Growing up, Haley Elizabeth Anderson kept a secret. In her youth, there had been a period of time before Anderson went to college and she and her family were homeless. They lived in motels and sometimes in their cars. Now, the director, whose debut documentary If There Is Light tells her own past, tells of 14-year-old Janiyah, who is struggling with life in New York while her mother tries to remove her family from the protection system.
Anderson's film is part of the Queen Collective, a program created by Queen Latifah, Procter & Gamble and Tribeca Studios to support new, visionary filmmakers who are committed to telling personal stories that focus on a social one Focus on topic and positive social topics inspire change.
BET.com spoke to Anderson about the power of revealing her story through another woman's truth, the difficulties of seeking shelter when you are homeless, and the life-changing value of care from other black women creators and filmmakers.
BET.com: This is a very personal story. What was your motivation to tell it?
Haley Anderson: I knew I wanted to tell the story of children living in this transition crisis because I had the same experience as a teenager. Throughout my life, I have experienced homelessness to varying degrees. When I responded, I wanted to follow a young girl who had this experience. I was very lucky to find Janiyah, Makayla and their mother Jakenah because I wanted to tell this story through the eyes of a girl who had a family, especially from the older sister's point of view. As the first child, you are always the first to do something in the family. You are the one who has to make your mother feel better and take care of your younger siblings. I found Janiyah was going through the same things in this situation. I wanted to share my own experiences and give something back to someone who was going through the same thing.
BET.com: You follow this family through some very intimate moments like going to the hospital. How did you do that?
Haley Anderson: You trusted us, so it went faster than I think it would have happened in any other situation. I told them my own story and I think we connected. The first thing we shot was going to the hospital. That happened early on, but we put it in the middle of the story just because there were so many things to do. Real life is not suitable for the film structure. She called us and said, "Hey, I had a stroke," and I said, "We don't want to get in each other's way, but would you be willing to let us film?" We hung out with them in the hospital for several days and it all started.
BET.com: Have you been in contact with them since then?
Haley Anderson: Yes, I texted you today. Money [her brother] is out of jail. He is really fine. The girls seem to be doing well. Jakenah lived with a relative and then they moved to their own temporary location. It is still not stable, but they are doing much better than before.
BET.com: I was thinking about the current ban situation while looking at the document and wondering about the millions in the country who are in similar situations.
Haley Anderson: It's difficult. What I've heard in some places is that it's kind of good, because if people have already settled in one place, they won't be kicked out. But in other places they would get hotels, but they haven't let people in yet. This is an extremely difficult time and people should be aware that it is a privilege to be quarantined and bored in your home because it could be so much worse.
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BET.com: Last year your film If There Is Light was shot on Tribeca. What did you learn from your conversations with Queen Latifah and director Dee Rees?
Haley Anderson: Oh my god, so much. I didn't know that these conversations would really take me through the next few months of my life because last summer was crazy. My career started, but then some other things in life happened. And the strength that I got from mentoring really helped me. I don't think I could have done it without this experience. It helped me to trust myself, to stand up for myself and to appreciate myself. So as not to guess me as a person and as a creative. I am right here, healthy, also because of this experience. After that I got an agent and got a commercial representation. I really don't think any of this would have happened without this program.
BET.com: Your film is being streamed on Hulu. How does that feel?
Haley Anderson: It's crazy. Hulu is so recognizable. It also premiered on a smaller film site called Cinema Club, but I was able to tell my Uber driver that my film was on Hulu and watch it. It's accessible and the story is really out there, I'm happy.
BET.com: How are things going with the development of your other projects like Coyote Boys and Gulf?
Haley Anderson: Really, really, really good. I finish the final draft of Coyote Boys. We'll start the development and packaging process next month. The smaller projects I would have worked on have stalled because of the corona virus, but there are a few things on the table. I am also developing a film with Lena Waithes company called Hillman Grad about the first black punk band. It's a really cool project and I'm really excited about it.
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