Cinema professor arrives at SF State on a roll

July 10, 2014 -- A faculty member for the Department of Cinema is landing on SF State’s campus just as she nabs a new accolade: Filmmaker, artist and educator Cheryl Dunye has been recognized for writing and directing “Black Is Blue,” the winner of the audience award for Best Short Film at the San Francisco International LGBT Film Festival in June.

Photo of Kingston Farady as Black in Cheryl Dunye’s 'Black Is Blue'

Kingston Farady stars as Black in Cheryl Dunye's latest short, "Black Is Blue."

The story of a character who has transitioned from female to male and runs into a former partner from the past, “Black Is Blue” is “in the spirit of some social-justice issues I was dealing with” in Oakland, Dunye said. “My work always deals with the intersectionality of race, class and gender.” 

“Black Is Blue,” the latest addition to the semiautobiographical film genre she’s dubbed the “Dunyementary,” took almost a year to make in Oakland, where Dunye is based. It also was the basis of a successful Kickstarter effort that raised more than $15,000. “All these new-media venues are wonderful places to explore new forms of storytelling,” she added.

Dunye should know, because she’s paid her dues. Born in Liberia, she grew up in Philadelphia and went to Temple University and then to Rutgers for her MFA. “I started in the world as an artist -- my medium is cinema,” she said. During the last decade Dunye found herself working for HBO and making a movie for Miramax. With five features and other films on her track record, she was eager to explore “my experience, my characters, not your average mainstream characters” that nevertheless deserved respect via stories and narrative. 

“The only thing we see about these [trans] identities are as brutalized victims from war-torn countries, as enemies,” she observed. “Black Is Blue” is Dunye’s take on “giving a more well-rounded picture of what the possibilities are. … It’s going to make you laugh [as well as] open you up to a whole bunch of shared realities around who we are.” Watch the trailer for “Black Is Blue (contains adult language).”  

Short films may run for just around 20 minutes, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t creatively challenging. “In features you get three acts, characters can come in and out,” Dunye explains. “With short films, you don’t get all those. You come in medias res, in the middle of things. You hop in there and don’t go too far. Your style needs to come out and have closure, but not complete.”

Dunye will be leading both undergraduate- and graduate-level fall courses “with a queer bent, doing the things that I do best” as assistant professor in the Cinema Department. She’s also working with her “Black Is Blue” crew on a piece for November’s San Francisco Dance Film Festival, and looking to develop another feature set in Oakland. “I’m so happy to be at SF State,” she said.

-- Anthony Lazarus

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