The Tacoma Film Festival, an annual tradition showcasing independent films and their creators, has just concluded. Among the featured artists was Nikkia Atkinson, a recent graduate of UW Tacoma.
“Dinosaurs in the Hood,” directed by Atkinson, began as a senior project for a video production class, and eventually grew into the film short that was featured in the festival. But it wasn’t always smooth sailing.
“[We] went through a few ideas that were shot down by a professor,” Atkinson said. “And then [we] just decided not to tell him … and film it.”
Atkinson remembers when the film first played in her class — everyone was so silent that she couldn’t tell whether they loved it or hated it. Spoiler: it was definitely good. “Dinosaurs in the Hood” surrounds Danez Smith’s poem of the same name, which discusses the stereotyping in Hollywood. Atkinson brings visuals to Smith’s story and emphasizes his words. A portion that was completely transformed on-screen was when Smith describes that he only wanted to make the film so a little boy could see his dream — a real life dinosaur.
“Dinosaurs in the Hood” simultaneously surprises and takes the audience for a ride. In less than five minutes, Atkinson causes a range of emotions, whether it’s uncontrollable laughter or unstoppable tears. The showcasing of Smith’s poem is none other than brilliant, and brings even more attention to the issues Hollywood and large media corporations almost never address.
“We need to stop portraying certain people in a certain light because [then] people believe it as truth in society,” Atkinson said.
The original “Dinosaurs in the Hood” poem talks about the desire to make a film showcasing a stereotypical black neighborhood in a way that isn’t skewed by large corporations who make a mockery of African-American people. It also wants to avoid suggesting that the dinosaurs who ravage their town are a metaphor for a long history of pain.
If there was only one thing people should take away from the film, Atkinson believes it to be to:
“Listen and realize there is kind of a problem, and to not accept what you see in media as truth. Just do what you want and have fun with it because as soon as it becomes business it stops being fun.”
Atkinson tends to be gravitate toward two film genres: social justice issues — as seen in “Dinosaurs in the Hood” — and psycho thrillers, which will be seen in her upcoming film.
And one thing is for sure: Atkinson has more films coming our way. “Even though [I] won’t watch a scary movie to save [my] life, [I’ll] make them,” Atkinson said.
A current work in progress of Atkinson’s is a short “I Know What You Did Last Summer” type of film that comments on being in your 20s and done with school.
Atkinson sees this upcoming short as a “horror film” because life after college can be a hilariously scary situation — and one that works great on camera.
Updates on upcoming films are available on Atkinson’s Facebook and a personal website, which is currently still in the works.
So while you wait for more from UWT alumna Atkinson, check out “Dinosaurs in the Hood” — you definitely won’t be disappointed.
We were able to sit down with Atkinson to discuss her experience as a film creator in a Q&A.
Q: As a double major — in both communications and film studies — did you always know that you wanted to be a filmmaker?
A: I’d always been involved in performing arts growing up. I chose to attend UWT thinking it had a decent sized theatre department only to find out there wasn’t one. Stumbling upon the Student Theater Actors’ Guild was a happy accident and I didn’t think I’d later become the president of it. I grew up with a father who was heavily involved in the entertainment industry and I remember running around backstage at the Kennedy Center or playing with those chunky video camcorders growing up, so I think a part of me always knew.
Q: How do you think the UWT community influenced you as a director?
A: UWT allowed me to be very independent with my process. Before taking Dr. Coon’s Video Production class, I had no clue what I was doing. He taught us the basics and gave us the freedom to explore creating content. He was very upfront about what would be considered good content and what wasn’t. I appreciated that because this was so much more than just a grade for me.
Q: When was it decided that “Dinosaurs in the Hood” would be the inspiration for your short film?
A: I collaborated with my partner Long Tran to create “Dinosaurs in the Hood.” It took us several class periods to brainstorm what we wanted to do. Dr. Coon challenges us to make something that had sustenance and a message the audience could walk away with. I’d always been in love with Danez Smith’s poetry and after speaking with Smith last year about wanting to turn his poem into a film … I thought to myself, “Why not now?”
Q: Tell us about your next film — a psychothriller that tackles social justice issues sounds like a unique project.
A: There isn’t a title yet. We’re still going back and forth on a few things. But it is a psycho-thriller that focuses on that sort of limbo feeling you get when you’re in your twenties. It follows a group of friends who attend a party and later that night are being terrorized by this monsteresque thing chasing them. The monster, of course is a manifestation of something bigger … the real fear is being forced to grow up but not really knowing how to perform the ‘adult’ role. It deals with a lot of important factors like debt, abortion and not knowing how to let go of old friends that may be holding you back.
Q: What advice can you give to aspiring filmmakers in and around the UWT community?
A: One of my favorite directors is Ava Duvernay and she said something in an interview that really stuck with me, especially with the type of social commentary pieces I like to make. She said, “Work without permission.” That is something you should do no matter what you’re trying to accomplish. Don’t wait for someone to give you a green light because it might not ever come. “Set a path and start walking.”
Q: What’s next?
A: Hopefully a few more festivals? My short term goal is to complete this film and settle down in Los Angeles. Long term goal? Continue to create without permission … oh and a maybe a Netflix original series!