Seven Questions with Patrick James Thomas

Patrick Hames Thomas is the director of Naphtali. A couple struggles to deal with the loss of their boys to child protective services, but in order to get them back they must face what got their kids taken away in the first place.

1. Who are your film influencers?

The filmmakers that influence me the most are Charles Burnett, Haile Gerima, Julie Dash, Yasijuro Ozu, Elia Kazan, Spike Lee.  Film is a combination of so many art forms that I have to mention other arts that influence my work.  Harlem Renaissance painter Jacob Lawrence’s work greatly influences my production design.  Playwright August Wilson influences the black experience and black culture in my films. Musical artist Bill Withers influences musical feeling and style. The photography of Gordon Parks and Roy DeCarava helps me communicate the cinematography on the look of the film. So many more artists influence my films depending on the story.

2. What are the toughest aspects of making a film today?

I think for every filmmaker it’s different because we all have different situations that we are dealing with in life.  I think for me, it’s time.  I try to juggle work, family, and being an independent filmmaker.  As an independent filmmaker I think you need to have tunnel vision block out as much distraction as you can so you can study the craft and execute your vision.

3. Best advice you’ve received as a filmmaker?

It’s hard to pinpoint just one.  One that I hold on to is being told you have the right to tell your own story.  If you don’t believe that as a filmmaker, it is a powerful thing to embrace.  You may think your stories aren’t relevant or aren’t popular, but tell it anyway. It’s a part of your voice.   Tell your story unapologetically.

4. What does it mean to you to be a Black filmmaker or to create films with black stories or characters.

It’s important that we are in charge of telling our stories because we have so many nuances and experiences that are specific to our culture. It’s important that we are the writers and directors of our films’ stories because then you have a chance at telling and showing a story others may not be able to tell.  I see a lot of big budget films with black directors and white writers. Some of those films I actually liked, but it’s always a what if. What if the writer was black? What more could they have brought to the story?

5. What does it mean to you that your film is on Aspire TV and other platforms?

Filmmakers want an audience for their artwork and having a platform to showcase your work is a call for a celebration.  Having a platform like AspireTV is great.  The AspireTV family has been welcoming and responsive to my work and I feel like I am becoming an extended member of the family.

6. Advice you would give the next gen following you?

Have tunnel vision as you’re on your journey, control what distracts you from your goal.  Be consistent.  Be relentless. Don’t stop. Don’t give up. Stay encouraged.  Opportunities are rising up more than ever for filmmakers.  Create a village of filmmakers and raise each other up. Don’t forget to rest and recharge.

7. Are there any inspirational films, articles or books that you would recommend to go deeper into the topics and themes in your film?

My film deals with this broken family.  I think the film Kramer vs Kramer goes deeper into the theme of a broken family struggling to cope with their situation.  I did a short film, so I chose to concentrate on the family getting their kids out of child protective custody.  If I directed a feature I would have been able to show the flaws of both the father and the mother.  I would’ve also touched on the kids’ struggle of being away from their parents.