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*interviews | South Main Film

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*interviews

 

March 2008: College for Creative Studies Alumni Profile by Kim Laux

Filmmaker’s Work Explores Raw Reality of Social Injustices

Family. Eviction. Death. Three years ago, Kelly Parker (’03) read an article in The Los Angeles Times about the city’s plans to demolish an apartment complex due to violence. Despite nine drive-by shootings (resulting in two injured children and two deaths), residents didn’t want to move their families out. This was their home.

Having moved frequently as a child while being raised by a single mother in government-subsidized housing, Parker understood how not wanting to move could trap someone in a potentially dangerous place. Coincidentally, her mother had just become homeless after being evicted, which added weight to her interest in the stories of the families in South Los Angeles. It was their stories that inspired the filmmaker’s first feature documentary.

South Main premiered at the Berlin Film Festival in February and will screen at BFI London Film Festival and the Detroit Docs Film Festival in October (2008). The film follows the lives of three single African American mothers dealing with city-mandated eviction amid violence and unreliable government assistance. Parker filmed at the complex four times over the two weeks prior to the eviction date and continued shooting ten more months as the families found new homes.

“During this time, the women in my film had been awarded an $8,000 relocation subsidy and found homes,” said Parker, who majored in animation and digital media at Detroit’s College for Creative Studies (CCS). “When I arrived on the fourth day, I learned that the fiancé of one of the women had been killed in a drive-by shooting just outside of the apartment unit three hours after I last visited. The devastating reality of this situation forced me to me comprehend the extremity of the lives of these women. At this point I knew I wanted to make a film about the actuality of their day-today lives.

“Directing the film on my terms, without thinking about its commercial value during the process, was essential to my development as an artist and I think is the only way that a filmmaker can make meaningful contributions to cinema and society. The highlight of directing, producing and editing was that I got to explore and take risks. ‘South Main’ is the first film I’ve made that I feel is exactly the way it should be.”

Parker, a freelance director, completed the film as part of her master’s program at CalArts (California Institute of the Arts in Los Angeles). She enjoys the support for avant-garde filmmaking that the school offers and is working on the post-production of her MFA thesis film, which was inspired by her experiences living in Detroit. She will complete her degree in May 2008.

“I lived downtown for about four years before moving to Los Angeles,” explained Parker. “Being in Detroit had a deep impact on me in terms of opening my eyes to the extremities of American injustice because things like racial inequality are so clear. There is also a very strong sense of community amongst artists living and working in Detroit, something very unique that I haven’t experienced otherwise. And still, when I travel for work or vacation, when I am in New York or in LA, for example, I am drawn to and feel a very strong connection with people who have spent a significant amount of time in Detroit, especially people who made the choice to live, work or study there.

“I grew up downriver hearing really bad things about the city, and my family never went there. When I finally was introduced to the other side of the city, it was like discovering this paradise!  First, there was this great underground culture of art and music and tons of open space. But all of this isn’t necessarily apparent if you don’t know the city or base your knowledge off popular beliefs about Detroit.

“Second, I take pleasure in participation. I can relate experiencing a city to experiencing a film. Some films, Hollywood films for example, aim to make the viewer forget who they are by creating a passive experience. Cities can enable a passive experience as well, especially cities like Livonia. Detroit never lets you forget yourself. Living in the city is a participatory experience in which you regularly must question what is being presented to you. That’s why artists, whose purpose is to question, are drawn to it. Anyway, it’s this specialness and draw that I was hoping to capture in my thesis film.”

Parker made the decision to study film at CCS after transferring from an economics program in Rotterdam (The Netherlands). She credits instructors Dennis Summers and Robert Andersen for inspiring her work even today.

“Dennis (Summers) always strongly encouraged us to take advantage of the freedom to take risks that the academic environment offers,” said Parker. “By example, both he and Bob Andersen taught us how we could live as artists. They both continue to inspire me…

“My instructors also instilled in us a strong work ethic. It was common to pull all-nighters in the labs. That kind of energy was motivating, and I took it with me after I left CCS.”

In addition to promoting South Main and finishing up her thesis, Parker is working on the development of Internet video content for a non-profit organization, Veteran Employment and Transition Foundation, to help veterans and their families make the transition from military to civilian life.

“I’m excited to explore communication potential through this powerful, democratic media outlet called the Internet,” said Parker. “Working on this project has also broadened my understanding of the war. It’s easy for people, including myself, to feel alienated from what’s going on in Iraq because we mistrust the media.”

“I have been fortunate to have the opportunity to spend significant amounts of time with veterans who have just come back from Iraq and were on the front lines. Hearing their stories and ideas helps me understand a certain kind of reality that I wouldn’t otherwise have access to. Developing this kind of depth of intimacy with subjects outside of my everyday world is one of the things I love most about filmmaking.”