Crystle ‘Clear’ Roberson: Independent Black Filmmaker on the Rise
If you’ve seen the music video for Idris Elba’s sultry new single, “Private Garden,” you have experienced a sample of the creative eye and spirit of filmmaker Crystle “Clear” Roberson, but if you haven’t viewed any of her award-winning short films, you are in for a real visual feast.
Roberson has been writing, producing and directing her own material for five years, and she already has an impressive collection of awards and honors from the industry. In 2006, she received a film grant from Kodak, which she used to shoot the short film The Song of Time, chosen as an official selection in the TOMI Film Festival of New Orleans, and honored by Women In Film & Television’s International Showcase.
Roberson went on to write and direct two more shorts, Friend In A Can and Standing Reign. The latter was awarded Best Film of Atlanta in the 48 Hour Film Festival, Best Short in the TOMI Film Festival of New Orleans and Best Narrative Short in the International Black Film Festival of Nashville, Tenn. Standing Reign was also featured on the Best of 48 Hour Film Project 2007 DVD, which includes 16 selected films of over 2,000 entries.
In 2008, Roberson was honored by Women in Film & Television/Atlanta with the esteemed Woman to Watch Award and was chosen as one of four filmmakers, nationwide, to compete in the Chase Legacy Film Challenge, an opportunity for young filmmakers launched at the SundanceFilm Festival. She wrote and directed “Next Door’s Next” and won the Challenge’s HBO Filmmaker Award, for which she received an additional film grant from Kodak.
Roberson also served as associate director for the award winning short film, Before I Wake, which won Best Film Grand Prize in The Doorpost Film Project. Her short film “The Black Cage” starring Mykelti Williamson (Forrest Gump) also earned “Top Film” status in Doorpost. Both of these films were selected as 1 of 7 Top Films for BET’s Lens On Talent 2011. Crystle was the only director to have 2 films as Finalists in this esteemed competition.
On Nov. 11, Roberson will wrap her first independent feature film, Echo at 11 Oak Drive, which tells three stories that transpire under the same roof over three eras-1951, 1973, and 2011. Although each occurrence is unique, the dialogue is identical; proving that history repeats itself in the oddest of ways. Famed film producer Will Packer (Stomp the Yard, This Christmas, Takers, Obsessed) is a supporter of the project which he says he is sure audiences will find intriguing.
Crystle “Clear” Roberson and I spoke recently and she offered exclusive insight into her film career and the mission she is on as a filmmaker:
What qualities do you possess that make a career in film the perfect “lane” for you?
I’m a woman. Women have always been the natural storytellers of their respective culture. Back in the day, we were responsible for ensuring the next generation knew the history of their ancestors. Also, we are the best at telling bedtime stories and we’re at the center of every fairy tale.
I’m an observer. I naturally observe life and humanity from a fly on the wall perspective most of the time. I walk into a room and immediately take in the sound design, lighting, and view the people as characters. First, I thought I was crazy but then I realized, I’m not crazy… I’m just a filmmaker.
I was sheltered as a child. This speaks through the surreal or sci-fi genre of films I usually write. My single mother was strict, and since I couldn’t go many places as a child, I would sit in my room and read a lot, then I would create worlds and stories of my own. My imagination had to be active, since my reality wasn’t. Also, Not being exposed to a lot as a child helped me maintain innocence (and ignorance) to what I could and could not do. I didn’t know that Black Female Directors were almost non-existent, so I didn’t know that I couldn’t. I just did it.
I’m extremely visual. I was always attracted to beauty. I’m also a Libra. I love pretty pictures and pretty colors. Visuals speak to me so loudly that sometimes I can’t hear and watch things at the same time. I took up photography as a hobby in high school and was amazed at how I was able to capture my visuals and show them to other people.
When did you know this was your passion? How did that reality hit you?
I was a sophomore at Valdosta State University when my passion hit me. I remember sitting in my dorm room writing my first short film and as I wrote, I began to cry. An intense feeling came over me, my heart began to beat really fast and I couldn’t stop crying and smiling. I felt like I was in love. And from then on, I thought about film every single day and dedicated my life to it. My professors had my cell number and would call me if I missed class, I was all the way into it.
What inspired your film, The Black Cage? What do you see as the solution to the immaturity referred to in the ending narration?
I have some very close friends that are near and dear to my heart that are struggling with their own “Black Cage.” I believe everyone finds themselves trapped in their own cage at some point in life. The great thing is that the sooner we wake up and realize we are in a cage, as the man in the film did, the sooner we can find our way out. The solution to the ending, is simple. The man still has the key.
How did you come to direct Idris Elba’s “Private Garden” video? Did you conceptualize, cast and direct the project?
I met Idris on the set of Tyler Perry’s Daddy’s Little Girls. I was a production assistant on the project, and he was the lead actor. Part of my job was to get his breakfast every morning and one day Idris handed me a cd that he’d recorded. At first I was like “great, another actor-singer.” But on the way home, I popped it in the CD player and I genuinely thought it was dope. I was pleasantly surprised. Then, about a year or so later, Idris held a contest on Myspace for filmmakers to win a free trip to London to attend a film festival. Of course I was all over that. I did a mini-video to one of the songs on the cd he’d given me and I won the contest. That kicked off an amazing working relationship that eventually led to my direction of the “Private Garden” video. Idris is very creative and I have no doubt that he will also be a genius director when he chooses to go down that path. I directed the video, although Idris and I both collaborated on the concept — but I have to take credit for the body paint. The girl in the video, Iman Ramadan, was a friend of theirs and was a joy to work with.
When you wrap a project, who, in your heart of hearts, are you hoping will be proud of what you’ve produced?
I like to think I made sort of a “deal” with God. We came to an agreement that if He could lend me a certain amount of creativity then I would use it to spread His message to the people. So every time I finish a film, I hope that His message shines through as He intended. If God is pleased, then I know my friends and family will be as well.
How do you imagine your future in the industry? What will success look like to you?
Honestly, I believe my future in this industry is much better than I can even imagine it to be. So I find it hard to imagine whats about to happen. Instead, I focus my sight on my craft and let my career cards fall as they may. Success to me is creating a comfortable lifestyle for myself and my future children [or] family by directing and writing films that I love.
What advice can you give you give to young people who are drawn to a career in film, but are wondering if it’s too ambitious a goal for them to ever reach?
I would tell them to adopt The Bumblebee Theory. A bumblebee, aerodynamically, isn’t supposed to be able to fly. However, the bumblebee doesn’t know that, so it flies anyway. Don’t realize what you can’t do, just do it. Just fly. If you want to make films, just make them. Practice makes perfect. Film is art, indeed, and there is no “right or wrong” way to express yourself so long as it is your art with your own voice.