Leslie Harris (director)

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Leslie Harris is an American film director, screenwriter and producer.[1]

Early life[edit]

Director, screenwriter and producer Leslie Harris was born in Cleveland, Ohio in 1960. Harris grew up with a love of film and the arts which prompted her to pursue a degree from Denison University, earning a B.F.A. in Studio Arts. She also studied abroad in Aix-En-Provence, France during her junior year. Her early film work consisted of animations and live action shorts. Harris moved to New York in 1982 where she began working in the advertising industry, including for major advertising firms such as FCB and Saatchi & Saatchi Worldwide (both members of the American Association of Advertising Agencies). Harris soon grew frustrated with the limits of the advertising industry and moved into directing commercials. Harris established her own commercials company catering to the small business community such as the "Exceptional Women of Color Hair Salon". Harris took on temp work to pay the bills, writing her feature screenplays in between answering phone calls. She also worked evenings at "Film/Video Arts", a nonprofit film and video rental and post-production facility where she had access to equipment she could use to create her films. Harris attributes her mother’s advice, motivation, and encouragement from a young age to her success: her mother always insisted that women can achieve any career goal. Spike Lee's tenacity and success as a black feature filmmaker also inspired her to continue pursuing her goals within the film industry. With her 1992 film Just Another Girl on the I.R.T., Leslie Harris became the first African-American woman director, writer, producer and executive producer to win a Special Jury Prize at The Sundance Film Festival for Best Feature Film. Harris has lectured on filmmaking and film at esteemed institutions such as Tulane University, Wellesley College, Portland State University, Columbia University and the Canadian Film Institute to name just a few. Harris has also taught both screenwriting and film production classes as both a full-time and adjunct professor at New York University Tisch School of the Arts.

Leslie Harris
Born1960
Cleveland, Ohio
OccupationFilm director, screenwriter, producer

Just Another Girl on the I.R.T.[edit]

In an interview with Charlie Rose in 1993, Harris discussed her frustration with most mainstream coming-of-age films. This genre of film is important for young people, but most films of this type are about young men, while young women are portrayed as just an appendage to the central male character — either a girlfriend, wife or mother. Harris wanted to see a young African-American woman's coming-of-age story, from a female perspective, and set out to make it herself, stating that it's important that we see women both in front of and behind the camera. The story of Just Another Girl on the I.R.T. was well-researched with the help of The Brooklyn Teen Pregnancy Center; Harris conducted interviews with counselors, teen mothers and teen fathers and the screenplay was written and rewritten over the course of a year and a half before being shot in only 17 days. The film received funding via grants from National Endowments for the Arts, American Film Institute, New York State Council on the Arts, Brooklyn Arts Council and was distributed by Miramax on 200 screens in the U.S. and 20 other countries worldwide.

In 2013 92YTribeca held a 20th anniversary screening of the film, followed by a Q&A panel with Leslie Harris. Harris wrote, "What a great turn out at the 92nd St Y Tribeca! Thank you to all the fans of the film! It meant a great deal to me that 'Just Another Girl on the I.R.T.' has such a loyal audience and wasn't forgotten. Let's not forget the contributions of Black Women in the history of the Indie Film World".[2]

On October 23, 2015, a fan on Twitter asked Harris "Can we get a sequel to Just Another Girl on the I.R.T.?" Harris replied "Yes! I'm working on it!" The fan used the hashtag "trailblazingwomenincinema".

Women in film[edit]

In the early 1990s, Harris established her own production company and raised funds herself for her award-winning feature film Just Another Girl on the I.R.T. As sole executive producer and owner of her own production company "Truth 24 FPS Productions", Harris was the first African-American woman to negotiate a deal with a major motion picture company, Miramax Films, for theatrical release in over 200 screens across the U.S. Harris is adamant that women—especially African-American and women of color—have a voice in the theatrical motion picture industry, both in front of and behind the camera. Harris contends that historically, women have not been viewed as having the ability to control the finances necessary to operate, budget and manage a film. Therefore, it was important for her to do so with Just Another Girl on the I.R.T.

Filmography[edit]

  1. Exceptional Women of Color Hair Salon, Writer, Director, Producer 1990 Commercial
  2. The First Novel, Writer, Director, Producer 1991 Short
  3. Lorraine Klassen Tribute South African Music & Miriam Makeba: Live at SOB's, Director 1991 Music Video
  4. Just Another Girl on the I.R.T, Writer, Director, Producer 1992 Miramax Films
  5. Bessie Colman A Dream to Fly, Writer Director, Producer 1994 Short Film
  6. Never Forget 1994 Documentary Short
  7. Short-takes on the Independent feature Market, Segment Director 1997
  8. Elect Renee Collymore, Director, Producer 2014 Weisode Short
  9. Trailblazing Women Series, Herself 2015

2015 New York Film Festival[edit]

In October 2015, during the audience Q&A portion of a conversation with film director Michael Moore at the New York Film Festival, Harris asked about what minorities can do to break through in Hollywood and Moore responded that the low number of female directors is "a form of apartheid."[3] Moore added, "Women [and] especially men need to say this, and say it over and over and then do something about it. My guild, the Writers Guild [of America], Directors Guild [of America], we have to fix this. This is absolutely wrong," Moore said, after agreeing to be in Harris' next film.[3]

Awards[edit]

Special Jury Prize Sundance Film Festival 1993

Gotham Award Winner Open Palm 1993

Official Selection Tokyo Film Festival 1993

Official Selection Deauville Film Festival 1993

Official Selection Toronto Film Festival 1993

American Film Institute Filmmaker’s Award

Official Selection Philadelphia Film Festival 1996- Never Forget Docu Short

Showtime Award for Excellence Bessie Coleman A Dream To Fly 1994 Showtime Broadcast

Citation President of Brooklyn City Of New York For Leslie Harris’ Contributions To The Arts And Film

Grants & Fellowships[edit]

National Endowment for the Arts Grant

New York State Council for the Arts (Production & Post-Production)

Association of Advertising Agencies Fellowship Award

New York Foundation for the Arts Fellowship

Jerome Foundation

Association for Film and Video Grant

Brooklyn Arts Council Filmmaker Grant

Art Matters Fellowship

References[edit]

  1. ^ Anderson, John (August 20, 2014). "The Movie Crypt at the Top of the Stairs". The New York Times. Retrieved 13 November 2017.
  2. ^ "Shadow And Act indie film blog".
  3. ^ a b Lee, Ashley (October 4, 2015). "NYFF: Michael Moore Calls Lack of Diversity in Hollywood "A Form of Apartheid"". The Hollywood Reporter.

External links[edit]