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The Black Box

Baltimore's African-American indie filmmakers search for an audience

Photographs By Rarah
(Clockwise from left) Alvin Gray, Kim Moir, Grasshopper, R.M. Robinson, Jonathan Robinson, and Nakia Warren (center)
Nakia Warren and Alvin Gray
Grasshopper
Kim Moir

By Lee Gardner | Posted 6/16/2010

Sweet dreams Premiere

Landmark Harbor East on July 15.

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Kim Moir was there at the dawn of the revolution. Having spent the late '60s being dropped off at East Baltimore's now-defunct Kane Theatre by his parents--"it was kind of like a babysitter," he says--Moir came up obsessed with movies. When he was at Hampton University in the early '80s, however, "being a filmmaker as a realistic career aspiration was abstract at that time," he says. "Television was something I could grab hold of. In a naïve sort of way, I looked at it as a stepping stone into the film business."

Moir, now 50, studied mass media arts and went on to work as a videographer for a local TV station, learning how to tell stories visually and eventually entering a few stories of his own into playwriting contests. In 1999, a representative from Sony visited the station where he worked to show off a new gadget: one of the earliest digital-video cameras to make it into the hands of broadcasters. Moir recalls that the rep wanted the station to experiment with it; Moir says he countered by explaining that he had a project of his own that could use professional quality equipment.

"At the time it was a $150,000 camera," Moir recalls during a late-evening phone conversation. "He put [it] into my hands and said, 'Have at it.'"

The project Moir had in mind was a script he wrote called Sinsitivity, the story of a preacher's son turned TV reporter who falls in love with an exotic dancer and must confront his own divided soul. Moir recruited a cast and crew and set to work on principal photography as soon as he could. Sinsitivity wound up taking several years to finish, but Moir was resolute. "I wasn't bullshittin' about this," he says. "This wasn't a vanity project. I wanted it distributed, and I wanted it seen. We did it exactly the way any professional film production would be conducted." A few investors kicked in several thousand each, but Moir went into his own pocket, too.

The resulting 2003 film is a low-budget melodrama, but a surprisingly polished one, especially for a debut feature. Ryan Sands and Paige Carter flash plenty of charisma as the reporter and dancer, respectively, and Moir's script is ambitious, encompassing the reporter's family past, a conflict with sleazy strip-club owner, and an 11th-hour spiritual revelation. And that relative polish and the storyline's crowd-pleasing contours didn't escape the notice of Maverick Entertainment, which picked up DVD distribution rights in 2003. The deal was smaller than Moir had hoped, but he says he managed to more than double the $16,000 or so invested in the project, allowing him not only to pay back his backers, but pay his key cast as well. "I've never been happier giving my money away," he says.

As Moir was enjoying the afterglow of a modestly successful debut, Nakia Warren was getting her first major film project off the ground. The Baltimore native, now 32, had started out modeling and acting, but had found herself more interested in what went on behind the camera than in waiting around to be in front of it. She signed on as an executive producer for a Baltimore-shot project that would eventually be known as Hip-Hop Task Force, a low-budget entry in the then-booming urban crime flick genre that centered on an FBI agent who goes undercover at a record label in pursuit of a drug lord. Once the film was finished in 2003, Warren moved to California to help shop it around. While the film eventually received a DVD deal with Maverick Entertainment, the difficulty of selling the project was eye-opening.

"I had no clue how to get a movie picked up," she says now. "It was just trial and error. We realized we needed to have the right representation to even get your film seen."

And there were more challenges. "Hip-Hop Task Force is considered an urban film, and prior to having that in the can, the market was being flooded with urban independent films," she says. "It was difficult to get it picked up, because everyone had made an urban indie film."

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