Interview with Filmmaker Audrey Arkins (AMERICAN BOY)

Matthew Toffolo: What motivated you to make this film?

Audrey Arkins: I had been filming juvenile offenders in Venice and Culver City as they moved in and out of the criminal justice system. Most of the kids said the same thing about how and when it all went wrong – usually in middle school when they joined a gang. Tragically and unrelated to the kids I was filming, a 12 year old boy was shot dead on the crosswalk outside his school in Santa Ana, a few blocks from where I was having coffee. Think of that. A 12 year old assassinated by a 14 year old from a rival gang on his way to school. Right in front of his younger brother. American Boy was an attempt to put a face to that in context for an audience. We see the statistics, hear the news reports, but generally I wonder if we’re all too distracted to feel and understand the tragedy of what’s going on before our eyes.

2. From the idea to the finished product, how long did it take for you to make this short?

Am I finished? Three months from fund raiser to this edit.

3. How would you describe your short film in two words!?

Overly ambitious.

4. What was the biggest obstacle you faced in completing this film?

Me wearing too many hats. A first time director should just direct. I have a new respect for producers and what they go through.

5. What were your initial reactions when watching the audience talking about your film in the feedback video?

Gob smacked. I thought I had failed. Wasn’t even able to look at the film for a few months I was so disappointed. We’re all our own worst critics I guess. Your audience got every aspect of our little film. That really helped me see the film in a better light.

Watch the Audience FEEDBACK Video:

6. How did you come up with the idea for this short film?

There’s a moment in some boys’ lives – between the age of 10 and 12 – when society, a friend, a teacher, a parent, a kinder/gentler member of law enforcement – could divert them away from ‘gang’ life. I wanted to capture that ‘missed’ moment for one kid. Help people see in context that these so-called ‘thugs’ are just children like any others, albeit severely traumatized for obvious reasons. There are clearcut solutions that a fair society ought to pursue. We don’t. Instead we incarcerate parents, trap families in poverty, force care givers to leave kids alone while they work multiple jobs because minimum wage couldn’t support a pet rabbit, let alone a family with children. It’s a vicious cycle perpetuated by the American political economy. Does anyone really think it’s a coincidence that black and brown communities are disenfranchised – fed into a criminal justice system – often for petty, unjust, racial profiling and entrapment. I saw it first hand with the kids I was filming in the other documentary – gang squad law enforcement following them everywhere, searching them every time I let them break for lunch. No one was searching me or my own kids who were helping out. Read Matt Taibbi’s ‘The Divide” if you want proof. We have a prison industrial complex that creates wealth from minority misery, sabotages generations who don’t fully fit the white bread all-American profile. These kids could grow up to be great. If we let them. Too many people and systems are profiting though. Or maybe the powers that be feel the rest of society can’t handle a leveled field of competition. This is just a ten minute short, but I wanted to do something that might trigger the conversation.

7. What film have you seen the most in your life?

Apocalypse Now

8. You submitted to the festival via FilmFreeway, what are your feelings about the submission platform from a filmmaker’s perspective?

FilmFreeway is helpful, streamlined. The LA Feedback festival was by far the best we attended though. They very kindly comped us 20 seats. The most we got elsewhere was two comps and if you’re bringing a lot of people that can get expensive. Our cast are very young kids. By separating out R-rated films after an intermission, this festival allowed the kids to finally see themselves on the big screen. The feedback from the audience was so affirming. People we didn’t know, talking intelligently about what we did. That was worth all the hassle.

9. What song have you listened to the most times in your life?

Album more than song – OK Computer.

10. What is next for you? A new film?

Up until now, I’ve made my living as a screenwriter and it’s still my dream job, but I am planning to direct another short soon to get more experience. My long term goal is to direct a feature about a Latina who terminates a pregnancy so she can go to college. She suffers a terrible public humiliation for that choice. Abortion is still taboo in film. I spent years on this script, trying to strike the right balance. It will need a brave sort of producer (if there are any reading this), but I think the landscape is shifting. If the industry is sincere about giving more women filmmakers access, they must realize we’ll show up focused on taboo issues too. Not that I’ve anything against romantic comedies, but women all over the world deserve to see their story told fairly for once.

American Boy - Best Film.png


By matthewtoffolo

Filmmaker and sports fan. CEO of the WILDsound Film and Writing Festival

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