Q&A with Howard Mitchell

Howard’s short film ‘Forgive Us Our Debts’ is our May winner and part of our official selection for the 2021 festival.

What was the inspiration behind making this film?

I've always been consumed with the concept of "home," since it looks like different things for many different people. A poet said that “home is the place that when you get there, they have to take you in.” I loved that phrase and it stuck with me for many years. Home is more than something that you can own, to me, it’s a rightful refuge. It's meant to be untouchable. I wanted to create a salient experience for the audience to visually experience what it would feel like to have a foreign invader trespass into the most sacred space that a person can have, and have that as the threat. And then be told by this threat that this sacred refuge doesn’t belong to them anymore. I was challenged to show how something like that would feel more than anything else. The threat must be the antagonist in my film, not the greedy land developer or the police. I guess I was more interested in capturing the abstract feeling of it on camera. How would that translate? 

What did you learn from the experience?

Doing some background research about the history of Oregon and its history of redlining and such I learned a lot of things. Police brutality is a symptom of persistent racial inequality and is inextricably linked to black and brown neighborhoods in the United States. I'm convinced that Police brutality and discriminatory housing policies go hand in hand as a national moral crisis. A national cure for this crisis will not come from just reforming police departments, but from reversing racist policies that have shortchanged black and brown families and even working-class poor families and neighborhoods for generations.

How has the film been received?

Really positively. The movie resonates because it’s timely. Even in a crazy pandemic like this, positive reception is happening by word of mouth and by wonderful online festivals like yours. COVID-19 has exposed the fragility of tens of thousands of renters and homeowners, many of whom lost their jobs or saw their hours cut and struggled to pay rent or mortgages at a time when access to stable housing is a public health necessity. Black and Latino families are bearing the brunt of COVID related layoffs. People are becoming more aware of the issues the movie addresses and is drawing from the energy of what’s happening right now. 

What do you love the most about the filmmaking process?

What do I love most about the process of filmmaking? When each project is over. The entire process is like tying a rope around a small army of people and pulling it over a mountain with your teeth. But I love working with talented people like my crew and actors, but I guess my favorite part of the process is wrapping it all up and also the beginning seeds of what happens when I tell a friend “I have an idea!" And then I start the process all over again with a new film.

What is your advice to budding filmmakers making their debut short film?

My advice is to not do it. LOL. But if you insist on being a filmmaker and the passion to make movies burns within you, then surround yourself with good people who believe that believe in you and believe that you can do it. Then do it with boldness. And if there isn’t anyone around that believes in you, then do it anyway. And do it with boldness. Boldness has genius and power and magic in it.   


What are you up to next?

I'm developing a number of ideas for a feature film but on the front burner is a hot and sweaty, pulpy crime noir. And since it's set in Portland, and dealing with some of Portland's sketchy humanitarian past, maybe there'll be lots of rain. In this movie, let's see if rain can wash its sins away.