Filmmaker, writer and odd man in the poorly ironed suit, Darnell Lamont Walker recently screened his latest documentary, Seeking Asylum, at the Pan African Film Festival in Los Angeles this past February 2016.
With a ticket in hand, Walker backpacked through Europe with friends in hopes of making it to Amsterdam for King’s Day. Freddie Gray had just died at the hands of police in Baltimore. Having been raised near Baltimore and feeling very connected to the situation due to a racially motivated run-in he had with the law several years ago, that left him face down with a gun on his head, Walker strongly reconsidered his trip. He thought about staying to march in the streets. HIs friend, Terrence, had just learned of his trip two days before departure and asked him, “Why are you going to Europe? To seek asylum?” There was his answer.
Walker shares, “I grabbed a fresh Moleskine journal, jotted down a few questions, plans, names, and a potential budget, and started the journey that would become my first documentary, Seeking Asylum.
“Los Angeles, Norway, UK, Netherlands, and Paris. I used my iPhone and my Canon camera, and asked the necessary questions, and attended the necessary events. I reached out to government officials. No luck. I extended the trip to attend protests and meet necessary people. With each location, things were unfolding without me actively seeking them. Protests, police attacks, citizens approaching me, ready to engage. It was spectacular.
“From April to November, I worked hard on this passion project with the help of great friends who taught me editing techniques and how to have an ear for appropriate music. The hardest part was forcing myself to be complete because each completion deadline also came with more footage to add. Finally, I cut it off, and hit ‘render.’
“The final product is a documentary I am extremely proud of, and look forward to seeing its growth.”
Seeking Asylum features interviews in each country of the locals, their thoughts on American Social Justice, the government, how it compares to their own, and much more.
In addition to the Pan African Film Festival, Seeking Asylum has also been accepted into the RapidLion, The South African International Film Festival, in Johannesburg, South Africa, the Hollywood Sky International Film Festival and Los Angeles CineFest.
In January 2005, while at college and with a friend, Walker was stretched out on the ground, held at gunpoint by a Daytona Beach policeman while another officer’s gun was directly on his friend’s head. A story about a stolen car was concocted, and when it was proven to be a lie, the officers quickly left the scene. Growing up and being educated in the South, Walker, the film’s director and producer, has lived and continues to live in spaces where inequality, racism and injustice are too common. It’s accepted by those oppressed by it. He can’t accept it. And he’s vowed to make it known.
Read what else he has to say.
How did you arrive at this career choice? Was it a deliberate decision or a gradual and natural evolution?
Me, a documentary filmmaker is almost completely by accident. A few days before taking a trip thought Europe, my friend, Terrence, asked “are you going to seek asylum?” I grabbed my camera and made something out of nothing. Months later, a film was born. In real life, I’m a writer. I’m a writer because I don’t know how not to be. Since childhood, I’ve been jotting down words in some strange order that seems to make sense to everyone. Over time, this skill developed and pushed me further in the direction I’ve always desired.
What separates you from others in your field? What is unique to the experience that you create?
I am no different from the other great filmmakers, writers, and artists I’ve known and continue to meet and allow into my space. We all have this burning desire in let our art do our confessing and tell the stories as we see them. We are here to make magic and piss people off at the same time, because it’s the only time they seem to speak to one another.
For those considering entering this arena, what skill sets do you recommend mastering? What traits are most conducive to success?
Coming into the arts, one must master the art of conversation, the art of effective listening, the skin of a Rhino, and an amazing amount of go-getter-ness. The thing about entertainment is there is always something for you if you’re willing to put in the ton of work, and willing to be treated badly for what could be a long period of time.
How do you stay at the leading edge of your craft?
It’s pure luck at this point. I wake up everyday knowing it may be the day I fall away from the edge and have to fight to get back there.
How do you map out your goals? How do you measure your success?
I’m undoubtedly the worst goal-setter, but I’m trying. I surround myself with people whose accomplishments make me feel like I’ve done absolutely nothing with my life. Every time I leave from them, I begin jotting down everything I need to do. They are my healthy competition. My house, after leaving them, is covered in sticky notes demanding my attention. My success is measured by how I feel when I’m alone at 4am and there’s no one to talk to but myself. Do I feel good? It was a success! Do I feel bad? Damn, let’s try this again tomorrow if I survive the night.
Who do you consider to be your peers in your field? Who do you see or use as examples to emulate?
I haven’t quite figured what my field is exactly. In terms of folks creating change in the world by utilizing the resources around them, my peers are folks like Charles H.F. Davis, Eric Aguiar, Nikuyah Walker, and Darnell Moore. These folks are making enormous waves in the world using what they have, begging no one. They are truly revolutionary. In film, I’d like to believe I can be seen with folks like Timothy Witcher, Jenn Nkiru, Julie Dash, Charles Burnett, and Haile Gerima.
Name two of your top role models: one from your industry and one from outside of it.
Steve McQueen has stepped into the void left by Spike Lee (Post-She Hate Me). His work speaks loudly to me, inspiring many thoughts and strategies I will adopt in the future as a narrative filmmaker. Outside of the industry, James Baldwin.
Name three books, works, performances or exhibits that changed how you view life and/or yourself.
“The Life and Loves of Mr. Jivea– N—–,” a novel by Cecil Brown. “Countin’ Stars and Smellin’ Roses,” a one-woman play by Teresa Dowell-Vest, and Maya Angelou’s interview in which she states, “Love liberates.”
Why do you consider continued learning important?
We are not free until we are righteously educated. Nothing stays the same, and because of that, we must always learn to keep up, or we will be like the frog in the pot with the increasing temperature; dead because we didn’t keep up with the changing environment.
What affirmations do you repeat to yourself that contribute to your success?
If I weren’t built for this, I’d be dead by now. This struggle is mine, and I will own it. Bring the pain, but bring the change too.
What role does technology play in your day-to-day life? How do you utilize it?
Like all the other addicts out there in the world, I find myself sadly cycling through all my apps, looking for folks to reach out and grab for a conversation. Being able to get thoughts, likes, comments from all over the world lends a hand to my own thoughts and creativity.
If you could change one thing about the world, what would it be?
We’d stop believing we were immortal, us humans. We’d believe in our deaths, and we’d accept it because it would make us happier. We’d then go after all the things we want. We’d die with less regrets, we’d work on making others happy for the sake of our own happiness.
If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
I want to lost my ego and be more vulnerable. It’s becoming an issue and holding me back from greatness.
How do you stay connected with fans?
Do I have fans? If they exist, I meet them daily on Social Media. Instagram is @CleverBastard, and Facebook is my name. I tried to get Mike Jones’ old number, 281-330-8004, but it’s not available.
What’s on your playlist?
Alabama Shakes, Hozier, Nina Simone, John Coltrane, Cyhi The Prince, Sade, Plies, and Janis Joplin are passing the mic in the cipher right now!