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At 33, filmmaker Kirk Shannon-Butts has taken on the challenge of bringing the alternative lifestyle to mainstream media. When he was younger, he noted the lack of love stories about African American men and was determined to change that. Now his debut film, Blueprint (www.boiWONDA pHilmz.com), is making waves throughout the international film festival circuit.
“It’s essential to have all stories told and seen,” says Shannon-Butts of his saga of two black college students, “especially when it’s fresh, it’s new, and it’s modern.”
For Sheril Antonio, associate dean of film, television, and new media at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts, the efforts of artists such as Shannon-Butts are essential for the evolution of not only African American cinema, but American cinema as a whole. Noting that Marlon Riggs’ 1989 documentary about African American gays, Tongues Untied, helped pave the way, Antonio credits Shannon-Butts with opening a dialogue on a sensitive subject. “Films like this bring real issues to the table, issues facing us today in America, issues that do not get enough attention,” she says.
Pete Chatmon, president and CEO of Double 7 Film (www.double7film.com), agrees. With a mission to present the diverse reality of the American experience, Chatmon supports those whose unique perspectives contribute to the redefinition of the term “mainstream” in the film industry. “There are people out there with a lot of good scripts that would perform well,” he says. “They’re just not given the opportunity because they don’t have that stat sheet behind them saying it will make money.”
Although Shannon-Butts had had some exposure to Hollywood through previous jobs, he did not want to use those channels to produce the film. Instead, he shouldered the financial burden himself to maintain his artistic independence. He says the cost to produce the film was in the low six-figures, and that he has no regrets.
“It was never my plan to make something more commercial, more salable,” he says. “I wanted a real story, so I said, ‘I am going to create something new and fresh, and they’ll have to buy into it.'” And the movie’s positive international reception indicates that many have.
As a filmmaker, Shannon-Butts’ goals extend beyond portraying the alternative lifestyle on screen. “I’ll tell any story so long as it’s good,” he says. But he sees great potential for the genre’s growth and development. Considering that 53% of lesbians and 63% of gay men go to the movies at least once a month, according to the Gay and Lesbian Consumer Indexes 2007, finding a moviegoing market shouldn’t be difficult. But Shannon-Butts says his movies are for everyone.
“It’s a great film,” he says of Blueprint. “It’s for urban people because they get it-whether black, white, gay, or straight.”
Shannon-Butts is currently collaborating on a screenplay with James Earl Hardy, author of The Day Eazy E Died (Alyson Books; $13.95) and the B-Boy Blues series. He’s also working on The Pain Session, a film that chronicles the relationship between an Arab-Muslim man and an African American man in the