I think my job as a filmmaker is to challenge audiences to step outside themselves and think a little differently, to shift peoples perspectives. Right now I’m primarily focused on issues surrounding race and generating work that sparks difficult conversations around race; that includes movements such as Black Lives Matter. I’m hoping that through my film work I can have an impact.
As a part of our series about “Filmmakers Making A Social Impact,” I had the pleasure of interviewing Richard B. Pierre.
Richard B. Pierre is an award-winning multiracial Black filmmaker who has written and directed over a dozen shorts that have been broadcast globally and screened in festivals worldwide. His work tackles a range of genres and subject matter; most recently focusing on race. His first documentary “What Are You?” was nominated for a 2020 Golden Sheaf Award and won Third Place at Los Angeles Cinefest 2020. His newest fiction short, “An Uninvited Guest” garnered the Impact Award at the 2020 CaribbeanTales International Film Festival.
Thank you so much for doing this interview with us! Before we dive in, our readers would love to get to know you a bit. Can you share your “backstory” that brought you to this career?
Definitely! I grade five I started writing short stories. Fast forward to high school, when my classmates kept telling me my stories were cinematic. So at the end of high school, I found myself with two options: go to business school cause I loved numbers and had a strong entrepreneurial spirit, or go to film school because I loved movies. Spoiler alert, I didn’t go to business school.
Being a director was not where my career goals were headed initially. I honestly thought that I was going to be a cinematographer. However, over a period of time, I became deeply disappointed by the lack of diversity in front of and behind the camera. So finally, one day I decided to direct my first post film school short, and I fell in love.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that occurred to you in the course of your filmmaking career?
As a mixed-race Black filmmaker embarking on making a short about police brutality, I was a bit worried about encountering resistance when location scouting for the film. “An Uninvited Guest” is essentially about the indifference of people who witness a horrific act of police brutality and takes place in a pristine home. So I was visiting these high-end neighborhoods and felt more than a little out of place walking around sometimes at night. I certainly didn’t want to be viewed as a suspicious person. So that’s the setup.
Well at this one particular scout for my dream house — it was perfect for the film on many points — I met a homeowner who was immediately combative about my presence. I’m not sure what went wrong with the interaction but I knew before I even stepped foot in the home that this was likely not going to work out. However, as an independent filmmaker, I think you’re taught to persist no matter what and to turn on the charm at every turn to reach your goals so I managed to go ahead with the tour the interior of the house. But the whole incident left me a little shaken and quite frankly feeling unsafe. It was a strange moment especially in the context of the strange film I was trying to make. Luckily ultimately we found an amazingly welcoming homeowner and great house for the shoot.
Who are some of the most interesting people you have interacted with? What was that like? Do you have any stories?
I think actors are really interesting people. I probably have stories but can’t think of any off the top of my head so might have to take a pass on this one…
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?
Right now I’m in the writing phase and working on a few feature-length screenplays that are pretty exciting. The first one is called Welcome to Sarnia and it’s all about the racism I experienced living in that city for a brief period in my teens.
The other script I’m working on is a revenge thriller set in the Black Lives Matter era and it’s going to be quite provocative. The title is Blood for Blood and I’ll let your readers’ imagination run wild with what that might be about.
Another exciting project I’m working on is adapting my short film “An Uninvited Guest” into a feature-length script so that a wider audience can be impacted by the story. It Will be interesting to see how that script evolves in the next couple of months.
Which people in history inspire you the most? Why?
I think a lot of the people in history inspire me. People who were a part of the civil rights era like Malcolm X or Martin Luther King or even someone like Huey P. Newton of the Black Panther Party I think those times are obviously different than now but it is always amazing to me to see these people standing up at a time when their resistance was met with such violence. It’s truly inspiring to think about what it would have been like back then to resist and to be so outspoken.
Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview, how are you using your success to bring goodness to the world? Can you share with us the meaningful or exciting social impact causes you are working on right now?
I think my job as a filmmaker is to challenge audiences to step outside themselves and think a little differently, to shift people’s perspectives. Right now I’m primarily focused on issues surrounding race and generating work that sparks difficult conversations around race; that includes movements such as Black Lives Matter. I’m hoping that through my film work I can have an impact.
Many of us have ideas, dreams, and passions, but never manifest it. But you did. Was there an “Aha Moment” that made you decide that you were actually going to step up and take action for this cause? What was that final trigger?
Much of my previous film work was what I will describe as racially agnostic. I would cast and crew with an eye on diversity whenever possible but race in terms of story wasn’t the focus. But something shifted in me, I think around 2014 I decided I needed to change my focus and really dig into stories that would be more challenging for viewers. it’s an exciting new chapter.
Can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?
I have received some interesting feedback from the press and from the audiences about how my last couple of films having impacted how they look at a race but I can’t think about a specific story that stands out.
Are there three things that individuals, society or the government can do to support you in this effort?
Three things I think that people can do to support this effort is donate to your local chapter of Black Lives Matter or to the larger organization. There’s also a bunch of other great organizations to donate to like the Equal Justice Initiative (https://eji.org.)
If you feel safe to do so, I say go out there and protest but maybe even try to get involved in politics. That’s not something for me but maybe that’s something for you and that way you can make a tangible change from the inside.
In terms of what the government can do I think it’s kind of redundant to say this but the idea of defunding the police is a great one. We need to re-imagine what policing looks like because what it looks like right now is not working and it’s killing people.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
Networking: I’m an introvert so networking is not something I enjoy but during the pandemic, I was missing out on networking at festivals. My mixed-race documentary “What Are You?” was selected for the prestigious Yorkton Film festival and since attending was not possible given the pandemic, I decided to cold email many of my fellow filmmakers who I thought would be worthwhile to chat to and had a bunch of great calls and virtual meetings. For me, this was a lot less anxiety-inducing and it also made it easier to connect with high-level contacts. So the lesson to introverts is that you can always grow your contacts with technology. So if you want to reach someone, send them a short cold email or DM and see if you get to their inbox. And follow up. Just not annoyingly.
Funders: As a BIPOC creator a lot of the time people will not understand your stories so you need to make every pitch undeniable. Flesh out the details about why your project is important and why audiences will care because a lot of the time, the people funding media don’t look like you and don’t understand the relevance of your stories.
Film festivals: just because you don’t get into a particular festival doesn’t mean your film stinks. I remember once, I got in the second time applying to a festival because my film was likely a better fit given the themes that the festival was assembling that year. This year I had my first chance to work as a film programmer at the Canadian Film Festival (which your readers should check out in April) and I have a much great understanding of the behind-the-scenes process. For example, We received so many great shorts but we only had 30 slots available so lots of solid work did not make the cut for various reasons.
To any filmmakers in the audience when it comes to film festivals you really need to think about how your film fits in with a particular festival. Not all films are meant to play at Sundance and you need to consider that. If you have a horror movie it might not play Sundance unless it’s quite exceptional but even then, screening at that festival might not be the best for you. Your film might be better served opening up a genre film festival that lasers in on your audience. Of course, having said that you should always trust your gut and apply to wherever you think makes sense but sometimes it helps to get advice from a fellow filmmaker or festival strategist who may possess insights as to where your film belongs in the festival universe.
Don’t try and make a great film. Make a film. For most of us consistently achieving greatness is next to impossible. Even your favorite filmmakers likely had more than a handful of failures. Ultimately, it’s much more useful to be able to show someone a bad film you made than to call yourself a filmmaker and have nothing to show for it. Of course, try to not make a ‘bad movie’ if you can avoid it.
If you could tell other young people one thing about why they should consider making a positive impact on our environment or society, like you, what would you tell them?
I think if you are unhappy with the world as it is then it’s up to you to make that change. It won’t be easy but it will be rewarding.
We are very blessed that many other Social Impact Heroes read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, whom you would like to collaborate with, and why? He or she might see this. 🙂
I love to work with Barack Obama. He feels like someone who is genuinely driven to make the world a better place and is such a pillar of inspiration and hope so who wouldn’t wanna collaborate with him?
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“The Way of the Samurai is found in death.” So if you ever watch the film Ghost Dog then you know about the Hagakure and this quote. It’s a book that I love to read and it’s full of interesting and compelling quotes about how to live life. This particular extract is all about pursuing one’s aim though isn’t tied to success or victory in a traditional sense.
To me, it’s about applying one’s self every day. In terms of my filmmaking, it means being open to taking risks and potentially failing in the process. It’s a liberating concept because as a creator you’re not fixated on success as a measure of worth.
To get even more specific, on my newest short film “An Uninvited Guest,” I was creating something unlike anything I’d done before and had zero idea whether it would work as a film but I went ahead with it anyhow. Of course, being supported by a grant from the Ontario Arts Council helped fuel that process so I’m grateful for that.
How can our readers follow you online?
Easy, just go to richardbpierre.com. Drop me a line.
This was great, thank you so much for sharing your story and doing this with us. We wish you continued success!