Interview with Filmmaker Tiona McClodden
PQ: I first met you back in 2008 when you were screening Black Womyn Conversations at Zami at the New School and if I remember correctly that film was a real labor of love that took like 7 years or something –
TM: Yeah, 6 years. Yeah, yeah.
PQ: Can you talk about how that project came about and what that process was like?
TM: It was the project that I wanted to make once I realized or had access to the tools to actually make it. Because I knew I wanted to be a filmmaker but I didn’t know exactly how to make films. I came from South Carolina, didn’t have access to any kind of video camera or anything like that. The first time I really even put hands on a video camera was when I was in college. So the idea really was kind of like a organic thing – oh this is what I’m gonna do once I get the tools – but I was thinking about my own experience because I wasn’t too far from it.
When I started it – it was my second year or coming out of my second year of college, which was to be my last year because I left after that. And I wanted to do something that would have benefited my younger self while I was in South Carolina, not having access to images of black lesbians, not really having access to a range of black lesbian women because all we had was like a little shotgun club. And that’s what I would sneak to in high school and you know, in club spaces you don’t get to really engage people in any kind of conversation. And there’s also a way that people present themselves in clubs to where it’s like you’re not gonna gave that conversation there and secondly, you’re not gonna see a variety cause people kind fit this one or two, like a butch or femme type thing, especially in South Carolina in the clubs.
I really thought it would have been easier but it turned out to be a lot harder once I would start to look at things and I really thought about what it is that I wanted to challenge. I wanted a range of women, which increased the time because I pretty much stopped when I felt I had a good enough range of women to speak.
So I started to create all these different constraints for myself: I wanted a range of women aesthetically. I wanted intergenerational talk. I wanted different locations. I wanted different professions. Things like that affected the way the way that I sought out people. Because I did a little bit over a hundred interviews. Over the years of doing it – six years – some of the interviews I had to do away with because women would contact me. A lot of them I would get em at Prides, and then when they get home, then they’d be like oh I don’t think I want my…[Laughs] – so I had to get rid of some of them like that.
I say the main thing that made it take that long was money. Nobody was interested in funding a film like that because I was very clear that the film was gonna be the way it looks. I was like, it’s gonna be talking heads. It’s gonna be women dialoguing about this and I’m gonna try to creatively edit to where you are able to witness a conversation happening between the fifty women and also feel like you are a part of a conversation that could happen afterwards. So nobody was interested. It was my first project. I was very young when I started. I was like twenty, twenty-one. And people were not interested and really responded negatively when I would explain it to them – of just having these voices. Because they wanted more visuals like – you know, lesbians in action, dancing, kissing. I was just over that because a lot of the things that I have seen – the little bit of the lot of things I have seen [Laughs] – was all about that. It was all about hypersexualized images and things like that. So that’s the basis of what I wanted to strip away from the project, which left it at a very bare minimum type thing.
PQ: How did you find the women to interview?
TM: In the beginning I asked friends and then friends of friends. A lot of my friends wouldn’t do it. So I asked them and then they would recommend people. And then I started to go to a lot of local things at the time when I was living it Atlanta. I’d got to a lot of sister circles, women’s meetings and stuff like that. I went to a ton of Prides, which was good and bad because, like I said, a lot of interviews that I did there – people were like on Pride adrenaline and didn’t really realize the impact of what their faces or voices in a film would be, because it’s kind of like immortalizing them. I did open calls. I put things on Craig’s List and that was weird because some people came back and they were really acting. Craig’s List is not good for that.