You know how most documentaries feature a slew of talking heads lamenting about dying whales or something? You know you should be interested but then you doze off and wake up with a crick in your neck and drool on your chin from falling asleep on the couch? Let's be honest - sometimes a really compelling documentary can be hard to pull off. It takes a good story, interesting subjects, great footage and a whole lot of other things I'm completely unaware of to make it enticing. Drawing from a well of creativity coupled with incredible drive and determination, filmmaker Tanisha Christie directed and produced the film Walk With Me along with her co-director and co-producer, Ellie Walton; a process that has taken over five years. Inspired by her mentor and teacher, Rebecca Rice, Walk With Me profiles three women who use theater to inspire and connect with people in overlooked communities e.g. prisons and schools. The result is a compelling, interesting, moving, and inspiring documentary film about giving voice to the people often deemed voiceless and allowing them to access their own sense of power through theater, play, and discovery.
I'm not the only person diggin' the film. Walk With Me has been screened at multiple film festivals and has been used for educational presentations at various national universities; the film also won honorable mention at the 2012 San Francisco Black Film Festival and most recently, Best Documentary Feature at the Our City Film Festival in Washington, DC. Christie beautifully shared her creative process with CultureFphiles as well as the importance of yoga and cocktails to help make it through the challenging times.
Walk With Me is inspired by your relationship with your mentor, Rebecca Rice, who is one of the three women featured in the film. What about your relationship with her inspired you to make the film?
I met Rebecca while I was the Assistant Director at the former Living Stage Theater Company in Washington, DC. Working there was a pivotal time in my development as an artist because that experience not only deepened my craft as a performer and educator; I learned the responsibility of being an artist and while the nurturing of my own voice has value, there is significant value in sharing the creative process with others.
Rebecca brought an amazing amount of integrity to her creative work and taught me that process was just as important as the product. It is rare to find teachers or mentors who are so good at reflecting you back to yourself - for better or worse - she did that for me. She was adamant in giving me tools to figure out the 'whys' of wanting to make art - What stories did I want to tell? What songs did I want to sing and for what purpose? She would often challenge, 'you can sing in the shower, write a poem for yourself, but the minute you desire to share it with the world, what do you want the audience to experience? Why should they pay money to see it or hear it?' She firmly believed in the artist’s role in culture and society; and taught me to take great care in my role by having respect for myself as a theater artist.
In making Walk With Me, we, [Ellie Walton Co-Producer/Co-Director], wanted to share a slice of Rebecca’s story and the stories of our friends and colleagues who are doing similar work inspired by the same passions. When artists and community workers talk about ‘arts activism’ or ‘arts for social change,’ most don’t understand what that means. Instead of theater artists simply “talking” about this kind of creative work, we wanted to show what making theater with people actually looked like. We wanted viewers to witness the process and see how others' were moved by the experience.
What has it been like collaborating on the project with your partner, Ellie? What have you discovered in undertaking a project of this magnitude with another person?
Ellie and I had the rare gift of having the same artistic vision for the film. I enjoy collaboration immensely and both of us respect the concepts connected to having a process around making something – for example, experimentation, taking-time, critical feedback. We also shared a huge respect for deadlines. You know how it is, we creative-types, we can sit in the nuances of our muse for a long time. At times, one of us would say, 'Let’s just try it this way and leave it!' Don’t get me wrong, we had disagreements and were frustrated by each other. We have very different working styles. But we left our egos at the door, knowing that what we wanted to achieve was greater. We wanted to make the most beautiful film we could make with the resources we had available. Period. I guess we were blessed with ignorance, in some ways. While we knew that making the film was going to be difficult, [Walk With Me is Walton's third feature length and Christie's first feature length film], we didn’t know what challenges were actually going to present themselves and thankfully, we’re both comfortable with being in the unknown.