Ava DuVernay On ‘Origin’: “Thank Goodness We Made This Film Independently” – Venice

Ava DuVernay is making history today. In Venice with Origin, which world premieres in the Sala Grande this evening, she is the first African American female filmmaker to ever have been selected in competition at the world’s oldest festival. DuVernay earlier told Deadline’s Dominic Patten, “Venice was a big goal. It feels like a real full-circle moment.”

Based on Isabel Wilkerson’s 2020 bestseller Caste: The Origin of Our Discontents, the film stars Oscar nominee Aunjanue Ellis-Taylor as Wikerson and tracks the Pulitzer Prize winner’s creative and personal journey over several continents through grief, revelation and the evils of historical stratification. 

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Although it was originally a Netflix project, DuVernay and Paul Garnes produced Origin without a studio. Speaking to Deadline earlier, DuVernay said, “I experienced success within the studios. I experienced this challenge within it. I learned a lot and ultimately the thing that felt best is to be able to self-determine my filmmaking — to tell my story my way.” On Tuesday, Neon acquired worldwide rights.

Today, DuVernay told the Venice press corps, “I don’t feel like we would have had the cast we had if we had remained in the studio system. The studio system is a place where I worked, and made projects that I’m proud of, but there is really an aspect of control over who plays what… and sometimes that sits at odds with who might be the best person for the part.”

The cast is populated with actors who are not “quote-unquote  superstars in Hollywood,” DuVernay said. “These are meat and potatoes, blood, sweat and tears working actors who are very respected… Together you see how they shine like stars… I think it gets into this idea of the value that we place on certain artists based on corporations’ saying who is more valuable and who is not… Thank goodness we made this film independently.”

DuVernay also expanded on being the first African American female filmmaker in competition. “It’s very rare for two Black filmmakers who work as a producing team to make a film that leaves the country. Black filmmakers are told people who love films in other parts of the world don’t care about our stories and don’t care about our films.” 

She continued, “We are often told you cannot play international film festivals, no one will come, people will not come to your press conference, people will not come to the P&I screenings… You will not get into this festival, don’t apply.”

Regarding Venice specifically, DuVernay added, “I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been told, ‘Don’t apply to Venice, you won’t get in, it won’t happen.’ And this year it happened, something happened that hadn’t happened in eight decades before. We know that’s a door open that I trust and hope the festival will keep open.”

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