Film Interview: Sombras De Azul Director Kelly Daniela Norris Discusses The Storytelling Of Emotion

This film, filmed in Cuba, screens tonight in Austin. See details below.

Sombras de Azul, directed by current Austinite Kelly Daniela Norris, tells the story of a young woman who attempts to escape the grief caused by her brother’s recent suicide by traveling to Cuba, a place she’s always dreamed of going. This week guest contributor Meredith Bennett had a chance to talk to Norris about the film, which Austin Film Society will screen as a Narrative-in-Progress on Sunday. 

For Kelly Daniela Norris, life experience is what humbles her. She studied film and psychology at Columbia, and after graduating with honors, dedicated three years to Teach for America in New York City. When her partner Travis Pittman returned from a two year stint in Ghana with the Peace Corps, they produced the short film Sinnerman, based on the Nina Simone song of the same name.

Sinnerman garnered the couple accolades from the film community and also earned them positions working under David Milch, an award-winning writer of “Deadwood” and “NYPD Blue”. Norris and Pittman got a lot out of their time in L.A., but they’re happy to be living in Austin again, this time as full-time filmmakers.

Sombras de Azul is a more ambitious film than Sinnerman — for its length and for its deeply personal content. It’s one of the first American films to be produced in Cuba since the U.S. Embargo in 1962, and with its stunning long shots and complex depiction of the pain of losing a loved one, Sombras de Azul beautifully succeeds in being something between a memoir and a visual meditation.

Do you think you’ve invested more emotionally into Sombras de Azul than prior projects?

Without a doubt. My brother and I shared an intensely special connection. He was one of my greatest sources of artistic inspiration, not to mention very encouraging of my cinematic pursuits. (In fact, he carried a copy of my short films from college in his backpack, which for him was essentially another appendage, and tended to force it onto people with great, undeserved pride.) For an infinite number of reasons, his death hit me very hard. I felt haunted by it, and it took years before I could even speak of him in the past tense.

Sombras de Azul, which I began writing around the four-year anniversary, became a diaristic manifestation of my need to heal, to talk to him, to liberate myself from the sort of overpowering, internalized emotions that were weighing me down. It’s as emotionally vulnerable as I can manage.

Sombras de Azul (Shades of Blue) – Official Trailer from Bob Geile on Vimeo.

How do think you’ve grown since producing Sinnerman?

I’d like to think I’ve grown significantly as a writer. Thanks in no small part to the influence of David Milch, I’ve learned to respect the integrity of the story and my characters – to let them breathe on their own and dictate the narrative. When I made Sinnerman it was tougher to really dive into the sort of nitty-gritty that process requires because I was still teaching, which is where I channeled most of my passion, time, and energy.

The decision to commit to filmmaking full-time was a heavy one, and means I feel a tremendous obligation to this day to pour myself into these projects — especially one as personal as Sombras — thinking out and obsessing over each detail from the script on. But I always work in the same spirit I had when I made Sinnerman – that I refuse to spend time on something I don’t believe in, on something I don’t feel is significant. If I didn’t believe that film had the capacity to connect me with people in a profound way, then I’d hop on a bus back to that middle school in the South Bronx tomorrow.

Was this project funded entirely through Kickstarter? What was your biggest challenge in working within your budget?

Luckily we had investors who got us through most of our production. (Of course, the film was saved by our Kickstarter supporters who thankfully covered post-production costs.) Because it was a microbudget film, shot in a place as insulated as Cuba, without the luxury of extra time for location-scouting, casting, rehearsals (i.e. the usual bare necessities of a healthy production), it’s almost laughable to think it came together at all.

If I had to discern a single, biggest challenge in working within a tight budget, I would say it’s the time crunch. No matter how mapped out, how to-the-minute we attempted to be with our schedule (and we were!), there was barely enough time. We had 16 days with our principle actors since that was what we were able to afford, and it meant there was constant pressure to get a scene in as few takes as possible.

Sombras de Azul will screen as an AFS Narrative-in-Progress today in the Austin Film Society Screening Room at 4 PM for AFS Make Level members and above.

For the original report go to

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