Second Annual Pawtucket Film Festival
Blackstone Valley Visitor's Center
175 Main Street
Pawtucket, RI

Thursday Sept. 13, 2001

written and directed by Jim McKay
An IFC Films Release

Some day, yeah,
We'll get it together and we'll get it all done
Some day
When your head is much lighter
Some day, yeah
We'll walk in the rays of a beautiful sun
Some day
When the world is much brighter

- "Ooh Child"

"Our Song" follows three friends, Lanisha (Kerry Washington), Maria (Melissa Martinez) and Joycelyn (Anna Simpson) through the hot August streets of Crown Heights, Brooklyn. During the closing weeks of summer, these girls endure rigorous rehearsals with their sixty-piece marching band, while biding their time shoplifting, daydreaming, flirting with boys, and confronting the rising tensions within their own friendships. As the small moments and dramas that mean nothing and everything to a young girl navigating her way into adulthood start to accumulate, the girls and their friendships change forever.

Through it all their song remains one of hopes and dreams. Some day, yeah, we'll get it together, and we'll get it all done ...

Independent Film Channel Productions
in association with
Beech Hill Films and Journeyman Pictures
a C-Hundred Film Corp movie

Joycelyn Clifton ANNA SIMPSON
The Jackie Robinson Steppers Marching Band AS THEMSELVES
Rita Hernandez CARMEN LOPEZ
Anthony (the playa) TYRUS COX
Woman with flowers STARLA BENFORD
School Registrar LISA COLLINS
Cute (guapo) guy GREG HABERNY
Malik (the party kisser) ERIC BYRD
Steppers booster MADELEINE T. GAMBLE
Natasha up in the window DEVIN GRAY
Ice cream scooper SYRON MARTIN

Fertirma Alexander, Ashley Armstrong,Tommy Axson, Gigi Baldwin, Yeshav Basnight, Tyrus Cox, Evens Derviere, Samel Edwards, Shirley Fabien, Devin Gray, Kenneth Harry, Romelle Hoyle, Louie Irizarry, Jenine James, Renita Leonce, Samantha Leslie, Kevin McCummings, Ashante Mitchell, Dane Niles, David Niles, Leonard Nettles, Dushane Noble, Nemildra Persol, Allister Primo, Willie Richardson, John Robinson, Monica Thompson, Taheim Washington, Derrick Williams, Edgar Williams (brass instructors: Steven Brown, Tyrone Cox, Raymond Reid, A. Lee Russell, Jr, John Weatherly)
Eric Byrd, Mackens Casmir, Raymond Clarke, John Dixon, Ryan Green, Rolanda Harrison, Joyel Kaleel, Neisha McCummings, Seymore McLeod, Ralph Nader, Sidney O'loughlin, Tiffany Olliviere, Lydia Pernier, Channing Phillips, Tawana Pyle, Takisha Riser, Michael Smith, Osei Smith, Rashawn Starke, Korey Thompson, Virgillio Williams (drum instructors: Windsor Pediford, Vaughn Amour)
Brieanna Baldwin, Tiffany Boykin, Lorraine Dixon, Rochelle Dixon, Quanitka Faulkner, Kedeen Leslie, Jonte Kaleel, Secora Miles, Ziporah Miles, Michelle Reid, Tanisha Roundtree, Chancia Smith (flag instructor: John Hawkins)
drum majors
Lorraine Berry Natasha Frith
assistant director
Kendra Brown
Tyrone Brown

The Jackie Robinson Center for Physical Culture is a program of the New York State Department of Education Liberty Partnership Program

This film could not have been made without the assistance and generosity of Paul Chandler and Dr. Madeline T. Gamble of JRC.

Written and directed by JIM MCKAY


Executive Producers CAROLINE KAPLAN
Co-Producers ALEXA L. FOGEL
Associate Producers TYRONE BROWN
Director of Photography JIM DENAULT
Sound Recordist JAN MCLAUGHLIN
Costume Designer TIEL ROMAN
Music supervisor JULIE PANEBIANCO


Stephen Garrett interviews writer/director Jim McKay.

Tell me what "Our Song" is about to you.

In a very simple way, "Our Song" is a story about friendship. But it's also a film about choices, the choices we make and how these choices are influenced by our environment in terms of our families, friends, income, health, education, and so on.

What compelled you to make the marching band the center of gravity around your characters?

I had done a whole draft of the script when one day I was walking in downtown Brooklyn on Jackie Robinson Day and this small parade came flying by. It was this very inspirational moment, because in the faces of the kids in the band, I saw the characters from my story. I decided right then to write a band into the script. A year later, I thought I was about to shoot the film, so I went looking for a band to use and I found out who the band was that I had seen that day the JRC Steppers. I called them up and Tyrone Brown, the director, invited me to a parade. I fell in love with the band, the kids, the program. And that was the start of a year of hanging out, observing, and writing them more into the story.

The function that the band serves in the story is the same function that it serves in the lives of the real kids who are a part of it a safe, stable, educational and positive place for kids to go to, kids who may not necessarily have safe, stable environments in their homes or neighborhoods. A lot of the film is about how our outside environment affects our internal growth and the plans that we do or don't make. So in this story a lot of the outside forces for the girls are barriers the bureaucracy of the school system, the home environment and whether or not it's emotionally supportive, finances, health, safety... And then in the midst of all that chaos, there's this band which is, to some degree, an oasis.

Where did you find the lead actors? Their performances are so strong...

We did traditional casting sessions and also a few open calls. Kerry Washington and Melissa Martinez came in to the sessions and Anna Simpson came to one of the open calls. She had seen a flyer on the wall at her high school in Queens. For all three, this is their first film. Even still, their experiences and their techniques are all very different. So it was a fun and interesting challenge figuring out how to communicate with each one of them individually and then as a group. The audition period was so long it was almost like rehearsals. Each of the actors probably came back five times, each time reading with different combinations of girls. Once we hired them, they started rehearsing with the band immediately. I took them out and introduced them to Tyrone, the band director, and he threw them into the band as if they were any other kids joining up. Then we had a month of regular rehearsals before the shoot. So once we were on location, they were ready.

I'm at a bit of a loss to say much more about them because I think their work is so strong and beautiful that it speaks for itself, and I don't want to sound obnoxiously proud. So I'll just leave it at that...

How much time did it take to make the film?

Well, I wrote for a year and a half, then spent a year with the band while I rewrote and tried to raise money at the same time. When it became clear that I wasn't going to find the outside money I was looking for, I made the choice to move ahead and started putting together a strong team of people who would ultimately work together to get the film made, starting out with Alexa Fogel as casting director (who would later, with her partner, Joe Infantolino, become a co-producer) and Paul Mezey, with whom I was working on "Spring Forward," as producer. And I felt like once we got the ball rolling things would come together in one way or another. Michael Stipe was already on board and then Diana Williams came on as the third producer and here we had all these people working for free on nothing but faith and a belief in the project... It was terrifying, as usual, but still, it's easier to jump off a cliff if you've got a bunch of people who you like and respect who are jumping with you.

So we cast for about four months in early 1999 and then shot for 20 days in July. Then the edit was about four months long.

How did "Girls Town" influence "Our Song"?

After "Girls Town," I felt I had accumulated a lot of other stories about teenage girls that I hadn't put into that film. And I was also acutely tuned-in to that population, so every time I was out walking, or riding the subway, I was observing young people and coming up with scenes from their lives. I wanted to make something about young women and I wanted the story to be smaller than the one in "Girls Town." I wanted to show the moments, the small, subtle moments that make up an experience. I felt confident as a writer by then and I started taking notes and writing scenes. My early outline was called "The Other Girls" because I specifically wanted to make a film centered on characters who were real outsiders who didn't look like they just walked off a music video shoot. So there's some common ground between the two films, but I think mostly because they're both about young women.

But specifically about lower-class minority women.

Well, you can see how different the girls are in the specifics. The cast of "Girls Town" was mostly white and the cast of "Our Song" is mostly black and Latino. And the girls' ages are different they were 17 to 21 in "Girls Town" and are 15 and 16 in "Our Song," which, as anyone who knows young people can tell you, is a major difference. Finally, the setting for "Girls Town" was fairly suburban, whereas "Our Song" is more inner-city. So the two films cover some similar terrain, but it's only because there are so few films in existence about these characters that the similarity jumps out at all.

How would you respond to criticism about being a white man making teenage women ensemble pieces?

I'm constantly checking myself about what and how and why I'm doing what I'm doing. I think there's a lot of culture and story stealing that goes on and I don't want to be a part of that. I've tried hard to be very collaborative in my work and make sure that I'm telling stories truthfully and responsibly.

I also think people in the film world have a responsibility toward the people and communities with which they're working. I've helped raise some money for the marching band and have committed to doing a big benefit screening for them next year. We did a mentorship program during the shoot in which we teamed kids from the band up with crew members so they could learn some things about how films get made.

I have no illusions about what this film did or can do for the participants' lives, but I've tried to have a relationship with all the people in the film that was more than "get in, shoot, and get out". I'm sure that I've gained much more from that relationship than anyone, in terms of my own personal growth and enlightenment. And I just hope that the people we worked with are proud of the film and feel good about their work and experience.

As a filmmaker, I feel like when you're given the opportunity to make a film, it's a pretty special thing. To waste that opportunity by doing some that's self-centered and unoriginal is a waste of time and energy. You spend three or four years of your life obsessed with this story, why not learn something in the process? Why not experience something new and enter into a new territory?

There's a certain universality to the stories in "Our Song," to the choices that we make at that age in terms of what we want and who we want and what we think of ourselves. And so a lot of the things in the film could happen anywhere with any characters. But I chose these characters cause they were the ones that I wanted to see a movie about.

What kind of conversations did you have with your cinematographer, Jim Denault?

We basically echoed the reality of the world we were shooting in. When we were in very controlled circumstances where the girls' lives were more safe and controlled, then our framing and lighting reflected that. And when we were out on the streets and dealing with distractions and unlocked spaces and hectic backgrounds, then our shooting was accordingly less controlled. It's pretty simple, really. For example, when Lanisha is with her dad, we're in the safest space in the story he's literally a security guard. And so those scenes are shot locked-down with a tripod and carefully lit. We made a decision before we shot that we wouldn't use a dolly at all, just a tripod and hand-held. We had a skeleton camera crew of three and a very, very small lighting package. We didn't have a lot of locations locked before we shot, so we often got there and made decisions on the spot. We had shot lists and some loose storyboards, but often, Jim and I felt our way around the film instinctually.

But the film is scripted.

Absolutely. We started with a full script and very little changed, aside from a few things that weren't working in rehearsals or small bits of language that the actors turned around. Once we were on location, a number of things changed because of extenuating circumstances.

You're dealing with a 60-piece marching band as one of your lead characters, half your cast is under 18 and non-professional actors, forget about pagers and cell phones, some of our actors didn't have phones at all or weren't always staying in the same apartments.... Not to mention the fact that our three lead actors were taking the subway to location every day, from the Bronx, Harlem, and Far Rockaway. So there were tons of potential challenges. But in the end, all of them were overcome in one way or another.

"Girls Town" and "Our Song" have some similar aspects and themes teen pregnancy or staying in school, for instance but they compliment instead of repeat each other.

One of the big challenges I faced with "Our Song" was that I had three very different characters all dealing with very different stories: Lanisha is struggling to keep her friends and family together and to push past all the adversity put in front of her and "succeed;" Maria finds out she's pregnant and has to figure out what she wants to do about it and how it's going to affect her own plans; and Joycelyn finds herself drifting from her old friends and seeking acceptance from these other girls who are a step-up from her on the social ladder.

What I didn't want was for the film to be seen as a story about teen pregnancy, and that was a challenge because that's the one story of the three that's the easiest to put a label on, the easiest to define, even though the way we're showing it is hopefully new. So I tried to show the stories via their nuances and the things that are not said rather than address all these dilemmas directly.

The film is very subtle in that many of the scenes are just intimate moments where the girls are talking and bonding.

I think audiences today are used to being force-fed every bit of information necessary and, as a result, can sometimes have a hard time dealing with the blanks, the in-betweens, the unspoken words. Trying to stand firm and be committed to this desire to leave holes, to join the story in progress and to not explain every little thing and yet still give people a cohesive story that doesn't completely alienate them was a challenge. When you're that age in particular, but also throughout our lives, you rarely end a friendship in one fell swoop. Everything isn't always clear-cut and cleverly articulated. I tried really hard to say the things I wanted to say without saying them outright.


KERRY WASHINGTON (Lanisha) made her motion picture debut in "Our Song." She can be seen in Paramount Picture's "Save the Last Dance" with Julia Stiles and Sean Patrick Thomas. She can also be seen as the female lead in the Hart/Sharp Production ("Boys Don't Cry), "Lift," which premiered in the Dramatic Competition at the 2001 Sundance Film Festival.

The Bronx-born actress has appeared on television on "NYPD Blue," "Deadline" and in a recurring role on Sidnet Lumet's "100 Centre Street." Her stage work includes Lorraine Hansberry's "In Good Company" at the Horizons Theatre.

While a student at George Washington University, she appeared in several productions including "The Colored Museum," "Mother Courage and Her Children," and "A Little Night Music." Washington was also a member of the NITESTAR Theatre Company.

ANNA SIMPSON (Joycelyn), born and raised in Brooklyn, began her acting career at the age of nine playing a blind girl in a performance of "Upbeat" at the Sorrentino Recreation Center in New York City. Anna continued acting in school plays, children's theater groups at the Queens Library, and performances at the Apollo Theater. "Our Song" is her first feature film.

A student in the 11th grade at Ida B. Wells High School in Queens, Anna plans to finish school and then continue her education in the arts by attending acting or modeling school. With inspiration from singers like Janet Jackson and Lauryn Hill, Anna dreams of pursuing her singing and acting careers to their fullest.

MELISSA MARTINEZ (Maria) is currently co-starring with Bai Ling, Kristy Wu and Treach(Naughty by Nature) in Bertha Pan's feature film, "Face." Born in the heart of Spanish Harlem on the east side of 115th Street, Melissa grew up in the projects and lived with her mother, father, and two brothers. She was fortunate to have parents that were very encouraging and supportive of her career choices and as a child, sang in front of crowds of people outside the community center. Her first joy is performing and it is something she is determined to do for life. In the 5th grade, she did a dance to Frank Sinatra's "New York, New York" and realized she loved dancing. Her favorite film as a kid was "Singin' in the Rain."

THE JACKIE ROBINSON STEPPERS MARCHING BAND is one of the many programs within the Jackie Robinson Center for Physical Culture (JRC). Based in Brooklyn, New York, JRC is an after-school program servicing young people ages 8-18 in the communities of Bedford-Stuyvesant, Bushwick, Crown Heights, Fort Greene, and Oceanhill-Brownsville. The program reaches over 5,000 students from all ethnic and religious backgrounds who benefit from academic instruction, sports and cultural activities, counseling, and workshops. JRC has been cited by the International Youth Foundation as one of the 30 best youth development programs in the world and by the General Accounting Office in Washington, DC as one of the ten best prevention programs in the country.

The JRC Steppers practice and perform year-round, with an ever-expanding repertoire that includes "I Get Lonely" (Janet Jackson), "Don't Stop Til You Get Enough" (Michael Jackson), "Doo Wop (That Thing)" (Lauryn Hill), "I'll Be Missing You" (Puff Daddy), and "Ooh Child" (The Five Stairsteps).

The Steppers are regular pre-game and half-time performers at Giants Stadium and Madison Square Garden, and have performed for mayors, governors, and world leaders, including President Bill Clinton and Nelson Mandela.


JIM McKAY (Writer/Director/Producer) is a film and videomaker who has produced and directed a full-length documentary, "Lighthearted Nation;" a feature-length concert film, "R.E.M.'s Tourfilm;" numerous music videos; and an award-winning series of psa's called "Direct Effect."

His first feature, "Girls Town," starring Lili Taylor, Bruklin Harris, and Anna Grace, which he co-wrote, directed, and co-produced, received the Filmmakers Trophy and a Special Jury Prize for Collaboration at the 1996 Sundance Film Festival. When the film was released in August 1996 by October Films, New York Times critic Stephen Holden called it a "provocative ode to teen-age sisterhood in the hip-hop generation".

McKay founded C-Hundred Film Corp with Michael Stipe in 1987. C-Hundred's "Direct Effect PSA" series was distributed by Deep Dish television and Video Data Bank, won prizes at numerous video festivals worldwide, and was included in the Whitney Biennial video program. C-Hundred's film projects and their directors include "Our Song," "The Sleepy Time Gal" starring Jacqueline Bisset (Christopher Munch), which was shown at Sundance 2001and will be shown at the 2001 IFP/West Los Angels Film Festival, "Stranger Inside" (Cheryl Dunye), which will premiere on HBO in June, "Spring Forward" (Tom Gilroy), "La Boda" (Hannah Weyer), "Benjamin Smoke" (Jem Cohen and Pete Sillen), "American Movie" (Chris Smith), "Girls Town" (McKay), "Mute Love" (Patrice Mallard), "Scars" (James Herbert), and "Tree Shade" (Lisa Collins).

McKay is the Chair of the AIVF (Association of Independent Video and Filmmakers) Board of Directors.


PAUL MEZEY (Producer) is a New York-based independent producer. In addition to "Our Song, his recent feature film credits include the acclaimed "The City" ("La Ciudad"), directed by David Riker and in release by Zeitgeist Films; Tom Gilroy's "Spring Forward," released by IFC Films; and Aiyana Elliott's The Ballad of Ramblin' Jack," released by Lot 47 Films. Mezey supervised the financing for "Hurricane Streets," which won three awards at Sundance 1997, and supervised the completion of the Sundance 1999 Grand Jury Award-winner "American Movie," released by Sony Pictures Classics in 1999. He has been nominated for the Producer Award at the IFP West Independent Spirit Awards in both 2000 and 2001.

DIANA WILLIAMS (Producer) has worked on several independent feature films in addition to "Our Song." She is the Associate Producer of "The Love Machine" (directed by Gordon Eriksen), Co-Producer of "Nice Guys Sleep Alone," (based on the book by Bruce Fierstein and directed by Stu Pollard), and Associate Producer of "Chutney Popcorn" (directed by Nisha Ganatra). She has also produced documentaries, including "Another First Step" (directed by Michael Whalen) and the Emmy-winning short documentary, "Sylvia Drew Ivie." Williams' current projects include "The Technical Writer" (directed by Scott Saunders), "Transamerica" (directed by Duncan Tucker), and "Plastic Jesus" (directed by Pablo Miralles). She has been nominated for the Producer Award at the IFP West Independent Spirit Awards in 2001.

JONATHAN SEHRING & CAROLINE KAPLAN (Executive Producers) Jonathan Sehring is the President of IFC Entertainment and Caroline Kaplan is the Vice President of Film & Program Development at IFC Productions. Together they produce films through IFC Productions, serve as InDigEnt partners and have overseen television projects such as Bravo's Emmy-nominated series "Inside the Actors Studio," its Cable Ace Award-winning series "The South Bank Show," as well as IFC's Cable Ace Award-winning profile of Sam Fuller, "The Typewriter, The Rifle & The Movie Camera" and the channel's other original documentaries.

IFC Productions has produced or co-produced over a dozen feature films including: Michael Almereyda's "Happy Here and Now," Bart Freundlich's "World Traveler," Mira Nair's "Monsoon Wedding," Richard Linklater's "Waking Life," Maggie Greenwald's "Songcatcher," Karyn Kusama's "Girlfight" (winner of the Director's Prize and the Grand Jury Prize at the 2000 Sundance Film Festival), Brad Anderson's "Happy Accidents," Tom Gilroy's "Spring Forward," Errol Morris' "Mr. Death: The Rise and Fall of Fred A. Leuchter, Jr.," Kimberly Peirce's Academy Award winning "Boys Don't Cry," John Sayles' "Men With Guns" and Steven Soderbergh's "Gray's Anatomy." They are also producing films under the InDigEnt banner, with five films completed to date: Campbell Scott's "Final," Ethan Hawke's "Chelsea Walls," Bruce Wagner's "Women in Film," Richard Linklater's "Tape" and Rodrigo Garcia's "Ten Tiny Love Stories." The Independent Film Channel (IFC) is the first channel dedicated to independent film, presented 24 hours a day, uncut and commercial-free, and managed and operated by Bravo Networks. Reaching more than 35 million homes on a full-time basis, IFC is the most widely distributed channel dedicated to independent film on television.

MICHAEL STIPE (Executive Producer) is a singer/songwriter, photographer, and film producer. He is the founder of Single Cell Pictures and co-founder of C-Hundred Film Corp.

ALEXA L. FOGEL and JOSEPH INFANTOLINO (Co-Producers) are producers/partners of Beech Hill Films. Beech Hill Films, Inc. is an independent New York-based production company formed in May 1997.

Fogel oversees creative affairs for the company. Prior to starting BHF in 1997, she was a Vice President at ABC Television, where she won two Emmy Awards for "NYPD Blue" and produced the independent film "Lifebreath." She is currently the casting director for the HBO original series "Oz," for which she has been awarded three Artios awards. She began her career as a Casting Director in the Theatre.

Infantolino oversees business affairs for the company. He has represented film companies, producers, and creative talent in New York for the past several years, serving as counsel for, among others, the Shooting Gallery (producers of "Slingblade") and Pierpoline Productions (one of the producers of 'In the Company of Men"). In 1996, Mr. Infantolino produced the Off-Broadway play, "Sanctimonious Monday" starring Vincent Pastore ("The Sopranos").

Beech Hill produced the independent feature film "Charming Billy," which won the Best Actor award at the 2000 AFI Los Angeles International Film Festivaland will be released by Winstar in 2001. The company is in preproduction on its next feature, "Face," by award-winning writer-director, Bertha Pan, featuring Bai Ling ("Anna and the King") and recording artist Treach (Naughty by Nature, "Oz"). Numerous other film and television projects are in various stages of development, including "Daddy Cool," based on the 1971 Donald Goines cult novel, which the company is developing with Samuel L. Jackson; "Pork Pie," to be directed by Jonathan Frakes and starring Alfre Woodard and Loretta Devine; "Girl Gone," based on the play by Jackie Reingold directed by Nancy Scanlon and John Swanbeck (The Big Kahuna) and starring Kyra Sedgwick; and "10,000 Suns," an original screenplay by noted playwright Howard Korder.

SUSANNAH LUDWIG (Associate Producer) recently served as Associate Producer on "The Ballad of Ramblin' Jack" (directed by Aiyana Elliot), Production Manager on "Spring Forward" (directed by Tom Gilroy), and Producer on "The Hat" (directed by Terry Stacey and Julia Jordan), all of which screened at Sundance 2000. Ludwig served as production manager on "La Ciudad," recipient of the IFP Open Palm Award, Best Picture at the Havana Film Festival, and an official selection at the 1999 Human Rights Watch Film Festival and Sundance 1999. She has produced numerous short films and has produced and directed her own documentaries, including "Survivor in Her House," about a domestic violence case in Maryland.

ALEX HALL (Editor) edited "Girls Town" with Jim McKay in 1996. Other feature credits include "Taxman" (directed by Avi Nesher), "Kiss me Guido" (directed by Tony Vitale) and Additional Editing on "Office Killer" (directed by Cindy Sherman). In addition to work for NBC, ESPN, and numerous commercials, Alex has edited the VH-1 Legends shows on George Clinton, U2, and David Bowie.

JIM DENAULT (Director of Photography) has been the cinematographer for such independent films as Kelly Reichardt's "River of Grass," Hal Hartley's "The Book of Life," Lisanne Skyler's "Getting to Know You," Jill Sprecher's "The Clockwatchers," and Nick Gomez's "Illtown." His work on Michael Almereyda's "Nadja" was nominated for an IFP Independent Spirit Award in 1996. Recent projects include Katherine Dieckmann's "A Good Baby," Kimberly Pierce's "Boys Don't Cry," Michael Walker's "Chasing Sleep," and Henry Bean's "The Believer," which won the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance 2001.

JAN McLAUGHLIN (Sound Mixer) is a multi-media chef of sorts who revels in the process of blending as many disparate flavors of the spoken and written word into her work as a sound mixer for film and television as possible. Beyond her audio gear, she includes among her favorite tools choreography, film, fashion, still photography, telecommunications, theater, painting, and the increasingly audio/visual internet. Her credits as sound mixer include "Side Streets" (directed by Tony Gerber), "All Over Me" (directed by Alex Sischel), "Caught" (directed by Robert Young), and "Heavy" (directed by James Mangold).        

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