Founder Of ‘Diversity In Cannes’ Talks About Her 10-Year Effort For Inclusion At World Famous Film Festival And Beyond

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Written by Ann Brown
Cannes
Photo: Diversity in Cannes

The Cannes Film Festival, considered the world’s most prestigious film festival, was launched in 1946. And in 2010 Yolonda Brinkley created Diversity in Cannes as an independent filmmaker movement promoting inclusion at the Cannes Film Festival.

Celebrating its 10th year of promoting inclusion at the Cannes Film Festival, Diversity in Cannes is an independent movement promoting the presence of marginalized and underrepresented filmmakers as well as celebrating their achievements at the world’s most prestigious film festival.

The 10th-anniversary celebration of Diversity in Cannes will include film screenings, panel discussions, awards receptions, and official afterparty as well as the world premiere of the organization’s first short film. Diversity in Cannes will be held during the second week of the Cannes Film Festival, May 19-23, 2019.

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Since its inception, Diversity in Cannes has hosted hundreds of emerging and established filmmakers from five continents. This year is no exception, as there will be screening from independent filmmakers from Haiti, Jamaica, Canada, the U.S., Germany, France, Japan, Turkey, and even Sri Lanka, among other places this year.

In celebration of the 10th anniversary, Diversity in Cannes will introduce its new logo, the Diversity in Cannes Top 10 Filmmakers “To Watch” List, a screenplay contest, and have the world premiere of its first short film, a global collaboration with its family of supporters.

Brinkley has always been a connector. Brinkley, a corporately trained marketer who worked 10 years at the Ford Motor Company, has also managed events for the NAACP Hollywood Bureau “Image Awards,” the Hollywood Black Film Festival and Filmmakers Alliance. She has represented actors and filmmakers at global film festivals including Sundance and the Toronto International Film Festival.

Recently, she discussed diversity in Hollywood and Cannes with Moguldom.

Moguldom: How have things changed in the 10 years since starting Diversity in Cannes?

Yolonda Brinkley: Specific to Diversity in Cannes, the movement has emerged from a simple filmmaker symposium to a comprehensive program including Diversity Day in Cannes, which includes a two short film showcases, a filmmaker panel and an awards reception on the ground in Cannes.  

In the US, we’ve introduced a Pre-Cannes Film Festival information session sponsored by the WGA West’s Equity and Inclusion department, and the Diversity in Cannes Short Film Tour with stops in Dallas as a part of TD Jakes Mega Fest during the International Faith and Family Film Festival, Los Angeles at the California African American Museum and New York for the African American Women in Cinema Program.

With regard to the global film industry, now that diversity and inclusion are trending in Hollywood folks are jumping on the bandwagon. Some of the same organizations who questioned the need for diversity programming in Cannes, when I approached them in the early days and with whom I actually spoke earlier this year, have added diversity programming to their line-ups and have been quoted in recent articles saying they are moving with the times.

Moguldom: Initially, what prompted you to launch the organization?

Yolonda Brinkley: Diversity in Cannes, the independent film movement promoting inclusion at the Cannes Film Festival, was birthed as a result of my first trip to the Cannes Film Festival in 2009.

Despite my French-language abilities and my familiarity with the city of Cannes, as I was a foreign exchange student at the local college as an undergraduate at Clark Atlanta University, I felt like an outsider. Armed with a borrowed video camera, I interviewed as many Black attendees as possible and learned that many of them had the same sentiments.

With a myriad of emotions, I left the festival vowing to never return but later decided their lack of diversity wouldn’t dictate my movements! Instead, I committed to enhancing the visibility of diverse groups at the Cannes Film Festival and have been pioneering the inclusion effort, arming filmmakers with the tools they need to take their seat at the table of the global film industry ever since!

Moguldom: Have the goals of the organization shifted over the years? Yolonda Brinkley: The mission of the organization hasn’t changed. The goals have always been to promote inclusion at the Cannes Film Festival, to provide an intimate platform for underrepresented filmmakers to share film industry trends and best practices, which they can implement to produce and distribute their films and to expand their international network. With the help of filmmaker submissions and financial donations from UMC, Aujuaa Entertainment, Julius Tennon and Academy Award Winner Viola Davis’ JuVee Productions and individual donors including director Crystle Roberson and Clark Atlanta University Alumna Fannie Pearl Bakon, I’ve been able to expand programming to further the goals.

Moguldom: What are some of the things you would still like to see changed?

Yolonda Brinkley: Specific to the Cannes Film Festival, I’d like to see more inclusive films as official selections, more inclusive jury members, screening committee members and employees. Change starts from within and as I continue to build Diversity in Cannes, I work hard to achieve a balance with regard to film selections, screening committee members (this year we have 53 global members from all over the world including Kazakstan, Denmark and Brazil) , and sponsors. it’s difficult at times, as folks volunteer their time to the movement, but trust me, the conversations are taking place.  

Moguldom: Why is it important to instruct people of color how to navigate the Cannes Film Festival?

Yolonda Brinkley: Established in 2011 as an extension of my inclusion efforts, the Cannes Film Festival Information Session is designed for all filmmakers, not just people of color, which is consistent with our mission.  Nevertheless, Cannes is a very expensive trip, for which filmmakers should plan. Otherwise, they will be disappointed upon arrival. My goal is to arm them with the tools to successfully navigate the beau chaos that is Cannes.  The slogan is: “Trust me you certainly want to know before you go.”

Moguldom: What would you say are the top three items of advice you give them?

Yolonda Brinkley: Whoo, I drop so many jewels, it’s hard to choose but if I must choose here’s my list: determine the purpose for trip and make that your full-time job during trip preparation and while on the ground in Cannes.  There are thousands of people there and it’s easy to get caught up in someone else’s agenda; prepare, prepare, prepare. Based on the first trip tip, once you determine your purpose get busy determining the requirements and execute; if the Cannes Film Festival is a destination of choice get there the best way you can. While expensive, it’s doable, even if you have to fly through Russia by way of Alaska; I’ll add a 4th be flexible and travel light!!!

Moguldom: What to enjoy the most about what you do?

Yolonda Brinkley: As a self-proclaimed global disruptor, I enjoy challenging the status quo at the world’s most prestigious festival by providing a platform for underrepresented filmmakers to be seen and heard at the Cannes Film Festival.

Moguldom: What are your thoughts about the current state of diversity in Hollywood?

Yolonda Brinkley: As you can see by the timeliness in which Diversity in Cannes was birthed and the evolution of the movement from an afternoon panel discussion to a comprehensive movement, I’m less about talk and more about action. The current state of Hollywood remains more about conversation, reports and statistics. While I’m all about the numbers, if folks simply open their eyes, the proof is there. I think the aforementioned is used to distract rather than advance. They’re like…..we care, we’re looking at the numbers and providing them in a report with little to no tangible action items and results.

Moguldom: What are some of your upcoming projects?

Yolonda Brinkley: The 10th anniversary of Diversity in Cannes is fast approaching, therefore I’m in midst of finalizing those plans, which include the return of Diversity Day the three-part event filled with 2 short film showcases, a panel discussion and an awards reception, where I’ll recognize 12-year-old Anah Ambuchi, who at the tender age of 11 wrote, produced and directed her first short film chronicling her experience with bullying, with the Rising Star Award and will host the international premiere of her film “Made in His Image.”

In an attempt to expand the inclusion efforts, also making its return is the Global Women of Color Collection Screening at the Palais des Festival. New this year is the Black Lives Black Stories Matter Collection Screening immediately following GWOC. A partnership with the Africans Pavillion, making their international village premier at the Cannes Film Festival in May.  I have a few other educational initiatives I’m launching.

Finally and most exciting is the production of our very first short film, which will be a global collaboration with the family of Diversity in Cannes supporters established over the past 10 years.

This short film is our attempt to walk the walk ensuring the presence of underrepresented stories at the Cannes Film Festival and the global film industry at large.