QFR interviews Yvonne Welbon

Directing her films, “Taste of Dirt” and “Living with Pride: Ruth C. Ellis @ 100” Yvonne Welbon uses her sensitive curiosity to reveal bright, intriguing stories. “Living with Pride: Ruth C. Ellis @ 100” is a documentary about the oldest, “out” African American lesbian and “Taste of Dirt” depicts a young African American girl who struggles with the role race plays in her relationships. These are only two of Yvonne’s pieces: over the years Yvonne has infused countless projects with her talent, building a reputation for her vitality and stamina as a filmmaker. Her work is independent and vivacious: the impact of her films won’t fade over time. Thank you, Yvonne, for taking a moment to speak with us.

Source: Yvonne Welbon’s film, “Taste of Dirt”

QueerFilmReview.com: What was the most rewarding part of making Living with Pride: Ruth Ellis @ 100?

Yvonne Welbon: Finishing it for Ruth’s 100th birthday. She was able
to travel with the film for her 100th year and she had a fantastic
100 year of life. She thanked audiences for “giving her her
flowers now.”

Ruth Ellis Photo Source: ClassicDykes.com

QFR: Did you have any film mentors? If so, who and how did they
influence your work?

YW: I remember the first time I saw a film that impacted me.
I was about 18 years old. It was at one of those women’s film
screenings at the Art Institute of Chicago. It was a 12 minute short
called Deutschland Spiegel by Sharon Couzin. I know now I was
watching an experimental film. Back then I didn’t understand what
it was or that one day I could actually make a film myself. I
remember thinking that I would try to do what the filmmaker was
doing with my painting or collage work.

A clip from Sugar Cane Alley

As for my favorite film of all time, it would be Sugar Cane Alley by Euzhan Palcy. I’m first generation American of Honduran descent. And, as I say in the opening of SISTERS IN CINEMA, it was the first time I saw a film that reminded me of who I am. I love the storytelling style of the film and the stories she chooses to tell in the film. For me the power of cinema is embodied in that film.

QFR: Do you watch the show “The L Word”? If so, what do you think are its advantages and disadvantages?

YW: I think that it is amazing that there is a lesbian series on television. I watched the entire first season. I taught it as part of a course called Black Queer Media(makers) at the University of Chicago. I’ve been watching this 5th season irregularly on YouTube. It offers some eye candy for everyone.

QFR: What project forced you to grow as a filmmaker?

YW:Definitely the Ruth Ellis film. Up until that time, I’d only made films, basically about myself, for film classes. I felt a tremendous responsibility in telling someone else’s life story. Ruth collaborated with me all along the way. Also, I had to choose: finish the film for Ruth’s 100th birthday or finish my dissertation. I choose Ruth and I am glad I did. I finished my dissertation and received my doctorate eventually, but I felt in the case of Ruth Ellis’ story, time was of the essence.

QFR: What are some of your favorite Queer films? Why?

YW: I love John Sayles film Lianna and of course, Entre Nous. Both came out around my senior year of college, right when I was coming out. Those films were there for me when I was feeling alone and confused. There was no Internet in the mid 1980s. The series Metrosexuality is simply amazing! I wish there were more than just six episodes. Recent releases I really adored are Saving Face, Imagine Me & You,
Tipping The Velvet and Show Me Love.

QFR: What do you prefer to do: write, produce, or direct?

YW: I love producing! I love helping artists make their work. Look at my resume and you’ll see that I’ve been involved with a
number of filmmakers as a producer of some sort. I love business and figuring out a way to get the money to make the project. (It’s sort of like when I was a magazine publisher in Taiwan. I helped artists write the stories they wanted to tell.)

A clip from Yvonne Welbon’s film, “Taste of Dirt”

QFR: What are some of the things out of your own experience that informs your films?

YW: One of the lessons that I learned in life that continues to inform my work is something that happened to me at Vassar College.

I decided to take a class called Women in Latin American History.

I was excited to think that for the first time I’d finally be learning about who I am and my history in an academic setting.

Well, we didn’t really study any black women.

When I asked the teacher why she said it was because there weren’t materials for her to teach with.

Being a Vassar woman, I decided to prove her wrong and set out to find the materials for my final project.

Well she wasn’t wrong. I couldn’t find hardly anything.

That was really scary.

So, I’ve kind of been on a mission to create texts, as a writer, as a filmmaker, and even through my websites (sistersincinema.com and sistersinthelife.com) to make sure that we are not left out of our own education.

Which means that I see filmmaking as sort of activist work. I know that it is important to make the kind of work that I do.

– Interviewed by T. Nova

One Comment

  1. Abbey wrote:

    This is an excellent interview! Thank you for the clips of her work — very interesting in the context of the interview.