Pride On Film: Rashaad Ernesto Green’s ‘GUN HILL ROAD’

Writer/Director Rashaad Ernesto Green started his career as an actor appearing on the ABC-TV long running drama “All My Children” and on the big screen in the movie “INSIDE MAN.” The 33 year-old Bronx native received a B.A. from Dartmouth College and a MFA from NYU Graduate Acting Program and heads his own production company Mi Alma Films.

After years of working behind the scenes with directors such as Spike Lee, Green transformed into an award winning director and has received critical acclaim for work on his short film “PREMATURE” which won the Grand Jury Prize in the HBO Short Film Competition at the 2008 American Black Film Festival. He later went on to make “CHOICES,” and “CUTS” both short films received their fair share of accolades from critics and audiences alike. Green’s first feature length film, “GUN HILL ROAD,” has played at several film festivals including the 2011 Sundance Film Festival and Frameline35. It was picked up by the U.S. distributor Motion Film Group and is currently showing in major cities across the nation.

According to the film’s marketing materials, “GUN HILL ROAD” is a family drama set in multicultural Bronx.  After three years in prison, Enrique (Esai Morales) returns home to the Bronx to find the world he knew has changed. His wife Angela (Judy Reyes), struggles to hide an emotional affair, and his teenage son, Michael (Harmony Santana), explores a sexual transformation well beyond Enrique’s grasp and understanding.”

Rashaad Ernesto Green

PRIDEINDEX: Why did you become a filmmaker?

RASHAAD E. GREEN: I need to tell stories. I started out my career as an actor, and became increasing frustrated with the lack of stories that explored the depth and complexity within our communities. Instead of becoming a bitter old man, I decided to do something about it.    

PI: “GUN HILL ROAD” has played at the 2011 Sundance and Frameline35  Film Festivals earlier this year and it is scheduled to play in several cities across the country, how has audiences responded to it?

REG: Audiences have been very receptive. The overall response has been pretty consistent. Although the film tackles difficult subject matter, people seem very moved by the story and taken with the characters.

PI: What do you want audiences to take away from “GUN?”

REG: I want audiences to leave the film having experienced the awesome power of love, if even momentarily. I want them to understand both sides of the story and have compassion for all the characters within it. The answers aren’t simple, and the questions numerous. One thing is clear, however. And that is that love conquers all.

PI: Where did you find the inspiration for this film?

REG: I was inspired by someone very close to me who experienced a similar situation.

PI: Name at least 3 filmmakers that have most influenced your artistic style.

REG: Spike Lee is a director I’ve always respected because he’s encouraged me to be fearless in tackling subjects that are thought provoking. I also enjoy Paul Greengrass’s work, because watching his films make you feel like you’re inside the story. And last but not least, I love the films of John G. Alvidsen, as he’s directed some of the most influential films of my childhood.

PI: The cast includes many Hollywood heavy hitters such as Esai Morales, Judy Reyes, Isiah REG: Whitlock and Harmony Santana what was it like to work with this talented ensemble cast?

REG: Working with a mix of seasoned professionals like Esai Morales, Judy Reyes, Isiah Whitlock, and newcomers like Harmony Santana was exactly what was needed for this film. Their experience levels really help to balance each other out, and keep one another honest.

PI: What were the processes used to cast the character Michael/Vanessa?

REG: For the role of Michael/Vanessa, we spent months scouring the streets of New York on a search that would eventually have a favorable ending, but the process itself was absolutely grueling. I knew from the start I wanted to cast the role non-traditionally, that is, outside the normal means of finding talent through an agent or casting director. In order for the film to be successful, I needed to find the genuine article. We stumbled in and out of 18 and over nightclubs at 3am, attended every youth organization and function you can think of. And eventually, we found Harmony. The stars had aligned themselves. Harmony Santana, who landed the role of Michael/Vanessa, was working at a booth at a pride parade in Queens. Harmony was the right age and type we had been looking for, showed up on time to the audition, had that special something ripe for molding, and was dedicated to learning the craft of acting. In the end, it was just a matter of timing, and lots and lots of patience.

PI: Why did you choose this subject matter to make your first full length feature film?

REG: Someone very close to me went through something very similar as Esai’s character in the film. He and his family struggled severely as his child transitioned from male to female. My heart broke for him and his child. He didn’t posses the tools necessary to understand his child’s transition, but on the same token, loves his child dearly. I also saw a child who needed her father. I wanted to make a piece of art that spoke to the heart of a family that was dealing with these complex issues, not to give them the answers, but rather point the way towards a possible compromise. The point being that if we put love and family first, then everything else can be worked out down the road.

PI: I understand that you began your career as an actor, now that you’ve had a taste of the directing fruit do you ever plan on returning to work as an actor, if so when?

REG: I love acting, and would never fully rule it out. My directing career has definitely taken up most of my time and energy, but I will always leave a door open to jump back in the acting “ring.”

PI: In the not so distant future the Academy Award for Outstanding Achievement in Directing will go Mr. Rashaad Ernesto Green in one sentence briefly tell us about this ideal Oscar winning project.

REG: It is story that explores what it truly means to be human and one that uplifts the human spirit.

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