It's a lot of work coordinating a festival from the ground up, but Tanesha Morris is both feet in for the third year of the Shreveport Urban Film Festival.
Tanesha (she/her) is a Black bisexual filmmaker from Shreveport, Louisiana, and in 2017 created SUFF. A culmination of things including her previous work with the Louisiana Film Prize and the lack of diversity and representation of Black filmmakers (locally and beyond), Tanesha said she felt like the festival was needed and that filmmakers across the country deserved more recognition.
With her background in film (a graduate of both Bossier Parish Community College and Full Sail University), she developed a one-day event focussing on the film and filmmakers rather than a competition style festival. Now in its third year, and coupled with the COVID-19 pandemic, this year's slate is looking a little different. Tanesha plans to handle everything digitally for SUFF, but I'll let you read on to find out more about her and the festival set for July 31 —
QP: Is your identity something you feel comfortable talking about?
TM: On some days. It’s very difficult because I was raised in the church and some people I know personally just don’t get it or it goes against their beliefs. It’s exhausting to talk about at times because you feel as though you’re arguing with someone about your right to exist. These days I just try to surround myself with like-minded individuals.
QP: When did you start making that connection for yourself?
TM: There was never a disconnect for me. I’ve had several boyfriends throughout my life but I had my first girlfriend in my early twenties. I’ve always found women to be beautiful. I never thought I’d date a woman until I did.
QP: What sort of LGBTQ representation was around for you growing up? Film/TV? Family?
TM: There weren't many that I can remember. The closest thing I can remember was "Holiday Heart" which was a film about a drag queen that took in a drug addict and her daughter. My family tells me stories about my gay Uncle BooJay who passed away. They said he was one of the coolest, most popular guys around.
QP: What impact has your identity had on your filmmaking?
TM: That part of me has yet to be discovered. There are deeply rooted stories behind my identity that I would love to bring it to the big screen someday.
QP: One of the things I specifically know was cut from our interview were your comments on Lena Waithe. Obviously, I follow you, so I know you got to meet her last year — what was that experience like? What does someone like Lena Waithe mean for you?
TM: Meeting Lena Waithe was an amazing experience. After seeing her pilot pitch on YouTube back in 2012, I added her on Facebook. At that time I was a creative writing college student at Full Sail University. I inboxed her and told her I’d love to see her show on the big screen someday and she responded. That really inspired me because I looked up to her. Now years later, that same show is on TV. Manifest destiny. I’ve seen her in person three times before I actually “met” her. On the fourth time, I conjured up the courage to ask her for a photo. Lena represents freedom to me. She is the epitome of what it means to be a black queer person.
QP: It's also pretty interesting to note that we're chatting right about this time in 2018 right before your first SUFF. Now you're on number 3. What has that experience been like?
TM: It’s been a wild journey but I’m just enjoying the ride. I’ve learned that perfection is a failed sport. Even on my worst days, when I see a submission to my festival I can’t help but to cheer up. To know that someone not only believed in themselves but the festival enough to submit ... well, that’s just priceless to me.
QP: With the COVID-19 pandemic, things have shifted slightly for major events. What does that mean for SUFF this year?
TM: SUFF will be a virtual experience this year. The first year was nerve-wracking because it was the first one. The second-year I felt the pressure to come back again BIGGER and BETTER. This year was supposed to be laid back. I guess it’ll be way more laid back than expected but it’s cool. I’m just going with the flow of things while still trying to give underrepresented black filmmakers a platform.
QP: Do you currently have any projects you're working on independently or in conjunction with anyone?
TM: I’m focused on SUFF for next month and helping Robinson Film Center with their Film Camp for the kiddos. In the meantime, I’m planning my next film.
QP: With everything surrounding race and the conversations being had worldwide, is there
anything you'd like to say — do you have a message you'd like to offer to others?
TM: ALL BLACK LIVES MATTER.