1.08.2009

Blog Exclusive: Filmmaker Stacey Muhammad releases I AM SEAN BELL documentary


(Blogger's Note: New Orleans native Stacey Muhammad is an award winning independent filmmaker and activist committed to using the power of media to educate, enlighten and empower humanity. She relocated to Brooklyn, NY and begun the work of documenting and preserving Hip Hop culture through film and digital media. Her projects include the newly released short form documentary, "I AM SEAN BELL, black boys speak". I went one on one with her to talk about the motivation behind that project, her passion for filmmaking, and what is in store for her career.)

Brother Jesse: Tell me a little about yourself.

Stacey Muhammad (SM): I was born and raised in New Orleans, LA and moved to Brooklyn, NY two years ago after spending many years in Washington, DC & Maryland. I’m an activist who has been blessed to find my voice through the art of filmmaking. More importantly, I’m a mother, so the plight of our children is particularly significant to me.

Brother Jesse: When did you fall in love with film production? What gave birth to the name Wildseed Studios?

SM: I’ve loved film for as long as I can remember. I was eager to actually learn the art of filmmaking and embark upon the journey of producing and directing my own films. I’ve always been drawn to documentary filmmaking and the activism that is inherent in this genre. Once I actually picked up a camera and sat down at an editing station, I was hooked.

Wildseed is the title of a book by the late African-American science fiction author, Octavia Butler and one of the “many” books my mother encouraged me to read. I was immediately drawn to the story and the characters, for so many reasons. In many ways, this literary journey was like reconnecting to the origin of who I am and who we are as a people. I’ve been using the name ever since.

Brother Jesse: I had a chance to view part 1 of the I AM SEAN BELL documentary. That's a serious story, why did you feel the need to address it from behind the camera?

SM: Sean Bell was murdered one month prior to my move to Brooklyn. I remember being near a playground the day the verdict was delivered and feeling a great sense of sadness and concern for our children. I started collecting articles about the murder without having a clear direction of what I wanted to do with the film. It was an emotional and exhausting process doing the research on police brutality (which seems to be the new form of lynching) in this city, watching horrendous video footage, and looking at photographs of the victims. I wasn’t sure whether or not it would be a project I’d complete.

Hakim Green of Channel Live and I organized a block party in Harlem, NY in honor of all of the victims of police brutality in NYC. William Bell, Sean Bell’s father came to the event. Many people were overcome with emotion by his presence, but I was a little too distracted by the responsibilities of the day to really appreciate the moment. However, at some point we started talking and he was just one of the most fatherly, loving and compassionate brothers I’d ever met. He kept hugging me and saying thank you so much for this, daughter. It got the best of me!

I knew at that moment that I had to finish this project, for Sean and for his family. I reached out to Akintoye Moses, who is a Brooklyn based educator about interviewing the young men in his Walk Like a King program. All of these young brothers go to school with my daughter so I was somewhat familiar with most of them, in passing. Once the interviews started on the day of production, I knew the premise of the story would be the voices of the children.




Brother Jesse: What response have you received from those that have viewed the I AM SEAN BELL" piece?

SM: The response has been beautiful and beyond anything I expected. I released the film online on the first day of the year and within minutes the emails, phone calls and comments began. People seem to have really been touched by this film. Many have watched it with their children, particularly their sons, and it has served as a catalyst to begin addressing some of these issues with our children. The outpouring of appreciation and support for this project touches and inspires me to continue to do this work.


Brother Jesse: You did a documentary on the Million Man March. Why was it important to produce that?

SM: When I became interested in film production it was only natural for me to develop a film that was a testament to the most significant event I’d witnessed in my lifetime, the Million Man March. It was important to produce this film in order to pay homage to this great moment in our history as well as document the efforts of those who worked behind the scenes, on a daily basis, night and day to assist Min. Farrakhan with making his vision a reality. The film screened at the Reginald F. Lewis Museum to a packed house on the eve of the 10-year anniversary of the Million Man March. The response to the film was overwhelmingly positive and it’s a project I’m very proud to have been a part of, with my good friend, Rashida James – Saadiq.


Brother Jesse: What skills does it take to truly master the art of filming? Does one necessarily have to go to school to be great at it?

SM: It’s an exciting time to embark upon the art of filmmaking. Film school in the traditional sense may not be necessary, although I would never discourage it. However, it’s extremely important to get some sort of hands on film training and learn the art of filmmaking. It’s a hobby for many, but in actuality it’s an art form and our stories are more effectively told when we advance our knowledge of the art.

The cinematography, the lighting, the editing, all of these elements that go into making great film, serve as critical components to telling the story just as much as the story itself. Technology today allows anyone to go out and purchase a camera, computer and software and make a film. It’s beautiful because it allows people to tell stories. But if this is something one wants to seriously consider as a career and a vehicle by which they communicate with the world, they should take advantage of the many tools and resources available and hone their craft.

Brother Jesse: What type of work ethic does it take to be a filmmaker? Describe your state of mind when you are at work to get a project done.

SM: It takes passion more than work ethic to be a filmmaker. I can truthfully say that I’ve found my passion. It’s the type of thing where I have to force myself to walk away from my computer, shut it down, take a nap…it’s non stop. The projects I embark upon are labors of love, so I’m thoroughly entangled in every aspect of their creation. I can’t imagine doing anything else.

Brother Jesse: Name a few of the great people in the industry that you have had the privilege of interviewing or working with.

SM: In terms of film, I’ve had the honor of being taught by the great Haile Gerima. His classes were not only lessons in film, they were lessons in life. Right now, I’m doing a lot of work with Tee Smif, who is an amazing filmmaker and music video director from Brooklyn, NY. He teaches me a lot! In terms of hip hop, I’ve had the honor of working with KRS One, Black Ice, Hakim Green, NYOIL & Chip Fu. Most of the work I’m doing right now is with Wise Intelligent of Poor Righteous Teachers. He has a monthly Spoken Word Hip Hop Showcase called The Hereafter that is irrefutable proof that Hip Hop is not dead! I’m honored to be a part of it.

Brother Jesse: What are your goals over the next several years and what should we be on the look out for?

SM: My goal is to continue to grow and create the life I desire and deserve. (Shout out to ASCEND Spiritual Flight Academy!) I also plan to produce at least four independent documentary short films per year that address some aspect of our struggle as a people, while providing solutions as well as avenues and resources for healing and growth.

Be on the look out for part two of the Sean Bell documentary as well as the documentary “Out of Our Right Minds, the Rise of Mental Illness amongst black women”. My commitment is to document and preserve our history, tell our stories and make Black Film. I would like to thank Shomari Mason & RH Bless for their brilliance and assistance in making this film as well as Bro. Hasaun Muhammad for his support.

(Be even more enlightened by visiting Wildseed Studios at: www.wildseedstudios.com)