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Spotlight: An interview with Joslyn Rose Lyons ("Shadowbox")

Joslyn Rose Lyons. Photo credit: Steven Jennings Photography

Joslyn Rose Lyons is a visionary filmmaker known for her boundary-pushing storytelling. With a knack for blending drama, magical realism, and fantasy, Joslyn's work captivates audiences worldwide. Today, we delve into her latest project, "Shadowbox," a mesmerizing fable that blurs the lines between reality and fantasy. Join us as we uncover the inspiration behind "Shadowbox" and explore Joslyn's unique approach to cinematic storytelling.

Joslyn, it’s great to have you with us today! Tell us, what initially sparked your interest in filmmaking, and when did you realize it was a passion you wanted to pursue? 

• It was more of a vision at a young age. So I pursued film in college, and my passion for filmmaking ignited during my experiences directing and producing documentaries and music television. I am inspired by the power of visual storytelling, and the eway it evokes emotion and ignites thought.

Can you share a bit about your background and upbringing, and how it has influenced your journey as a filmmaker? 

• Growing up with an interest in the arts, music and the spiritual connection to creativity, my journey as a filmmaker has been deeply influenced by my desire to amplify underrepresented voices and explore that through the medium of film and storytelling.

Were there any specific films or filmmakers that inspired you early in your career? 

• I am inspired by filmmakers who blend reality with fantasy, find the extraordinary in the ordinary, Jean Pierre Junet, Spike Lee, Barry Jenkins... Their ability to weave complex social issues into engaging narratives showed me the transformative power of cinema.

What do you find most rewarding about writing and directing films? 

• The most rewarding aspect is the ability to explore and manifest the unseen and the unsaid. Creating narratives that challenge perceptions and inspire empathy allows me to connect with audiences on a profound level.

Let’s discuss your previous project, Butterfly Boxing, which won an Honorable Mention: Ensemble at LAFA in 2022. Did “Shadowbox” originate from there, as a short film or a proof of concept? 

• “Shadowbox” was conceived a few years prior to my short film “Butterfly Boxing.” I wanted to sketch out a proof of concept from one of the character arcs as a creative exercise, so we made the short, and explored themes of resilience and community in the narrative.

“Shadowbox” paints a vivid picture of a city threatened by gentrification and a protagonist, Rose, who runs her family’s bookstore. Can you delve into Rose’s character and how her journey unfolds throughout the screenplay?

• Rose uncovers mythology and history within her bookstore, like a treasure map, tapping into a magical power residing within her own world, granting her insight and foresight into her community. She embodies resilience and battles against gentrification. Throughout “Shadowbox,” her odyssey is a profound exploration of self-discovery, as she leverages her imagination and encounters with magic to illuminate a newfound identity and vision for her family and community.

Cash and Amari’s struggles with keeping their family’s Boxing Studio alive add another layer of complexity to the story. How do these characters’ conflicts intersect with the broader themes of community and identity in “Shadowbox”? 

• Their efforts to keep the family’s boxing studio afloat represent the broader struggle of local communities to preserve their identity in the face of corporate encroachment. This intersects with the main themes by highlighting the impact of gentrification on family and community bonds.

Ace and Jaden’s friendship is tested as they find themselves at a crossroads. What inspired these characters, and what role do they play in the narrative? 

• Inspired by the real-life challenges faced by youth in gentrifying neighborhoods, their story adds a layer of interpersonal drama and highlights the personal stakes involved in the community’s larger battle.

The arrival of LIB, a Luxury Living chain, poses a significant threat to the Boxing Studio and Bookstore. Can you discuss the significance of this external threat and how it drives the characters’ actions? 

• The threat posed by the LIB chain drives much of the plot, as it is the catalyst for the community’s mobilization and resistance. This external pressure tests the resilience and creativity of the characters, pushing them to fight for their dreams and identity.

Rose encounters fantastical elements such as shapeshifters and alchemists, including Lizard and Ant. How do these characters and their artifacts, like Ant’s Vintage Pocket Watch and Lizard’s Golden Bicycle, contribute to the magical realism of the story? 

• The fantastical characters, like Lizard and Ant, bring a layer of magical realism that enriches the narrative. Their artifacts symbolize the characters’ connections to their past, which are crucial in their fight externally against gentrification and internally, reawakening their dormant dreams.

There are several motifs in the story, including the memory and illusion of perception, and the shadow and light. How do these themes manifest themselves in “Shadowbox,” particularly about Rose’s journey and the overall narrative? 

• In “Shadowbox,” these motifs manifest as Rose navigates through her personal and community struggles. The interplay of shadow and light represents the internal and external conflicts faced by the characters, while memory, time, and perception are explored through Rose’s interactions with the magical elements of the story, challenging her understanding of reality and empowering her to reshape her community’s future and reignite their dreams.

“Shadowbox” is a love letter to time. How does the concept of time play a role in shaping the interconnected stories and characters in the screenplay? 

• Time in “Shadowbox” is a central theme, acting as both a binding force and a source of tension. The narrative explores how past decisions impact present circumstances and future outcomes, illustrating the cyclic nature of struggles and the timeless essence of community and resilience, as well as the sybmology of portals to the past and visions to the future.

Can you elaborate on Rose’s ability to see the magic in her community and how it influences her actions throughout the story? 

• Rose’s ability to see the magic in her community is crucial to her character development and actions. This unique perspective helps her recognize the strengths and potential of her surroundings, inspiring her to lead and galvanize her community against the forces of gentrification.

In the movie theater scene, Amari says (in Voice Over): “When we shadowbox, we face the invisible opponent. The greatest knockout of all is our own shadow. It is only then that we can find the light.” What reflections do you hope viewers will have on their challenges after experiencing the film? 

• I hope viewers reflect on the metaphor of shadowboxing as a representation of personal and collective struggles. The film script aims to inspire audiences to confront their own challenges, understand their deeper meanings, and realize that overcoming these can lead to profound growth and enlightenment.

What do you hope audiences take away from the film, particularly its message about community, identity, and the power of perception? 

• Once I make this film, I hope audiences take away an appreciation for the strength of community, inner vision, and the role of identity in shaping our actions and the gift and presence of resistance on the path to pursuing dreams. The film underscores the power of perception in transforming our understanding of ourselves, our environments, and ultimately of time, fostering a deeper connection and responsibility towards our communities, and to our deeper callings.

What was it like working with the actors, especially Hill Harper and J. Alphonse Nicholson on the short film Butterfly Boxing? 

• Working with Hill Harper and J. Alphonse Nicholson on the short film was incredibly inspiring. Their dedication and understanding of the creative process brought depth to the short, making the characters’ struggles and triumphs resonate more authentically with the audience. I am so grateful and excited to have their involvement with the Shadowbox project as well.

What are you most proud of, when it comes to your work?

• I am most proud of my ability to convey complex themes through compelling storytelling and to foster an empathetic understanding of diverse human experiences. My films not only entertain but also provoke thought and inspire change.

What’s next for you and Shadowbox?

• For “Shadowbox,” the next steps involve taking our the script and finding the right partners to make the movie, who continue to challenge narrative boundaries and highlight underrepresented stories.

What are you currently working on?

• I am currently working this next phase of the process from script for "Shadowbox" to feature film... as I dive deeper into the themes present in “Shadowbox,” focusing on community resilience and the intersection of reality and magical realism.

What is your dream project?

• My dream project is to create a multi-narrative film that spans dreams and time periods, weaving together stories of resistance and transformation that highlight universal human experiences, and ultimately understanding through that lens, the art of alchemy.

Is there anything you’d like to add, or someone you wish to thank?

• I would like to thank my collaborators, mentors, and the communities that inspire my work. Their support and the stories they share are a huge part of my creative process.

Where can our readers follow more of your work?

• Instagram @itsjoslynrose


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