January 16, 2014

Filmmaker Spotlight: Faren Humes's Our Rhineland

Our Rhineland hi res-1-1
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Filmmaker Faren Humes presents to us her baby, Our Rhineland (see video below). Faren is a Miami based writer and director whose aim is to broaden the narrative and cultural scope of black film.  Not shy of heavier subjects, Faren’s first film Nazir explored the creation of African child soldiers. No less ambitious, Our Rhineland takes place in Nazi Germany in the year 1937, a time when over four hundred thousand mixed women were captured and forced to undergo sterilization.  Faren offers us a unique insight into the horrific history that we thought we already knew. She does so very well by depicting the oppressive choices that two sisters, Sofia and Marta are force to make: choices of resistance and survival.

Running at 16 minutes in length and in German, Our Rhineland is a tour de force and has garnered the Director’s Guild of America Student Film Award and an Academy of Television Arts & Sciences College Television Award. However, one of the proudest moment in all her success occurred when Ava DuVernay (Middle of Nowhere) saw Our Rhineland and gave her a call to tell her how much she enjoyed it.

Like DuVernay, Humes is a filmmaker who has found her beginnings working in features in various departments.  After finishing as production designer for her friend and fellow artist Praheme Rick’s feature film Troop 491: The Adventures of the Muddy Lions, she went to work as the art director for a Sci Fi series. This past summer Faren produced the short film, Seventh Grade, a story of romantic angst from the prepubescent eyes of Hatian-American Patrice.

Faren studied filmmaking at Florida State University’s College of Motion Picture Arts. She is currently in Miami, Fl, developing stories inspired by her place of origin. I had the privilege of chatting with Faren about Our Rhineland and her upcoming projects:

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JD: How did you reach your initial concept for Our Rhineland? Is there a personal backstory here?

FH: Our Rhineland went through a couple of months of story development and pitching with the FSU faculty. Over that time period it morphed from a love story between a German doctor and a black patient to what it is today: the story of two sisters. I knew I wanted to explore the idea of “others” affected by the Holocaust. When I began to research the history of blacks in Germany, I was fascinated by the story- white German women falling in love with African soldiers, the influx of mixed children from those affairs, Hitler coining them Rhineland bastards, the propaganda, the secret sterilizations, the kidnappings, etc. I knew I had to explore it visually.

JD: Can you talk about the artistic process behind your choices (Cinematography/Design)?

FH: I had an amazing team of people who were exceptionally competent and adherent to my vision for the story. Magazine clippings, newspaper archives, paintings, tumblr, flickr were all influential sources in helping me create the world for the sisters in Our Rhineland. I’d then pass those on to Jamie Kassler and Gloriana Fonseca, my designer and DP respectively. I’d give Glori pictures of cobblestones that had long shadows cast on them, just so she could get what I was going for tonally. Jamie and I’d confer over pics of old German apartments.

In terms of shot design, I let the feel of the story dictate the camera orientation. Our Rhineland always felt intimate and heavy. So Glori and I always favored tight 85mm shots and long uninterrupted takes.

JD: What was it like working in German?

FH: I went through a number of revisions with the help of three different translators. It took a lot of work to translate idioms and prose-y bits of dialogue. The shooting script had the dialogue in English and German, so it was easy for me and the script supervisor to follow along.

It was pretty neat to find that directing for a foreign language was fairly functional.  I found that a beat remains the same regardless of the language. So, I directed them not by the recital of words, rather their conveyance of emotions. That language barrier was a positive, as I had no choice but to focus on an evocative, moving delivery.

JD: What has the festival landscape looked like for you? What awards have you won?

FH: We’ve been pretty fortunate on the festival circuit. Right out the gate, I was awarded a DGA award for best African American student director in the eastern conference. We placed third for a College of Television Arts & Sciences Award. It also screened at the Athena Film Festival and most recently the Bluestocking Film Series. But I think one of my proudest moments was having it lauded by indie maverick Ava DuVernay. She gave me a call to tell me how much she enjoyed it.

JD: What are your next plans?

FH: I just completed a feature screenplay entitled, SAVIOR. It follows fictional Miami mayor, Moses Estrada as he tries to mend his city after the murders of six black men by city police. I’m currently penning another, MACHO. It follows a homophobic southerner and his effeminate nephew as they take a trip to Key West. Currently shopping them to rich uncles, etc.

You can watch Our Rhineland below:

By Jaye Sarah Davidson

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