Interview with Timothy Greenfield-Sanders and Elvis Mitchell

  • Where did the idea for 'The Black List' come from?

  • About couple years ago, Elvis and I discussed doing something on the African-American experience. It was an idea that I'd been toying with. And we sat down to lunch at a Thai restaurant in the East Village. By the end of our meal, we had a hundred and seventy-five names on napkins and an idea for a book, a movie, and a traveling show. Here we are now, two and a half years later, and it's all happening. So I think it was something that was meant to be.

  • What were your expectations? How did you approach the conversations?

  • For me, it was a chance to get the subjects to reveal themselves in ways that they don't, normally. On the rare occasion that these people do give interviews, there's usually something they have to push or represent. In this case, they didn't have to do that. And I think they found that enormously liberating. It became a chance to talk to them and get them to express pleasure in achievement, which is such a rarity, given that one of the big philosophies of The Black List was to make it as expansive as possible.

    It really is a film about the African-American experience in the twenty-first century, and that's not something that can be easily reduced. And this was a great way to use the film to fire a shot across the bow and say the black experience is much more than you think it is. And because of that there's a real sense of fun and excitement and exploration in it.

  • What was your approach to the filmmaking process?

  • From the very beginning, The Black List was going to be collaboration between Elvis and me. It was a way to combine my unique portraiture that I've created over the years with Elvis's extraordinary ability to let the people be themselves. We chose to keep it very simple, not to have Elvis be seen, but to have it in the voice of the person so that the subject is talking directly to the audience.