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New film co-op breaking down barriers in movie making

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Posted at 5:34 PM, May 20, 2021

CLEVELAND — Getting a shot to tell the stories from their community in the way they want them to be told. A new film co-op is giving women of color a chance to sit in the director's chair.

"There's not enough African American women doing it. And not because we aren't doing it, but because we don't get a lot of opportunities," said India Burton, film director.

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India Burton.

It's a rare opportunity that's now helping redefine the role in film production.

“There’s just sort of this preset idea of what a director should or should not be,” said Michael Oatman.

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Michael Oatman.

Oatman said African American females don't typically fall into that director category.

“There needs to be someone who at least opens the door to say hey if you want to try, you can,” said Oatman.

Oatman's Hand Made Films gives women of color the chance to tap into their creativity by calling the shots behind the camera.

“This is no Hollywood studio operation,” said Oatman.

Paula Washington got the first crack at creating a movie through the co-op.

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Paula Washington.

“I’ve always wanted to do a film. We just pulled people together, and it just happened. It was like magic,” said Washington.

Washington's name is now listed in the credits of her debut film "Whirlwind."

“Afterwards, you’re standing there, and you’re like I did that. I told my story. I saw a vision in my mind, my heart, and I put it on film, and now everyone can see what I had,” said Washington.

Burton is now following in Washington's footsteps.

"I'm really excited about it, and I'm hoping that it will open some doors for me," said Burton.

News 5 caught up with Burton while on the set of her new film. She’s hoping her time in the director's chair instills confidence in those coming up behind her.

"If someone sees me doing it, or another black woman doing it, then they know that they can do it," said Burton.

While this level of visibility in the industry is important, Oatman said quality is just as imperative.

“Because if we do all the stuff, hey, we’re directing black, we’re training black filmmakers or African American females, and it’s crap, it doesn’t matter, nobody wants to see the next film,” said Oatman.

So far, Hand Made Films has beaten the odds.

“Everybody told me that this couldn’t work," said Oatman.

The filmmaker going to great lengths to get four short films produced.

“Who can we beg, borrow, or steal from? Who can we convince to do us a favor? Whose mamma going to let us use their kitchen,” said Oatman.

Oatman also turned to the community for funding.

“We made our goal in 3 or 4 days,” said Oatman.

The film co-op raised more than $6,200 to continue making movies.

“The donor list looks like America. It’s just this list of different people who all said we believe in this, here’s our money and boom and we were just blown away by that,” said Oatman.

It's no secret the arts and culture scene in Northeast Ohio is rich — but is it as diverse as it is bountiful?

“That’s it, that’s the question. Can everybody play in that playground? And we’re hoping to be just one little drop in the ocean that says you can play here,” said Oatman.

Mike Brookbank at WEWS first reported this story.