Angel Kristi Williams, photo by Isadora Pennington, 2015

New Maverick: Angel Kristi Williams

Angel Kristi Williams, photo by Isadora Pennington, 2015

Angel Kristi Williams, photo by Isadora Pennington, 2015

Popularity, influence, and sexuality come to a head in Charlotte, a coming-of-age story about two young women. I spoke with writer and director Angel Kristi Williams to discuss the short film which showed during the New Mavericks shorts block of the 2015 Atlanta Film Festival. In the film, the 13 year old protagonist, Alex, becomes friends with the more popular and feminine Charlotte. “It’s such an impressionable time that shapes who we become as women,” Angel said.

Over the course of a weekend, the two girls bond and explore the limits of their friendship. Desperate for acceptance, Alex finds herself playing house and touching upon feelings of intimacy that she doesn’t quite understand. “I wrote the story based on my what I remember about being a young girl,” Angel told me, “I had friends like these characters.​” This quiet, thoughtful film tells their story without pretense, allowing the girls to express their emotions in moments of silence, long looks, and unspoken words. The bathroom scene in particular stands out to Angel as being one of her favorites. “That was the scene that I saw in my head very early in the writing process,” she explained.

“I’ve always been a storyteller,” said Angel. In 2014 Angel was listed as one of ten Black directors to watch by Paste Magazine and her films have been shown both nationally and internationally, bringing praise and attention to the subjects she features. It all started with a genuine love for narrative film and television. “When my Dad bought a VHS camcorder I never put it down,” she said. Later, Angel attended the University of Maryland where she pursued her Bachelor’s of Art in Visual Arts, and upon graduation she began working in television for a company called Discovery Communications. She was then awarded the Lumiere Scholarship which allowed Angel to attend the Columbia College of Chicago to obtain her Master’s of Fine Art degree in Cinema Directing.

“I’ve loved watching films for as long as I can remember,” said Angel. It was after watching the film Battle of Algiers that her affinity for film came to the forefront of her mind as a young woman. Angel writes about real-world experiences, pulling from her own life to bring complex issues to the big screen. During the process of working on Charlotte, Angel grew as a filmmaker. “I learned that building your audience starts before the film is seen,” she said, implicating the importance of networking and promotion for her work.

The film was selected for the Atlanta Film Festival and Angel made the trip to be a part of the festivities. “It was a great experience,” she said. “I was really pleased with the reception the audience and the festival brought, and the amount of attention short filmmakers like myself could benefit from.” Being a part of the New Mavericks program added another level of success to the film and connections with other female filmmakers. “It was really lovely to have that kind of support for my work.”

Next up, Angel is developing and writing a love story for her first feature length film. Though she’s not revealing any details yet, there’s little doubt that the project will be just as well received as Charlotte and her previous shorts. “I’m looking forward to an opportunity to play at Atlanta with future feature projects,” she told me.

To learn more about Angel and see behind the scenes photos from Charlotte, go online to the Seed & Spark website or watch the trailer on vimeo.

– Isadora

Meryem Benm'Barek

New Maverick: Meryem Benm’Barek

Meryem Benm'Barek

Meryem Benm’Barek, photo by Isadora Pennington, 2015.

Jennah, a short film by filmmaker Meryem Benm’Barek, explores the struggles of a girl on the cusp of womanhood. The film was shot in Brussels for her thesis project at INSAS (Institut national supérieur des arts du spectacle et des techniques de diffusion), a film school in Belgium.

“The idea of Jennah crossed my mind about questions that come up to women naturally,” Meryem said. The film follows a girl as she reaches, “that that in-between moment” when she transitions from childhood to womanhood. It is in this time that Jennah faces her concept of femininity as shaped by her mother and when faced with an absent father figure. “Jennah is in that age where she is realizing the complexity of what it means to face the world as a young woman,” Meryem told me.

The dynamic of seeking validation with men caused by a lack of a fatherly connection during this pivotal time in a girl’s life is familiar to Meryem, who herself had experienced some challenges in the absence of her own father as a young woman. In Jennah she explores the actions and connections that create lasting change in larger ways when sorting out what exactly it means to be a woman. “I do not pretend to universalize that thought,” Meryem said, “or to generalize it because each life story is different… but having myself grown up in an almost similar pattern I wanted to explore these aspects of a teenager’s life.”

As with any film of similar circumstances, Meryem encountered occasional problems or issues, but the end result was a window into a moment of change in this young woman’s life that has gained significant attention and praise. “I think we always choose to tell the stories that look like us,” Meryem said of her motivation to take on this coming of age story.

“Being on the set is always my favorite part in a movie’s creation,” Meryem told me. It’s when the cameras are on and the team is working together that she feels the most in her element as a filmmaker. Her voice rings the loudest and truest when expressed through cameras, lights, and sound. “I completely feel myself because I am more comfortable with that tools than with words,” she said. The production itself was low-budget, filmed with a crew of loyal and resourceful individuals who were all committed to the final outcome of the project.

On Saturday, March 28, Meryem won an award for Jennah as part of the 2015 Atlanta Film Festival. The film was selected and shown during the New Mavericks shorts block at the Plaza Theater. New Mavericks is a new series of hand-selected films that feature strong female protagonists and are filmed by female directors. Meryem was presented with an award made by R. Land for the festival and was honored during the Awards Brunch at the Highland Ballroom.

“It’s a great experience for me who comes from Europe to have that opportunity to show my work in Atlanta,” Meryem said of the Fest. Participating in the festival offered her an opportunity to show her work to a large international audience and to network with like-minded filmmakers. The New Mavericks program in particular has been a welcoming experience for Meryem, who said “there is no competition here, just people who create and share their own voices with some other artists.”

I asked Meryem what is next for her, and she told me that she is currently working on her first feature length film, set to be shot in France, Morocco and Spain. She described the plot as “a kind of contemporary and very realistic fairy tale, a love story on the road.” Meryem also wants to film a story about a brother and sister based in Morocco, aiming “to show the underground part of that country in order to break some existing prejudices that are often shown about Arabic countries.” Additionally she hopes to work on a project based in America, potentially based in New York City. It’s clear that she is an incredibly motivated and passionate artist, and I doubt we have seen the last of Meryem and her films.

To learn more about Jennah and Meryem, check out twitter and click here to watch the trailer.

-Isadora