Featured image: Eris Baker as Phoenix in Aisha Ford’s short film, Cherry Lemonade. (Photo by Jessica Perez.)
In Aisha Ford’s new short film Cherry Lemonade, Eris Baker stars as a young girl named Phoenix. She hangs out with her older brother, Kurt (Skylan Brooks), on a hot day in a lower-income neighbourhood. With this heat, the only thing she wants is a cold cherry lemonade. When Kurt plays football with his buddies, she grabs his bike and ventures to the store on her own, growing up along the way and taking the lead.
Aisha’s film had its World Premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival last month. As the film still makes its way along the festival circuit, it’s currently screening at the Indy Shorts International Film Festival, running from July 20-25. (You can find information for the festival right here. https://www.heartlandfilm.org/indyshorts)
In time for this festival, I was able to speak with Aisha via e-mail about her film, where we touch on her inspiration for the project, the casting process and much more. Find that conversation directly below:
Daniel Prinn, Filmcraziest.com: Hi, Aisha. First, can you tell me what inspired you to write Cherry Lemonade?
Aisha Ford: Growing up in a lower-class neighborhood, the youngest girl in a family of boys, I had to learn early on how to hold my own. I remembered the beauty and the fun of my old hometown, but I also remembered the dangers too. As a young girl, I didn’t know what opportunities awaited me outside of my small community.
But the lessons I learned there would help me take hold of them. I always felt as though I had to learn how to defend myself because of the threat of dangerous situations. As a filmmaker, I yearn to bring those lessons to the big screen and make films that represent the community and home I remember in a way that champions its complexity and authenticity. This is what inspired me to create Cherry Lemonade—a story about a young girl learning how to hold her own in a world that contains tough (and sometimes violent) men, even when those men present themselves as her protectors.
DP: With those men being seen as protectors, did you have any older brothers or role models that you used as reference for that side of the story, or ones you used as inspiration for Kurt?
Aisha Ford: Yes, Kurt is inspired by my older brother Robert. His personality is tough but nurturing. As his younger sister, I often annoyed him lol.
DP: Can you talk about the casting of your film, with Eris Baker as Phoenix and Skylan Brooks as Kurt?
Aisha Ford: One of my producers contacted an amazing casting director and they recommended Eris Baker to play the role of Phoenix, so my film team reached out to her. Similar story with Skylan Brooks: another one of my producers worked with him previously and we reached out to him for the role of Kurt. It was unbelievable working with the two!
The immediate chemistry they had together really made this film feel special and often reminded me of my relationship with my brothers. They are both extremely talented and put in a lot of hard work into making their characters come to life.
DP: That’s awesome. With Eris’ performance, you really feel her anxiety during the film. What was it like for Eris tapping into that anxiety?
Aisha Ford: Eris is a natural! Prior to production, we spoke in depth about her character, her motives and I even shared with her some of my personal experiences in this situation [and] it clicked! I loved that it resonated with her so well and she immediately knew how to play to the emotion in a nuanced way.
DP: This feels like such a personal story, so while writing these powerful scenes, does it get emotional?
Aisha Ford: Sometimes I do get quite emotional while writing personal scenes but in other times, I can get so lost in the scene that I forget to myself. I know when the scene pulls a heartstring when I read it the second time and I’m still feeling the effect.
DP: Your film’s a fascinating short in the way that Phoenix grows up in this situation and then goes back to being a kid the next day… Can you talk about exploring that?
Aisha Ford: That’s actually an interesting take on things—I never really thought of her having to go back to being a kid the next day! For me, in the end I felt Phoenix was simply a lot stronger than she was before. After everything she went through, she’s learned how to defend herself on her own and not rely too much on her brother. She gained a bit of “street smarts” that day, but in the process lost a bit of her innocence.
DP: Now, a bit about the background for the short. I read that your film consisted of a 90-percent volunteer crew that was largely female or female identifying, as well as over 50 percent BIPOC. Can you tell me why that was important to you?
Aisha Ford: It was really important for me to work so closely with women because I believe it gave a unique perspective to the film. I strongly felt we were in tandem. Not only did working with women give a special touch to the film but also it allowed women the opportunity to create films. We were incredibly grateful to have several women volunteer themselves for this project and I honestly would not have had it any other way!! Cherry Lemonade was produced under the Women in Media CAMERAderie initiative, a nonprofit that supports emerging voices and untapped potential of female filmmakers.
DP: Can you also tell me about the Spike Lee Film Production grant?
Aisha Ford: Yes, the Spike Lee Film production grant is an award given to a select few NYU students or alum, who show promise and passion for filmmaking. Each student has to submit a script, or a short film and Mr. Lee will personally look over each submission and choose the best to be awarded. I could not be happier that I was one of the chosen!
DP: As well, being an NYU student, what was it like premiering at Tribeca?
Aisha Ford: Being a student at NYU gave me the opportunity to hone my skills as a filmmaker and try new things! During my time, I was able to establish valuable longtime friendships and collaborators for future projects. Every day I learned something new and it was awesome being around people who loved cinema just as much as me. Screening at Tribeca was a huge honor and definitely something that I am going to cherish for the rest of my life! I am kind of still in shock, but it was really a great experience.
DP: You’re also the director and writer of your film. Between those two roles, is there one that either feels more natural to you or one you simply prefer doing?
Aisha Ford: Writing and directing both have their ups and downs for me lol. With writing you know, you have to climb over that first step of self-deprivation and focus on making the story that you want to see. In my own process, my first drafts are always trash but I am happy at the end of the day because I wrote…a full-length draft!
With directing, it’s nerve-racking at times you know, like the first day jitters you get when you are scrambling to make sure that everything you been planning during pre-production comes together. Your film is your baby—your characters, your vision, your story. Both have their challenges, but if I had to choose, I would say writing because it’s something where I just get to sit down and write what’s in my head. There is something very cathartic about that process once it gets going.