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“Why you should have Empathy, Compassion, and Love.” With Ben Ari & Howard Barish

I think diversity in entertainment is extremely important as it gives you a glimpse into a world or culture that you never knew existed. There are communities in the country where kids grow up with no personal exposure whatsoever to diversity, and their perception is predominantly based on what they see on television. The media […]

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I think diversity in entertainment is extremely important as it gives you a glimpse into a world or culture that you never knew existed. There are communities in the country where kids grow up with no personal exposure whatsoever to diversity, and their perception is predominantly based on what they see on television. The media has a distinct responsibility to represent people of all colors, and race and entertainment hold the key to that messaging. I think stories that portray a message of the human spirit can show we are all equal, and no one should be treated in any way that you wouldn’t want to be treated yourself.


As a part of my series about leaders helping to make the entertainment industry more diverse and representative, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Howard Barish, an Oscar-nominated and Emmy Award-winning producer, director and distributor based in Los Angeles.

Originally from Toronto, Canada, and relocating to Los Angeles in the early 90s, he launched Kandoo Films in 1992, a production company that specializes in creating independent feature films, documentaries, and promotional and digital content for television and film. Producing credits for Kandoo Films include the ESPN 30 for 30 documentary VENUS VS. that showcased tennis great Venus Williams, HELLO BEAUTIFUL: INTERLUDES WITH JOHN LEGEND, PUNCHING HENRY, 13th, and I WILL FOLLOW. It also has produced branded campaigns for CBS, The CW, FOX, HGTV, Lifetime, E! Entertainment, and Warner Bros., to name a few.

Barish expanded his portfolio to feature films in 2010 when then publicist Ava DuVernay approached him with a low-budget feature film. This was the start of a successful partnership that resulted in several projects, and multiple award wins over the past seven years. They began working on I WILL FOLLOW and MIDDLE OF NOWHERE, which went on to win Best Director at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival, a Gotham Award, and the 2013 Independent Spirit John Cassavetes Award. Barish and DuVernay collaborated on the critically acclaimed 2016 Netflix documentary 13TH that centered on race in the United States criminal justice system. Produced by Barish and DuVernay, 13TH was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature in 2017. The film has garnered multiple awards, including four Emmys, a Peabody Award, BAFTA Award, NAACP Image Award, African-American Film Critics Association (AAFCA) Award, and multiple wins at the first annual Critics’ Choice Documentary Awards.

With a focus on developing emerging filmmakers, in 2017, Barish announced his first slate of low-budget features for the Emerging Artist Program, which included BROKEN STAR (Analeigh Tipton, Tyler Labine), SKIN IN THE GAME (Erica Ash), HOSPITALITY (Emmanuelle Chriqui), and BLINDFIRE (Brian Gerahty, Sharon Leal, Bethany Joy Lenz). The following year he expanded Kandoo Films’ services by launching its distribution arm — Kandoo Releasing. Kandoo Releasing ensures that Kandoo’s emerging artist slate and other quality independent films helmed by rising filmmakers will reach audiences worldwide.

Kandoo Films is confirmed to release two projects under his distribution arm, Kandoo Releasing, in August. The documentary AMERICAN STREET KID will release on August 4, and the horror film CUT AND CHOP will release on August 14 on most VOD platforms.

With COVID-19, additional challenges face the industry for first-time filmmakers, and Barish is currently seeking emerging artists and passionate rising filmmakers that need help distributing their films. Kandoo Releasing will help quality independent films find a home and their audience. They distribute an eclectic slate of indie films from emerging and diverse artists under Barish’s Emerging Artist Program.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

Growing up, I really thought I wanted to be a lawyer, but as I approached the end of high school, I looked at my grades and realized law was not going to be in the cards for me. I had always been interested in shooting home movies (super 8 back then), and my school had a tv club that produced student shows at the local cable access channel. When I eventually saw that film and television was available as a university degree, I instantly knew what my path was going to be.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

Honestly, there are just too many to list, but suffice to say that since I began my career, it has allowed me to move to LA, travel the world shooting, work with more celebrities than I could have ever imagined and garnished a nomination for an Academy Award.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

Being a very proud film student, my first gig was as a PA during the summer break. I was given the responsibility of being in charge of craft service (food snack table), and on my very first day, I thought I set up the best-looking table one had ever seen. A couple of hours into the day, a grip (technician) came up to me quickly and asked if I could grab him an apple. Not knowing that an “apple” was shorthand for Apple Box (a wooden box used by the crew as a basic piece of equipment), I ran to my table and brought him back the shiniest red apple I could find. When I handed it to him, he walked away, muttering “stupid film students.” That’s when I realized how little I knew and needed to get out of foodservice.

Ok thank you for all that. Let’s now jump to the main focus of our discussion. Can you describe how you are helping to make popular culture more representative of the US population?

A couple of years ago, I began an initiative to help first-time directors and emerging artists get their stories told by financing and producing their films in an industry that rarely gives newcomers a chance. Younger people have a distinct point of view, and I’ve found their storytelling is usually very diverse and inclusive. Between fictional narratives and hard-hitting documentaries, the world of cinema can have a huge impact on people culturally, politically, and emotionally.

Wow! Can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted by the work you are doing?

The greatest impact of an individual was the same person who inspired me to really embrace the Emerging Artist Program and expand it to others. Ava DuVernay was an aspiring Director who had moved into my office building. She opened my eyes to small independent films and the importance of telling and supporting those stories. I helped produce her early narrative films, which changed her life and others around her once those films were recognized. On a mass level, the film 13th, which I produced with Ava has had a massive impact on millions of people and is having a resurgence right now during these important times.

As an insider, this might be obvious to you, but I think it’s instructive to articulate this for the public who might not have the same inside knowledge. Can you share three reasons with our readers about why it’s really important to have diversity represented in entertainment and its potential effects on our culture?

Empathy, Compassion, and Love.

I’ve come to realize that fear is one of our biggest obstacles in life. Many people fear things that look different, sound different, act, or taste different. It’s a horrible trait that somehow has been ingrained into society at very early ages of childhood and then manifests over time.

I think diversity in entertainment is extremely important as it gives you a glimpse into a world or culture that you never knew existed. There are communities in the country where kids grow up with no personal exposure whatsoever to diversity, and their perception is predominantly based on what they see on television. The media has a distinct responsibility to represent people of all colors, and race and entertainment hold the key to that messaging. I think stories that portray a message of the human spirit can show we are all equal, and no one should be treated in any way that you wouldn’t want to be treated yourself.

Can you recommend three things the community/society/the industry can do help address the root of the diversity issues in the entertainment business?

Education, Participation, Support.

I believe everything starts with education. Start reading and watching things and become more informed. Share that with friends, family, and, most importantly, children as I believe this is a generational solution. Don’t be afraid to step up and say something or defend someone. You can’t stay silent in the background. Speaking up can come in many different forms … some like to grab a megaphone for the world to hear while others speak more quietly in small groups or display their voice through their work. In any event, the diversity issue requires support, and that also comes in many different ways — peaceful demonstrations, cash or time donations, hiring and supporting diverse personal. Saying the words “Black Lives Matter” doesn’t mean other lives or races don’t… it is just affirming that Black lives also matter after they have been disparaged for so long.

How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?

Leadership is taking the lead. Be at the front of the pack or take some contrary action. Don’t be afraid to tackle tough subject matters or issues that make people uncomfortable. Find a way to initiate or further a conversation. I was approached by an African American Director named Adisa, who wanted to direct a film about human trafficking of teenage girls in the USA. I knew that was a tough and uncomfortable subject matter, and a film about that subject matter would probably be a tough sell for corporate America to wrap their heads around. After doing the research and finding out, a million young girls are being abused, tortured, drugged, and prostituted; I had no choice but to get involved. I produced a film called SKIN IN THE GAME, and it is currently available on VOD.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

  1. Make contacts and stay in touch with people. Don’t be afraid to reach out to someone you may not know. To some extent, our industry and life are about who you know, and you never know who may be instrumental in your life.
  2. Don’t ever be afraid to try something different. Naivety is bliss, so don’t be afraid to try something even if you don’t know what the “correct” approach may be.
  3. Find your dream or passion, and don’t give up. Try to be one of those people who love what they do every day.
  4. Become a student of your industry and make learning a full-time job. Join clubs, subscribe to trade magazines, attend seminars, and surround yourself with like-minded people.
  5. Everyone on this planet puts their pants on one leg at a time. No one is any better or worse than you. Try to be respectful and treat everyone as an equal. Don’t idolize people at the top or demonize those at the bottom. We are all in this together.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I didn’t expect this to be my answer, but I think a movement around mental health is needed on so many levels. The ability to learn how to deal with adversity, disappointment, anger, and even joy and success all lessons that we could learn from. The ability to recognize when others are suffering and how to comfort them would go a long way today.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

It’s a toss-up between “If you fail to plan … you plan to fail” and “Don’t quit before the miracle happens.”

The first quote I heard from a professor in my second year of college, and it couldn’t have served me better throughout my entire career. Nothing has come easy, and I certainly couldn’t bluff or wing it all these years. Hard work, organized planning, and strategic execution have been the foundation of my career. Of course, a bit of luck and faith doesn’t hurt either.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

I would choose Elon Musk. I admire that he is self-made and extremely innovative. I get the sense he wants to make the world a better place and help humanity.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

Facebook @kandoofilms

Twitter @hbarish

Instagram @howardbarish

This was very meaningful, thank you so much!

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