Ava DuVernay’s right hand is the little seen power behind a film movement.
Empires are built by forward thinking individuals who see things that other people do not. Foundations are stabilized by great logistical minds that convert grand ideas into practical steps. For six years, visionary/film director/writer/PR expert Ava DuVernay has been just that kind of individual. Her African American Film Festival Releasing Movement [AFFRM] is a first of its entity designed to distribute independent film works produced and directed, as well as starring, African Americans and others of African descent. But she hasn’t done it alone.
Tilane Jones, managing director of AFFRM since 2008, known as DuVernay’s “right hand,” is partly responsible for the distribution of such film projects as I Will Follow, Better Mus' Come and Big Words. With producer credits under her belt, Tilane represents the rare appearance of African American women in positions of leadership in Hollywood. And despite her considerable and ever growing resume, outside of industry insiders, Ms. Jones' strength gets little public shine. Till today…
Ricardo A. Hazell: How did your position as Managing Director of AFFRM and the film production company, Forward Movement come about?
TJ: I was referred to Ava and her previous marketing and publicity company, The DuVernay Agency by a good friend who knew that an office coordinator position was available. At the time, The DuVernay Agency was also expanding with the addition of the production company, Forward Movement and with that came the film distribution collaborative, AFFRM. All fostered out of Ava's passion for filmmaking and the film industry.
RH: What is the importance of the work that you’re doing over at AFFRM? And have you run into any groups that were similar?
TJ: For me, the most important part of my work is that it allows me to help the world see more diverse images of African Americans and people of the African diaspora. Images are a very powerful tool in changing peoples’ perceptions about one another. Also, the activism and the community built by AFFRM is a wonderful thing to be a part of and show as an example of what can be done when people work together to uplift one another for an important cause. I don't know of any other film distribution companies that are like AFFRM. Our mission and our focus are truly unique.The core of AFFRM is still very much grassroots movement with our founding leaders and our volunteer force, the AFFRM Mavericks. Ava has made sure that as her recognition grows so does the recognition of AFFRM which is a wonderful thing. #TogetherWeAreStrong
RH: What are some of the AAFRM projects coming up in the future?
TJ: We will be announcing new theatrical acquisitions very soon. Ava is currently committed to write and direct Selma.
RH: IMDB has you as a producer for Hello Beautiful with John Legend. You are also listed as an associate producer on My Mic Sounds Nice, and co-producer for Ava Duvernay’s Middle of Nowhere. What were some of the difficulties with each of these offerings and how have those issues helped you?
TJ: I prefer to focus on the positive so I wouldn't consider them issues. I'd say it is career training. Working in the indie production field you must wear many hats. It has helped me to learn something about every position on a set from set photography, craft services, set design, costumes, camera equipment, editing, sound design, everything. I think this allows me to be more well-rounded when thinking about how a production is created, how it works and how every element is crucial in creating the best content for the audience.
RH: What have been some of the things that you have had to overcome as an African American woman in Hollywood?
TJ: I believe that Hollywood has only left a small space for African Americans as a whole to tell their stories and an even smaller space for African American women. Making a space for us and our work to be seen and honored is a daily challenge. Having to be fearless and take chances that some others cannot and seeing it make a difference makes it all worth it.
RH: How have these things helped you in life and in your career?
TJ: It has helped me to be somewhat fearless in my personal life and has taught me to think and step outside the box.