Guest Blog: Slow and Steady – Means Everyone Wins


Chinua Achebe was the first writer I read who articulated for me with absolute Igbo clarity that art could be created as a service to its community.  This answered for me the tension I felt as a young writer.  My African-American community preferred content that was useful, or simply put, good for the race.  My liberal, Western training, on the other hand, dismissed moral uplift as less than artful; it was propaganda’s next-of-kin.

For Tamika Guishard to go through Tisch talking about bringing back the afterschool special had to be hard, but her vision included the very African criteria of usefulness to her community.  I applaud her for understanding that she had to define her own aesthetic criteria and then defend them.

It was a pleasure to teach Tamika as an undergraduate in a writing class some years back.  It is brilliant to watch her grow into an emerging artist with the marketing chops and hustle to support her own work in a very tough industry. – Lorene

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by Tamika R. Guishard

Having recently graduated from New York University’s Graduate Film program, I am honored and humbled for this opportunity to share my journey in filmmaking, because it has just begun!   The only Black woman in my class, I have spent the past five years under Tisch’s tutelage: three years of coursework followed by two years to complete my signature work, a thesis film entitled, Jackie.

The fact that my “student work,” including a number of documentary and narrative shorts, has been nationally televised and on big screens is exciting.  However, it also thrills me to work as a storyteller in intimate settings, such as educational institutions, and actually witness film’s transformative power to engender critical thinking.  Any teacher will tell you, there’s no other feeling like this…

You see, my path as a writer/director is a bit unorthodox.   In my entrance interview for NYU, I said “I want to bring back the after school special” and update it for this generation.  I figured, if I was going to do this (wrack up this debt, fund these productions) it had to be on my terms—not necessarily those of the “industry.”  I want to tell stories I believe in.

Lo and behold, they let me in!  Balls out, no pretense.  That Fall, I said good bye to my middle school Social Studies classroom and “hello” to Tisch’s infamous tenth floor, where I was going to brand “Social Studies filmmaking” across disciplines, genres and molds.

It has not been easy.  At times I feel a little bit crazy: who am I to break ground in an industry with only a handful of women writing/directing, and on that hand, maybe two fingernails are African-American!?  Yet, at this moment in history, I would be remiss not to have jumped at the opportunity to obtain this skill-set and manifest my stories – our stories – on screen.  Sitting in the audience that first time and feeling their reactions to cinema that, only a short time ago, lived only in my head makes it all worth it.

Luckily, with a Communications degree from my alma mater, University of Pennsylvania Annenberg School, I already knew the ins and outs of the business of media: the importance of public relations, marketing and branding.  In West Philadelphia I never thought that I would be using these tenets in campaigning for my own body of work.

I candidly kept folks abreast of my filmmaking process via a bi-monthly newsletter a full year before Jackie’s completion.  I was committed to shooting my thesis film on actual film; this classic medium is a bit pricey, to say the least.  Individual donors largely funded Jackie, even in this recession, because they trust me to tell this story, with all of my imperfections, in a perfect way.

At this boiling point of political and environmental change, I think that people want to leave a mark.  Having witnessed my fire, however flawed, in pushing for this film’s production, even while working at a “9 to 5”, donors were not only compelled to contribute, but also confident that they would be part of Jackie’s lasting impression.

On the first of October, Jackie is complete.  I look forward to submitting it to the (film) festival circuit and ensuring that those that need to see it—youth in foster care, diabetics, families affected by leukemia and teenage mothers—actually do.  I will admit that I have a unique passion for filmmaking that may even come off as lax, while I have devoted energy to nontraditional jobs on this journey.   Yet, I can testify that from underserved classrooms to long lost graveyards, the Brooklyn Academy of Music performance hall to Spike Lee’s lecture hall, storytelling is an unmatched art.  My uncharted work experience feeds my creative voice so that my films will resonate like none other.

I am artist, citizen, teacher, storyteller whose priority is to empower.  I thank God that I have never had to choose between my principles and a paycheck (and if that day were to come, please believe, it will get me out of debt!)  But seriously, having taught history, I foresee the textbook pages on our current, critical era and know that any movement worth encapsulating takes time.  Which is why, as a filmmaker, I’m just getting started and will stay the course in concocting cinematic folklore that lives on.

Slow and steady…means everyone wins.

 

A first-generation American, born of Caribbean heritage in 1980’s East New York, Brooklyn, Tamika R. Guishard’s ultimate goal as a filmmaker is to foster a re-birth of the after-school special for today’s urban youth.  Her return to her hometown of East New York as a seventh grade Social Studies teacher cemented Tamika’s desire to make realistic films that entertain, enlighten, and teach.  She founded B. Good Productions, a holistic media organization with storytelling at its foundation and education as its core, in her first year of NYU Graduate Film school.

As a federal Park Ranger at Manhattan’s African Burial Ground, she has worked with WNET/PBS and the Harlem Children’s Zone in producing webisodes for the Internet launch of Ken Burns’ “The National Parks: America’s Best Idea.”  Tamika’s filmmaking has screened at venues ranging from public school classrooms to the University of Chicago, the intimate Nuyorican Poet’s Cafe to the expansive 34th Street Loews Cinema, The Schomburg Research Center and nationwide, on BET Networks: a testament that “edutainment” is boundless.

Tamika’s signature piece, her NYU thesis entitled Jackie, will be complete on the autumn solstice.   This seventeen-minute film is the story of an Ivy Leaguer raised in the New York City foster care system who meets her birth mother for the first time.  Jackie examines what we ask of our youth—even after abandoning them.

 

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