black artist is integral, for many reasons. We have tons of emerging artists in this city who need support, and we have visionaries, like myself, who also need support. What I am creating with this festival is not just for me, it’s for all of us. It’s to combat the erasure and revisionist history that our stories succumb to.  The support does not always need to be financial, though it helps. We need electricity to make art, right? But time is a big one. Black creatives need guidance and mentorship, and that is how we get access to resources, and grow our audiences. We need spiritual and emotional support. Say a few kind words, pray on our behalf, light a candle, gift some sage, take note on how our ancestor took care of our elders, or didn’t, and help cultivate a growing community. Finally include ALL of us, by any means, and do so with good intentions.

  1. If you could meet anyone in the world dead, or alive, who would it be, and what would you say?

Wow, I have not had to think about a question like this in a while. As cliché as this may sound, I would have to say Oprah Winfrey. And I wouldn’t speak or ask questions, but I would watch and takes notes. If I did decide to speak at any moment I would simply beg for a job at OWN (The Oprah Winfrey Network).

  1. Who is your inspiration/role model?

Right now, it’s anyone who speaks life into me and transmits positive energy. Planning an event of this magnitude is not an easy task. As for artists, I have been listening to a lot of JAY Z and K.dot. They are discussing wealth in the way that Mobb Deep and Dead Prez used to use hip-hop to elevate the community. It pumps me up and makes me want to press toward the mark of the high calling. Creating this platform, writing influential work and introducing film to children in the community.

  1. What are your passions?

Wow, that’s a loaded question to ask an artist. I am passionate about people, black people specifically, controlling the black narrative, black independent film, black television, black web series, good health, writing, writing, writing…

  1. Define yourself in one word.

Passionate

 

Thank you Cristyn, it was an honor speaking with you.

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Inspiring Women: Abi Zakarian

Recently, we had the pleasure of interviewing our friend, London based playwright Abi Zakarian.  We met Abi whilst in London in December of 2013 for the So and So Arts Club Women in Art event, where her intricate and brilliantly written piece, LuLu 7 played to great acclaim.  Thank you Abi, for being this months Inspiring Woman.

Abi’s plays include: THE BEST PIES IN LONDON, produced by Rift Theatre and YourAreMine, as part of the immersive Shakespeare in Shoreditch Festival; THIS IS NOT AN EXIT, produced by the Royal Shakespeare Company for The Other Place, Stratford-upon-Avon and transferred to the Royal Court; LULU7, produced by So&So Arts at the Tristan Bates Theatre, SWIFTER, HIGHER, STRONGER, produced by Roundpeg Theatre at The Roundhouse; LITTLE FURIES, commissioned by and rehearsed reading at Soho Theatre, and A THOUSAND YARDS, which was produced by Feast Theatre at Southwark Playhouse.

Previously a writer on attachment at Soho Theatre and a current member of the RSC’s writers group, she was also one of the writers involved in the playwright-in-residence Schoolwrights 2014 scheme in East London schools; the two plays created with the students were showcased at both Soho Theatre and Rich Mix.

Abi is currently under commission for theatre companies TREmers and YouAreMine.

Represented by www.alanbrodie.com


abizakarian hs5Tell us about yourself

I’m an Armenian-British writer living and working in London. Married to a theatre set designer and have a dog called Monty.

Tell us a bit about the work you do, both artistic and otherwise. What sort of projects do you work on?

I work on a combination of commissions and my own projects which my agent sends out on spec. I write plays mainly but am interested in musicals, TV and film writing too.

What have you written?

I’ve written seven full length plays (four produced), two produced short plays, two plays written as playwright-in-residence in two east London schools, and a TV comedy-drama series (as yet un-produced but fingers crossed).

                                                               Tell us about the best part of your work.

this is not an exit1

This is Not an Exit

Writing. Writing. Writing. Then seeing it change and grow when other people get involved; and then seeing an audiences reaction. The tiny silence just after the last line of a play.

Is your work strictly local, or do you have a national/international reach?

Well, since I live in London that’s ‘local’ to my work; I am working on new commissions for a regional tour and Edinburgh festival and I hope to get my work on overseas soon too.

Tell us a bit (more) about what you stand for.

I am a feminist. I don’t write as a feminist however, writing has no gender as far as I’m concerned, but many of my plays do explore gender politics.

How do you manage your day and career?

With discipline. When I first started writing I was also working full time as a picture editor for a national newspaper. I would come home, have dinner, then go and write for at least one hour each night. It took me a year to write my first play, but it taught me to be disciplined. And to not talk too much about what you’re writing. The more you talk about it the less you write it.

What do you hope to achieve with your work?

To make people question their beliefs, their views. To provoke. As long as there is a abizakarian hs 2residue, a tiny thought that lingers, then I’ve done my job.

What is the long-term vision for your writing? Do you partner with other creatives/companies locally or in other areas?

I want to keep writing plays but also hope to develop TV and film scripts. And I’m really keen to get my musical projects up and running. I am a huge fan of musicals and love the work of Stephen Sondheim.

Who were you most excited about meeting/working with?

I’ve loved working with all the directors, actors, creatives and crews on each project. It’s all about collaboration and seeing what happens when you let your work go and be grown.

When you’re not busy acting as a fabulous writer, what is your daytime job? (If you have another)

I’m lucky enough to write full time. I occasionally contribute to a design and lifestyle blog (I love art, design, architecture) though.

For you, what is the hardest thing about writing? What is your favorite written piece of work?

Hmm. I think the hardest thing about writing is completing a piece; as in, I don’t know that anything I write is ever truly ‘finished’, if that makes sense? I can finish a play, but quite often, the thing I’m writing about is still changing, developing and playing out in a wider sense of the world. My favourite piece of written work is my first produced play ‘A Thousand Yards’; it was such a purely cathartic play for me to write and it feels the most honest and immediate still.

If you could meet anyone in the world dead, or alive, who would it be, and what would you say?

Oh man, this is difficult…I think I’m going to have to recreate the first act of Caryl Churchills Top Girls and have a dinner party with five women: Artemesia Gentileschi, bell hooks, Septima Zenobia, Emmeline Pankhurst and Mary Shelley. An eclectic bunch; I think we’d all drink a lot of fine wine into the early hours and set the world to rights. Or take it over.

Who is your inspiration/role model? What or who has inspired you to write? Do you have a

Best Pies in London

Best Pies in London

favorite quote?

Many people inspire me: from my mother to friends to people I work with. I also take great inspiration from many writers and artists; I studied art history and architecture at university and love wandering around the National Gallery or the two Tate’s in London; art inspires me. In particular the painter Paula Rego – her work is very allegorical and dreamlike, the artist Louise Bourgeoise’s work is extraordinary and rich in visual metaphor, and I love Cindy Shermans self-portraits; the constant reinvention of the self is a particular fascination of mine. In terms of writers there’s just too many to list! But I am a huge fan of Samuel Beckett. In fact my favourite quote is from his prose piece ‘Worstword Ho’: “Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try Again. Fail again. Fail better.” I have this printed out above my desk and it never fails to keep me going if I’m blocked or doubting my work. It also reminds me that it’s OK to fail; that there’s no shame in it.

What are your upcoming projects? Where can we see you next?

I’m currently working on two new commissions; the first is a one woman show being produced for a regional tour of the UK during summer 2015, the second is a new play for Edinburgh Festival 2015. I’m also collaborating on a site specific immersive piece and developing a new musical.

This is Not an Exit

This is Not an Exit

What are your passions?

Working for change. Art.

Define yourself in one word.

Determined.

Thank you Abi. It has been both an honor and a privilege speaking with you.

Love

BCM