I can clearly remember getting press releases from The DuVernay Agency about films and industry events several years ago. She was a publicist who had greater talents that she dared to explore. Coming off the heels of Selma, a monumental film that is the first in many years to be introduced as a much-needed educational tool for students at many schools, now it has been annoucned that she will be working on a new film about Hurricane Katrina. DuVerney told Oprah Winfrey that she got her inspiration from looking at her clients. Seeing that they were normal everyday people just like her except they worked in the movie business. So she took $50,000 of her personal savings meant as a down payment on a house and purchased a new career instead…
In 2008, DuVernay made her feature directorial debut with the documentary This Is the Life, a history of LA’s Good Life Cafe’s arts movement. DuVernay said that while she was trying to raise money for a feature length film, “documentaries were something that I could do for a small amount of money, and then I felt like as long as I found the truth in the stories I was telling as a doc, I could teach myself filmmaking through doc filmmaking.”
In 2011, DuVernay’s first narrative feature film, I Will Follow, a drama starring Salli Richardson-Whitfield, was released theatrically. DuVernay’s aunt Denise Sexton was the inspiration for the film. “Like the characters in the film, DuVernay and her aunt moved to a house on the beach when Sexton was diagnosed with cancer. DuVernay spent two years taking care of her aunt and making her final months as happy as possible.” DuVernay made the film in 15 days with her own money: DuVernay “kept costs under $50,000 by staying in one location.” Roger Ebert championed the film, stating: “I Will Follow is one of the best films I’ve seen about coming to terms with the death of a loved one.” I Will Follow was an official selection of AFI Fest, Pan-African Film Festival, Urbanworld and Chicago International Film Festival and Ava’s career was on the fast track.
She invested in herself by spending that $50,000 on a dream instead of a one-time goal (a downpayment on a house) and it was obviously a wise investment. Quite often in the industry we get stuck and can’t figure out what to do next or we get too comfortable in our positions and don’t do anything until we are finally either asked to leave or we age out. DuVerney knew she was not a typical film producer. “I was in my 30s and not a kid fresh out of film school when I started” but that didn’t stop her like it would have many people and we’re glad it didn’t.