Next Festival Event: Saturday July 31st (Stream all day)



RED PILL, 87min., USA, Horror
Directed by Tonya Pinkins

LISTEN to Podcast Interview with Director Tonya Pinkins:

Halloween weekend of the 2020 election, six old friends ride into red country armed with humor and naiveté.
When the meet an immovable force their plans are thwarted and their fight to win the election becomes a fight for their lives.

Six progressives, one deadly weekend.

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Director Statement

I am a very good mimic. i am also a very good observer. i listen well. I am interested . i am curious. I have always craved difference. I could also figure out how things work and I could use that knowledge to be “successful” by the dominant cultural standard I developed within.
Because I listen with an unbiased ear I hear what most people’s ‘stories’ filter out. My view of the world may seem predictive but it is simply a map of the patterns that are there for anyone with eyes to see and ears to hear.
For instance, I was clear that Hillary Clinton could not win the 2016 election. If you asked me why, I would have said Womyn are more hated than Black people in America. Or if she couldn’t beat a Black man there is no way she could beat a White man. The point is, I was not surprised by the current occupant of the white house’s win. I was more shocked by the grief of all the liberals who didn’t see it coming.
As the next election drew near, i was clear that the path for the incumbent’s victory seemed highly likely.
All of life is in flux.
But I knew no one wanted to here my predictions again. In fact most had forgotten their own beliefs from 2016
A mantra that soothes me is attributed to Austrian Sculpture , Egon Weiner who said, “The only appropriate response to abuse is creativity.”
When life gets tough I try to create out of the pain.
From 2016 to the present I was witnessing a lot of pain. #METOO, #TimesUpNOW and lots of chaos from the White House exacerbated by hundreds of cell phone videos of state sanctioned violence with Police as judge , jury and executioner on the street.
I asked myself how and what can I create that might make the world better for my having been here?
There was also a new public logos “work locally.”
As an actor I travel the world so I took “local’ to mean my community. My community is womyn.
I had witnessed first hand the way well intentioned womyn insend the #MeToo and TimesUp movements were unconsciously harming other womyn.
My first act of creativity was to commission, direct and produce a series of ten minute plays by and about the ways womyn harm one another, but more importantly modeling how they could mend these wounds.
The result was a series of play readings at Deepak Home Base, En Garde Arts, the Heal Me too festival and a full production at The Tank theater in manhattan in September 2019.
I collected over twenty five plays and songs. it was powerful work. i am committed to working with in my community of womyn to move the needle toward justice and equality. I am committed to ending what what I have coined as MSogyny: women hating women and thus themselves.”
In July 2019, I was visiting a friend’s country house. it was the second weekend of two mass shootings on two days. She and I were discussing it. I found her to be quite dismissive attributing the shootings to random, displaced toxic rage. Out of my mouth I spouted “That’s because you can’t imagine that they may have a leader with a vision for a thousand year reign.”
Over the next few weeks I began playing with images and symbols that represented the divide between Blue and Red .
Suddenly I had a story.Tthen one day I had a metaphor, a symbol for it all. The subconscious and spirit world speak in symbols. In magic, sigils are symbols made from a writing of an expression of that which you desire.
The revelation of the symbol was the sign that this was a story I was here to tell.

I wrote the script a few weeks later and asked friends who had made movies how I could make this movie that I was given.
I had done two bankruptcies in a row. i had not had a credit card for twenty years. The end of the second ten years had past and I received a couple credit cards. The credit limit was good and I decided that since I had not had any credit card debt for two decadesIi could take some on to make this movie which I now named RED PILL.
I hired a professional to draw up the budget based on the time and credit line I had available. She came back and said impossible.” Here is a budget and schedule of what it will require.” I bought the budget and scheduling software and played around with what I could afford to make. Meanwhile I consulted another producer who said that the first estimate was too low.

Somehow my spirit was not daunted. i knew that if this movie was for me to make it would be made. God makes a way where there is no way.
It was September 2019, I was in tech for the Truth and Reconciliation of Womyn plays. I asked several friends with experience to come on as producers. They all declined for personal reasons.
I then reached out to people to raise money. I took a training in pitching and found myself asking people for a million dollars.
There were no takers even at the ten thousand dollar, tax deductible level.
Then a friend sent an email that said I don’t have a million dollars to give you. But i know someone who can give you a million dollars worth of advice.
That email and meeting changed the course of my life and of the movie RED PILL..
I only met Juney Smith once. I have spoken with him hundreds of times His encouragement and mentoring made RED PILL possible.
My friend , Count Stovall took us for lunch at The West Bank Cafe. Juney explained to me that he had gone to NYC three or four decades ago at the time when home entertainment was in its infancy. He thought to himself, “All movies will end up in home entertainment. So why should I compete with CAA and Fox and Warner brothers when all our product will end up in the same place?”
He and his friends put together thirty five thousand dollars and made a feature film. They were paid a fifty thousand dollar minimum guarantee (MOG)_. They recouped their initial investment and used the profit to make their next film. Juney and his partners have made twenty eight films, features and documentaries over twenty eight years. Juney told me a film was a piece of real estate, It would make money for years to come. He showed me his royalty statements.
Then he said. “if you are willing to invest in this movie yourself, there is nothing to stop you. and he said. Horror is the number one market in the world. You’ve got a money maker.”
Armed with that shot of encouragement and inspiration i went about assembling a cast and a team. The youngest son’s best friends mother came on as producer. She had always wanted to make a movie. She dubbed us Virgins Unlimited.
Juney wrote a pitch document that combined what I had shared with him about why I wanted to make this more. It became the blueprint for every conversation moving forward.
The first shift that happened in me is that when I sent my scripts to potential collaborators and they called me back, I assumed they were interested in working with me. I had no care or interest in what they thought of the script or story.
This was a huge shift because I had spent decades sending out scripts wanting people to “like”them, taking their notes and rewriting to please until I got so far away from what I liked, from the initial inspiration , that i shelved every script.
This time my energy, passion and the revelation were fueling me and other people opinions were of no consequence.
My producer, Vicki and I set a date by which we had to have all the cast and crew in place or we would call it off.
I knew I wasn’t ever going to call it off but that agreement was important for Vicki.
One morning before I could get out of bed, we lost our camera package from Arriflex, which meant we would need a new Director of photography, the most important professional on the team since were novices. Then, the biggest horror producer in the world passed on the script. He gave great notes but felt it wasn’t scary enough. I asked the friend, an executive who is now a producer on RED PILL, who had taken the script to him, what she thought he meant. She and I agreed that he wanted more blood and kills which was not my taste, AND, we agreed that he did not perceive of the precarious political situation that RED PILL foretold. Another person I approached as an investor said, “Good script but the ending is farfetched”A year later he came on as an investor and said ,”I was wrong you are a visionary.”
But that day, I thought, dare I get out of bed because at the moment the film was dead in the water.
Then a call came in from a girl friend I had know for thirty five years. I had asked her to consult with me about how to use color to heighten the themes of the story. She had called to say, “ You shouldn’t make this movie. You can’t afford it. When you write a story people assume it is a reflection of your values. This story has no good people or values. Everyone is terrible.”
I countered, “Do you watch horror movies? A horror movie is where you meet a bunch of people, you know they are all going to die and you’re rooting for the killer.”
She became more adamant and began dangling carrots of other help that she could not proffer if she couldn’t be sure what kind of film THEY would be getting into. She ended in a furious “I am only saying this because I am your friend and I love you”
To which I said, “But, I have written exactly the story I want to tell. I like it. So you haven’t told me anything. Why don’t you tell me what offended you. What did you hate?.”
She flinched and then got very quiet and said “Well it just made me feel like , maybe Tonya hates white people and I’m not safe with her”
That was truth
“I said do you feel that about white men who rape and chop women up in movies? Cause you’re not safe with them.”
She was silent
We got off the phone and I thought wow, how easy it was for her to question thirty five years of ‘friendship,” This woman whom I had directed in plays I had written, whoIi had acted with, who had chosen all the color for my apartments to call into question our entire relationship based on one of the many stories of mine that she had read.
I thought of how my entire career had ben about separating and producers of the writers of the heinous, degrading depiction of Black people that I had been cast to portray form them as storytellers and people.
It was in that moment that I knew that come hell or high water , RED PILL had to be made. If it had gotten under my friend’s skin at that level, it was touching on a truth that needed to come out in the world.
I reached out to all the fine actors whom I could find in my phone book. No going through gate keepers. i had no money and this would have to be done based upon relationship.
I instinctively knew that my relationship as ‘difficult’ in the industry combined with my reputation as brilliant would go a long way in credibility with actors who respected both my stances.
The script scared a lot of people. But the best and perfect cast of Ruben Blades, Katherine Erbe, Catherine Curtin, Colby Minifie, Luba Mason, Adesola Osakalumi and Jake O’Flaherty were assembled. All of their schedules fit into the ten days I had allotted to complete shooting the eighty five page script.
One of the actors called me after reading the script and said, “Thank you for asking me to play this terrible character!.”
The ten day shoot was a world wind of crazy ups and downs that I will save for another time. But suffice to say that it was proof that ‘God helps Fools and babies.” I ain’t no baby. It snowed the last day of shooting which was the sign that it filming was over.
We planned to release in March of 2020 . We thought this would be a great cautionary tell, a get out the vote story, a warning of what would happen if we did not turn this country blue. God laughs at plans.
Covid-19 hit. Movie theaters were closed and I went through three editors over the next eight months. By the end of July 2020, I decided that I had failed.
I learned that writing and shooting the movie is the Easy part. post production is where movies are made. I had very minimal help in post and I had failed.
But I am a Gemini so while one twin was mourning the other one was figuring out next steps.
I decided the next editor would be a woman of color. I interviewed a Berliner, A African American , A South Asian and an Armenian.
The South Asian is a brilliant filmmaker in her own right. i watched all her movies and became a fan. I did not see any way that we would ever get her.
The Berliner asked questions like,” When Ruebén Blades character says ‘They Killed all my people but kept their names for the roads’ what is he referring to?”

The question was so clear to me and I knew would be clear to all brown people anywhere on the planet because the genociding and keeping of names has been done by colonizers the world over. There was no way to answer her because she was seeing through the colonizers eyes. And as the African proverb goes don’t let the hunter tell the lion’s story.
The African American womyn, was emotionally connected to this Black woman, Cass’ struggle to be trusted and listened to. I saw her as the core audience who could enjoy the ride.
The Armenian womyn, went in on all the meaning of the animals and the symbols and the metaphors and the cultural and political background of the characters. She was picking up on stuff that is never explicitly spoken in the script. Finally the South Asian womyn had a vision of the way the story could be told on screen. A vision that I also had and was excited at the possibility of seeing realized.
The Berliner suggested I ask everyone to cut a scene for me. All the womyn agreed. I chose a fight sequence. Each cut was fantastic and told the story in a new and exciting and way. The four cuts reiterated the importance and power of the editor in filmmaking.
It was down to the Armenian and the South Korean. And then it came down to one cost more and wanted a lot more time to do the work,
I was feeling very anxious walking around mid-town really seeing multiple world over lapping. people in masks and people without them in bars partying as if Covid never existed. I knew that for many of them their worlds would prove true. It made me nervous.
I looked at South Korea and saw that if they were telling the truth, they had Covid under control. They were a population of fifty million and less than five hundred people had died.
I hired the South Korean editor, Minji Kang and flew to Seoul where I knew that after a two week quarantine we would be able to edit sitting side by side rather than on zoom which had been such a failure the past 6 months.
Two months in Seoul was a gift. I learned the power of community and a society’s commitment to one another. While I was in Seoul the events of my movie began to be the daily news. I realized that if we had been released in March, we would have been dismissed as “far fetched, “ but now we are the zeitgeist.
The nine months of ‘failed’ editing was what was necessary to get to the moment when Minji Kang was available and was in Korea and I could go there to join her and finish the film together. Everything is in divine time.