Film, Film, Film With Director Dionne Edwards
Words: Stephanie Dando
Making it in the film industry is not for the faint of heart. It is notoriously known for being hard to get into. Screenwriter and director Dionne Edwards is in the curious position of having not just succeeded, but having succeeded really well.
‘We Love Moses’ is a fifteen-minute short film that focuses on Ella, a twelve-year-old girl with a crush on her brother’s best friend, Moses. The film is owned by HBO and not currently available for public consumption, but viewers of the film have marvelled over ‘We Love Moses’ packing more surprises and twists in one small space than Aslan’s wardrobe. To date, it’s won nine awards, including Short Film of the Year (2016) and 2017’s Dinard Prize.
There are many chicken-and-egg resembling questions that rotate around those recognised for their success; namely ‘were they born with that talent, or did they just work really hard?’ The appeaser’s answer is ‘well, both’. And, indeed, when we sit down to talk with Dionne Edwards, rather predictably she shows oodles of both. How did you know you wanted to be a director?
Beforehand, Dionne had been trying to make it as an actor and a singer, but the workshops, she says, opened her eyes. “I’d never thought about who makes the films. And I’d always been into writing as well…[but directing] has always been natural.” She describes how her unconventional upbringing ensured she was exposed to a great variety of people. “I was in foster care when I was younger. We had all sorts of people coming in and out. My foster family had a pub on the Afro-Caribbean side of town, but then I’d be interacting with the white working class folk [near her family home], but then I was going to drama workshops, too. I’m an observer.”
Dionne establishing herself as an ‘observer’, rather than merely ‘observant’ illustrates just how core writing and directing is to her character. When we ask her what kind of stories she likes to tell, she pauses.
For reasons that are obvious enough, Dionne says that in the beginning of her career, being described as a ‘black filmmaker’ was one that bothered her. “It doesn’t bother me now, though,” she says. “My identity and experience as a black person has affected the way I see the world. I just prefer not to focus on it too much.” Indeed, Dionne has a multi-faceted background. Heritage. “My mum’s English, Scottish, and Jamaican.” Dionne’s father, who passed a decade ago, was Nigerian.
Dionne’s trajectory up the filmmaking ladder to becoming an award-winning director was, as one might expect, no smooth path. And the pay off, she says, only comes at the very, very end. What kept you inspired when you doubted yourself? “Love for the craft,” she replies with no hesitation. “I’m getting success now, but there was a lot of being broke, rejections, disappointments, films not coming out the way I wanted. And balancing all that with paying rent and eating.” She pauses. “You have to not just love, but be in love with what you’re doing.”
We’re curious about how Dionne ensures her stories are told authentically. While the director is the maestro pulling all the strings, in films there are many, many strings, and only so many fingers. But her response is down-to-earth. “I’m just as honest as I can be. But I do try to let things go as smoothly as possible. That’s because…I’m trying to think of what I would enjoy watching, rather than making a conscious effort to step away from conventions. I’m talking organically about the stuff I’m interested.”
She strikes us as so in control and in charge that we ask her if there’s anything she doesn’t have a lid on. She laughs, and concedes that there are some concessions you have to make in the film industry, especially behind the screens. “When you’re dealing with the people who are giving you the money, the business executives…that’s hard, and you have to pick the right battles.”
So what’s next for Dionne Edwards? “I’m shooting my first feature next summer. I’m already thinking of all the shots, and building up all the visuals.” We ask her if she’s considered taking her love of the screen to other dimensions - maybe digital outlets, or music videos - but she shakes her head. “I’m one track minded.” She smiles. “It’s just film, film, film.”