Ava DuVernay has emerged as one of the most intuitive storytellers in modern times.
Celebrated for a growing body of work including “This is the Life” (her directorial debut), “I Will Follow” and “My Mic Sounds Nice” (a heralded documentary on female rappers), DuVernay’s “Middle of Nowhere” –her second feature length film– is an arresting and satisfying drama of love at a crossroads where we find Ruby (newcomer Emayatzy Corinealdi), a burgeoning medical student, stymied after her husband’s incarceration for drug dealing and possession charges.
Additional cast members include Omari Hardwick (“Sparkle,” “For Colored Girls”), David Oleyowo (“The Help,” “Last King of Scotland”), Edwina Findley (HBO’s “Treme” and “The Wire”), Dondre Whitfield (“35 and Ticking”, “Two Can Play That Game”) and Lorraine Toussaint (“The Soloist,” “Dangerous Minds”).
“Middle of Nowhere” took top honors at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, receiving the Best Director award, making DuVernay the first African American to snag the honor. The former film publicist says her personal goal is to make one film per year to continue growing as a filmmaker.
Stephanie Allain, film producer (“Hustle & Flow,” “Black Snake Moan”) and director of the Los Angeles Film Festival, champions DuVernay, calling her work spectacular.
“I respond to positivity and to stories that let us see our potential as human beings, as artists. I respond to stories where art somehow lifts one up; I respond to things that move me,” Allain said.
“Ava’s ‘Middle of Nowhere’ lets us see Ruby in a predicament struggling to make the right choice. I like that. I like to see us make the right choice. And, if we make the wrong choice, I like to see us learn from that. Those are the stories that really turn me on.
“Ava shows that you can transform yourself, your life, by following what you believe in. She decided ‘she had to’ make movies because nobody else was making movies that ‘she’ wanted to see. Many times in Hollywood you’re type cast in a role and she has just burst through all of that becoming the shining example of writer, director, distributor, producer, of the caliber in which she served as publicist. It’s a pretty spectacular evolution on her part.”
No less spectacular is the role of Ruth, Ruby’s unrelenting mother, brilliantly performed by Toussaint (Lifetime TV’s “Any Day Now” and “Saving Grace”).
Toussaint said of DuVernay, “I totally trusted Ava. She’s a young director who I felt confident with. I knew I was in good hands. She knows how to speak to actors and she ‘likes’ actors. She’s collaborative, not afraid to hand you the reigns and get out of the way, or completely step in and guide. I love the way that she often keeps the camera rolling. Sometimes, scenes need a certain momentum. She knows that and let us have room –even on a tight schedule—which was wonderful.”
Reportedly, DuVernay pulled off the project with a meager $200K, a virtually unheard of film budget for movies on the order of “Nowhere.”
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