With Outfest Fusion, the people of color-focused LGBTQ+ film festival, opening in Los Angeles this Friday March 6th The Queer Review‘s editor James Kleinmann spoke exclusively with filmmaker Donta Storey.
Storey’s beautiful and uplifting short film LiME, featuring a stunning central performance by Urian Ross, will play as part of the Shorts: To Be Young, Queer, and Black program this Saturday March 7th at 6:15pm at Regal LA Live 11.
James Kleinmann, The Queer Review: Before we get onto LiME, can you give us an insight into how your love for storytelling first emerged and how you got involved in filmmaking?
“I can’t remember the moment I decided I wanted to be an actor, but I remember the moment I wanted to do more than act, and that was after taking a backlot tour at Universal Studios: Hollywood as a kid. I remember being fascinated at the house used in Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho. I remember renting the video at the local library and watching it over and over again. It was around that time that I decided I wanted to write and direct movies, and I did. I would write these short form horror films, which I realize now were Scream knock offs! But not until I saw Spike Lee’s Crooklyn did I realize that I actually could do this in the world. It was seeing someone who looked like me in that position that made be believe that I actually could be a part of that world. In college, I focused on acting and writing, but I hadn’t found the piece that would give me the courage to go for it from a production standpoint. Eventually as an actor you realize that the stories that represent your community or the roles that are being written for people like you aren’t actually a great representation of who you are, so instead of waiting for an opportunity, I decided to write, direct and produce LiME.”
How autobiographical is LiME, what we see your lead character experience and the environment they’re growing up in.
“LiME is pretty autobiographical in that everything our main character DeShawn goes threw I went threw growing up. I did experience an assault in connection to my queerness, and like DeShawn, I participated in the drumline and drill team as well. As a young person, I didn’t always feel supported in my existence and I fought against depression and the overwhelming want to give up and give in. I had an amazing support system built by my mother and a plethora of female friends who wouldn’t allow me to give up on myself. With a short film, there’s only so much ground you can cover and I feel like I was able to do that in a way that not only shed light on the bitterness I and others experience when growing up in a community that isn’t as accepting or tolerant as we’d like it to be, but I also was able to show the love and support that many of us are blessed to have in allies that rally around and for us.”
A lot of people have an idea of what Compton, California is like from popular culture and news stories rather than spending time there, what was it like as place to grow up in?
“For me, Compton was and still is a place of possibility. I experienced a lot of pain there, but at the same time I can’t think back on my childhood without smiling ear to ear at certain memories. Compton is rich with culture and there was always a sense of celebration when it came to the community. Compton gave the world some of the biggest stars in music and sports and as a kid it made you feel like anything was possible. Not only did you have this feeling of Compton being the best place in the world, but there were so many success stories coming from the city that it made you feel like anything you wanted to, you could. I was able to revisit that support of community and culture when we went back to film LiME. Everyone who drove or walked by showed our cast and crew so much love, and there was a group of kids who watched through amazed eyes as we shot on their street, and it felt great to revisit that again.”
Urian Ross is wonderful as DeShawn, tell us about collaborating with Urian and what he brought to the film with his performance.
“I remember struggling to find an actor who I felt I could trust to play the character of DeShawn, and I remember after going through about thirty self-tapes wanting to give up. I knew I couldn’t tell this story without an actor that I connected to and also someone who embodied DeShawn entirely. I remember watching Urian’s self-tape knowing that we had found our DeShawn. Urian came in super dedicated to bringing this story to life. I don’t think we would have LiME without Urian. He gave DeSahwn a vulnerability that I still get choked up over when I rewatch the film. Urian is a dedicated and hardworking actor who I am forever indebted to for helping me tell this story.”
I loved all the supporting actors too – tell us a little about them, they all have great moments in the film.
“Our supporting cast was amazing! Allana Barton, Tarhea Ray, Melanie Iman, Ingrid Palomo, Chaiyia Taylor, Alexis Aguirre, Jhou’Quan Glenn, and Nu’Jay all came in as strangers to me and left as friends. They came in with a respect for the story I wanted to tell and handled the subject matter with much consideration. I can’t say enough about these amazing talents!”
Where did the idea for the limes come from and how well does the film’s philosophy reflect your own outlook on life?
“The tagline from the film is “ Be the sweet amongst the sour..” and I connect to that in my outlook on life completely. I want people to see LiME and to feel inspired to walk in their truth and to be whoever it is they wish to be, despite what others may think or say. I remind myself that it’s okay to be as sweet as you want to be daily. The rare sweet limes that tie into the film’s title and story represent the street I grew up on, the bit of special in us all.”
I love the look of the film can you tell us a bit about your guiding principles for the cinematography, production design and costumes?
“Thank you! When it came to building the world for LiME I made sure to be as authentic as possible to the city and the characters I created. In my script, I made sure that I gave special attention to every detail regarding the production design. I knew exactly what It needed to look like before we hit the set. My producers Maritta Kachele and Tiffany Michelle really stepped up in helping me ensure that the visuals were exactly what they needed to be. We filmed every exterior and interior in Compton. We were blessed enough to collaborate with The Royalty HighSteppers Drill Team & Drum squad directed by Marquest Haley, which brought an authenticity to the audition and drill scenes. I wanted to respect and honor the drill team culture of Los Angeles, and I’m happy with the way it came out. In terms of cinematography, I have to give all the credit to my Christian Colwell. I met Christian pretty early on in the pre-production process and he came on as DP and 1st Assistant Director, and I was lucky to find someone who not only understood the approach I wanted to take but took no time to dive in. I love the way Christian was able to put the audience in DeShawn’s shoes, that to me elevates the entire experience.”
What does it mean to you to have the film play at OUTFEST FUSION in the Shorts: To Be Young, Queer, and Black program?
“To be a part of The Outfest family is still very surreal to me. I’ve been a fan of Outfest and Fusion for some time and as a black, non-binary storyteller you oftentimes feel excluded from certain platforms and what Outfest has done in creating Fusion is making sure creators of color feel and are seen. Outfest is LiME’s tenth festival in under a year, and this will be its last before the online release via Amazon Prime. We have screened in San Francisco, Washington DC, New Orleans, and Chicago to name a few, but this one feels special. Outfest takes place in Los Angeles, and LA is Home, and I cannot wait to share LiME with the Outfest Fusion audience. I am very appreciative of this opportunity.”
Outfest Fusion will hold a public screening of the short film ‘LiME’ on March 7th, 2020 at 6:15pm at Regal L.A Live 11, 1000 West Olympic Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA 90015, as part of the Shorts: To be Young, Queer, and Black film block. Tickets are $12.00 at Outfest.com.
The ‘Shorts: To be Young, Queer, and Black ‘ film block dares to defy barriers and binaries in community, culture, and family, these films dive deeply into the world of self-made spirits cultivating belonging through the truth of artistic expression. Reaching beyond their neighborhood, societal and family expectations, we are invited to witness the gifted journey of
young, queer, and Black voices as innovative, bold, and bravely calling in a future of dynamic equity, expression, and wonder rising from grief to personal and collective triumph.