There is a lot of great talent within the indie film scene, and social media is making that more than evident. All it takes is a follow here, a tweet there, and you are exposed to writers and directors who have a unique vision. One such person is Damon Colquhoun. Based in Harlem, New York, this photographer, writer and filmmaker used his multi-faceted talents to create a short film which was a 2013 finalist in Ron Howard’s Project Imagint10n, based on his winning photo “Manhattan’s Many Moons”. The film, entitled Transporter, is about a young man Darien, whose family is involve in shady, criminal activity. Darien has a unique ability that is doomed to be exploited by them, unless he can escape. This 10 minute film is a dark, grim tale of a young man trying to leave his harsh reality behind. I was really intrigued by this short, which will now be a feature film, and I loved the style and tone of it, so of course when Colquhoun let me know about his next project, Pixie Dust, he got my pixie attention.
“Pixie Dust is an urban fantasy about a powerful 13-year-old girl named Faye and her mentally ill mother. Faye’s mother suffers from a mental illness which sends her into violent spells. She refuses to take her medication, forcing Faye to find a way to get her back on track. Through Faye’s journey, she discovers a magical family secret which could help her save her mother, but it could also kill Faye.” (Excerpt from http://www.damoncolquhoun.com and the Indiegogo campaign currently underway to fund the project, but more on that later…)
I wanted to find out about the mind behind these dark and fantastical stories, so I got a chance to ask him a few questions about his life as an artist, the project and his process.
1. You started out with an art degree, and through your artistic journey, made a stop in the film world. What got you interested in film?
I actually started as an actor. I studied at a pretty serious acting conservatory, and was in few indie films. During my training I kept getting into trouble because I had this urge to control staging, and other actors’ performances. I would get really frustrated if one of my classmates didn’t deliver what I thought they were capable of. Finally, one of my instructors told me I might want to consider directing.
I directed a couple of things, got fed up with the no budget process and went back to school. I studied art because I wanted a career in VFX [visual effects]. I figured, learning VFX would allow me to make films on my own, but once I got a job in the industry, the 9-5 hustle took over. Plus I really didn’t care for the tediousness of the work.
I went back to directing because all-in-all it’s the right place for someone like me: a jack-of-all trades who’s a control freak with stories to tell and a clear vision through which to present them. Plus, new technology allowed me to make movies the way I wanted to.
2. Tell us a little about the melding of fairy and fay lore with the story of Pixie Dust.
I wanted to paint a picture of a modern urban fairy. Some fairy traits are incorporated in an anecdotal way to tease those who know fairy lore. At the start of the film, it’s not obvious that Faye is a fairy, but, for those in the know, there are hints. The most obvious hint is her name, then there’s the fact that Faye doesn’t care for salt. Their landlord is going to wear her sweater inside out as a way to protect herself when delivering the bad news to Faye.
Fairies are nature spirits, so Faye is there to restore balance within nature’s black sheep, humans, hence her ability to see people’s inner beast (a metaphor for [their] psychological issues).
I also wanted to subvert the popular image of pixie dust. Faye ends up finding her own kind of pixie dust in the form of her mother’s medication, but medication is a double-edged sword: they have side effects. A fairy can be both “good” and “bad,” the viewers have to ask themselves, are Faye’s actions ultimately good or bad?
3. Your cast for Pixie Dust looks amazing! (Mia Guzman as Faye; Rocio Mendez as her mother; and Mary Looram from Orange Is The New Black as the Landlord) How influenced are you by diversity, and in light of the recent Chris Rock essay, how difficult is it to stay true to your community and how it is represented within the independent film world?
Thank you! Getting your hands on a great cast is tough. So, yeah, I got lucky.
In terms of diversity, it comes organically for me. Growing up in NYC’s Upper West Side means that my world was full of diversity, therefore, diversity is essential to an honest retelling of my experiences. It’s the story that dictates the specific variety of diversity. In a film like Transporter, diversity meant a cast that was African-American, Haitian, Nigerian, and Israeli.
Filmmakers have to be true to their stories. Color is not the important thing, ethnicity is. Americans are products of their ethnic backgrounds, which are steeped in history and culture, which create a distinct POV. But look, if you’re a filmmaker who grew up around nothing but middle-American White people, then please don’t add a token Black person to your film. Instead, make certain that you look deep enough into your world to reflect in your film the cultural isolation you were raised in and what effect that had on you and therefore your story.
4. With your short film Transporter, your main character Darien is an introvert and lives in his head. I wondered at times how mentally fit he was. In Pixie Dust, the film focuses Faye and her mother’s mental illness. I can see a thread with both films that deal with mental illness using a fantasy backdrop, making it easy to open the subject up to discussion. Was that your intention in order to address this seemingly still taboo subject in the African-American community?
Believe it or not, I had no intention of focusing on the theme of mental illness in the way I have, but it’s a personal topic to me, so it happened organically.
I was shot when I was 8 years old. The bullet fell out of the sky, hit my leg, just missing my head, ripping a chunk out of my thigh. I didn’t tell my parents about it, just my sister, so the only treatment I got was a gauze pad and some ointment. From that point on, it felt like death could just descend upon me, seemingly out of nowhere. Many years later I was diagnosed with an anxiety disorder and OCD. Through therapy, I’ve learned to manage it all pretty well.
Once I came to understand the symptoms of anxiety-based mental illnesses, I began to see it everywhere in my Harlem neighborhood: it’s a look people have in their eyes; it’s in their breathing pattern; it’s in the way they communicate or fail to communicate. It’s wild. So yeah, I guess as a filmmaker, mental illness is my raison d’être.
5. Tell us a bit about Faye’s character and where she draws her strength.
She’s actually modeled after my wife who is 5’, 100 lbs, but grew up in Brownsville, Brooklyn. The schoolyard chant [in those days] went something like this:
Come from the Ville
Know I’m chill
Picture me runnin
Must be buggin
Walk up in your face
Beat you down and walk away
So yeah, Faye is a fighter. She’s uncomfortable showing emotion, but is full of love. Unfortunately, her mother’s constant need for care absorbs most of it. Faye [is also] a naturally attractive girl – the type who attracts boys without trying to, or wanting to. The boy-girl dynamic is still foreign to her – she’s got a lot on her plate. The fact that the boys like her means that a lot of girls don’t like her. Faye has to prove her toughness once every couple of school years.
Faye draws her strength from her grandmother. Her grandmother was a fairy as well. There’s a confidence that comes from knowing that you have one more weapon than everybody else. For some people, it’s brains, for some it’s brawn. For Faye’s grandmother, it was brains and magical brawn – likewise for Faye.
6. Do you find you have more freedom for storytelling in the fantasy genre?
I would say so. Reality is a bitch! It’s often hard to digest. So trying to get an audience to explore a difficult subject head on is often asking too much of people. The things you explore and say in a fantasy film can certainly be more overt. At the same time, it’s easier to lose the subtleties – the humanity – when you make an all out fantasy film. That’s why I prefer something closer to a hybrid, like Urban Fantasies.
7. You mention films like Take Shelter (which I loved), and Melancholia having a similar vibe to Pixie Dust. What are some your favorite sci-fi, fantasy or horror films?
As I mention earlier, I like hybrids. There’s nothing like watching human beings interacting without reservation. At the same time, there’s nothing like watching a human being fly!
Here is his list (which is pretty darn great!):
La Jetée – Delicatessen – Children of Men – Battle Royal – Stalker – 12 Monkeys – Alien – Empire Strikes Back
Tin Drum – Blade – Beasts of the Southern Wild – Pan’s Labyrinth – Brotherhood of the Wolf – TLOTR Trilogy (epic) – The Dark Knight – The Wiz
Let The Right One In – The Birds – Rosemary’s Baby – The Shining – The Texas Chainsaw Massacre – Suicide Club – Halloween
Now that we know a little about the film and the mind behind it, I hope the insider info makes you want to see it as much as I do! This project is in pre-production, with an Indiegogo campaign that will close on January 2, 2015. $15,000 is needed to create Pixie Dust, with majority of the money going to actually paying cast and crew.
Let the holiday spirit inspire you! If you can make a contribution, please do, and if you’re not sure, go to the link below where you get a chance to read his great script to help make your decision. How unique is that?!
I think it is important that we support independent filmmakers who make genre films that defy cookie cutter cinema these days.
Make your contributions here:
and check out all the in-depth info about the production!
Thanks to Damon for taking the time to answer a few questions so candidly, and I can’t wait to see the finished film.