Yolanda Brinkley: Bringing Diversity to The Cannes Film Festival [Guest Speaker Series]

Cannes Croisette by Gilbert Bochenek via Wikimedia

By Victoria Murad

So you want to go to Cannes? Not sure where to begin? Not sure if you fit in or belong?

You definitely belong, according to Yolanda Brinkley, founder of Diversity Symposium, a short film and award showcase operating at the Cannes Film Festival since 2010.  Although not yet an official entity of Cannes, it is held in close proximity and is getting more and more well known. Its mission is to bring the African diaspora and the international film community together.

Yolanda started the Diversity Symposium after she attended Cannes for the first time in 2009. She spoke French and had researched the festival before attending. However, upon her arrival, she felt like an outsider. So she took her smartphone and started interviewing people of color, asking them questions about why they came to Cannes and what they hoped to achieve. She decided that “no one is going to dictate to me if I belong or not” and that you had to “find your way or make one.”

Though not a filmmaker herself, Yolanda’s background and expertise is in Public Relations and her ability to speak French facilitated the founding of the Diversity Symposium. For her, diversity has multiple definitions beyond just race, which makes it clear that everyone belongs. The symposium is also a platform to create opportunities for networking and collaboration. Her determination to be globally inclusive led her to invite the first female Palestinian filmmaker to the symposium. Her ingenuity also led to using social media to track down potential panelists. She admits to stalking the Cannes website for announcements on who has been officially selected in the “Director’s Fortnight” or “Midnight Screening” and then reaching out to them via social media.

6 Key Tips for Success on the Festival Circuit  

1. “Find your way or make one.” Carve out a niche for yourself within that landscape/framework.

2. Social media is a great tool for tracking down filmmakers.

3. Have a clear purpose when attending film festivals. Whether it’s to promote your films, party or attend as many screening as possible, always know why you’re there.

4. Do your research!

5. Expand your mind and be open to finding unique ways to get what you want to get done, done. Because the world is so much more global than we are here in the United States.

6. Travel more, because once you’ve done it, you realize you that people in other parts of the world travel a lot more than you.

Yolanda Brinkley was a guest speaker at a 3As meeting on March 1, 2014. To learn more about Diversity at Cannes, visit http://diversityincannes.com/

Victoria Murad is a screenwriter and board member of the African Artists’ Association. Follow her on Facebook and LinkedIn.