Rashaad Ernesto Green
By Heather Hubbard and Heather Riccio
When writers and directors become wrapped up in the Hollywood fantasy of “making it big,” they often lose sight of why they ever wanted to be in the arts to begin with. It is refreshing, then, when a writer/director comes along who does not lose focus on his passion for the arts and wants to use the medium to make a difference. Rashaad Ernesto Green is one such filmmaker.
Green, a Bronx native, received his Master of Fine Arts from the New York University Graduate Acting Program. Currently, he is studying film at NYU’s Graduate Film Program. His transition from acting to writing and directing has been a smooth one because he does not differentiate between these disciplines. “I couldn’t have one without the other. They are inseparable. When I direct, I employ everything I learned from my knowledge of acting to help me craft the performances in my films. I enjoy having a bit more creative control as a director, but the love is the same,” he says. His experiences as an actor help him to bring something extra to his films, an edge that most other directors don’t have. “I see directing through the eyes of an actor. A screenplay, a scene, a moment, is brought to life by the character. The visuals and music only serve to elevate what the character is feeling. Not for every film, but that’s what I personally aim for.”
His approach to filmmaking is working. His short film, Premature, about a teenager from the Bronx who finds out she is pregnant and receives no support from her own mother or her community, has won a variety of awards, including Best Short Film in the HBO Short Film Competition. Premature has played at the Palm Springs International Film Festival, the International Black Film Festival, and the Ft. Lauderdale International Film Festival, among others. Green found the film festivals especially rewarding. “The greatest feeling has been on the festival circuit and watching audiences react inside the theater. That’s when you can tell if your art is really working or not.”
His accomplishments have earned him the Cary Grant award from the Princess Grace Foundation, given to only one filmmaker a year. “Being recognized by the Princess Grace Foundation has not only benefitted me financially, but it has placed my name among a select group of artists [and] will undoubtedly help any fundraising efforts in the future. I’m honored and deeply grateful to the organization for this award.”
In 2007, Green founded Mi Alma Films (“My Soul”). He says that Mi Alma Films “was created out of a need to make films that were truthful, fulfilling and heartfelt. We hope to encourage people to have an active emotional experience by telling stories that are deeply rooted within the universal human experience, making us truly aware of the world in which we live and the commonality within us all.” The company features Green’s short films, including Premature as well as Cuts, Choices, and a documentary, Tanzania 2008. In 2008, Green went to Tanzania to film the experience of 120 Tanzanian students who were taught English and theater by a group of American teachers. He calls the experience “absolutely life changing. Experiencing Africa with my own eyes, and being that close to poverty has made me understand just how very fortunate we are to live in a world where you can choose the path you want to follow in your life. The people of Tanzania were the warmest, most friendly and welcoming people I have ever met. In the few short weeks I was there, I made life-long friends. I am very thankful for the experience, and I hope to return one day soon.”
Green credits Spike Lee as being a major influence, and has worked with the famed director. “I’ve always loved Spike Lee for his courage in shaping the social construct in how we talk about race in America. I grew up watching his work, and formed my own cultural identity based on certain characters in his films…[Lee] had a great influence on me even before I met him. Having him as a mentor and teacher has only enhanced my level of respect for the craft. He always [stresses] how difficult and challenging this industry is, but he’s also been very encouraging.” Other influences? “I am also a big fan of Clint Eastwood for his direction of actors, and Paul Greengrass for his visual style.”
In spring 2010, Green will begin shooting his first feature film, which he also wrote, Gun Hill Road. He says the film is “about a Puerto Rican family in the Bronx whose father returns home from prison to discover that his teenage son is gay/transgender, and the drama that ensues.”
His vision as a filmmaker has changed little since he first started out. “Since the beginning of my career as an actor, I’ve always wanted to affect people’s emotions, whether it was on a stage or on screen. So in that sense, my vision of the medium hasn’t changed as much as my role within it, now that I’m on the other side of the camera.”
Green’s passion and drive is for creating films that touch people emotionally. As his success continues, he encourages other aspiring artists to chase after their own dreams. “Write everyday and watch lots of movies. Be sure to watch different types of films. Be persistent, and never give up. Follow your dreams with every bit of passion you have inside of your being. Why? Because you can.”
See the trailer for Premature below.