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Interview with Omar Kamara, director of Mass Ave
Friday 11 February 2022, by ,
Over a day of landscaping work, a first generation African American and his immigrant father have their tense relationship and different outlooks on life transformed irreversibly when they are racially profiled by police.
What did you aim at exploring through the difficult relationship between the father and his son?
As a first-generation Sierra Leonean American, the differences between me and my immigrant father were always incredibly apparent to me. We didn’t view life or process emotions the same way. Due to this fact, my father and I were constantly butting heads, from the most micro instances such as what time I woke up in the morning to the macro, such as what I would do with my life from a career standpoint. We wasted so much time being stubborn and, more importantly, not listening to one another until the traumatic event showcased in the film really flipped our relationship on its head. I wanted to explore how micro-aggressions can really take a toll on a relationship to hopefully entice people to not waste as much time as my father and I did and spend more time connecting.
Your film deals with a lot of important issues, police brutality and racism. It must have been an emotionally demanding project. How did you feel when it was finished and ready to be shared with the world?
I think the most difficult part of the project was the fact that the film was based on my actual life. The events depicted in the film happened to me and my father. I wasn’t aware of how much I hadn’t dealt with the events of that day until we were on set shooting the scenes that depicted police brutality and racism. It affected me in such a visceral way. Also, due to the pandemic, our shooting days had been pushed and we actually ended up shooting the film after the murders of George Floyd and Ahmaud Arbery. This made the events of the film feel even more urgent and hold even more weight. My team and the actors were all feeling the weight of racism that day and luckily had one another to lean on to get us through. I also hope that some of that fear and anxiety translated to the actors’ performances in that scene which depicted an example of how horrible and scary racism can be. We hoped that the final product can help in the conversation for still doing the work that needs to be done to prevent these sorts of situations from continuing to occur.
What do you feel you’ve learnt through this process of making?
The biggest thing I learned was to trust my voice and style of filmmaking. I created the film in film school and, as a result, had a lot of classmates telling me that certain things would not work or that there was too much dialogue and this and that. For me, I had seen so many films that I loved utilizing similar structures and techniques to get emotion across, so I went with my gut and stuck with what I had planned. I am so happy that I did because now we are seeing the fruits of trusting that inner voice and are so honored that the film is resonating. I also would have to say that I learned how to trust in my collaborators. Filmmaking is a team sport, and it is such a luxury to have people who are more talented than you in each of the department head positions because that’s what pushes the film to the highest level it can be. I learned to trust in the talent of my teammates and that they can deliver through any set of circumstances for sure.
Is there a particular short film that has made a strong impression on you?
Yes, Short Term 12 by Destin Daniel Cretton and Pariah by Dee Rees were huge influences for the film. Mainly because the shorts served as proof of concepts for the feature but did so while utilizing the short format effectively so it can exist on its own. These were huge influences for my co-writer and I as we wrote the short.
What’s your definition of a good film?
I think, to me, a good film is anything that transports your audience and makes them feel something. Anything: anger, sadness, frustration. If a film is able to make me lose myself in the story and characters, forget where I am for a second, and feel an emotion, it’s a good film in my book.