It has been several years since I ventured away from home to attend a film festival, but this past weekend I was fortunate enough to travel to Oakland, California, to attend the Oakland Underground Film Festival. This is a great festival, in its fourth year, put together by this cat name Kahlil, with the help of his family, friends, and members of the local creative community. In terms of size, OAKUFF isn’t the biggest festival I’ve been to, but that doesn’t matter. See, the thing I’ve discovered over the years—both attending festivals and actually putting one on—is that the best of them cultivate a sense of community. It is almost like going away to summer camp, where you meet new friends very different from the ones you left at home, but also, in many ways, very similar. OAKUFF was that sort of festival, so is the Langston Hughes Festival of African American Film, which takes place in Seattle. These are the festivals where you make new friends, and in some capacity, you become part of other communities.
To a certain extent, the same is true for the world of comics. I’ve attended the legendary San Diego Comic Con more times than I can recall, but the larger community of comics that I belong to started at the Alternative Press Expo in San Jose, more than 15 years ago. And what is cool is that some of those comics people came to my screening this weekend in Oakland. That is what having friends and being part of a community is all about. Yeah, it would be great to show one of my movies at Sundance or Toronto (and maybe someday I will), but that is not my personal measure of success. My measure of success is meeting new people who connect with my work, and seeing old friends who take the time to come out and show support when you’re in their neck of the woods.
As a creative person, I can chose to measure my successes in units sold, money earned, and all sorts of other metrics that include numbers and accounting. But if I don’t include another measure of success in the equation, I’m never going to fully recognize the real victories. And those victories are measured by looking out into an audience, and seeing the faces of both people you know and complete strangers, who could just as easily spend their time elsewhere, but instead gave their time and attention to you. That’s what happened to me this weekend in Oakland. I saw people that I’ve known for almost 20 years, who came out to lend their support. And what was especially cool was that I made more friends, and my community grew. Next time I attend OAKUFF, I will know more people, have more friends, and be part of an ever-growing community.
All of this is my long-winded way of saying that as a creative person—be it filmmaker, writer, musician, comic book artist, or whatever—you need to keep in mind what is most important. The ancient storytellers who sat around the campfires and recounted tales to the others in the village didn’t do it to get paid. Yes, getting paid is nice, but if it doesn’t happen that isn’t the end of your world. The ancient storytellers were driven by the need to express what was inside of them, and give to the larger community so that lives would be enriched. So, my advice to you all is this: as an artist, don’t focus on the money or the fame, focus on being part of as many communities as possible, with as many friends/allies as possible. You will find that this brings a much greater sense of success that will be far more comforting when the money runs out (or never appears). See you all at the next film festival, or comic book convention, or book signing, or walking down the street, or wherever our paths may cross.