Full Frame Documentary Film Festival:
Friday, April 7
Carolina Theatre, Durham
It was by sheer luck that I wound up sitting next to Joanne Hock and Heidi Dove, the director and assistant director of Purple Dreams
(which has its world premiere in a primetime slot at Fletcher Hall tonight
), at a screening this morning. “That’s the fun part about coming to these festivals, meeting people,” Hock remarked when I pulled her aside in the hall to learn more about her film, which is about the first high school (a magnet school in Charlotte) allowed to stage the musical The Color Purple
, and the twirling boy who inspired her. If you’re looking for quick festival advice, I say: talk to kind strangers; they may be the creative force behind your evening plans.
INDY : Congratulations on the world premiere. How does it feel to be sharing Purple Dreams?
I’m glad it’s here. I really am. It was a long road. Five years and self-funded, pretty much. We’re filmmakers, so we make a living making films, but this is one that’s not controlled by anybody else. We’re doing it for ourselves.
So this was a passion project? What initially caught your attention?
The importance of arts education. At one point, the school was on the chopping block. They were thinking about eliminating it and turning it into a more traditional school. It is an arts magnet program. It’s public education. A lot of the kids that go there wouldn’t have access to the arts if they didn’t get it for free through school. My godson, Javontre, who is an at-risk kid, is in the film, and through him I found out about the school and the story. He kind of eked his way into the film. I was following the students and the teacher for three years, and along the way, his story became more compelling. His brother was killed by gang violence and it just reinforced the whole idea that you can take different paths in life. If you’re passionate about something, in this case the arts, it might transform you into something more powerful than what you can relate to on your own terms.
I think arts showed him and these other kids what was out there, the possibilities of their lives outside of what society deems for them to do. All of them come from really tough situations. Public education is so important and with what’s going on now with our country, we can’t be dismissive of half the population that can’t afford to go to private school. There are a lot of kids that excel in football and basketball and there’s nothing wrong with that, but you have to teach to someone’s passion, and this school really elevates the kids into thinking for themselves, being passionate and articulate. Spoiler alert: all five kids we followed end up going to college on scholarship. It’s a pretty remarkable outcome, and even if they don’t have a career in art, the skill sets that they learn from this education carry them the rest of their lives.
How did you get to know Javontre before the film started?
He lives in a Habitat for Humanity house. It’s about two blocks from where my office is. He walked by my office when he was about eight or nine years old and he saw candy on my desk and came in and asked for a piece. That’s how the relationship started. I just thought, “What a great little guy,” and so I just started talking to him.
I noticed when he’d come to visit that he’d twirl, and so the twirling turned into me asking, “Do you like dancing?” He said, “I don’t know. I just see it on TV.” I said, “Well, there’s a dance theater down the hall, I bet we could get you in.” I went down and asked if they needed little boys in their dance theater and they said yes, and next thing you know, he had a real passion and a talent for it. Through that, I got him into the Northwest School of the Arts
and through that I got him into American Dance Theater
. I mean, I didn't do it; I just took him. He did the work. I was hoping he would follow through and he did. He's doing spectacularly. He’s dancing in Spoleto
this summer. He's on full scholarship at UNC-SA
What it takes is people that are willing to put a little extra time into the kids. That’s what this story’s about. It’s not about me at all; it’s about the teachers in this public school that put the extra time and effort into the kids.
You’re an artist yourself. Did you have someone who did that for you?
I think I'm blessed that I had a mother that was very proactive. She always said, “You don’t need to get married; you don’t need to do this or that. You just do what you love.” I remember taking a class in college and I was drawing a nude man. I was eighteen years old and there’s a nude man in front of me—it’s life drawing class. I called my mom and said, “There’s a nude man in front of me and I had to draw him!” She goes, “If you can’t draw a nude man, you’re not an artist. Artists have been drawing nudes since the beginning of time.” I thought that was really kind of cool that my mother was training me at the age of eighteen not to be afraid to see the human form, pursue my love of art and not go the traditional route of having to get married and do this and that. She wanted me to be my own person.
You’ve got to have somebody, when you’re young, to influence you, and in some cases these kids don’t have anybody at home, so the teachers take on those roles of being parents or brothers or big sisters or mentors. I think that’s what this film showcases: that if everyone had someone that was behind them, we’d all be so much better.