Joslyn Rose Lyons is an American director, filmmaker and producer. Joslyn made her directorial debut with the Hip Hop documentary "Soundz of Spirit" which premiered at the HBO Urban World Film Festival, winning Best Music Documentary at the New York International and was an Official Jury Selection at London Raindance, Black International Cinema Berlin, and Los Angeles International. Her new film is called "Looking Glass" and we had the pleasure of interviewing her regarding her new film and her work as a filmmaker.
What was the inspiration behind the making of Looking Glass?
Looking Glass’ stars Los Angeles based rapper/actor Jallal and features appearances from an ensemble cast of amazing friends and artists from the Bay including DJ Umami, Ryan Nicole-Peters, DJ Ammbush, and embraces the struggle to overcome complacency, while visually embodying the spirit of Oakland’s creative community. At the time of conceptualizing this piece, I had just finished reading a book called ‘The Big Leap’ which explores the concept of taking that courageous leap from your ‘excellence zone’ to your ‘genius zone’ so this was a concept also present when I wrote the short. I am working on a script for a narrative feature with similar themes, so this was in some ways proof of concept. I have always been fascinated by the idea of time. LOOKING GLASS was in some ways my love letter to time.
What were some of the challenges of making the film?
It was challenging to make a film that explored concepts that aren’t easily associated with visuals, such as fear and doubt, hopes and dreams. They are abstract visually, so I tried to create characters that would be symbolic of these concepts/themes. I leaned into unique techniques to tell this story, for example using narration and not having a dialogue, or props, and even editing choices, that bent the rules of this world, and magical realism.
When did you realize that you wanted to make films and what was the first film project that you created?
I knew at a very young age I wanted to make films, so as soon as I was old enough, I pursed it, I studied film at CCA (California College of the Arts) and UC Berkeley, and during college I worked at an Emmy Award winning production company on documentaries for MSNBC, PBS, and Discovery. I got the idea to make my first documentary Soundz of Spirit around that time, which was the first film project that I created. I produced it, directed it, shot, and edited it, and even produced an original soundtrack for it. The film premiered at HBO Urbanworld Film Festival in NY, won Best Music Doc at the New York International Film Festival.
Which directors have been influential in your work?
Spike Lee. I actually got to have dinner with him and his composer Terrance Blanchard at the Blue Note Jazz Club in New York, after working on a production for Showtime with him. I remember at the dinner he was scribbling notes on a napkin. I realized then that he never turns it off. His film ‘Do the Right Thing’ is one of the sparks that ignited this journey in cinema for me. I have also been inspired by Jean-Pierre Jeunet, the use of magical realism in his film Amelie, has been influential. At a Q&A after his film “Micmacs” premieres, I asked him what would be the one piece of advice you could give tofilmmakers and he said “use everything in your toolbox.”
What genre of filmmaking do you like to work on?
I have a passion for exploring the creative process, music, and social
justice, so I have always been drawn to documentary. One of my
creative partners is former NBA Champ Matt Barnes, we produced a show
for Uninterrupted (LeBron James digital Platform) called SAME ENERGY,
it featured Marshawn Lynch and 2Chainz and explored in-depth
conversations about mental, physical, and spiritual strength, and what
it takes to stand for what you believe in. I’m the impact producer on
several music and social justice docs, including and "Truth to Power"
(Barbara Lee, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Van Jones, Danny Glover, Corey
Booker, Alice Walker). I produced a short doc with Common and his
Imagine Justice organization, which is dedicated to empowering
communities and fighting injustice. I also love scripted filmmaking,
there is so much room to grow when we can bend the rules of the world
What is the most challenging aspect of making an independent film?
I would say having to hear no more than yes is often challenging. You just have to keep believing in your vision. Also, being on set, it's a challenging when you feel like your always running out of time. But pressure also makes the diamond, and friction forms the pearl. So it's all needed in order to make great work. Having great crew is also key, I’ve been super lucky to work with amazing talent.
Before Rafael Casal (Blindspotting) was a superstar, we were producing partners on many of my projects, since as far back as I can remember he's been in and/or worked on most of the productions, he just understood everything about the creative process. I've also been lucky
to have great DP's like Boson Wang, producing partners like Matt Smith, ADs like Hilton Day and Armin Houshmandi, they always help to hold the creative vision.
What is your plan for further distribution of your film?
I plan to continue to keep sharing it in the online film festival circuit and see what other opportunities come through for the piece from there. I shared the short with Sundance Collabs and Trey Ellis (HBO's Tuskegee Airmen, True Justice) happened to see it, and next thing I knew Sundance London was inviting me to premiere the short. So that was an honor. It was Sundance London's first virtual film festival, and it was an exciting opportunity.
How can cinema change the world and have an impact on society?
Cinema can address real issues in a way that allows people to relate to a make believe world, it's less personal so we can connect without as much judgement to the story or characters, while still digesting messages. Film has a way of opening up our senses to new ways of seeing things, feeling things, sparks new insights. Some of my close friends in the Bay Area have made some incredible films this past few years that have done just that, Boots Riley made “sorry to bother you” Rafael Casal and Daveed Diggs made “Blindspotting”, these types of films create change by opening up convereations we might not have had. Finding the extraordinary in the ordinary, and seeing things in a new light. I love this quote by 2PAC: “I'm not saying I'm gonna change the world, but I guarantee that I will spark the brain that will change the world.'
What is your next film project?
I am in the polishing stage with my producers on my script for my first narrative feature. It’s a drama, don't want to give too much away, but it definitely has a strong presence of magical realism.
Why do you make films and what draws you to the language of cinema
Cinema speaks that universal language, it surpasses time and just like music, cinema makes you feel things. To me, the job of a great storyteller, or artist of any kind, is to help us feel something. Even if it's just remembering what it's like to feel, or getting us in touch with a thought, or an emotion that is maybe uncomfortable, or unfamiliar. I have always been drawn to expressing myself in the language of cinema. Directing allows me to let my imagination run free like a wild horse, and in that process I find a sense of freedom. I think we are drawn to things that allow us to feel freedom. For me that's what cinema does, it gives me a sense of freedom. It is a form of creative play, and when we are playing, that's often when the most inspiring ideas can come. For me there has always been this feeling of freedom when I'm directing, because I can truly be myself in that creative space. Cinema allows me to play in my own shadows, and inspires me to keep searching for the light.