Having worked as a songwriter, producer and music-making artist since 2005, Dawn Richard knows the power of self-expression and in creating her first film as director she brings that power to her city, New Orleans. Pigments, which Richard co-directed with filmmaker Monty Marsh, is an experimental blend of dance, poetry and documentary that portrays the city of New Orleans through a lens of pure self-expression. It’s a gorgeous film with a powerful acknowledgement of the stories of individuals which Richards achieves by casting the film with the dance students of the New Orleans Centre for Creative Arts, a decision which allows the film to be embedded in a truth and reality known only by the residents of the famed city. DN sat down with Richard for a conversation where she talks to us about the decision to shift perspectives on New Orleans in addition to her ongoing development as a multi-hyphenated artist.
What is the origin of Pigments, as a film?
I wanted to convey a story of self-love and expression through movement. New Orleans has been with me through loss and love. It has shaped me and many like me. We have been through hurricanes that have left us homeless, seen hurt and struggle, but we have danced through our pain. I wanted to highlight those who paint masterpieces with broken brushes. These are the stories of those painters, young women, painting their dreams in the midst of the everyday trials of being from a city that is sometimes forgotten.
I wanted to highlight those who paint masterpieces with broken brushes.
The film features the dance students from New Orleans Centre for Creative Arts, what motivated you to cast from this school and what were you looking for in each student featured in Pigments?
As a dancer myself growing up in New Orleans, NOCCA has been an institution that has funnelled our up and coming talents. I wanted to showcase a staple in our city that has opened doors for youth that sometimes can’t afford to reach their dreams. I was looking for each dancer’s unique and personal story. How their circumstance or journey is shaping them as dancers. I was particularly drawn to those who have been stifled because of their look, size, gender, or sex.
How did you work with the students to develop their choreography?
Shanda Domango Brown was the choreographer and Healing Movement Instructor. She states, in Pigments, the way we developed the choreography, we didn’t approach it from ‘an eight count’ or technical viewpoint. We started out the classes with Yoga, teaching the students about chakras, self-care, and being grounded mentally before we even started the construct of the dance. Each student was given the opportunity to use what they felt their strengths were and how they could apply that to movement. We opened the space up for them to have a voice, to speak about their trials in the classrooms and in society honestly and told them to touch that place and dance through and out of those feelings. It was cathartic and therapeutic for them to not be confined to the traditional space of their classrooms and truly just be.
How did you look to present New Orleans as a place within the context of the film?
From the on set, we were very intentional about finding unique landscapes and architecture that become visual characters in the film. It was important to showcase non-traditional, iconic New Orleans imagery, and avoid common visual tropes. The remnants of Hurricane Katrina are still present physically, through the locations, in our hearts and minds, in many ways it has shaped who we are today, and you see that reflected in the film.
There’s a distinct use of colour throughout Pigments, both in the costumes and the settings of each scene. How would you describe your approach to using colour in the film?
As an artist, I dream in color. Which means I naturally gravitate towards films which use color as part of the narrative. One of my favourite films is Blue is the Warmest Color by Abdellatif Kechiche, similarly Monty is a huge fan of Krzysztof Kieślowski’s Three Colour Trilogy, to this day, he still rants and raves about Three Colors: Blue.
It was important to showcase non-traditional, iconic New Orleans imagery, and avoid common visual tropes.
Do you feel your background as a songwriter and producer informs your approach as director at all?
Absolutely. I have a musical trilogy in color: Goldenheart, Blackheart, and Redemption. I am a storyteller already in my musical journey, with chapters, storylines, and sonic emotions. Each album creates a sequential pilgrimage of a warrior fighting through hardships and overcoming them. So directing is a natural progression for me and I look forward to continuing this creative journey.
As a multi-hyphenate artist, what attracts you to the short film as a medium?
The power of storytelling told in a short form is a challenge I appreciate. Engaging the viewer in a brief escape is similar to creating an album or a score. Just long enough to captivate but short enough to keep the viewer wanting more. It’s a sweet spot I really enjoy.
I read that you see Pigments as an expansion of your development as a storyteller, looking ahead, how would you like to evolve as an artist over the next few years?
As a multi-hyphenate, I see myself moving into evolving the way I tell stories. From gaming, animation, tech and sound design, this is only the beginning of my journey as a visual storyteller.
And lastly, what are you working on now?
I am currently in the development of a cross-platform new IP story featuring my king time passion project King Creole.