Alicia K. Harris is a Toronto-based filmmaker and director of 'PICK', screening at TIFF's Next Wave Young Creators Showcase (February 16, 2pm)
Interview by Rebeccah Love
What kind of creative activities did you get excited about as a kid? As a teenager? How, and when, did filmmaking come into your life?
The first creative outlet I had was songwriting. When I was 10 I used to write about the love I heard about in love songs. I still love music more than anything!
In high school I became passionate about writing/directing plays as it was the first time I truly saw my vision come to life--from script, to lighting design, to choosing music, to directing actors, then seeing it all on unfold onstage. I still think theatre is magical because it exists in that one moment in time. That led me to a general love of directing.
Who are some of your favourite storytellers, and why?
Songwriter Mariah Carey has written some beautiful songs that capture what it's like to be biracial, in love, in trauma. Charlie Kaufman has inspired me with how he writes existentialism, love, the cycles of life, particularly in Eternal Sunshine, Synecdoche New York and Anomalisa.
What is PICK? What themes are you excited to explore in this piece?
PICK is a short film about a young girl who has to deal with microaggressions on picture day, after wearing her natural hair. It explores the effects of microagressions and systemic racism on youth, and exposes the discrimination Black women face when we wear our natural hair. It’s inspired by my own experiences.
What non-filmic art forms inspire your practice?
Music! I listen to “Rewrite” by Paul Simon on repeat when working on rewrites. I have a playlist for each film, which are the songs that fueled me through the process.
Books have inspired my spiritual and intellectual growth. Directing to me is simply sharing my truth. In order to know this truth, I’ve spent years unlearning, growing, dismantling ego fears, returning to love and discovering my own authenticity on a soul level.
What is the most rewarding aspect of creating a film project?
Having someone say that I captured something they’ve felt. People have told me they cried watching PICK. That something from my mind and heart created such a visceral reaction makes my heart explode.
And the most challenging?
Creating personal work and taking care of myself in the process. Art is one form healing, but healing deliberately requires more than just expression through art.
How do you set your working environment?
As for my sets, we’re focused... but I also like it to feel like summer camp. There’s decorations. I rename all the departments. For PICK, I started the day reading funny introductions of all the key creatives. For my previous film Love Stinks, we started each day with a chant. I like everyone to feel valued and loved.
If you had one wish for the Canadian filmmaking community, what would it be?
More non-white people in positions of power. Programmers, network executives, critics, funding boards.
What was the last film that you watched that blew you away?
The Body Remembers When the World Broke Open directed by Elle-Maija Tailfeathers & Kathleen Hepburn. The way this film treats the traumatic topic of domestic abuse with sensitivity and honesty is unparalleled. So proud that a Canadian film is making waves globally after being picked up by Ava Duverny’s Array distribution company.
Do you think Toronto is an artist friendly city?
Yes and no. I think that Toronto is great because there is always something to be inspired by at any given time, whether its a mural on the side of a building, or a Scarborough ravine. I think Toronto has to work WAY harder to preserve artistic, culturally significant spaces and stop putting up condos in their place.
Why is film important?
Movies are empathy machines. I think it is the best way to immerse someone in an experience, an emotion, a culture. It’s a beautiful way to learn about each other.
What are you looking forward to?
Creating the second film in the “HAIR IS” trilogy -- PICK is the first! The next one “on a Sunday at Eleven” is a blatant celebration of Blackness and Black hair as art. Fully funded + shooting this summer!
Catch PICK later this month at the TIFF Next Wave, February 16