How filmmaker Raven Jackson performs the 'ritual' of showing 'All Dirt Roads Taste of Salt'

As part of our yearlong series on Sundance filmmakers, The Independents, we asked participants to keep a diary of one day in their working life and submit an accompanying self-portrait. Today’s diary is from Raven Jackson (“All Dirt Roads Taste of Salt”), who screened her film at the New York Film Festival in advance of its Nov. 3 opening.

Read yesterday’s diary: How ‘outlier’ filmmaker C.J. Obasi became Nigeria’s new Oscar hopeful

I wrote the speech on ripped-out pages of my journal the day of the premiere screening. I work well under pressure. Probably too well. I was deeply moved as I wrote it. To know that in a few hours my film would play at Alice Tully Hall as part of the main slate of the 61st New York Film Festival was beyond exciting. And intimidating. When I was a graduate film student at New York University several years ago, I’d attend screenings at the festival often. In so many ways, bringing “All Dirt Roads Taste of Salt” to NYFF felt like a second world premiere of the film.

Pamela Shepard, the brilliant costume designer of “All Dirt Roads,” had come to my hotel room earlier that day to drop off the outfit I would wear. I wanted to feel fully present when I stepped onstage to introduce the film. I wanted to feel like me, and I knew working with Pam to find the right outfit for the premiere would allow me to feel that. She left a little over an hour after she arrived, to give me alone time before the screening.

When I made it to the theater, I saw a long line of folks waiting to take their seats. I took it in. I took it in. Eventually, I sat in the theater for the sound check. The level we landed on felt right, but I knew I’d listen to the beginning of the film once it began, and ask for it to be turned up, if needed. It’s become a ritual for me — this part of the process. Trying to disappear in the back of the theater while I listen to whether or not the first hits of thunder in the film fill the space. And rumble.

I’m not prepared for festival programmer Devika Girish’s introduction when it comes. It’s beautiful and finds its way under my skin. I nod through it, saying out loud: “She gets it.” I’m nervous. And tears want to come. I know I’ll let them if they do. Producers Maria Altamirano, Barry Jenkins and Adele Romanski are backstage with me, as well as some of the team of distributor A24.

I look over to Maria and think of the many years she’s been working on this film with me. We were in the same class together at NYU. We didn’t really get close until our third year in the program. I’d heard about how invested she was in the projects she took on and asked her to work on my thesis short film, “Nettles.” That project cemented our bond as not only collaborators but also close friends. Maria and I share a hug before I go onstage, and I think about the countless location scouts, rejections and years we spent building this film. I carry it all with me as I hear my name called and walk to the stage.

I can’t see faces, but I hear loud applause. And several people saying my name. I feel joy. Right in my chest. In my heart. Waves of it. I let this love, this joy, really land and spill over me as I open the folded paper in my hand. A smile on my face that shows all of my teeth.

Hi beautiful people,

It’s so lovely to be here today. I often say how this journey has been full of so many full circle moments, and tonight is certainly one.

From going to screenings here often during my time in the graduate film program at NYU, to doing the NYFF Artists Academy in 2019, these theaters, this festival, hold a special place in my heart, and I’m beyond grateful to be showing my first feature here today.

There’s so many people I love in the room today. And I want to shout out a few very brilliant folks who helped bring “All Dirt Roads Taste of Salt” to life. When I call your name, can you please stand, so we can all show you some love? Juliana Barreto Barreto, Production Designer. Pamela Shepard, Costume Designer. Candice Alustiza-Lee, Casting Director. Victor Magro and Sasha Gordon, Composers. Ikeyia Powell, Hair Department Head. And anyone whose name I did not call who worked on the film, can you please stand? Thank you, all.

I also want to acknowledge the actors that can’t be onstage with me tonight due to the ongoing SAG-AFTRA strike to get a fair contract. All my love to Charleen McClure, Moses Ingram, Reginald Helms Jr., Sheila Atim, Chris Chalk, Zainab Jah, Kaylee Nicole Johnson, Jayah Henry, Preston McDowell, Ms. Jannie Lee Hampton, and the entire “All Dirt Roads Taste of Salt” cast.

Last but not least, I’d like to bring some very special humans to the stage who have been on the journey of this film with me for literal years. Producer Maria Altamirano. You held this film with me when it was still a seed. And helped me water and protect its growth from day one. Thank you for your friendship and collaboration. Thank you for bringing this film into the world with me. Look where we are.

Producer Barry Jenkins and Producer Adele Romanski. Barry selected this project as the winner of an Indie Memphis residency for Black filmmakers years ago, and eventually he and his company, PASTEL, that he runs with Adele and Mark Ceryak, officially came on board. It’s been so, so good working with y’all and I’m deeply grateful for the trust and belief y’all showed me and this film. The work y’all are doing is so special, and I’m deeply proud to call y’all friends and collaborators. And much, much love to A24 for getting behind this film.

We poured a lot of love into “All Dirt Roads Taste of Salt.” I hope you allow the film to be an invitation to be in your body and have the film wash over you. I hope you allow it to be an experience.

Thank you so much for watching. See you on the other side.

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