Writer/Director Yvonne Smith talks about the P-Funk legacy, the collaborative nature of filmmaking and the importance of good food.
What motivated you to make this film?
I've always been fascinated by the artists that change things for all of those to come after them. George Clinton creates a complete tribal experience on stage with chanting, dancing and elaborate costumes—it's a spectacle that draws you in and leaves you in awe. The music is polyrhythmic -- it’s the ultimate dance music and I love to dance.
What has the audience response been so far?
Fabulous. People learn things they didn’t know and get to reacquaint themselves with old songs. They appreciate the participation of Rick James in the film (since he is no longer around).
What were some of the challenges you faced in making this film?
Rights issues—the high cost of music rights—and doing the story justice in only 53 minutes.
Though at times the process of making this film has been arduous and at times deeply pleasurable, it has also made me a better filmmaker. I’ve gotten a lot out of the collaborative process of working with the artists and the musicians.
What was the interview process like?
The interview process was wonderful because all members of the band wanted to be heard and no one had listened until now. There is still another story to tell.
What was the band’s reaction to the film?
George loved it. He thought it really captured the truth of his experience.
What did you learn about the band that you didn’t know before? What surprised you?
Even though you feel how passionate their commitment is to the music when you watch them perform, it’s surprising to find out how much the band members needed to be a part of the band. It was the only place where they were free to express themselves completely. George Clinton gave a home to all those creative people who were operating on the fringe. He appreciated and encouraged their talent and originality.
Was there anything you would have liked to have in the film that didn’t make the final cut?
I’m sorry that I didn’t have the time to deal with the political backdrop and the social and metaphysical meanings of the song lyrics.
The independent film business is a difficult one. What keeps you motivated?
Telling the stories that haven’t been told.
Why did you choose to present your film on public television?
Because at the time I started the film, in 1992, public television was the outlet with the least amount of censorship and I knew the funk could get funky. Also, I wanted to do a film that was driven by knowledge, not just entertainment.
What are your three favorite films?
Pixote (Hector Babenco, Brazil)
Cries & Whispers (Ingmar Bergman, Sweden)
Lumumba (Raoul Peck, Haiti)
What didn’t you get done when you were making your film?
Social life, marriage, didn’t earn a pension.
If you weren’t a filmmaker, what kind of work do you think you’d be doing?
Interior design or psychiatry.
What do you think is the most inspirational food for making independent film?
All food is inspirational as long as the flavor is rich and complex (P.S. I’m a Food Network junkie).
What advice do you have for aspiring filmmakers?
Find out who you are, find your signature and your voice and be true to it! On a practical level: learn how to schmooze the money guys.
Which filmmakers have most influenced your work?
Indirectly, the person who most influenced me is Zora Neale Hurston, because of her insistence on the authentic African American voice.
If you could have one motto, what would it be?
“Could this be me, immersed in Funk so deep?” (quoted from the song “(Not Just) Knee Deep”, lyrics by George Clinton)
What sparks your creativity?
The creativity of the artists I profile, wanting to correct social or political oppression, travel, good food and good music!