Interview with Filmmaker Vanessa Wright (SANKOFA CHICAGO)

SANKOFA CHICAGO was the winner of BEST FEATURE FILM at the Chicago FEEDBACK Film Festival.

1. What motivated you to make this film?

As a black female, I struggled with who I am for a long time, and the average black child knows little or nothing about their identity but is left with the trauma of discrimination.

While raising two black boys in Chicago, I saw the need to educate them and others about the importance of knowing their history to understand the present. Is there hope for a safe future for black people in Chicago? As an educator, documentary filmmaking is my chosen form of self-expression because it allows me to teach creatively,

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

It took about 18 months to complete the documentary, from the idea to the finished product.

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

Educational and Informative

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

I had a grant through the Illinois Arts Council. Our first shoot date was the same week the country went into quarantine due to COVID-19. The grantee couldn’t extend the deadline more than 30 days, so the project was due September 30, 2020. We had to shoot anyway. We had many obstacles due to covid, but most importantly, I wanted to ensure everyone was safe during the interviews.

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

My initial reaction to watching the audience talking about my doc was excitement and intrigue, and I wanted to grab some popcorn while watching. Honestly, it made my day!

Watch the Audience Feedback Video:

6. When did you realize that you wanted to make films?

I realized I wanted to make films at an early age. I love learning. My favorite network was PBS (it still is) as a child. I would watch documentaries with my parents on the weekends and was fascinated by them. So, my undergraduate majors (Ohio State University) were intentional, combining communications with sociology. I dreamed about making documentaries shown on PBS, but most of my opportunities led me to work in TV news, managing talent and casting.

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

The film I have seen the most in my life would have to be, The Last Mogul: The Life and Times of Lew Wasserman. I teach a Talent Management class at Columbia College Chicago, and every semester since 2005, I play it. It’s a great educational piece to start a discussion about the history of agents and managers in the entertainment industry.

8. What other elements of the festival experience can we and other festivals implement to satisfy you and help you further your filmmaking career?

I appreciate that question. The feedback was tremendous and helped me feel I was on the right track. I also like how I can use it on my website and social media. That’s huge! I am unsure if everyone gets positive feedback, but I would have loved to hear some things I could have worked on to help me with future projects, maybe in writing versus the video.

I am struggling with finding the right home for my documentary and docu-series. If your festival could help out anyway, that would be amazing, and I am looking for distribution like PBS and other educational platforms. Even feedback from someone at PBS or an educational distributor.

9. You submitted to the festival via FilmFreeway. How has your experiences been working on the festival platform site?

I have enjoyed using FilmFreeway. I love that I can go to one place to research festivals and submit.

10. What is your favorite meal?

I love ethnic food! But my favorite would have to be Ethiopian food.

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

After this documentary, I am making a three-part docu-series. We are in post-production now for the sequel.


By matthewtoffolo

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

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