From a fairly young age, Greensboro native Clarke Phillips has been a storyteller. And when it came time to start thinking about a career, she knew storytelling would be a major part of her future.
“I always loved telling stories,” she said. “And I knew from high school that I wanted to tell stories, and I realized filmmaking was how I wanted to tell stories.”
After high school, Phillips made her way to UNC School of the Arts, where she’s a rising senior studying filmmaking. And on Aug. 7, her film, “You Know His Name,” which Clarke co-wrote and directed, will show at the Joedance Film Festival, a virtual event benefiting rare pediatric cancer research.
Phillips recently shared what drives her as a filmmaker, and how filming “You Know His Name” challenged her in unexpected ways.
What inspired your film?
The film is loosely based on the Trayvon Martin case — we pitched it before the summer of 2020 and George Floyd’s murder happened. It’s called “You Know His Name” because it can be about any unarmed black man. It was hard making it during summer 2020 because I definitely had to take a lot of breaks because the context kept changing because the world kept changing. I wasn’t sure how I wanted it to end because I didn’t want it to end so negatively, but I ultimately decided to keep the ending as it was — I wanted to tell it the way I originally intended.
How did the pandemic affect filming?
It was definitely hectic. The pandemic taught me how to be more flexible as a filmmaker. It taught me to use my resources and be more creative in things like where the actors are standing. Every shot in the film was thought out, and then we had an outbreak of COVID at the School of the Arts, so we had to be really careful. The actors are always 6 feet apart, and that was something we had to think about without making it too obvious.”
What drew you to filmmaking?
Getting to bring your ideas to life — there’s something really awesome with having an idea that only existed in my head, then pitching it, getting the green light and bringing it to life. Now the little thing you had in your head — the characters and the situations — you can bring them out where they can affect people’s lives.
How does it feel to have your film featured in a festival?
This is the first festival “You Know His Name” has gone into, and it definitely helps solidify the work that I and everyone else put in. It’s also a payoff of the work you put in — people are seeing it and interacting with it. You make your film and you want it to reach broader audiences.
What’s one thing you’d like people to know about your film?
It’s important for people to understand that “You Know His Name” does not represent what Black stories have to be, because in the media I feel a lot of Black stories are based on trauma — slavery, Jim Crow, police brutality.
I don’t want kids watching the film thinking they have to do a film like that — to make it as a Black filmmaker, it was something I felt I needed to do, and in the future I want to tell Black stories that aren’t based in trauma.
— As told to Robert C. Lopez, firstname.lastname@example.org