In the midst of Gemini season, the first half of the year begins to end with the dawning of its last month. Ebony Blanding and Amber Bournett of The House of June film production company are off to a rewarding start of the year and looking forward to a productive finish. One might expect June to be an excellent month for them. The indie art “filminist” founders epitomize the dual nature Gemini babies are thought to possess.
Even the most casual observer of these creative women interacting might recognize the continuous dance of yin and yang in which they engage. A few such observations stood out as we conversed about their recent successes, challenges, and opportunities.
Like their names suggest, Ebony and Amber are figurative black gold. As the head writer, Ebony is constantly pushing the pen for the team. Amber’s ability, as the director of photography, to sprinkle her visual glitter onto the black ink of a manuscript has often moved Ebony to tears. It did so again recently when Amber’s thoughtful use of color enhanced the script of what would become the award-winning short film Levitate Levitate Levitate – a story born out of Ebony’s dealing with last year’s continuous barrage of often-unarmed Black deaths streaming on social media. Seeing so much pain caused her to have a dream about Black children floating or levitating.
“Levitate was our first project that had a sci-fi or fantasy aspect to it,” Amber explained. “We used color to capture the West End [Atlanta neighborhood] and highlight the children in a way that showed they were getting ready for levitation.”
“When I first saw the cut that Amber did, I literally cried,” Ebony interjected to add some sparkle to Amber’s modesty. “This time I cried because Black children were shimmering in gold. A good script has legs on its own, but good editors and good [directors of photography] read the invisible language that is always there. They understand the nuance of what you meant even when you wrote something else. That’s something I appreciate about our partnership because she understands the language of the unspoken.”
On a lighter note, with respect to L.L. Cool J and Sir Mix-A-Lot, the pair personifies the around-the-way-girl next door with an L.A. face and an Oakland booty. The House of June is also me and you, your mama, and your cousin, too – navigating the ever-changing landscape of Atlanta gentrification and income inequality like OutKast in their “Elevators” video – not knowing whether they will recognize their promised land as “The ATL” or if it will have become a white-washed, watered-down, homogenized “Beltlandia.” These contrasts highlight how different the two Georgia State University students must have seemed years ago when they first paired up to work on a film lighting class project.
“I’m from Atlanta, Atlanta,” Ebony mused. “It’s hard to pinpoint the community I grew up in. I went to Tri-Cities High School in East Point on the South side, but as an adolescent, I grew up on the West side and the East side of Atlanta.
“My family moved here after retiring from the military,” Amber chimed in. “I went to Cedar Grove in Decatur, so I’m from the East side.”
Those young students discovering they were both born in June a few years ago were likely just coming into awareness of a central conflict that characterizes the perceived dualism of the Gemini: the discrepancy between who we are and how we are depicted. It is a recurring theme in their work, in contrast with the typical imagery of Black Atlanta women broadcast daily on cable television.
“There are a lot of talented actors out here that want to work on non-traditional stories,” said Amber. “People in the industry are used to telling certain types of stories because that is what has been making them money. With Black female directors, you almost expect a certain type of story that we just don’t do. That’s a good thing, but it can also be a bad thing when it comes to trying to find investors.”
This spring, Ebony was recently inducted as an Atlanta Film Society filmmaker-in-residence. The three-year program is expected to improve access to resources and support for The House of June, which will kick off the summer in Atlanta with the June 22-25 screening of Q & A, a short black and white 2017 Terminus Festival Official Selection about colorful inquiries.
“The more we grow independently, we grow collectively,” Ebony stated about accolades The House of June has received. “This year has proven we’re capable of telling stories we haven’t told before. We’ve worked our way up enough as filmmakers and as an art film house to be in a position now to have more challenging stories involving a bigger cast and more complexity … Wherever our radical imaginings take us next, we’ll go there.”
“We’re hoping to shoot our first feature early next year,” said Amber about next steps for The House of June.