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Sundance Film Festival 2021

Darol Olu Kae
I ran from it and was still in it

A poetic meditation on familial loss and separation, as well as the love that endures against dispersion. 

Hi Darol thank you for talking to The New Current, how have you been holding up during these very strange times?

I’m okay, all things considered. This year has been surreal. I’m grateful for 2019. In many ways, the challenges and difficulties that I faced last year prepared me for this year. Despite experiencing the loss of loved ones due to the virus, we’re relatively healthy and trying our best to move forward as a family.  I’ve been fortunate enough to be able to work from home for most of 2020 and that has afforded me a great deal of privilege, specifically the privilege to make work on a more consistent basis. 

Has this time offered you any new creative inspiration?

No, not in a direct sense. I’m finding my way through this like everyone else, however, what this moment has offered me is time to think, to reflect more intensely on my work. I’ve tried to make use of my time at home. I’m already somewhat of an expert homebody — I enjoy being indoors — so large chunks of my time have focused directly on the planning, development, and implementation of new ideas. I’m currently in pre-production on my next film, KEEPING TIME, and developing my debut narrative feature, WITHOUT A SONG, both of which have benefitted from my time at home. I’d like to think that I’m a simple person. I keep to myself mostly.

Congratulations on having I ran from it and was still in it being selected in the Shorts U.S fiction section at Sundance 2021, what does it mean to be part of such an amazing line up fo short films?

Thank you. I’m not sure exactly what it means but I’m grateful for the opportunity to screen my work on such a prestigious platform. I feel like I’m moving in the right direction. Showing work at Sundance maybe underlines that point. It’s an honour. For it to happen at the beginning of my filmmaking journey, I’m focused on staying grounded and keeping a sharp focus. I definitely have some stories to tell.

You have had an amazing festival run with I ran from it and was still in it with you being awarded the Pardino d’oro for Best International Short Film at the Locarno Film Festival, what has it meant for you to get such recognition for your film?

I appreciate your kind words. Being recognised by Locarno means more than I can express in words. It was totally unexpected and something I’m still trying to process. I know it’s silly but I take a great deal of pleasure that I was recogniSed the same year that Lucrecia Martel won for her film Chocobar. For me, she is the standard, the bar of excellence in filmmaking. 

How did I ran from it and was still in it come about and what was the inspiration behind your film?

I was in a residency program at a place called the Echo Park Film Center and I was given the opportunity to make two films. I eventually only made one film and that film was “I ran from it…” and the inspiration started as a simple desire to make a found footage or archival piece under my name because up to that point I had only supported other artists. During this time I was wrestling with the death of my father, who I had been taking care of for almost a decade after he suffered a severe stroke, so I was sitting with that loss. 

My children had moved to Philadelphia the previous year and that was eating away at me too. But I didn’t have this film in  mind at the outset. When I began the process of putting images and sounds together I didn’t know what I was actually making. Things didn’t come into sharper focus until the middle section when I landed on the scene from Michael Roemer’s Nothing But a Man with Ivan Dixon and Abbey Lincoln. That was the moment that propelled the project forward. 


"To keep moving and be relentlessly self-determined."

How flexible do you allow yourself with when working on a short film, do you prefer to stick to what was planned or do you allow yourself to go in surprising or new directions?

There’s this quote from Lucrecia Martel about the filmmaking process that I love where she says something like, and I’m paraphrasing here, we implement all of these rules and structures only to encourage the unplanned moment to reveal itself. With ‘I ran from it…’ I was completely open. I didn’t go into the film with any guidelines. I filmed some stuff while travelling that I didn’t know what it would later be used for that ultimately made it into the film. My kids and I filmed their last month in LA but this was a year before the film was made and we didn’t do any of this with the film in mind. I was really just dealing with a lot of raw material and trying to listen to where the feelings were going and tried my best to express that. And that type of approach made sense. With my next project KEEPING TIME, I have a treatment or deck and a script that I’m working with so the process has been different but the material that I’m working with demands a certain level of structure but there’s always room for the unplanned event. I encourage its arrival and try my best to respond to it in a delicate manner.

What was the biggest challenge you faced making this film?

Myself and the impossibility of memory. I had to push through the desire to tell my father’s story. And in the absence of his story, I had to resist the urge to create and implant my own narrative that smoothes over the gaps and uncertainties.

Should filmmakers push the boundaries of the films and stories they want to tell? 

Absolutely. Black filmmakers especially. We should interrogate the medium. We don’t have the same attachment to legacy that a lot of other filmmakers have and that really opens things up for us in terms of what we can create. We must continue to experiment, play, stretch our muscles, so to speak, when thinking about how we tell our stories. This can look like conventional cinema but it can also look like something else entirely. The medium is still relatively young compared to other art forms but we’ve been led to buy into this singular and rigid idea of what cinema is while its true potential remains largely under-explored.

How important is the collaborative nature of filmmaking to you?

Profoundly important. The vision might be singular but the expression requires collaboration. My film would not be what it is without my partnership with Claudius Ansah, my co-editor. We met at a post-production house in LA called Parallax and formed a strong bond while working on Kahlil Joseph’s BLKNWS.   

Have you always had a passion for filmmaking?

I don’t know about passion. It was central to my upbringing. I didn’t really think about personally making films until I was in my late teens but I’m from South Central and I didn’t really see a way forward. I didn’t have access to film equipment or resources. I tried writing a script but I gave up pretty quick when I couldn’t figure out how I would be able to shoot the film. But the desire never went away. It just lingered.


Has your approach to your films changed much since you started out?

Yes and no. I’d like to think that my practice is always shifting from project to project. I try to remain as open as possible. When I started out I didn’t have access to a lot of film equipment so I had to be really imaginative and inventive. I’d like to think that resourcefulness is part of my constitution as a filmmaker. 

What can you tell me about your debut feature Without A Song?

Of course. ‘Without a Song’ is my debut narrative feature that I’m developing. Generally, it's about an ageing jazz musician who is forced to return home and confront his past when a medical diagnosis leaves him unable to play his instrument. It continues my engagement with the Black art form labelled 'jazz' and I'm looking forward to stretching. I feel like everything I've done for the past few years, every project, every collaboration, has been leading me toward, and preparing me for this film.

Having collaborated with some truly inspiring visionary filmmakers what has been the best advice they have offered you? 

To keep moving and be relentlessly self-determined.

And finally, what do you hope audiences will take away from I ran from it and was still in it?

I don’t want to be too prescriptive so really I just hope folks feel something — that this piece moves them in a meaningful way.

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