For Michelle Materre, Paying it Foward was a Way of Life
by Leslie Fields-Cruz
I write this Dispatch with a heavy heart. The independent film field lost one of its finest last weekend: film educator, distributor, and Black film advocate Michelle Materre.
I met Michelle at the beginning of my career, a time when I had no idea how to turn a master’s degree in cinema studies into a job that pays. I just knew I wanted to support Indie voices.
I had been called into ETV for a job interview. About 15 minutes into the interview, the executive director and I both knew I didn’t have enough production experience for the job. I knew going in that it was a long shot, but I was happy to at least have been called for an interview. As I was leaving the office, Michelle Materre, who was working there at the time, stopped me. She introduced herself, invited me to sit by her desk, and we started chatting. She asked me several questions, none of which I can remember clearly now, but the sincerity of her intention was clear. She wanted to help me find a way to enter the industry. She gave me her contact information, along with a job lead. She told me, “tell them Michelle Materre sent you.” That lead led to my first nonprofit media arts job.
My story about Michelle is NOT unique. Check the Facebook comments and you’ll see countless versions of it. She was a connector, a promoter, a mentor, a friend, a confidante, a colleague, a caregiver, and more. She understood why Black films need special attention when it comes to distribution and engagement, and she recognized the need to fill the industry pipeline with Black people who weren’t just filmmakers. There are multiple generations of filmmakers, curators, distributors, and media arts administrators whose lives and careers have been impacted simply because Michelle took the time to listen and to care.
Her example offers life lessons for us all.
These days, one of my greatest joys in this career that Michelle helped me launch, is to open my email and find notes raving about projects that BPM has supported. That’s what happened this Monday. I received a note describing how warmly the works of Kevin Shaw and Rachel Dickenson (Let the Little Light Shine), Jon Sesrie Goff (After Sherman) and Tamara Shogaolu (Un(re)solved) were received at this year’s True/False Film Festival (March 3–6). I also hear Un(re)solved snagged the 2022 SXSW Innovation Award this month! Congrats, Kevin, Rachel, Jon, and Tamara. Your projects exemplify powerful Black storytelling and I’m thrilled to hear that your fanbase is growing.
Michelle and other mentors have taught me that once you’re established in your career, you have a responsibility to help others advance. So, if you or anyone you know is in the market for a nonprofit arts administrative job, Women Make Movies is searching for a new operations and finance manager. Details about the position and how to apply are here. Tell them Leslie Fields-Cruz sent you.
Have a great week.
— Fields-Cruz is the executive director of Black Public Media