Victoria Mahoney: ‘Yelling to the Sky’ Director Talks Black Film

By//Mariah Craddick

In 2011, Victoria Mahoney made the seamless transition from actress to director in her debut feature Yelling to the Sky. The film, which premiered at the Berlin Film Festival, received outstanding critical acclaim and was nominated for the Golden Bear – the highest prize awarded for the best movie at the festival.

Yelling to the Sky stars Zoe Kravitz as Sweetness O’Hara, a bi-racial, quiet good girl who struggles with a difficult environments both at home and at school. Dealing with an abusive, absent and alcoholic father and an emotionally unstable mother, Sweetness begins to act out and becomes involved in a dangerous street life of dealing, drugs and violence. Jason Clarke (Zero Dark Thirty), Antonique Smith (Notorious) and Gabourey Sidibe (Precious) also star.

The riveting drama is now available on DVD and Blu-ray and director Victoria Mahoney sat down with to discuss the movie, Black film today and what the future holds for her.

On the shift from acting to directing

The shift from directing to acting wasn’t really a sit-down conversation. In order for the film to get made I needed laser focus. There was no space or time to look up and do anything else.

On the state of Black film today

It’s actually some of the most interesting cinema going down right now and that because it’s without rules. What’s changing though is the festivals are becoming marketplaces and not just festivals for the sake of honoring films and filmmakers. Everything’s about getting bout and who’s getting bought to be distributed. No one’s looking for [Black filmmakers], so we’re getting to make the films we want to make.

On Black filmmakers

Black filmmakers in America and throughout the world are having ball. There are so many people killing it. I don’t know if there’s a movement or not. Everybody’s like, ‘There were no Black filmmakers ten years ago.’ There were just no one at all was reflecting them. Right now, there happened to be a chunk of us and what we have in common is we look out for each other. We share tools and resources. We’re just really, really inspired and blown away by what each other are doing. MAHONEY2

On inspiration

I’m deeply affected by photography and paintings. I came up playing with those, not because I knew what I was doing but because it was an outlet for expression. You can catch me in any city I’m in at night, running through the streets with my camera snapping photos. There’s an enormous amount of inspiration to be had just sitting on a bus bench, as crazy as that sounds. One of my favorite things to do is to park myself in a public place and just sit for two hours staring and watching. Everything you need to know occurs. What really gets me going is access to day-to-day. And if I’m somehow cut-off in any way, that’s dangerous for me.

On her goals

My goal is to endure, so whatever shape or form that takes. My goal is to continue to tell stories to the best of my ability, given the tools and circumstances. To continue to tell stories as long as I ache to tell stories. Whether that turns into a household name or not. That’s not what I’m hunting, but I don’t know if you could hunt that. I don’t even think Spike [Lee] hunted that.

Advice for up-and-coming Black filmmakers

It’s tricky because advice is so subjective and I don’t know anyone’s circumstance. What I will say is that your instincts are stronger than anything anybody will ever tell you. A lot of young filmmakers are being told not to do things and to restructure stories so that they get financing. The most special story lines, arcs or characters are being talked out of. Fight tooth and nail for whatever it is that makes you you. Whatever you know to be true about yourself, go have fun without that. And you don’t have to be liked. We’re not here to be liked, we’re here to reflect the human condition.