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Five Queer Questions with Yvonne Welbon

Filmmaker Yvonne Welbon

Yvonne Welbon is an award-winning independent filmmaker and has successfully produced and distributed over 20 films, some that may be familiar to a Reelout audience like SISTERS IN CINEMA and LIVING WITH PRIDE: RUTH ELLIS @100 which we have screened under the stars ten years ago and will be doing so again on Thursday, September 13th at 7:30pm on The Grey House lawn (51 Bader Lane) on Queen’s University campus here in Kingston.  Yvonne’s films have won ten best documentary awards including the GLAAD Media Award for Outstanding Documentary including Sisters in Cinema a documentary on the history of black women feature film directors.  Her films have screened on PBS, Starz/Encore, TV-ONE, IFC, Bravo, The Sundance Channel, BET, HBO and in over 100 film festivals around the world.  Her producing credits include John Pierson’s Split Screen, Zeinabu irene Davis’ Sundance dramatic competition feature Compensation, HBO’s Stranger Inside and Thomas Allen Harris’ Berlin Int’l Film Festival award-winning documentary É Minha Cara/That’s My Face. Welbon earned a B.A. from Vassar College, an M.F.A. from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, a PhD from Northwestern and is a graduate of the American Film Institute’s Directing Workshop for Women.

Reelout: The subject of your documentary was a 100-year old African-American lesbian by the name of Ruth Ellis.  How did you come to hear about her?

Yvonne: The first time I saw Ruth Ellis– she was dancing at the National Women’s Music Festival in Bloomington Indiana. Since she danced all night, I didn’t get a chance to meet her until the next day.

A photograph of Ruth Ellis in her younger years.

Reelout: And what was it about her that made her such an interesting documentary subject?

Yvonne: Ruth always said, it was because she was so old. I  have to agree.  It’s not everyday you get a chance to talk to someone who is 100 years old!

Reelout: Have you ever entertained the idea of pitching Ruth’s life as a feature-length narrative biopic?
Yvonne: No.

(Side Note: Despite Yvonne’s to-the-point answer, this interviewer hopes a seed has been planted that might one day change her mind.)

Cicely Tyson still hasn’t won an Oscar. Something to think about Yvonne?

Reelout: Why do you think it is so important for younger generations to see this film?

Yvonne: Ruth wanted younger people to see the film so that they might consider spending time with older people. She wanted it to be a bit of an advocacy piece.  I think it’s important because so many young people believe they are the first to experience whatever it is they are experiencing. Ruth’s story shows us that someone else shared similar experiences 100 years ago.

Reelout: Did you have a conscious target audience in mind when you were making this documentary?

Yvonne: Absolutely. Ruth wanted the film to reach a general audience. And we made the film that way. As she says in the film, she is just an ordinary person. She believed that it was important for straight people to see that gays and lesbians were just like them. So, we show her with her parents and siblings, starting a business, buying a home, traveling… just an ordinary person who was also extraordinary.

Living With Pride: Ruth Ellis @100 screens at the 10th Anniversary of SCREENING UNDER THE STARS at 7:30pm Thursday, September 13th on The Grey House lawn (51 Bader Lane) Queen’s Campus.  This event is FREE and brought you you by Reelout, Ontario Public Interest Research Group Kingston (OPIRG) and the Education on Queer Issues Project (EQuIP).  Visit Yvonne Welbon’s website www.sistersincinema.com

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About Reelout

We host an 11-day queer film and video festival in Kingston, Canada in January/February each year!

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