Blessed & Highly Favored! Director Christine Swanson speaks to CAU about The Clark Sisters & more.

Updated: Feb 20, 2021

The filmmaker and producer attended Clark Atlanta University’s Mass Media Arts Virtual Lunch and Learn Series to give her sermon about herself and the film industry.

"The Clark Sisters: The First Ladies of Gospel" debuted as the highest rated original movie of the year on all of television with 2.7 million total views on April 11.

Photo by Lifetime.

 

A freshman’s life changed at the University of Notre Dame the day the student met filmmaker Spike Lee. At the time, the student majored in finance and Japanese and didn’t know people actually made movies for a living. However, one classroom visit from Lee sparked a career trajectory that would lead this student to find her passion in filmmaking and be identified by CNN as one of the most promising filmmakers to emerge from NYU’s graduate film program since Martin Scorsese, Ang Lee, Oliver Stone and Spike Lee. The freshman was Christine Swanson.

Originally from Detroit, Swanson is a storyteller and filmmaker, who earned her MFA in Film from New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts and earned a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Notre Dame. She has directed the TV One movie "Love Under New Management: The Miki Howard Story" starring Teyonah Parris, episodes of the hit TV shows "Chicago PD" and "FBI," and the indie romance films "All About You" and its sequel "All About Us." Last weekend, Lifetime aired her latest film, "The Clark Sisters: The First Ladies of Gospel," a biopic about the legendary gospel singing group.

Swanson attended Clark Atlanta University’s Mass Media Arts Virtual Lunch and Learn Series on April 15 via Zoom. She shared her experiences in the film industry, her influences and what it was like working on the newly released biopic of The Clark Sisters.

Director Christine Swanson answering questions from a press junket via Zoom on April 15.

Screenshot by Derrian Carter

 

Working on "The Clark Sisters: The First Ladies of Gospel"

“It should’ve been a mini-series. We could’ve gone on and on and on with the storytelling, but this is what life is: this is the assignment, you have two hours to tell a story about five sisters and a mother [and] go. It’s like parsing enough pieces to tell a full arc about each character, and I don’t even know that we did that successfully regarding all the characters. … To do a deep, deep dive, we needed more time, but in terms of what people got to experience and taste, there were bullet points that were satisfying enough to feel like a complete story.”


The official trailer for "The Clark Sisters: The First Ladies of Gospel."

Distributed by Lifetime. Posted by Lifetime.


Working With Aunjanue Ellis

“Somebody like Aunjanue Ellis comes prepared for the heavyweight fight. I don’t have to tell a boxer how to fight or teach them technique. What I do is when the boxer is in the ring, I manage their space and the area, so they can flex. In other words, move out of her way and let her do what she does [while] I give her adjustments and direction… If I’m Martin Scorsese, she’s my Robert De Niro, or if I’m Spike Lee, she’s my Denzel [Washington].”








Aunjanue Ellis played Mattie Moss Clark in the film.

Photo by Lifetime.


Entering The Film Industry

“When I graduated from NYC Film School in 1999-2000, I hit the ground running. I did my first feature film with independent funding; it was called All About You… Earlier on, I always had an eye for finding new talent and exploiting them in my storytelling in ways that I believed that the audience would connect with.”


Handling Rejections

“Kicking and screaming is how I handle [rejection] initially. But then the dust settles and you really come to that understanding, what’s for you is for you… Instead of looking at it as rejection, you have to look at it as a promotion for you to aim higher and to work with other people who make it your vision. So every time there is rejection that I face, I have to look at it as ‘what is God trying to tell me in terms of my exit strategy for this situation?’ because maybe it’s expired and you need to move on. Failure is a stepping stone for success.”


Influences

“I’m married to a wonderful man named Michael Swanson. We’ve been together for 30 years and four children later, he is the singular voice that speaks to me in ways that make me take pause because he is wise, astute and he knows me and is probably one of the smartest human beings I know. Beyond that, I have friends. Most of them are spiritually inclined … [while] I have creative friends who are brutal in their genius.”


 

Derrian Carter is a junior, who was enrolled in Entertainment Journalism at Clark Atlanta University. He is a mass media arts major with a concentration in journalism. Email Derrian at: carter.derrian00@gmail.com.

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